The Sea of Galilee
Albert Einstein once said, “Three great forces rule the world: stupidity, fear and greed.” I think fear is the greatest and most pervasive force of all. Stupidity and greed can come from fear.
Fear exercises a powerful influence over us. It paralyzes us. It makes us small. It prevents us from truly living. Fear is the biggest impediment to our journey of faith. It is our stumbling block.
We all have our fears. But we can never get rid of them. Fear will always be there, showing up when we least expect it. Certain situations will bring out certain fears in us. We will have to deal with them over and over again. However, we don’t have to be mastered by our fears. We can deal with our fears and overcome them. The only way to do that is through faith.
That is what the disciples had to learn. They had to learn how to deal with their fears, rather than running from them. But it took them a long time. They didn’t get it right away. They stumbled every time when they faced their challenges. That’s what we see in today’s passage.
Today’s story takes place at the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee was known for its sudden and fierce storms. Many Jews didn’t like the sea in general. They believed it was filled with scary creatures. They saw it as a place of chaos, violence, and unpredictability.
It was here that the disciples struggled against the waves all night. By the morning, they were tired, beaten, discouraged, and even more fearful than before. They were so afraid that they didn’t even recognize Jesus when he came towards them on the water.
But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. (Matthew 14:26)
This wasn’t the first time that the disciples experienced something like this. Earlier in the gospel, they get caught in a big storm at sea, while they are with Jesus on the boat.
And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matthew 8:25)
So the reaction we see today is understandable. They were deeply afraid. Fear can distort how we see things.
Fear of the Storms
Our attitude toward life is like how the disciples relate to the sea. We often look at it with the eyes of fear. We see it as uncertain and unpredictable. We’ve been traumatized by the storms it has brought on us. We are usually anxious because of it. Many times, we try to deal with it on our own. We try our best to be in control. But each time, we find that that itself isn’t enough. We eventually lose control. We become frightened and overwhelmed. Our fears leave us feeling powerless and more fearful than before. We remain in our boats, unable to move.
What does Jesus say to his disciples? He reminds them—
Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid. (Matthew 14:27)
Jesus makes an emphatic statement. IT IS I. “I” here means “I AM”. I AM is the name of the Divine. I AM was what God said to Moses at the burning bush. In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes a number of “I AM” statements. In saying these words, Jesus is telling the disciples: Trust me. You have nothing to be afraid of.
Jesus’ words give a feeling of confidence and fearlessness to one person in particular. PETER. He experiences a spiritual moment. It seems as if he is no longer under the influence of his fears. When Jesus tells Peter to come to him, Peter gets out of the boat and does the unthinkable. But what happens then?
But when he [Peter] noticed the strong wind, he became frightened… (Matthew 14:30)
Peter’s eyes quickly turn away from Jesus, to what’s happening. He becomes afraid again. He loses composure and panics. He begins to sink and drown.
Like Peter, our eyes can so easily shift from Christ to what we see around us. We focus on what is wrong with our situation. We imagine the absolute worst. We let ourselves be consumed by our circumstances and our problems. We forget the words, “IT IS I.” As if we had never heard them.
But even when we forget and cry out of fear, Christ saves us with his mighty hand. That’s what happened to Peter.
Jesus didn’t let him sink and drown. He grabbed Peter’s arm and rescued him. RIGHT AWAY.
…and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:30, 31)
With Jesus’ help, Peter was able to overcome his fear. He experienced the saving power of Christ pulling him up. For him, “IT IS I” was no longer just a saying. Those words became a LIVING REALITY in his life.
When Jesus says to him, “Why did you doubt?”, he is not talking about intellectual doubt. He is addressing Peter’s existential fear. He is asking Peter: WHY ARE YOU SO AFRAID? IT IS I. You are safe in my hands. The waves won’t swallow you up. Just keep your eyes on me. You will be okay.
Trust Requires Courage
Faith is connected to trust. Trust requires courage. We often experience how much we lack courage. We feel as if we lack the faith to simply trust in God in the midst of a turbulent storm.
That is where Christ comes to us and says, “It is I.” I AM enough. It is Christ who completes our faith and gives us the strength to overcome our fears. It is through Christ that we experience God’s power bringing peace and calm to our lives.
Last week, Rev. Simon shared his mission report at Sioux Valley. It was truly a memorable experience. It affected everyone deeply. There was a lot to process and reflect on after the trip.
Leading up to the trip, Rev. Simon emphasized the need for us to put our complete trust in God as we prepared to leave. I remember him saying repeatedly, “We will just trust in God.” That God will lead and provide.
Of course! Who would disagree with that? At times I thought it was redundant to say that.
But it wasn’t until we set our foot in Sioux Valley that the weight of those words dawned on us. From the moment we arrived there, it was just go, go, go. There wasn’t a moment for us to stop and think. Unless we were sleeping, we were constantly moving. Every situation felt like more than we can handle. The meal team had to deal with the constant pressure of preparing enough food for the visitors who came through the doors. The children’s camp team had to look after the children whose energy never showed any sign of slowing down. Simon and I barely had any time to adequately prepare for things, let alone our morning devotions. We were busy trying to adapt to the new environment and meet the demands of each day at the same time. It felt like we were stranded at sea. Things seemed totally out of our control.
For the first day or so, we ran on pure adrenaline. Eventually, this took a toll on all of us—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. There were times when I thought to myself, “Can I do this…?” For all the members, prayer became our lifeline on this trip. During one of the morning devotions, I shared how prayer is learning to be still and knowing that God is God. What else could we stand on?
The way to deal with the storms is not fight them head-on. We can never avoid them either. The way to overcome the storms of our life is to put our trust in the one who has power over them. One who shows us the way in all the noise and chaos. It is to FOCUS ON CHRIST who is right there with us.
We may see the sea as a negative place. A place of danger and uncertainty. Where bad things are lurking beneath the surface and waiting to swallow us up at any moment.
But Jesus shows us that it can also be a positive place. Where we experience God’s helping hand and walk through what may be threatening or overwhelming us. Where our faith becomes stronger and we come out with a deeper understanding of God. “Who is this man?” à “Truly you are the Son of God”
Fear may be a great force. Faith is an even greater and much stronger force.
When the storms come, may we focus on Christ. Let us not fix our eyes on what is going badly, but on who is right there with us in our troubles. Remember the words, “IT IS I.” They are the words of salvation.