“Lord, may the words of this sermon be directed by your Holy Spirit, and may that same Spirit direct our understanding and draw us in greater faith to you. Amen.”
The Church from its earliest days, has often been depicted as a ship. It is an enduring metaphor of God’s people huddled together, as they navigate the difficult seas of life.
That is why the part of the building where you are sitting is called the nave. The part of the building from the doors in the back, up to the steps to the altar, is technically called the nave. It is the place where the people, the church, gather together.
And nave is Latin word, which comes from the word “ship”. You’ll notice that the word navy, also comes from this word. Navy, nave, ship.
Now, we often don’t like to use the technical church words, maybe because they are old and come from Latin. So we could simple translate it into English and say, “ship”. I could say, when you come into the ship, you may have a seat in a pew. Or, “We are going to space people out in the ship.” But that might make it even more confusing, so maybe we should simply call it the nave.
And the reason, why the metaphor of a ship is used for the church, is because the church, the people of God, is often battered by storms, like a ship. The people of God come up against a lot of opposition in this world. The people of God are tossed about and often in danger of being broken up, like ship in a storm on the sea.
So, in this story from the Gospel of Matthew, we hear about the disciples in a boat on the water. And while theirs is not a metaphorical boat—it is an actual boat—it is an illustration of the life of believers in the church.
Believers in Jesus will often find themselves battered by the mighty forces of this world. Believers find themselves battered by temptation and pushed to sail away from the Lord.
And here is what Jesus does.
He comes to the people on the boat. He comes through the strong wind. We comes walking easily across the rough waves.
This COVID-19 crises has especially battered the church. As God’s people, we have had to work hard to stay faithful, to stay devoted, to continue God’s work. It is like trying to sail into the winds of a storm.
And even in this storm, Jesus comes.
This will happen, in a very tangible way, this morning.
Jesus comes in the bread. He comes, not as and idea, not as a metaphor, not as a mere sign. He comes in the body.
And in the midst of all that is happening, there is only one thing that is important above all, and that is Jesus coming to you.
But we are distracted.
Notice what happens to Peter. Jesus tells him to come. And Peter does. Jesus is drawing Peter to him. Peter is walking on the water.
But, instead of focusing on Jesus. Instead of giving his full attention to the Lord, he notices the wind.
Right there in front of him is Jesus himself.
But instead of giving his full attention to Jesus, he notices the waves!
He is distracted.
And this is true for all of us. And it is especially true right now for the people of God.
We have so many distractions. We have so many thoughts in our heads, swirling around like mist and debris in the wind. There are myriad things to pay attention to, all around us.
But only one thing is truly important—the Lord, who is coming to you.
We need to put our attention on the rights things. It wasn’t that Peter and the disciples needed to ignore the wind. They had to pay attention to the wind and waves in order to navigate the boat. They had to try and sail through those stormy waters.
But above all of that, Peter needed to put his primary attention on the Lord.
This morning we will commune together with Jesus. Jesus comes to you in the bread, like he came to the disciples on the lake. Jesus comes to you, but like Peter, we are surrounded by the winds of distraction. We are engulfed in the COVID-19 crises, the impending election, the return to school, and many other things. All of these things are real and of course we must deal with them.
And even here in this sanctuary, we have the distraction of social distancing, and masks, and we won’t have any wine, and these are all distractions.
But through that blowing wind, Jesus comes, walking on the waves, undeterred by even the strongest squall. He calmly and confidently comes to you.
So how do you pay attention to him coming? How do we keep focused on Jesus as he comes to us through the storm? Well, we can try to keep the distractions away. If your cell phone distracts you, then put it away somewhere else. If you are distracted by world events and news, then turn off the TV and stop scrolling the newsfeed.
But this only works to a certain extent. Trying to get rid of all the distractions would be like Peter trying to stop the wind. Distractions are all around us. And they are strong.
The other way to pay attention, is to focus—to focus so much on the true destination, that all the distractions just sort of fade into a background.
Athletes call this “being in the zone”. They become so immersed in the game, and their entire self is so immersed in their effort, that they no longer notice all the spectators around them. They don’t notice the cameras and the cheerleaders and all the people who are yelling and clapping. They have a laser focus.
As Christians, we need to focus, not on the game, and not for the sake of our productivity and success. We need to focus on Jesus, because he is our Lord, he is our goal, and he is all we could ever want.
We are not very focused. We spend most of our time and energy looking at all the debris that is flying around in the wind. We spend most of our time and energy paying attention to whatever is trendy or whatever is new and happening right now.
We get caught up in the noise.
But God does not come as big noise. That is what Elijah finds out. God is not in the wind. God is not in the fire. God is not in the earthquake. God is in the shear silence.
Christopher Davis writes, in his commentary on workingpreacher.org, that “In this age of feuding and fighting, screeching and screaming, bellowing and blowing, perhaps this story is a reminder that it’s in the hush, in the silence, where the presence and power of God are most identifiable.”
We spend too much of our attention on the storms that blow around us. We give far too much attention to public figures and politicians, who spout subversive soundbites on a daily basis.
Yes, we must navigate those stormy, wind-whipped waters, but while those things try to demand our immediate attention, they are not the most important thing.
There is a difference between what is immediate and what is important.
The wind is the most immediate thing to Peter. It is right there, in his face, threatening his life, and scaring the sense out of him.
But despite the immediacy and the danger of that wind, it is not the most important thing. Even on a surging sea, Jesus is the most important thing.
Even during this COVID-19 crises, our devotion and faithfulness to the Lord deserves our greatest attention. Even if Jesus is coming to us when we are uncomfortable and in crises and seem to have more immediate things to deal with.
So this morning, we gather here, like people huddled in a boat. We come in here seeking sanctuary from the storm. He seek that laser focus that will blur out all the noise and confusion around us, and we seek to hear God in the shear silence.
We are sinking in the waters of life, so we cry out, “Lord, save me!”
And Jesus, by the power of God, reaches out catches you, brings you back into the boat, and calms the storm.
- Matthew 14:22 - 23