Where is the Safety Net?
First Reading Psalm 85:8-13
Second Reading Matthew 14:22-33
August 13, 2023 First Valdosta
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Jane Shelton, CRE


Today’s message takes us to the first place in Matthew that a human recognizes and proclaims Jesus as the Son of Man.

Jesus’ escape to the mountain to pray is an example that shows us the importance in finding time to be alone to be in the presence of God.  Allowing ourselves these quiet moments of escape is both renewing and healing.  It allows us time to release the burdens we carry and simply be at peace as we rest with God.

Allowing ourselves these quiet moments also provides time for discernment, especially when we are open to receive new direction or even the same direction with new intention that God is leading us toward.

As Jesus shows us in Matthew 14, sometimes we have to take care of others and send our friends ahead of us to be able to make this escape.  We have to be committed to complete and then release ourselves from the demands that are put before us, and ultimately take the necessary steps to take care of our well-being before we can take care of others.

In the hectic busy world we live in today, perhaps we are not finding or taking the necessary time to be alone.

While Jesus makes time to be alone, it doesn’t take long for the disciples to find themselves in need of rescue.

Battered by the waves and alone in the storm, or so they thought, Jesus comes to them in the storm to calm their fears.  He comes to remind them they are not alone, and even when he is not visibly in their presence, he still is watching over them, ready to rescue them from present danger.

In his steps on the water, Jesus is again showing his divine Spirit and connection to God’s power over nature.

In the Greek word used by Matthew and translated in our scripture as “ghost,” there is an acknowledgement by the disciples of the appearance of the divine.  They truly see God’s presence before them.

Jesus confirms this when he speaks, “it is I” relating to the Old Testament of God referring to himself as “I am” when God reveals himself to Moses.

Jesus reminds us also, as did God in the Old Testament, “fear not,” as a welcoming to come into the presence of the divine where it is safe and where you will find true rest.  We are truly welcomed, and it is a desired relationship by God from the very creation of man that we be with and rest with God.

Jesus invites us to take his hand and come walk with him.  Not ahead of him or behind, but beside him in a mutual relationship with the divine.

As the disciples proclaim Jesus as the Son of God, it is a turning point in the life of the disciples to whole heartedly accept Jesus for who he truly is so that God’s mission for his people can continue.  A mission to be in relationship with God personally, and in community together.  The same mission we are called to today.

After naming Jesus as the Son of God, the disciples worshipped him while in the boat revealing to us that we are not required to only come to Jesus on Sunday morning here in this place, this building to worship God, rather we can worship him anywhere we encounter his presence, even in a boat.  Truly, we can encounter Jesus anytime, day or night, and any day of the week.

Peter is drawn to experience his Lord, to reach out to him and know that it is indeed his Lord, even to the point of stepping outside the boat.  We can all look at that move and say maybe it was not the best idea, yet it certainly took courage for Peter being willing to risk his life to walk to Jesus in the storm.

Sometimes stepping out or reaching out of our comfort zone is the hardest thing for us to do; however, doing so to be with our Lord is the most satisfying risk we can make.

All goes well until Peter loses his focus and turns his attention back to the wind, yet as our Jesus shows us over and over again, he is there waiting to reach out and lift us out of the storm.

Last week Jesus showed us how he feeds us and meets our every need, even with limited resources.  This week he continues to show us his love and compassion for us when we put our trust and faith in acknowledging he is the Son of God.  He is always watching out for us, always leading us to the freedom to be at peace in the presence of knowing God is always with us and is our help in time of need.

Everyone gives Thomas a hard time for asking to touch the scars in Jesus’ hands as proof that it was Jesus, yet here we see Peter seeking the same reassurance that it is indeed Jesus with a different proposition.  “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

In the same way Jesus reached out his hand for Thomas to see and feel the scars in his hands, he reaches out to Peter, and says, “Come.”

Like Peter, we are eager to step out in faith and follow Jesus, and when the distractions come and we lose focus, we find ourselves sinking far from shore.

Jesus is always watching over us.  It is only when we lose our focus and take our eyes off of Jesus that distance is created, and we begin to sink.  And when this happens, Jesus is there, waiting to catch us.

Following Jesus requires us to risk everything we have, all of our assumed earthly securities.  The reality is, the only true security we have is in Jesus.

A few weeks ago my daughter-in-law and granddaughter decided they wanted to sky dive.  When my husband asked his son why he wasn’t going to go jump with them, he replied, “Someone needs to stay home in case we need to collect the insurance!”

In talking with them about their sky dive, they both confirmed it was the person they were tethered to that helped them overcome their fear, even though the hardest part was making their way out of the plane to begin the jump.

Where is our faith in free falling with Jesus?  It’s easy to think it, to say it, yet it is another thing entirely to let go and live it.

To Peter’s credit, when his faith faltered, when he was distracted, he still knew to call out to his Lord to keep him from sinking.

In Skye Jethani’s book titled, “With,” he writes about how control is an illusion, and questions ‘how we can be set free from fear apart from our feeble attempts at control?’

He shares a story of how Dutch priest, Henri Nouwen, found his answer in a South African trapeze troupe, called the Flying Rodleighs in which Nouwen attended a performance out of curiosity and found himself transfixed by the artistry of the acrobats.  In the flying and spinning, Nouwen saw theology in motion.  He observed the person soaring through the air as not the real star of the performance, but rather the catcher.  Everything depends upon the catcher because the flyers truly trust the catcher to catch them.

‘This led Nouwen to a new way of understanding his life with God.  “I can only fly freely when I know there is a catcher to catch me,” he wrote.

Nouwen then proceeded to harness and fly himself, flying freely with joy and childish glee each time he went up.

He said, “If we are to take risks, to be free, in the air, in life, we have to know there’s a catcher.  We have to know that when we come down from it all, we’re going to be caught, we’re going to be safe.  The great hero is the least visible.  Trust the catcher.”

Nouwen’s statement can be summed up as “have faith,” which is the opposite of having control. 

In his book, Jethani continues to explain that “rather than trying to overcome our fears by seeking more control, the solution offered by Life WITH God is precisely the opposite—we overcome fear by surrendering control.  But, surrender is only possible if we have total assurance that we are safe.  We must be convinced that if we let go we will be caught.  This assurance only comes when we trust that our heavenly Father desires to be WITH us and will not let us fall.”

What safety nets are we looking for today to keep us from falling, to keep us from being consumed by our fears?  We only need one safety net, and that catcher, in all his love and compassion for us, is Jesus.

*Cover Art by StushieArt; used with subscription