“That Sinking Feeling” (Matthew 14:22-33)
Do you remember the first time you ever said a bad word in front of your parents? I do. For me, it was even worse than just saying it in front of them. I said in front of them and a group of other people. Mom and Dad were mortified. I didn’t really know what I was saying. It was just a slang word I had heard at school. My friends and I never gave it a second thought. To my parents, though, it was as if I had killed a puppy or something. Later on they sternly reprimanded me and said, “We could have just fallen through the floor.” They had that sinking feeling that their child had just done something terribly embarrassing. And I had that sinking feeling that I was in trouble.
The disciples had “that sinking feeling.” It was early in the morning before the sun had even come up. A fierce wind blew down upon their boat on the Sea of Galilee. They may have been wondering if they were going to make it back to land. With the waves and wind against them, the boat was surely taking on water. You can just imagine that they all had “that sinking feeling,” quite literally.
Peter had “that sinking feeling” both literally and figuratively. Initially, he was in pretty good shape, however. Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. The men in the boat thought it was a ghost. Jesus tried to calm their fears, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Just to make sure, Peter said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” In reply, Jesus said, “Come on in, the water’s fine!”
At first, Peter did pretty well. He trusted Jesus, and walked on the water toward him. But it didn’t take long before fear and doubt took over when he felt the wind whipping past him and the waves getting the hem of his robe wet. It was then that he had “that sinking feeling.” Literally, because he was in danger of drowning. Figuratively, because he was probably overcome with guilt that he had stopped trusting Jesus to take care of him out there on the water.
When do you and I have “that sinking feeling”? We get that sinking feeling when we go to the doctor and we receive an unfavorable diagnosis. We get that sinking feeling when we so look forward to something, it is postponed or cancelled altogether, and we are terribly disappointed. We get that sinking feeling when a loved one dies. We get that sinking feeling when we are caught in a downward spiral of addiction and addictive behavior. Above all, we ought to have that sinking feeling over our sin and the shame that accompanies our disobedience of God’s holy commandments. We should tremble over the thought that we are sunk apart from the life of God that he offers to us through faith in his Son.
Peter knew who to call upon when he was sinking. He cried out to the creator of that wind and those waves. As Peter saw Jesus walking upon the waters, perhaps he remembered the words of today’s OT lesson. No scratch that. Peter probably was treading water for dear life. But later he may have remembered the words of today’s OT lesson. There God speaks to Job from the midst of a storm, and says, “who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed'?” (Job 38:8-11) And then, God says, “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?” (Job 38:16) Here, before Peter and the disciples in the boat, was the Creator himself – in the flesh – walking in “thick darkness” upon “the springs of the sea” and “the recesses of the deep.”
Who do you call upon when you are sinking? When the wind and waves of disease, disappointment, death, addiction, and doubt crash over you … you know who to call upon. You, too, can cry out to the creator of the wind and the waves … the one who walked upon the waters. Like Peter, you, too, can cry out, “Lord, save me.”
You can cry out, “Lord, save me,” because he already has. The one who walked upon the waves allowed himself to be sunk under the weight of the world’s sin.
Jesus surely felt “that sinking feeling” in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew that the time was near. He was about to die a horrible death. Think about how you feel when you are about to go into surgery. You have thoughts about whether you are going to make it through. You wonder how much pain you will be in after you come out of your anesthesia. Now you can begin to get a tiny inkling about how Jesus must have felt facing the cross.
And Jesus certainly felt “that sinking feeling” during his trial and while upon the cross. His strength was being sapped with every lash of the whip and with every blow of the hammer. His life was draining from him with every straining breath, with every beat of his heart, as his precious, holy blood pulsed from his wounds, falling to the ground beneath him, sinking into the very earth which he himself created.
Yet in all this, he knew that he was doing this for you and for me … to save us from that sinking feeling of being abandoned forever in a place of eternal torment because of the ways in which we have sinned against our holy God. You can cry out, “Lord, save me” … and he will, because, as St. Paul writes, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
Now, when you remember that you are baptized, you ought to have “that sinking feeling” … but this time in a good sense. Remember Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism:
What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written? St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised through the glory of the Father, we too may have a new life.”Your sins have been sunk beneath the waters of Holy Baptism. You and your sinful nature were buried with Christ in the tomb. And in Baptism, you were lifted up out of the waters into a new life. You are set free from the fear of condemnation because of “that sinking feeling” you get when realize you are a sinner. You are a sinner, but you are also a saint … one who is loved and forgiven by God, holy and righteous in his eyes.
As God’s holy and beloved child, whenever you feel like you are sinking beneath the wind and the waves of whatever is troubling you, you can cry out “Lord, save me.” Jesus will be right there to pick you up and bring you to safety. The wind ceased after Peter and Jesus got back in the boat. Your waves might cease. They might not. There’s no guarantee that what is troubling you will cease. Nevertheless, your Savior will carry you through it. And you are already in a ship built to handle rough seas. You are always safe inside this ship called the Holy Christian Church. And one day, this ship will dock at its final port of call, where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)
Never again will you have “that sinking feeling.”