Faith Is Not Easy
Text: Job 38:4-18, Matthew 14:22-33
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Lord never said that faith would be easy. Even when our spiritual father Abraham, surrounded by his many flocks and servants and wealth—even Abraham’s faith was tested in the most excruciating way as he led his son Isaac up the mountain to be sacrificed. Even Abraham’s descendants, when they were released from Egypt, when they walked through the Red Sea on dry ground—even their faith was pierced with hunger pangs as they went without food and water in their Exodus. Even Peter, the leader of the Twelve Apostles, even his bold faith was shaken and broken to bits, as we heard today: After he stepped out onto the water in confident trust in his Lord, but then saw the storm and chaos swirling around him, it was too frightening and he began to sink below the waves.
For our fallen mortal minds, faith is not easy. We like knowing for certain. We prefer to be able to gaze into the future, and if we cannot project our will there, make future events as we would like them to be, then we at the very least want to know exactly what will come to pass. We prefer to have control over situations rather than trust that someone else will steer things to our satisfaction. This is the way it has been ever since our first parents gave in to that first temptation: “You will be like God.” That sounds good to us, and so we chase it. We would be the gods of our own lives, making things as we like them, making things comfortable, controlled, what we would deem safe.
So we look for ways to do it. It may be in small ways, claiming that we have the right to do what we want, when we want, how we want, and with whom we want. We say that our lives are no one else’s business but our own, as if all of humanity were not interconnected and interwoven, one with another. We do things to cast our will into the future, into places we know we can’t control, with wills and advanced directives, trying to wrangle every detail so that it all conforms to the way we want things to be. .
This would-be-godlike willing and controlling even extends into our relationship with the one true God. We assume that if we do this, then God must do that. If we like this, then God must follow suit and also like it. If we obey, if we exercise all of our will to check off the list of commands that we choose to focus on, if we do something for God, then He must repay us. This was the advice that Job’s friends gave him, before our Old Testament reading picks up today. They told him that all the disasters that happened to him must be because he was secretly unrighteous, because, as they pointed out, if someone is righteous and does all the right things, then God must reward them. And the tragedy is that their bad advice to Job sunk in. He asked God why these things had happened to him—why he had lost his house, his income, his livelihood, even his children. He accused God of interfering with his life.
God had to answer Job in such a way as to remind him that he was, in fact, not the little god of his own life. He was mortal, limited in every way that mortals are limited. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding…Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made clouds for 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’?”
Are we not the same? Do we not get frustrated when it doesn’t seem like we get what we’ve earned, what we deserve? I’d guess that most of us here assume that we’re pretty good people, most of the time. And doesn’t that mean that we deserve pretty good things, if not very good things, most of the time? Don’t we have our complaints, like Job? Don’t we grumble when things aren’t just so, like the Israelites in the wilderness? And don’t we have our tests for Jesus, like Peter did: “Lord, if it is you—if you are who you seem to be—command me to come to you on the water. Let me walk through the storm as if were nothing.”
When we approach it from a place of wanting to control and barter with God, faith is hard. It’s hard to let someone else run things and believe that it will work out for our good every time. It becomes especially hard when we see the waves and storms, the dangers and fears that rise up around us. And that’s when we begin to sink. When we think that faith is a bartering chip, when we think that God will do things as we want because we’ve done this or that for Him, when we want to be the little gods in our corners of the world, that’s when we sink. That’s when we’re put in our place and find out we can’t walk on water on our own. We can’t control the storms. We slip below the water and the only words we can manage before we go under are, “Lord, save us.”
And thankfully, that’s exactly what our Lord does. Notice that when Peter is sinking, Jesus doesn’t give him tips on how to rise up again. He doesn’t tell Peter that he just needs stronger faith or how to start living more powerfully. When Peter sinks, when he cries out to Jesus, realizing that his Lord is his only hope, Jesus reaches out and takes hold of him. Only then, when Peter is safe in Jesus’ grip, does Jesus ask, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Then Jesus puts him back into the boat, stops the storm, and the disciples recognize and worship Jesus as the Son of God, rather than putting their trust in themselves to fight their way out of the storm or walk on the water.
Faith is hard for our fallen natures. But for the redeemed sinner, for the one who trusts in Jesus’ strong grip, faith is much easier. For the one who’s been lifted up out of the waters of the baptismal font, washed and made a member of God’s household, faith is a light yoke and an easy burden. It’s easier to trust Jesus because He’s shown you that there are no limits to what He’ll do to save you. He’s died the most painful death to save you from all that weighed you down and dragged you under. He’s provided everything you need—maybe not all that you’ve wanted in order to be cushy and spoiled—but everything you need, your daily bread, in order to show you that not even hunger or storms or loss can separate you from Him. You are about to call out to Him to save you, just like Peter did, right here in the service. That’s what “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest!” means. Hosanna means, “Save us!” And He will. He’ll forgive your sins, your doubts, your fears, your desire to control His universe and plan for your life. He will save you, put you back in the boat of His holy Church, and there you will worship Him. See your Savior come to you here. He is no ghost; He is body and blood, as He’ll show you at the rail. He is the God of grace, who gives freely, richly, and lovingly, because He wants to. So take heart; do not be afraid. He is here, He is God, and He is saving you. In the name of Jesus, who is truly the Son of God. Amen.