Every week of Epiphany season, I need to hear that Jesus is present - inside today and inside me and inside sunshine, storms, and celebrations. I need to believe He is present. But belief is tricky.
Our "Yes, Lord" gets tangled up with our "Why, Lord" in a mess of circumstances. Even if life has leveled out and we feel good about our daily routine, career status, and financial situation - even if our questions and doubts are less about hardships and more about boredom or purpose.
Belief is slippery when things are going "well" and when things are not.
In whatever circumstance we find ourselves balancing our "Yes, Lord" and our "Why, Lord" - we will always have to answer the question of belief. Do we believe Jesus is present in the midst of it, whatever it is? I'd like to always answer yes. I would even say I am willing to fight for that yes - to fight for belief when I am downcast and when I am filled with delight.
Because belief is slippery, but God is not.
This morning, we read the passage from Matthew 14:22-33. You may know the story. The disciples get caught in a doozy of a storm, in the middle of the night, with no rescue in sight. Jesus had just sent them off in the boat hours earlier while he dismissed the crowds and prayed in the mountains. The storm raged the waves and the storm raged the little boat, but still Jesus did not come. In the fourth watch of night, Jesus appeared on the water and His presence terrified the disciples. Jesus announced Himself by saying,
“Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
I love, love, love this. Because I am afraid often, in or outside of storms. I am afraid of taxes and of falling in front of subways and of wasting moments. I am afraid often. This morning, I learned that the most common command in Scripture is against fear.
I love that we are commanded not to fear by the One who casts fear out by His presence.
And Peter believes. He watches Jesus walking on top of the evil deeps and says, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." This is belief. He believed that the words of Jesus held power over fear and over the deeps and over the doozy of a storm. He is not free of doubt, but He believes in the power of Jesus' word above all else.
Jesus said, "Come" and so Peter got out. Just like that. He put one leg over the edge and then the other. Or maybe he jumped. But, I love how simple we read the words. When Jesus said, "Come," Peter physically moved from feet-on-the-boat to feet-on-the-water. This is belief!
What does it mean to believe Jesus is present?
>>It means I believe He is sovereign. His presence - forever before and forever after this moment - is a proclamation of His sovereignty. When Peter stepped out there on the rumbly waves, he was saying that He believed Jesus had control over the wind and the waves and his life.
Life is ripe for adventure - for all the crazy, troubling, exciting ways Christ is saying, "Come." When we believe He is strong over little and big evils, over little and big joys, we believe His sovereignty is more important than our feelings about circumstances. And we believe that strength is exactly where we are - here, present with us.
>>It means I believe He will hold me up. Okay, so Peter was not perfect at believing, but Christ held him up. When the waves splashed at his ankles and when he started to wobble, Christ held him up. Peter believed in Christ enough to get his legs over the edge. He believed Christ cared for Him deeply and would keep His word.
I want to be held up and I want to need to be held up, because then I can know a more full God. I can know a little more of His power that I would never know if I stayed in the boat. It is good to be willfully in a place of need so God is praised for provision. In this case, the provision was life and Peter believed Jesus was able.
>>It means I will move toward Him. I love to look at the movement in the gospels. The crowds come to Jesus, the disciples follow Jesus, and Jesus calls people to Himself. There is a movement of drawing near in the good news of the gospel and there is a movement in this life when we believe Jesus is present. As I believe Jesus is sovereign and able and good, I am always moving to be nearer to Him.
This morning in the sermon, my pastor talked about all Jesus' miracles really being about the presence of Jesus. And I can see the beauty and weight of that statement when I think of the gospel moving today. Nearer still, my heart cries. Believe He is sovereign, believe He will hold me up, and believe He is calling, "Come."
These are my Sunday thoughts, drenched in rare February sunshine and spread out over the full length of this Sabbath. The message of presence in the season of Epiphany is not worn out. It will never because we will never run out of Jesus.