The Sinking Feeling: Sermon on Matthew 14:22-33


Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. – Soren Kierkegaard




Have you ever had a sinking feeling?  It’s phenomenon that happens in the stomach that  we can’t control but we can  always remember the last time we experienced it– when the phone rang, or the report card came, or news came on and we feel like all of the blood has come out of our head and we feel sort woozy and well, out of control.

In all of the times I have had a sinking feeling the primary experience in all of them was a feeling of vulnerability.  I didn’t know what was going to happen and I was scared.  Chemically, what is happening, when you have a sinking feeling,  is that blood is leaving your stomach, because your brain has gone into survival mode and doesn’t think you need to eat anymore.  It thinks you need to survive and that means you either need to fly or fight.

Sinking feelings are o.k. to have once in a while and should be expected in moments like– the first day of school  or the moment the doctor comes in with the test results, or unexpected life event takes place.  It’s when that sinking feeling starts happening all of the time, when it becomes more often than not, that people can get a little twitchy.

That’s the situation the disciples were in in the 14th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.  By the time we get to the end of the 14th chapter of Matthew, the disciples are twitchy. Here’s why:

At the beginning of the chapter, something awful has happened.  Something that made them realize they weren’t as safe as they thought.  Something that made the disciples realize that being a disciple of Jesus Christ could get you killed. Remember that they are following a Rabbi who fighting the establishment, and the establishment just pushed back, big time.  Do you know what happened?  They beheaded John the Baptist. 

They killed Jesus’ cousin.  They sent out a warning shot to stand down, because this is what happens when you mess with the Roman Empire.  Imagine the sinking feeling they had when  the heard the news that he was killed.  Imagine Jesus’ grief and vulnerability when he learned of the news.  It is this context of deep grief and shock that the disciples try to get away. Matthew says they retreated.  You could say that the sinking feeling resulted in flight.

Sometimes we look at the atrocities of the world and we read stories so horrendous you can’t help but wonder how in the world could something like that happen?  Or, even how could God let it happen?  Or where is Jesus when the world appears to be falling apart?  And the news and all that it is in it, can make someone just want to fly away and live on the island of Denial.

Sometimes there is too much chaos.

But, here’s the bad news, being a follower of Jesus Christ, desiring a spiritual life that is rich and meaningful cannot be achieved by running away. Henri Nouwen put it this way:  “The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it.”

And so as the disciples try to move into a retreat, they find they are being followed by the pain of the world.  Five thousand people come to this barren land.  They are hungry and thirsty and sick and broken and Jesus looks out at all of those people and has pity on them and the disciples look out at all of those people and they have a sinking feeling and think there is no way we can address all of these needs.  Jesus says “that’s right,  you can’t, but I can,  let me work through you” and by his miracle, the disciples are able to feed the five thousand.   Sometimes when we have a sinking feeling, instead of running away, we think, “No way. It’s impossible there is no way I can do this.”  The sin here isn’t in the defeatist attitude. The sin is thinking that we are the ones who perform miracles in the first place.

So when we are in chaos, or see our brothers and sisters in chaos, we do not flee, we feed. We clothe. We share. We clean. We move. We give a hand. We look out on to sea of people who are hungry, frightened, and uncertain, just as the disciples did, and we trust that there will be enough for everyone to be fed, and by the grace of God and the hands of the disciples, they will be.

At last we come to the end of the 14th chapter of Matthew, and why a I say that at this point the disciples are now, twitchy.  They have had their share of sinking feelings.  They have witnessed violence they never thought they would see and they have seen 5000 people crying out for help.

So Jesus  put the disciples on a boat and he goes off to pray. – What can go wrong?

All of the disciples are in a boat, out to sea, sort of like how all of the church is the body of Christ in the world,  and a storm comes upon them and they once again get that sinking feeling, although this time they really might sink and they are really uncertain they are going to make it to shore, or survive and then they look out into the sea and see what appears to be a ghost moving toward them and now they are really afraid. More afraid than when they heard about John the Baptist, more uncertain than they were when they fed 5000 people.

And Jesus speaks out and says, “take heart it is I, do not be afraid.”  And Peter, who is known as the Rock, the Father of the Church says to Jesus, “Lord if it’s you let me come to you… ” Which is  strange thing to say.  Couldn’t he have asked for a safer litmus test?  He says “let me come out on the water” and Jesus says, “sure come out” and Peter starts walking toward him, full of faith and hope and then he suddenly gets that sinking feeling, Um this impossible.  It’s impossible to walk on water. What if…. What if it’s not Jesus. What if I’m crazy, after all I just stepped out of a boat. What if I drown?  What if he can’t save me?  And Peter sinks into the Ocean and this is my favorite part,  Jesus, reaches out his hand and saves him.  That gets me every time.  He reaches out his hand and saves him.  You know that tells me?  That tells me that Jesus wasn’t very far away from him at all, he was close enough to reach out and grab him and bring him back to the boat.

And then Jesus says incredulously, “you of little faith, why do you doubt?”  These are words none of us want to hear.  Why can’t I have more faith?  Why can’t I trust God?  Why do I let fear take over my faith?   I believe I am in God’s hands, but when I feel vulnerable or afraid, I start to sink. When have faith, but then when turn on the news, or get sick, or lose a friend and we  start to sink.  What if Peter hadn’t sunk?  What if he had just slung his legs over the side and  just walked on out there and given Jesus a high five?

That may have been an exciting story, but that wouldn’t have been our story. Like Peter we have faith and we have doubt.  We have hope and we have fear.  They are not mutually exclusive.  We are both, people of faith and doubt. They exist at the same time, allowing us to rise and fall in they storms of our life.

So take heart, Jesus gets it.  He does not judge your doubt, or punish you for it, he only asks you why?  Why do you doubt?  Think on that for a while… when you have doubts  in your faith life, why are you doubting, is it because you are angry, or hungry, or broken, or sad or disillusioned or anxious?   Jesus doesn’t condemn Peter, rather he says, “take heart….”

Madelyn Lengle – “As long as Peter didn’t remember that we human beings have forgotten how to walk on water, he was able to do it.”

It suggests that at one point we were able to do it and have forgotten.

What are all of things we have forgotten? –  Have we forgotten that Jesus  has always asked  his disciples to do impossible things and his disciples continue to do impossible things every day?

God is constantly asking people to impossible things.

He asked Mary to be the mother of God.

He asked Moses to change the course of history.

Jesus asked the disciples to feed 5000 people

Sell everything and give it to the poor.  Impossible

Love your neighbor – even your social media neighbor. Impossible.

What are impossible things that people try?

We fight diseases that have non existent cures. Impossible

We go to Haiti – the poorest place on the earth and try bring clean water and stop cholera. Impossible

We believe in forgiveness.  Impossible.

We believe in mercy. That our salvation comes from grace. Impossible

We believe in prayer. That we can personally speak to God. impossible

Parents watch their children grow up and then they have to let  them go – impossible.

People go to cemeteries and hope they will see their loved ones again – impossible

Only a short time ago, we watch in horror as hate and fear march through the streets of Virginia and  we wondered how can this be happening? End racism in our nation? Impossible.

Now we are glued to our news footage as we see the thousands of people impacted by great flooding, and we wonder how can we serve all of these people?  Bring order out of chaos? – Impossible

And suddenly walking on water doesn’t sound so impossible when up against all these impossible things.

It is impossible unless, we hold fast to Paul’s words: “ love bears all things, believes all things,  endures all things, love never dies”


If you are sinking, take heart, be not afraid.  He knows the impossible thing he is calling you to do  and he will not let you sink.  Take his hand. He’s not so very far away. Amen

Lord Hear our prayer,
For those who have lost everything.
For those who are stranded
For those who are frightened
For the elderly
For the child
For the parent
For the rescue worker
For the aid provider
For the police officer
For the reporter
For the lost
For the weary
For the sick
For the mentally ill

God, move your loving Spirit over each broken heart tonight and settle yourself on their shoulder. Pull them close to you and rock them back and forth, back and forth and say to them, “I will not leave you, I will not leave you, I will not leave you.”

Strengthen them for the journey ahead. May angels intercede and hope come from despair. We pray your light outshines the darkness.

Lord In your mercy. Hear our prayer.

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