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Sermon by Rev. Laurel Dykstra (no pronouns or they/them)

Matthew 14:22-33

August 2023


Todays’s gospel reading is what literary scholars call a storm “Type-scene.”


--A small group or individual that in some way represent the people of God--Are in a boat and their lives are in danger

Often someone is thrown into the water to appease the storm

A miraculous intervention brings brings everyone to safety




Paul –in Acts

Jesus asleep in the boat all fit this type


the main elements are vulnerability, threatening chaos, and rescue


Each Type Scene is amplified by all the other examples and the listener’s job is to figure out what this particular scene is saying—how is it different


In the preceding gospel passage Jesus is seeking solitude after learning that John the Baptist has been killed by Herod, he sends the disciples off in a boat


but they don’t make a lot of headway

Who here has ridden the sea bus? Well the Sea of Galilee is a little longer that the Burrard inlet and not quite as wide as 2 and a half sea bus trips. While the Sea of Galilee is small it is in a steep valley, can have sudden storms inc 12 ft swells

Often in the gospels the trip is fast and uneventful –“they crossed to the other side”

But in this passage the disciples leave at dusk and sometime after 3 am they are still trying to battle their way across.


Then Jesus comes to them across the water—there are echoes here to genesis—where spirit of gd over the waters


Although the boat is battered by waves and wind, it does not say that the disciples are afraid until they see Jesus. Certainly they are afraid to see someone walking on water but the word here gives us a clue to what is going on. The disciples are “troubled” (tarasso in Greek)  Now the only other place in Matthew this word appears is when Herrod learns that Jesus is born (Matthew 2:3). This time his nephew Herrod Antipas has just had John the Baptist killed. Herod is troubled, Peter and the disciples are troubled. The kingdom movement troubles those in power.


So Jesus responds to the troubled disciples, not by calming the storm, but saying, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid," (Matthew14:27).


This phrase again echos Exodus

The Israelites by the Reed Sea are ‘told have courage, do not fear, the LORD, the God--I AM, is with you,’


At the burning bush Moses asksed God’s name. And the answer is, ‘I am who I am.’*

Or I will be who I will be, or I am becoming who I am becoming.

Maybe this is a smart answer from God, I’m not telling, find out.


So when Jesus says, “it is I” The Matthew gospeller, is telling us Jesus is this same liberating power and response to injustice that brought imperiled slaves out of Egypt through dangerous waters.


when Jesus says in effect “Don’t be afraid, It’s me, the god I AM” Part of me wants to answer with the disciples, “that’s what I’m afraid of!” For Herod, for the disciples, sometimes for us, Jesus’ powerful claim is not reassuring but troubling. We fear the life-changing power of God-with-us.


Jesus walks on water in: Mark (6:45-52) and John (6:15-21), but only Matthew has a special role for Peter. Matthew’s gospel offers the most complex portrait of Peter.


Brash, blundering, undaunted Peter first appears as a fisherman by the Sea of Galilee (4:18) who immediately leaves his nets to follow Jesus


At the transfiguration it is Peter who says “let’s set up tents and stay”


Peter is the disciple who if you went to school with him would be the most likely to blurt out an answer, volunteer for a project, be completely undaunted by mistakes in the past.


The last time he is mentioned by name Peter weeps bitterly over his denial of Jesus (26:75).


Peter is a fisherman and Matthew is alive with fish: nets are filled with them (13:47), fishers are called to catch human beings (4:18-19), and a crowd is fed on a few loaves and fishes (14:17-20). These stories are drawn from the Jewish fishing economy of Capernaum where according to Matthew, Jesus made his home.


some scholars suggest that “the house in Capernaum,” –the centre of the movement was Peter’s mother-in-law’s house, his wife’s house.


Fishers on the sea of Galilee were not sports fishermen, or middle class entrepreneurs,


Fishing families worked in a near subsistence economy –often in small collectives or partnerships. Some owned a boat, others would lease them from a broker, most fished with nets

Highly regulated industry with fishing leases, taxes, transportation tolls, fish and boat brokers

Fish were dried or salted and the majority were processed into fermented fish sauce for export.


Capernaum, Bethsaida, Magdala were all associated with the fishing industry. In Greek Magdala is ("Processed-Fishville").—think Mary of the Fish Cannery


You at St. Clements with your partron saint, your anchor, your support of the mission to seafarers might know that Just as the fish was an early symbol for Jesus, the boat was an early symbol for the church. A small group together, vulnerable, afloat all headed the same direction.


You may have heard of the “Jesus boat,” found sunk in the Sea of Galilee dating from 50-100 years after the death of Jesus.

An open boat with Mast and oars, about 26 ft long, 8 ft wide, Could carry a crew of 5 and cargo or 10 passengers. The repeated mending attests to the meager lives of Galilean fishers.


So there they are in a small, over full boat, right after the death of the baptist—and the storm language is political, they were tortured by the waves and opposed by the wind.


Jesus appears terrifyingly and says “do not be afraid. It is I.”

Peter’s response is typically bold “if it is really you command me to come to you”


This is a reversal of the storm tale trope of throwing someone into the water to appease the storm.


A lot of people read this text as a condemnation of Peter’s “little faith”

If only Peter had had more faith, kept his eyes on Jesus, then he would have walked all the way to Jesus. If only we had more faith –fill in the blank


Others say that Peter is chastened for his pride—that only Jesus can walk on water and like the other disciples Jesus should have stayed in his place, shouldn’t rock the boat.


I think this is a story about faith.

If you are fearful, or doubting, or feeling despair

And I tell you to have faith, keep you eyes on Jesus, will that actually increase you faith? Does just trying harder Banish doubt?




This is a beautiful and concise drama of the risk of faith--Peter walks, sinks and is caught.—but the storm still rages


So what should we take away from this rich rich story of a little boat on the water? –in our experience of church storms, of risk, and rocking the boat? In our own real place by the sea where fish stocks are depleted by industrial harvest and wild salmon are endangered by disease from open net fish farms?


That fish and the fishing economy was core to the context of Jesus and the kingdom movement. And that real life economics are also core to our faith.


That when we say no to Herrod and empire and power, and yes to Jesus and love and life there will be trouble


That fish, fisher people, boats and water are all symbols of our faith and that when they are polluted, contaminated and threatened we are changed too, have a responsibility


And that all of us, Like the fisherman who quits his nets to fish humans and is himself caught in the water,

over and over we risk and doubt 

and when we fall, or fail, or falter--we are caught.


Laurel Dykstra is priest of Salal + Cedar Watershed Discipleship Community

Photo is taken by Elizabeth Mathers