In the past week I have been reflecting quite deeply about last week’s Gospel reading. If you recall it was the account of the disciples being in a boat that was being tossed about by the wind and the waves when a ferocious storm hit them. They were fearing for their lives when a mysterious figure appears walking on the water. They presume it is a ghost that has come from the deep waters that were the home of the evil spirits.
Then comes the comforting words of Jesus – don’t be afraid – it is me – or as I explained – his actual words were – don’t be afraid – I AM God. Peter, seeing Jesus walking on the water asked for permission to do likewise. Jesus says “come” and he walks on the water until he sees again the wind and the waves and begins to sink. He cries out – Jesus save me – which of course he does. He extends his hands – places him back in the boat and says – you of little faith – why did you doubt?
And it’s that last phrase by Jesus that has been ringing in my ears all week – all month – almost all year – you of little faith – why are you doubting? I have to admit, doubt is my biggest concern. Because as soon as I doubt I fear – like Peter. Doubt can face even the strongest of Christians. I don’t believe doubt is a sin – no it’s more serious. Doubt is how Satan attacks our faith in God and it can affect anyone. Listen to what Matthew says about the 11 disciples- those closest to Jesus – the ones in the boat last week who said – truly this is the Son of God. Matthew 28 says: the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
Satan’s weapon against Christians is to cause doubt in God’s ability to help them and directs them to their own strength. Think back to where our problems with God all started – in the Garden of Eden – when Satan cast doubts in the mind of Eve – did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden. And then when Eve responded that they would die if they did – Satan casts further doubt – surely you won’t die. It was similar doubt that he cast in Jesus mind when he tempted him in the wilderness – If you are the Son of God – turn these rocks into bread –if you are the Son of God “if” – doubts. Trying to turn Jesus to trust his own strength rather than trusting God – if you’re hungry, turn these rocks into bread. Feed yourself if you’re hungry.
So Jesus concern for Peter was that he could see Satan attacking Peter by creating doubt. And that for me becomes a stumbling block – doubting God in all this that we are going through. Is God really in control here?
And I began to doubt that he was and I began to fear for the future – the future of the church – my future as a Pastor – the future of people I love and their financial security. Those doubts create fear- fear creates further doubts in God and we are suddenly spiralling downward – sinking – and unable to regain our security and faith in God.
And that’s what we are seeing answered in our Bible readings today – particularly our 2 readings from the New Testament – Paul’s letter to the Romans and Matthews Gospel. Paul asks a question: I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! Paul never doubted God’s love for his people. And even though he is specifically referring to his Jewish brothers and sisters here we can confidently include all people because Jesus says that God loved the entire world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but receive eternal life.
What a wonderful and comforting promise made to us all that we can cling to like a life preserver, which is what God’s promises are – life preservers. And then Paul speaks about God’s promises when he says – the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. God cannot and will not revoke his promises to us.
Now let’s give Peter credit where credit is due. When he began to doubt and began to sink he immediately called out to Jesus – Lord, save me. He didn’t turn to his own strength and try to swim back to the boat or struggle against the wind and waves – he turned to Jesus again and cries out to him – Lord, save me. Doubts are going to happen. Storms are going to happen in our lives. It will feel like God is not in control, like it did to Peter. But that’s when we remember God’s promise to us – I am with you always – and we cry out to him – Lord, save me. And the promise – everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Let’s now look at our Gospel reading where, again, we see faith at work in extraordinary circumstances. We have here a mother who is definitely not an Israelite. She is a Canaanite. Jesus himself acknowledges that: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. So again, like Peter, almost identical words – Lord, help me – Lord, save me. And even though Jesus seemingly rejects her request because she was not of the Israelite children of God – she falls back, not onto a family heritage – but on the promise of God that is irrevocable. Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
The world is holding out for a vaccine to be produced by the scientific world for comfort. Until that day what do we do? Do we live in fear? What if a vaccine is years away? What if there’s not enough to go around?
Remember, it only took a perceived shortage of toilet paper to send people into a frenzy – even violence. But we as Christians have a far greater assurance – the promise of God who promised “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
Whether healing for our world, our nation, our state comes from a vaccine or from the miraculous healing of God’s hands – it is through prayer to our loving heavenly Father and his assurance that he will never leave us or forsake us because his promises are irrevocable. And that’s where we find our comfort. That means God can never go back on his promise to us. His promise to be with us always. His promise to assure our salvation.
His promise to love us unconditionally.
Yes there are times when I doubt this world and what is happening. That’s natural. But we must never doubt God’s almighty power and that he is Lord of Heaven and Earth. And that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The Canaanite woman did not give up her faith in Jesus even though the disciples kept urging Jesus to “Send her away” And it was these same disciples that said the very same thing to Jesus about the hungry crowds when they felt that their worldly provisions were not enough to feed them – “send them away”. They kept looking to their own strength which was not enough for the problems they faced. But God sends no one away. And even though it might seem like we are in a hopeless situation, nothing is impossible with God because hope does not disappoint us when our hope is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So let us keep persevering like this Canaanite woman urging Jesus to help us and trust that he is in control and is always in control and if God is on our side, who can be against us.