ICBM, an intercontinental ballistic missile. I think you may have heard this term at least once in any news last week. This horrifying device is what North Korea is believed to have now. I was afraid when North Korea threatened the US, and the US warned them back with the intense words like “fire and fury.” Yes, I am afraid of a war. When a war breaks out, I know the first target should be Seoul, the capital city, where most of my friends and family are. And I will have to go back to South Korea and may not see you again. Charlottesville, Virginia. I think you heard the name of this town all the day long yesterday on TV and radio. The rally of white nationalists hurt many people physically and emotionally. I was afraid when I saw the pictures of the rally, the rally of the people holding burning torches of racism. Yes, I am afraid of the deep-seated hatred and enmity in them. Missile shootings, fire and fury, burning torches… the images of furious flames evoked a certain sense of fear in my heart.
What are you afraid of these days? Indeed, too many things frighten us near and far. It’s worrisome when we hear accelerated global warming, indiscriminate terrorist attacks, and unending wars in our world. It’s scary to know more about problems of the health care system, the legal system, the public education system, and the issues of immigration, drug abuse, suicide, and gun violence in our society. And it’s fearful to face our own issues, our health, finances, family relationships… you name it. Surrounded by all such problems, we ask ourselves, “How should I live?” “Amid all the chaos and fears, how should we live as the followers of Jesus Christ?” I think this is the urgent question we need to ask today.
In today’s Gospel story, the disciples are in a very fearful situation. Jesus just fed the five thousand people, as we read last Sunday, and the disciples got on a boat to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Meanwhile, Jesus went up to the mountain by himself to pray. And that night, the disciples, while they were sailing on the boat, met a violent storm. The Gospel describes that the boat was battered by the waves, the disciples were far from the land, and even the wind was against them, so they couldn’t go ashore (Matthew 14:24). They were scared to death. The helpless fight against the storm went on through the night. Now, it’s early in the morning, and suddenly, they see a man walking on the sea. In the middle of the stormy sea, now they’re facing this ghost coming toward them out of nowhere. The Gospel tells us that the disciples “were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear” (14:26).
The man was actually Jesus. Jesus says to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” (14:27). The disciples now notice that Jesus is coming. And as soon as they see Jesus, what do they want from him? They definitely want Jesus to come over as fast as he can and cease the wind for them. But there is one person who has a very different, and probably insane idea at that moment. He is Peter. He says to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (14:28). Can you understand him? Peter himself wants to go out to Jesus—not just wait for Jesus to come to him. So Jesus calls Peter out, “Come.” Then, Peter steps outside the boat and starts walking on the troubled water toward Jesus. But as soon as Peter notices the strong wind, he becomes frightened, and begins to sink. Then, Jesus immediately reaches out his hand and catches him.
Today I hope, from Peter, we may learn how to break the power of fear. It was only Peter, among all the disciples, who thought he wanted to go to Jesus first and took his step outside the boat. What does this mean to us? Like Peter, we must step outside the boat first to overcome our fear. We shouldn’t hide ourselves and just wait for Jesus to come over and help us. Rather, we should take our steps toward Jesus. We should do something to go within Jesus’ reach. Indeed, faith in action is what we need to drive our fears away.
Here you may ask, “But Peter eventually failed, didn’t he?” Yes, he did. Why? Because Peter took his eyes off from Jesus and looked into the storm. From Peter’s failure, we learn another lesson. Our focus should be on Jesus as we walk. Under certain circumstances, we naturally feel anxious and scared, and nothing is wrong with that. But we better not allow our fears to dominate us and control us. How? Focus on Jesus who calls us out even in our stormy nights, “Come.” Focus on Jesus who is always walking toward us all through the night, through the violent winds and towering waves in our lives, to save us, to grab us when we are sinking.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, how should we live amid all the chaos and fears in our lives? How should we live as the followers of Jesus Christ? Step outside the boat and start walking toward Jesus. And while you’re walking, stop looking into the storm, but look at Jesus.
As we saw this past week, there are many fearful things going on in the world. And when we encounter fear, we just want to shut ourselves in. That is one of our common habits as humans. We want to stay inside, stay where we feel safe and comfortable, and passively wait until the problems pass us by. But the Gospel tells us today that that’s not what the followers of Jesus Christ should do. “Come.” Jesus is calling us out to take a bold step, even just one step, outside the boat. It’ll be still scary, but that’s how we start to plant God’s justice and peace in this stormy world.
In the face of the fear of war, the fear of fire and fury, let us step outside our doors and start sharing the peace of Christ with people around us by serving them and accepting them with our open hearts. Walk toward Jesus as God’s kingdom builders in the storm. In the face of the fear of the burning torches of bigotry, let us step outside our silence and start to address everyday racism and change something in our community, at our work places. Walk toward Jesus as the prophets of God’s justice in the storm. And in the face of personal and innermost fear for various reasons, let us step outside our closed minds, start looking for Jesus through our prayers, and stay always within his reach. Walk toward Jesus as God’s faithful disciples in the storm. We’re celebrating Higher Education Sunday today, we see our young adults. I’m pretty sure that you must be excited about your new journey, but at the same time, it’s also quite scary when you feel uncertain about your future. Whenever fear comes in your heart, don’t forget to put one step closer to Jesus.
Let us step outside the boat and start walking toward Jesus. On our walk, let’s not take eyes to the storm, but look for Jesus who is with us through the stormy night to save us, and who is now walking toward us and calling us out, “Come.” Amen.