Keep your eyes on Jesus
By Herb Beyer
Sept. 8, 2017 at 3:51 p.m.
In baseball, I remember the coach always telling us to keep our eyes on the ball when we came up to bat. It would mean the difference between making a hit, a strike, or in some cases, a batter getting hit by the ball.
In the Gospel of Matthew, a similar point is made, but in terms of keeping our eyes on Jesus. And that is especially important given the recent events surrounding North Korea, its threats and development of nuclear warheads. Some have compared this concern about North Korea to the 1960s and the Soviet Union placing missiles aimed at the U.S. from Cuba.
In Matthew's Gospel account, we hear how Jesus has feed some 5,000 plus people on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Then Jesus sends his disciples across the lake in a boat. Several hours later, they encounter a storm, and Jesus comes to them walking on the water.
The boat was being battered by the wind and waves. In the midst of this storm, you hear their very human reactions - their anxiety, worry, fretting and fears. These are the emotions of a lot of folks in our world today given the many storms - the threat of war, a strike on American soil, the continuing threat of terrorism, the violence of hate groups, and now a Hurricane Harvey followed by a Hurricane Irma.
In the gospel story, Jesus returns to the scene of the storm from a time of prayer. He comes now walking on the water. Bringing calm to the situation, Jesus says, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."
So often in the midst of life's struggles, challenging situations, when the feelings of distress seek to overwhelm us, Jesus brings His good words of assurance. When we open our newspapers, or listen to the stories on radio and TV, or the stories that folks pass on in the course of gossip or just everyday conversation, we are stirred to worry and fret. There are those whose sights are fixed on the financial news. Will the stock market dip or soar? With communities in our nation dealing with drought and forest fires, or with flooding that brings destruction, will rain or sunshine come?
Jesus invites Peter to step out of the safety of the boat, to step out into the midst of the storm that surrounds him, to step out in faith. But notice in the gospel story, Peter is walking on the water toward the Jesus who bids him "Come." Peter is doing great so long as he keeps his focus, the center of his attention, his eyes on Jesus. But when he allows his fears to take hold, Peter sinks like a rock into the waters. That's how it can be for us, too. Our fears can keep us from doing what must be done.
A couple dares to have a child, even though they know of the mishaps that could happen in a delivery, the terrible things that sometimes happen during the course of that child's life, or the bad choices that child could make. The couple steps out in faith.
The person who starts a business or builds a home during a time of financial uncertainty, steps out in faith.
The farmer who plants another crop, even though the year before that previous crop was lost to disease or disaster, steps out in faith.
The woman who went through a painful divorce years before, meets that kind and gentle soul. She steps out once again in faith.
The troubled, sick and the dying do much like Peter when he was going down for the final count and cry out, "Lord, save me." The disciples in the boat say of this Jesus, "Truly you are the Son of God." Truly this Jesus brings the power and presence of God to any situation, any challenge we face.
The simple fact is, if we are going to face the storms and challenges of this life, if we are going to go through and move beyond the adversities, we have to realize that the cross we hold onto is far more than a nice piece of jewelry or decoration.
If we are going to celebrate life, endure and thrive, then keep our eyes on this Jesus.
We are invited, encouraged, challenged to keep our eyes on this Jesus who stills the waters, who calms the winds, who brings peace to our fears, who overcomes the storms of our lives.
He is the One who brings the powerful presence of God Himself. He is the One who carries us through and beyond the challenges of the day.
The Rev. Herb Beyer is pastor of Tri-County Cooperative Ministries, ELCA.