Walking Across the Sea, Jesus said to them "It is I; do not be afraid."

by Lowell Chilton

A sermon for the people of University Lutheran Church - Seattle, WA.
The texts are Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 6:1-21

It is good to join you this morning as we gather as the Living Body of Christ. I have been gone from this community for the last year as I have been with Holy Trinity Lutheran on Mercer Island as a field learning experience as a part of my seminary education. It is good to be home.

I am home in another way as well. This past week, I was in Atlanta for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Worship Jubilee. Over the past week I experienced well-crafted worship in many styles, learned in workshops, and met interesting people from around our church. It was an amazing week and I am filled with joy for the future of the church.

Also this week, I awoke on Friday morning to learn of the attempted massacre in a movie theater in Lafayette Louisiana. And then to learn that one of the women killed, Jillian Johnson, graduated from my high school the year before me. As is often the case with people with whom we attend school, I did not know her well, but people who I knew well knew her well. And the community of my youth is grieving.

After a week of being fed in the spirit through worship, prayer, fellowship, and meal, I awoke to great sorrow. 

Sorrow for the life of a classmate and the grief of a community.

Sorrow for a country in which gun violence is all too common.

In the past month in our country, we have had a rash of shootings for which to feel sorrow. Charleston, Chattanooga, Lafayette.

And these are not the only shootings in our country. You see, also last week, according Slate magazine, there were at least fifteen murder-suicides involving guns. Eleven of these were men killing women.

In one week, at least eleven murder-suicides with men killing women with guns.


In a week that for me was filled with joy and love and hope.

This is some serious emotional whiplash.

In our gospel lesson today, the disciples have a similar experience of emotional whiplash.

They spend the day with Jesus preaching. They witness an amazing miracle of abundance. They witness Jesus provide a plentiful, overflowing meal from next to nothing. After all, as Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber said this week, “nothing is like God’s favorite material.”

Photo by Oskari Porkka/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Oskari Porkka/iStock / Getty Images

And then they go out to sea, to cross to Capernaum. As they were crossing the sea a wind came upon them and the sea became rough. After a little while crossing the sea, they saw Jesus coming toward them, walking, across the sea.

In the midst of the topsy-turvy wake of the rough sea, they saw Jesus walking toward them and they became more afraid. For they seemed to not know him.

Until he said “It is I; do not be afraid.

It is I; do not be afraid.

And immediately they reached the other side.

The disciples experienced the sharp whiplash of joy and hope turning to fear and despair. And they were met by Jesus and he calmed their hearts and brought them to the other side.

At the Worship Jubilee, Bishop Eaton reminded us that as LutheranChristians, we are Theology of the Cross people. I think for many of us, this theology flows through us like the post-worship coffee – a natural part of who we are and our life together as people of faith.

The Theology of the Cross is as Paul writes in today’s Epistle - we are grounded in the love of God made manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and through this life, death, and resurrection we are in a fuller relationship with God than anything we could possibly hope to do on our own.

This fullness frees us from the weight of sin and guilt. 

As Theology of the Cross people, we know that we are freed from worry about doing enough or being good enough or holy enough.
We are freed from the things that tie us to the world. We are freed to try to change the world for the better, knowing that God is there with us, helping us along the way.

Even before Jesus’ death, he was there, calming their souls. When he reached the disciples and proclaimed “It is I; do not be afraid.” He calmed their hearts in the storm and set them free.

And through the Living Body of Christ, Christ continues to calm hearts and declare “It is I; do not be afraid.”

We all are welcomed into and participants in the mystery that is the resurrection of Christ. We are members of the church catholic, the Living Body of Christ, which carries on from the beginning. And we are freed to work toward the creation of a more just and safe society. 

We are freed to dwell in the sorrow of a classmate’s senseless death in a movie theater secure in grace and peace of Christ.

We are freed to confront the knowledge that this week there were at least eleven other murder-suicides with men killing women secure in the hope of the future. 

We are freed to step out of our box and say “It is I; do not be afraid.” and to manifest the grace and peace of Christ which calms hearts and settles seas.

Of course, this will rarely sound like “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Most likely it will take the form of a gentle touch on the shoulder of a worried friend.

Or a letter to a legislator advocating better gun control or better funding for mental health.

Or a prayer that remembers the names of Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson and commends their souls to God.

Or a reforming movement in the church catholic and in society which no longer allows shootings like the ones this week to become just background noise as we move on to the next male-centered TV show.

Or a voice raised in a song of lament or protest.

When we do any of these things, we make a statement that the Living Body of Christ is near, walking across the turbulent sea, and proclaiming “It is I; do not be afraid.”

This morning, as we gather around this meal and join in the communion with all the saints, with the Living Body of Christ that was and is and ever shall be, and proclaim together Christ’s death and resurrection in the eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, may we be filled with the Holy Spirit. 

May we be filled with the fullness of God and secure in the knowledge that truly goodness is stronger than evil and in Christ all things are brought into the fullness in God.

May we be carried forth from this place secure in the hope and peace of God which surpasses all understanding, freed through the cross to be agents of change in our society, proclaiming to all the world that the living Christ is here and is saying “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Amen and Amen