In the 1947 Christmas Classic “Miracle on 34th Street” we are introduced to Kris Kringle. A man who takes the place of a drunk and disorderly Santa during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Then , thanks to his good work, becomes the department store Santa during the Christmas season at Macy’s. However, we begin to learn that he is no ordinary department store Santa, because as we come to find out he is the real Santa Clause. The story follows the difficult journey taken by Kris to show people, especially one of the store managers and her little daughter, who he really is and that he does exist.
Kris struggles with this through the whole movie. However, there is one character who recognizes him and keeps up faith through the whole movie. His name is Fred Gailey. Fred believes not only that Santa is real, but that Kris truly is who he says he is. The whole movie culminates in a trial to prove whether or not this Kris Kringle is the real Kris Kringle and not just some mental nutcase. It is in the midst of this trial that Fred utters these words that seem to have rung true through time. Fred says, “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”
So many characters in the story were surrendering to common sense. Thinking, “There is no way this man could be Santa Clause.” Or even thinking that Santa Clause doesn’t even exist and therefore this man has to be crazy. However, Fred is telling the people that faith often supersedes common sense, because sometimes it is nonsensical to have faith. Especially in something that others think cannot possible be true.
Both of today’s scripture passages looks at faith. Such an important concept in our own religion, because without faith we have no basis to believe. Especially because of the fact that we cannot physically see that which we believe in. We are to rely on biblical stories that we hear recounted to feed our beliefs. Our faith is what brings us into communion with God and what continues to allow us to grow closer and stronger in the Spirit. If there was anytime for common sense to take over it would be when we begin to read the stories of the bible and believe in God, but faith supersedes common sense.
Now we all know that faith can be a tough and tricky thing. To have to learn to have faith can be daunting and to keep it can be taxing. Common sense attacking from all directions telling us you have to actually see something to believe in it, or that our stories are mere myths and mean nothing. We struggle through our daily lives trying to hold onto our beliefs and sometimes it is tested in ways that can bring us to the brink of disbelief. And it is not just from other people testing us, but can also be from the tests from the world. People not only question our faith, but outside situations can prod at our faith too. Stress and anxiety can be one of those triggers that test our faith. Stress and anxiety can bring on feelings of doubt that we have no help or no love.
Now as you all know I just graduated from seminary with my Master’s in Divinity, but sometimes it felt like I was working on two masters. It felt like I was also working on my Master’s of Stress Management. I am sure we all feel that this is a degree we have all earned at one time or another in our lives and I am sure some of us feel we actually have a doctorate in it. Stress or anxiety can be a driving factor for how we live our lives and it can even cloud and get in the way of things that we believe in. It can get in the way of us seeing the true reason that we are doing things or even cause us to do things that are bad for us or do things for the wrong reason.
Bottom line is that the outside world is chaotic and in the midst of all that we are called to believe in and have faith in a God who is there and who somehow helps us through these times.
In our scripture today we often solely focus on Peter’s faith in walking on water and then sinking, but I invite you to examine the story as a whole and think about how even in the midst of the chaos Jesus is there. When life’s chaos is going on around us Jesus presents himself, and even though we may not recognize him at first, when we realize it is him it can be calming. Not of the chaos, but of our hearts.
In our story we see Jesus, rather forcefully it seems, sends the disciples out on the water in a boat shortly after the feeding of the five thousand, but we see that Jesus does not go with them. It says, “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.” Jesus, instead of going with the disciples, stays back and dismisses the crowds and then retreats to the mountain to pray. We then learn that the boat the disciples are on has made its way far from land and is being battered by wind and waves. It is not noted as a storm just merely turbulent waters that the disciples are riding through. The bible does not say they were even afraid in the midst of this turbulence, but notes the chaos going on around then. They are not afraid in fact until they see what they perceive as a ghostly figure approaching them. Scripture says, “But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear.”
Think of these moments in your life. I want you to think of the turbulent times in your life. When you are out in the world and chaos ensues. How easy is it to recognize Jesus? How easy is it to understand Jesus’ presence in our lives? Often in these times Jesus can seem to be something else. We can even be scared or fearful of Jesus’ presence. Much like the disciples perceived Christ as a ghost sometimes we misperceive Christ as we go through lives turbulent moments. When our lives are turbulent we forget to take a long hard look at things and often don’t see them for what they truly are.
The disciples are crying out in fear. We can probably understand that Jesus would have been close enough to hear these fears, because we see Jesus calls out to them when he hears their fears. Jesus said to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Jesus’ comforting words are to help put the disciples at easy and calm there fears of a strange presence approaching their boat.
This is a phrase that Jesus uses to reveal himself to his followers. In fact the term “it is I” is literally translated from the Greek as “I am.” This is the same phrase God told Moses when Moses asked God’s name. “I am” is indicative of Jesus as God, and reminding the disciples of the holy presence in which they are in. The phrases “take heart” and “do not be afraid” are also phrases used by God all throughout scripture in times of comforting. Jesus is not only comforting, but is trying to help the disciples understand who is comforting them.
We do not read in the story of Jesus calming the wind or the waves, but we see that Jesus is present in and throughout the tumult and turmoil of the situation. Jesus does not calm the outside chaos, but aims to calm the hearts of those amidst the chaos.
As we have explored we have chaos in our own lives. The world around us is full of tumultuous situations. I am sure we would all define our lives as chaotic sometimes/most of the time, and sometimes we lose sight of who Jesus is. We misperceive his presence in our lives and we continue to experience chaos, but when Jesus calls out to us and we recognize him we experience a calming not of the chaos but of our own hearts. The outside chaos does not seem to be as bad. It can seem much more manageable knowing we can recognize Christ.
Then we have Peter who in a moment of doubt calls for the person to show that he is who he says he is. Peter calls out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Once commanded by Jesus to do so he steps out. Then frightened by the wind he sinks. When he sinks we hear those fateful words uttered by Jesus. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Peter doubted, but what did Peter doubt. Well Peter doubted that he could continue walk on water, especially when he saw the wind. However, also in a way he doubted who Jesus was. Peter needed proof of who Jesus was. The turbulence and chaos caused Peter to doubt not once but twice.
Jesus is calling us not to lose our faith in the midst of chaos. In the midst of all that we do he wants us to hold on to the faith of the work he did for us. It is through our faith that we are saved. The Romans passage today explores that and as we examine it we see Paul says, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.”
Our faith is what saves us, so why should we doubt it? Why should we doubt who Jesus is or the work he has done and continues to do through the Spirit?
As we go forth into the chaos we must remember that Jesus is there. We cannot doubt his presence with us. We also cannot doubt what Jesus has commanded us to do.
Jesus had sought to show the disciples this lesson. This lesson of faith. That you must not lose faith in what you believe in. Although common sense tries to tell you something different you need to follow your heart and believe in Jesus.
So allow your faith to show. Allow your heart to speak out and emanate the faith you represent. Do not let the chaos and turbulence of the outside world keep you from your faith.