Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"At the End of Your Rope"

Matthew 14:22-33

Psalm 46:1-7

     There’s a story of a group of young skiers stranded in a rugged, mountainous area following an

avalanche.  The only hope they had of being rescued off the mountain was to be airlifted.  So a

ranger’s helicopter came with a long rope which was lowered to the victims.  Four persons – three

men and one woman – grabbed hold of the rope and were lifted high above the treetops for the  two

mile journey to the nearest ranger station.  Still a mile from their destination, the rope began to

snap, a cord at a time.  They decided that one person had to get off, or the rope would break and

they’d all perish.  The three men were eyeing the woman who happened to be bottom most and the

heaviest of the riders.  Knowing their intent and her probable fate, the woman gave in; and as a final

word, offered a really touching speech.  She said that she was willing to give up her life to save the

others.  After all, she said, women are accustomed to sacrificing for their husbands and children, and

seeing to the well-being of others, often receiving little or nothing in return.  When she finished her

passionate oratory, all the men applauded…….  The moral of the story:  never underestimate the

wisdom and resourcefulness of a woman at the end of her rope.

      On a serious note though, what recourse do we have when we find ourselves at the end of our

rope?  Sometimes we do joke that our spouse, children, siblings, parents have us at the end of our

rope.  Yet there are times when the bottom has truly fallen out of everything we’ve depended on to

hold us up; when our support system seems to be snapping a cord at a time, what do we do?  For

example, a spouse, or parent, or dear friend who is the most supportive person in our lives; one we

depend on for advice, wisdom, comfort, security; then their life is suddenly threatened or snatched

away from us, and we’re left dangling in the cruel winds of fear, and grief, and loneliness.  Or we’ve

always been in good health; robust and able-bodied; come and go as we please, caring and doing for

ourselves.  Then suddenly the diagnosis or event which will temporarily – or perhaps permanently –

take away that which  we, all our lives, have taken for granted.  Or we’ve had a job or career which

has supported us and our families well; a place to ply our trade every day, and paycheck to bring

home very week.  Then comes word of layoffs, or a plant closing, or a change in management which

which will mean we’re out. 

      This is the stuff of life which leaves us – in a manner of speaking – twisting in the wind.  We call

upon our own resources of inner-strength and conviction; mettle of character; courage; patience;

hope; faith.  But the time comes when our own resources – vast as they may be – are simply not

enough.  We find we’re hanging on for dear life at the end of our rope, with the fibers of our life

snapping.  Do we just let go?  Do we wait for the last thread to snap and free fall into an abyss of

despair?  Like Simon Peter in our lesson this morning, do we focus on the storm, allowing ourselves

to be swallowed up by the tempest? 

      This morning’s passage is a well-known story; one of the several seaside or on-the-sea accounts

recorded in the gospels.  It follows on the heels of an equally familiar story of Jesus feeding the five

thousand; a case of meager resources miraculously leading to abundant provision.  “Immediately,”

as Matthew tells us, “(Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other

side, while he dismissed the crowds.”  What comes next is a story most often acclaimed as a

miracle narrative, titled by most commentators:  ‘Peter walking on the water.’ 

      As the storyline unfolds, the disciples are struggling desperately against one of the legendary

storms which so often developed without warning on the Sea of Galilee.  I’m reminded of the

intense cinematic scenes of Captain Billy Tyne and his crew of sword fishermen fighting against the

fury of “The Perfect Storm” in the North Atlantic.  The disciples’ boat – presumably a fishing vessel –

was being tossed to and fro; its hull and sides being beaten into toothpicks by the relentless wind and

waves.  Then out of the tumult of the storm comes what appears to be the figure of Jesus, walking

atop the restless sea.  In Mark’s account of the same incident, we are told that Jesus was intending

to pass on by.  But in terror, the disciples cry out, “It is a ghost!”  Somehow, in the midst of the

crashing swell and howling gale, they perceive Jesus’ voice reassuring them:  “Take heart, it is I; do

not be afraid.” 

      It is at this point that the disciple known for his strength, his boldness, his courage – a man of

significant inner-resources; the one called by Jesus “the Rock” – steps up and steps out.  Simon Peter

answers, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  We can’t help but be im-

pressed by the faith of a man willing to attempt the impossible at the behest of his Lord.  Perhaps the

disciples thought they were doomed; at the end of their rope; the bottom of their boat being literal-

ly ripped from under them.  But not Peter.  With almost an air of bravado, he responds to Jesus’

simple instruction:  “Come.” 

      Now this is where the story gets all good press.  Emblazoned across the front page of the Galilee

Maritime Star:  “THE ROCK WALKS ON WATER!”  For many of us, this is the be all and end all of the

story; this miraculous event which proves Jesus’ power and applauds Peter’s faith – a power we’d

like to tap into, and a faith we’d like to possess.  But what we might call ‘the application phase’ of this

miracle narrative is just getting under way. 

      I wonder if there was indeed a bit of an odd swagger in Peter’s faltering steps on the water early

that morning.  Yes, he was responding in faith.  He was walking on water only because Jesus was

enabling him to.  He was moving in the right direction – toward his Lord and Master.  But I submit

that Peter’s eyes were not fully focused on the source of his salvation.  Maybe Peter was feeling

pretty good about those inner-resources which allowed him to step up and step out.  He knew he

and the others were in great peril.  He was fully aware of his and their certain fate without Jesus’

presence and intervention.  We must grant Peter all that.  But at the same time, he was – at a deep

place – still depending very much on himself.  A strong and healthy faith can sometimes swell us

with such pride that we begin to consider it our  accomplishment rather than a manifestation of

God’s grace.  And we must never forget that faith is ultimately a gift of God; not human striving.

      At any rate, Matthew tells us that “Peter noticed the strong wind.”  That in fact became his focus. 

And in the wind, and waves, and tumult of the storm, Peter had met his match; a force and reality

more powerful than his own inner-resources, vast as they may have been.  Beginning to sink fast, he

realized at the deepest place that he was at the end of his rope.  Then – and only then – could Peter

cry out from his heart:  “Lord, save me!” 

      Then Jesus did for Peter what Jesus promises for all of us when we’ve reached the point of utter

helplessness as regards our own ability to save ourselves.  It’s like the addict or alcoholic who finally

hits bottom and recognizes he or she needs a source of strength outside themselves.  “Jesus imme-

diately reached out his hand and caught him.”  Peter didn’t realize it at the time, but Jesus remin-

ded him – again – that the true source of salvation – a source outside Peter himself – was there all

along.  Why did Peter doubt?  It’s the human story.  Simon Peter learned that Jesus of Nazareth was

not only his Lord.  Jesus was his savior.  At the other end of the rope was the One who would not let

him fall.  But that lesson is oftentimes not learned until every inner-resource – vast, and good, and

valuable as they may be – is exhausted.  And Peter finally, genuinely cries out for salvation.  And

“Jesus immediately………”

 

      Are you feeling at the end of your rope this morning?  What do you do?  When the bottom is fal-

ling out from under you, what do you grab hold of?  When the wind and waves and tumult of the

storm threaten to pull you under, what do you cry?  “Lord, save me!”  When that parent, or spouse,

or friend is snatched away from you?  “Lord, save me!”  When your health and youth and vitality are

ebbing away?  “Lord, save me!”  When your job or career is detoured or hits a dead end?  “Lord,

save me!”  When your beloved child leaves you swinging in the wind or drowning in the morass?

“Lord, save me!”  And the Lord will, swiftly.  He will be not only Lord of your life, but Savior of your

life.  After all, Jesus was sent by His own profession, “to seek and to save the lost.” 

      Let me conclude this morning by saying this:  Jesus doesn’t save us from the pain and loss which

characterizes life.  It was part of His life.  It will be part of ours.  We will still encounter storms of

varying magnitudes and intensities.  Some will come up with warnings of distant thunder and

gathering clouds.  Others will come upon us with no warning, and without giving us the benefit of

time to batten down the hatches or grab the end of a life line.  We’ll still be hanging on for dear life

at times, when those avalanches of life strand us in rugged and mountainous terrain.  And our inner-

resources of strength, conviction, mettle of character, courage, patience, hope, faith – these God-

given gifts – will serve us well.  But when we find ourselves at the end of our rope; when it feels like

we’ll perish, remember that outer-resource which will not let us fall into the abyss.  That Savior is

Jesus Christ.  Human nature is such that we may have to exhaust everything else before we focus on

the strength which is outside of us.  But in that strength, we find iron-clad reliability.  At that point,

we will sing praises saying, “My Lord, and my Savior!”  And as Jesus gets into our boat, we’ll join the

disciples worshiping him, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” 

 

“O love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee.”  Lord our God, so often in this journey

of life, we find ourselves depleted – of strength, of resources, of will.  We feel like we’ve come to the

end of our rope, or are being swallowed up by life’s storms.  May we call to You, confident that You

will bid us ‘come,’ and catch us when we’re sinking.  Grant us the gift of faith, and the assurance that

Your love will, indeed, never let us go.  We pray this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102