Message: 1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
We all know the story. It’s among our top favorites. Jesus walking on the water. Mark’s gospel and John’s gospel share the same story as Jesus makes his disciples get in the boat and the waters are rough because of strong winds. All three gospels show the disciples in the boat terrified as Jesus walks on the water, thinking he may be some kind of demonic force. All three gospels tell the story immediately following the feeding of the 5,000. Only in Matthew’s gospel do we meet Peter walking on the water. Brash, brave Peter who, empowered by Jesus’ command to “come” gets himself out of the boat and takes off, doing his best to trust in our Lord and Savior.
To know Jesus sometimes we just have to get ourselves out of the boat.
For many folks, boats are safe havens; good places to find peace and recreation as life tosses us back and forth. In fact, studies tell us that boats are twice as likely to be more safe that cars. So, as Jesus makes the disciples get into the boat, it may be he’s looking for some protection. John’s gospel gives us a little hint. Just prior to boarding the boat, Jesus and the disciples feed 5, 000 people on the hillside. Amazed at Jesus’ miraculous feeding the crowds begin to swarm Jesus forcing him to be their long awaited king. Jesus knows the move will cause revolt. He chooses his typical pattern, to withdraw into the hills to pray. At the same time, protecting his disciples, he demands they get into the safety of the boat and sail out into the sea.
Because the sea rests in a rift valley, with mountain ranges rising on either side, frequent temperature changes result in sudden strong winds. The disciples are fishermen and accustomed to the storms across the Sea of Galilee. Boats and tempestuous waters are familiar territory for Jesus and his disciples. As he makes his followers climb into the boat, does Jesus know rough waters are ahead? Most likely. But, Jesus also knows, if we will simply trust in him, he will lead us through the rough waters.
Strong winds stir during the late hours of the night and into the wee morning hours. After a night of praying in the seclusion of the mountains, Jesus descends and walks across the water to comfort the disciples in the storm. Walking across the water causes more panic than calm. The disciples are terrified that evil spirits living in the sea are now rising. They scream, “it’s a ghost!” Not for long, as a familiar voice reassures in an almost ordinary cheerful greeting, as he says, “be of good cheer, it’s me, do not be afraid.” Jesus transforms our fear into a motivator to get out of the boat.
Peter is now ready to take the leap of faith. He’s lived his life in the safety of what he knows best, the boat, even with the tempestuous storms of life. How often are we more willing to just keep on rowing around in our oh so familiar troubles rather than risking change that promises greater glory but also assures us of new, unfamiliar storms. Or, has the security of our boat become the place where we can stay silent and remain securely passive? With Jesus, we don’t have that option. He walks across whatever our rough waters may be and commands us to come. Come! Get out of the boat.
With the water hammering up against the small boat Peter throws his legs over, he stands on the water and walks toward Jesus.
Sometimes, we just have to trust in Jesus enough to surrender to his ever loving care. Trusting in Jesus doesn’t mean we won’t doubt. Believing in Christ doesn’t mean we won’t fail. Having faith in God in Christ who dies for us doesn’t mean the waters won’t be choppy. Believing in Christ means we’ll keep at it. We’ll turn in the direction of this saving Christ as he stretches out his hand to rescue us from those times when we just turn away. And, as he does, maybe this failure, this doubt, will be the turning point for us to trust more, believing in our Christ who says, “come”. Come, do, speak, act… be all that we can be in Christ.
Get out of the boat. Yesterday, at the invitation of our Bishops Shannon, Susan and Ted, we joined a hundred or so other clergy from the Washington, D.C., Virginia area and traveled to Charlottesville to march peacefully, taking a non-confrontational stand in opposition to the Unite the Right Rally: a group of white nationalists demonstrating in protest of the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument and the renaming of Lee Park to Emancipation Park in Charlottesville.
While the rally was scheduled to begin at noon. The tensions mounted as crowds of white nationalist protestors and crowds of counter protestors began gathering early in the morning. As we stood peacefully along the sidewalk, the white nationalists assembling with their flags and signs of fascism, Nazi swastikas and white pride, hurled obscenities and cruelties in our direction. Within minutes one counter protestor was bloodily beaten requiring medical attention. The barricades encircling Emancipation Park could not contain the anger of the white nationalists. Nor could the wall of silent police prevent the counter protestors from lashing out. Hostility and violence mounted. By noon the governor declared the event a state of emergency and all were called to disperse. The flood of people still battled on resulting in a minimum of nineteen folks hospitalized, and one pedestrian marcher killed by an angry rallier plowing a car into the crowd as well as two state troopers in a downed helicopter. As we walked among the flood of horror, I prayed and prayed searching for the peace of Christ upon the faces of angry mobsters.
The psalmist writes, “God will speak peace to his people….” My friends, it’s time to get out of the boat. It’s time to get out of the boat, keeping our eyes on Jesus. Now more than ever, clasped in the hands of Jesus, we must walk on the rough waters of hatred, isolation and discord. Alt-right, neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan groups promoting bigotry and violence with a belief in a superior white race is wrong and not the foundation of our country. More importantly, such hatred is not the basis for God’s kingdom living. As followers of Christ, we do not have the privilege of remaining in the safety of the boat.
Yesterday, one counter protestor carried a sign with the words accredited to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” How will we speak? How will we act? Nelson Mandella is quoted as saying, “love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” We are called to speak in love and act in love. Peter, ready to speak and act in the saving love of Christ cries out “Lord, rescue me”. Jesus, reaching out to grab Peter says, “O you of little faith,” Jesus says.
It’s not the amount of Peter’s faith that rewards him in Jesus’ rescue. It’s the little faith that brings Jesus to Peter’s side. It’s the little faith that brings Jesus to us, calling us boldly, courageously to get out of the boat, and in keeping our eyes on Jesus, to speak and act in saving love.
While the tragedy of Charlottesville is still unfolding with much work to do before calm waters prevail, we’re reminded in Christ, today’s story comes to a peaceful end. All are in the safety of the boat, with Jesus, the storm is calm and they worship our Lord and savior. Rabbi Harold Kushner writes that God is the divine power urging us to grow, to reach, to dare…to go forth into an unchartered world where we have never been before, struggling to find our path, but knowing that no matter what, God will be with us. Now, my friends, let’s get out of the boat. As we walk across the rough waters, what will be our words of love? How will our actions be a sign of Christ’s saving grace? Get out of the boat. Jesus is with us.