Sermon :: August 13, 2017
22[Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side [of the Sea of Galilee], while he dismissed the crowds.23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
I’ve heard this story my whole life. One of the first stories that really captured my attention and my imagination as a child was hearing about Jesus walking on water and imagining what it would be like. I loved to swim when I was younger and, try as I might, I have only ever been able to float (and sometimes, just barely). As I grew older, I began to wonder what it would be like to have faith like Peter, to step out of the boat in the midst of the storm. That’s a common question when we face this story, isn’t it? Do you have the faith to leave the boat?
Now, though, I’ve begun to notice something about this story – Peter leaves the boat because he actually does not trust Jesus. After finding some much needed solitude (remember, just previous to the story, he was feeding about 15,000 people, which would be enough to tire me out), he decided to catch up with the disciples who set out ahead of him in the boat. He’s walking on water and, of course, this really freaks the disciples out. He tells them, “Don’t worry. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” But the first thing, the very first thing, that Peter does is ask Jesus to prove himself. He was in the safest place he could be, Jesus tells him not to be afraid, and he gets out of the boat anyway.
The sea in ancient Hebrew culture, was a sign of chaos and disorder. Storms on the sea blow up, seemingly out of nowhere. Try as we might, we cannot control the currents or the tides. The water, like the wind, will do what it does without any interference from humanity. But the very first thing we see in Genesis is God hovering over the waters, hovering over the chaos, and ordering it into creation. The very first thing we see in the Bible is God’s ability to bring beauty and order out of darkness and despair. So what does it do to us to see Jesus treading on the sea, the choppy waters, and the chaos of the story and of the world? What must it have meant to the disciples? What does it mean in Charlottesville, VA, where riots and violence have broken out against minorities and vulnerable peoples?
Well, for Peter, it meant that he needed to get out of the boat. He needed to test and see for himself. Perhaps he wanted to tread upon the chaos, too. But he doesn’t find himself as buoyant as his Savior. He takes his eyes of Jesus for a fraction of a moment and that’s enough to send him sinking down. And here, here is where we see the glory and love of Jesus, not in the miracle of the holy hydroplaning, but in his rescue of Peter.
Jesus reaches down to pull him up, rescue him, and put him back in the boat. It seems to me to be a great analogy for the man we call Emmanuel, God with us, the Word Incarnate, God in the flesh. He doesn’t just walk on the waves, he doesn’t just show his power, but he reaches down, showing his love, and pulls us back in the boat.
It’s beautiful that we see this scene unfolding. Because we’ve each had times where we didn’t trust, where we took our eyes off of Christ, when we have fallen and need rescue. And we see that God reaches down, into the beauty and the chaos of our world, and pulls us back in to the boat. God reaches down into Charlottesville and North Korea, the White House and the crack house, and pulls up those who are falling into the waves. It seems like Peter has the tendency we often have, an incessant urge to tread on the chaos ourselves rather than enjoy the safety of the boat.
I want you to hear that today. I want you to hear that God is reaching down and bringing us back into the boat. Now the boat isn’t the easiest place to ride – it’s big enough for all humanity, it still feels the waves, you’ll still be sprayed by the storm – but we trust the boat because we trust the one who puts us in the boat. We trust that the boat will stand the storm because of who put us there. Brothers and sisters, Methodists and Lutherans and Catholics and anyone else, we are in a boat together with all creation, and while the storm may rage around us, while we have the tendency to climb out, we see God patiently, lovingly, graciously pulling us out of the waves and putting us back in the boat. For this we are united in fellowship and for this we are forever grateful. Amen.