The story of Jesus walking on water and Peter going out to Him and then sinking is well known. I daresay it is a story which is fairly well known by those outside the Church. Admittedly, one of its primary purposes was to teach the Apostles, disciples, and us that Jesus really was the Messiah. His ability to walk on water in the midst of a storm teaches us about His authority and His power. Plus, given the ANE’s association of chaos with water, the story would have likely evoked an even greater appreciation of His power: He treads on chaos. Part of the danger for a pastor of being on vacation is the potential disconnect between the pastor and the people. As most of you know, I am often blessed to get amazing illustrations during the week leading up to worship. Better still, I get a sense of where people are struggling in their daily lives and am able (hopefully) to teach where Scripture speaks into our lives, both collectively and individually. But that is precisely where I found myself this week. We had some great readings, but I had no idea which story was speaking most strongly to us as a congregation or to you as individuals.
As I was considering the story of Peter getting out of the boat and sinking, though, I was reminded of some other lessons taught in this story. Admittedly, we live these lessons well as a congregation, but I believe we are well-served to remind ourselves of their truths.
(1) Jesus loves me, this I know. Sure, we all know the song, but do we ever inwardly digest its meaning? One of the dangers of human thought is that we tend to view blessings as signs of God’s approval or favor. If our bills are paid, our relationships are solid, and life seems generally good, we often think that we are favored by God. The problem with that thought, as we are reminded in Job and elsewhere, is the corollary: if things are bad then He views me unfavorably. The truth is, of course, He loves us no matter our circumstances. Whether things are going well or terribly, He loves us. Whether we are His disciples or His enemies, He loves us. We know this because He chose to die for our sins and restore us to our Father in Heaven. In fact, He loves us like no one else we know ever will.
How do we know that? Place yourself in Jesus’ shoes for just a second. You have just fed 5000 men, besides women and children and had 12 containers full of leftovers after everyone was satisfied. Now, you come walking to your followers on the water. One asks you to call him to you. As he approaches, he loses faith and begins to sink. Better still, you know that he will deny you three times. In fact, you know all his strengths and failings. Would you reach out your hand to save him? Or would you be tempted to start over with someone else? Over and over and over, though, Jesus reaches out that saving hand even when we are “of little faith.”
(2) He really is with us. I know it is tempting sometimes to view these stories as events that happened in a mythological past. “Ah, if only I would have -- seen the empty tomb/been the one walking on water/seen the Transfiguration/witnessed the Ascension/fill in your favorite miracle – then my faith would move mountains, indeed!” Sometimes, we act as if we do not believe that He is risen from the dead and, better still, with us until the end of the age. But He made that promise, and He answers our prayers. We do well when we remember that He really is with us and ready to stretch forth that hand just as He did for Peter. That hand may not seem miraculous as Jesus' in this story, but it will support you all the same.
(3) When the storms of life seem overwhelming, when we feel like we are drowning in our burdens, we need to keep our focus on Him. When Peter focused his attention on Jesus, he walked on the water just fine. It was only after Peter began to notice the wind and the waves and the “oh my gosh I am really walking on water” that Peter began to sink. But where you or I would be wondering whether we could tread water or make it back to the boat before we drowned, Peter returned his focus and attention to where it needed to be: On Jesus. And even that little faith and that call for help was enough. Jesus, once again, redeemed him.
How do these truths play out in our lives? I mentioned that we already live them. For 40+ years we have been feeding the neediest in our community. Better still, you have not just been going through the motions but giving them things you lovingly prepared. Whether it’s Charlie’s meatballs, Pauline’s ambrosia, and countless other favorite menu items, you have called upon His power and attacked hunger with a feast. How many times have we made enough to serve 50 and served 100 or more? And who has ever gone away unsatisfied? Do you really think that we, as messed up as we are, are that good at planning? No, we depend upon Him to stretch the food that all might be blessed.
How many times have our intercessors called upon Him and He answered in amazing ways? Sandy’s ability to return home from her mission trip to die is just the most recent example. Much of what they do in behind the scenes and in confidence, yet each one cannot stop with just one story of His miracles among us. Ask them, and a list begins to form. The dead have been raised, the sick have been healed, the broken have been made whole, and all this simply because they dared to lift their voice and ask Him to act.
These truths are such a part of this parish that they may not even be noticed by you. I remember an amazing conversation after my second Annual Meeting here. For a second time there was little bickering, little fighting, really very little angst. It seemed weird to me because we had no real money. My last church could at least depend upon its endowment when the pledging came up short. Here, there is no endowment, no safety net. I was worried whether people understood the budget and how tight things really were. Jan heard me griping and worrying and said “Father, we have never been blessed with a lot of money. We have never had a ‘rainy day’ fund or excess to put away. We consider ministries, and then we pray for God to provide whatever is needed: money, people, expertise, whatever. Amazingly, He always provides whatever it is that we need. And, when He does not provide, well, then, we know that we probably are not doing the things He would have us to do. So relax. If it is something God wants, He will make it happen.”
Flash forward three more years. You have done amazing things in His name in the few years that I have been privileged to serve here, and He has met our needs, in ways beyond ours (or at least my) wildest dreams. We are a vanguard in the burgeoning movement to wipe slavery from the face of the earth. We have helped provide clean drinking water for two villages overseas. We have inoculated villages whose residents we will never meet. We have helped more than 5000 families in our community to eat well, at least for a time. If I had a dollar for every gas card we have distributed, I would have money for a few more gas cards – lol. We have lived as if we believe He is risen and as if we believe He is with us and as if He will answer us. And look at what we have done in His name! Brothers and sisters, you are already out of the boat and walking. Just remember, keep your focus where it needs to be, that He might be glorified in us and in our service of Him, that others might reach out their hands to Him and experience that same love, that same strength, that same power to save.