Matthew 14: 22-33 –
And right away he made the disciples get in a boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he dispersed the crowds. After he had dispersed the crowds, he went up to the mountain privately to pray. He remained there alone well into the evening.
By this time the boat was already some distance from land and was being pounded by waves because the wind was against them. About three o’clock in the morning he came toward them walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, there were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
Right away Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be brave, it’s me! Don’t be afraid.”
In response Peter said, “Master, if it’s really you, order me to come across the water to you.”
He said, “Come on.”
And Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But with the strong wind in his face, he started to panic. And when he began to sink, he cried out, “Master, save me.”
Jesus immediately held out his hand and took hold of him and says to him, “You with your meager trust! Why did you hesitate?” And by the time they had climbed into the boat, the wind had died down.
Then those in the boat paid homage to him, saying, “You really are God’s son.” (The Scholar’s Version)
For those of us who were raised as little children in the church, we know this story as one of the more familiar stories of Jesus with the disciples. And, the theme of the story has (or is) always been to not be as Peter, not be afraid, and let Jesus take us to safety. We get the pictures in our minds of the Sunday School flannel-graphs being used to show the boat in the waves with Jesus walking on the water. Songs have been written about walking on the water. Bryan Duncan, a long-time Christian musician, wrote a song entitled “Strollin’ on the Water.” The words for the chorus are as follows:
Strollin’ on the water
High over every care.
Strollin’ on the water,
sinking no longer.
I can soar above the high tides,
I can do it, I can do it, I can do it –
know where my strength comes from.
If you are familiar with the song, the tune may pop into your head as you sing along.
Sure, we have a story of Jesus walking on water, a disciple who makes a miraculous attempt at something, but realizes his own failures, starts to sink, cries to Jesus in fear, and is rescued, only to get back into the boat with calm weather.
The weather on the Sea of Galilee was that way, though. Located in a valley, the winds would often come down from the mountainsides as the temperature cools down on the sea, usually during the middle night or very early morning. This creates some tempestuous wave creations, as winds from two different directions come to meet each other. It would be scary just standing on the shore, let along being in a boat. And, a fishing boat at that, too.
It is also the same for us in our journey as we attempt to cross the river God has given to us to cross. Maybe we fell once, it scared the life out of us, and now we no longer want to attempt to do the same mistake. Maybe we are in the river when a storm comes up. Nothing like a good mountain thunder and lightning storm to stir up some fear when you are standing in the middle of the river.
If you read the other Revised Common Lectionary readings that correspond today, you will find that the theme is regardless of what situation you are in or are expecting to get into, God is there to remove the fear. The epistles of John state that perfect love – a love undaunted by affairs of today, who or what we are in the sight of the world, a love that is not concerned about the mistakes we have made – casts out all fear. Not just some, or the greatest, or our biggest, but all fear.
Fear is represented as a singular word here because it involves a reaction to events, things we hear, things we smell, things we see, and things we feel, and maybe even taste that create an emotion within us of emergency. It is that fight or flight response we have to something that scares us. Our bodies respond by producing endorphins that are naturally responsive and are supposed to help us respond accordingly and preparedly.
God has called us as followers of Christ because Christ demonstrated the need for trust in the face of fear. I can imagine Jesus waving to Peter as he said, “Come on,” beckoning Peter to come out on the water in the same matter that he would have if Jesus had called in on the shore or on the road. It is in the face of any time that God calls to us, there is an intention on God’s part to use us.
I speak and write often of God’s call to use our gifts, talents, and abilities that God has given us to whatever level we can use them in the intention that God has called us to use them. It involves keeping out eyes on Jesus, casting out our fear of the unknown ahead of us, and moving in whatever direction in whatever situation we are in without fear of drowning or failing.
If we could channel our fears to be tamed by the calm calling of Jesus Christ in our hearts and lives, we may find peace in the boat. After we become settled, the storm ceases as fast as it started. We find we are at peace with God and Jesus Christ, ready to go somewhere else. The story does not end with Peter safely in the boat with Jesus, but with Peter and Jesus and the disciples who were watching going on to another adventure, another lesson from the Christ, the Anointed One. That life lives and dwells within us, preparing us to be not afraid, but trusting. The path that God has for us is lit with God’s Word. Amen.