Sermon continued from yesterday:
Note that after Jesus sends the disciples out in the boat, he goes up on a mountain to pray. It’s helpful here to remember what we have been told in the rest of chapter 14 of Matthew. At the beginning of this chapter, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, has been executed, and Jesus has received word of the death. He tries to retreat for prayer, but is interrupted by ministry – he stops and peaches to over 5000 people and then teaches his disciples how to feed them. Once the crowds are gone, he resumes his quest for a time of prayer. I’m certain this time alone with his father strengthened and restored him. For us, time spent in prayer will develop our relationship with our creator. I think it might be easier to hear what God is leading us to do if we stop and take the time to listen.
Also in the scripture, we can see that Ortberg is right – stepping out of the boat is required for water walking. We have to leave the safety of what we know – the comfort of what is easy and routine. In order to follow God, and do the radical mission he calls us to do, we’ll need to stretch muscles we didn’t even know we had.
My husband likes to ride his bicycle – it’s his hobby. For the second year in a row, he has participated in the Bishop’s bike ride. Early in June, several bike riders from across the state find sponsors, meet in Charleston on a Saturday morning, and ride 150 miles, on bicycles, to Buckhannon to raise money for mission. This year, they raised several thousand dollars to benefit relief efforts in Japan after the earthquake. To me, riding 150 miles is impossible. At some point, though, Steve had to believe that is was possible, and he had to step out of the boat, and start peddling. He used muscles he didn’t know he had, to do a task that to most of us sounds very improbable, to raise money to help people he has never met. To be radical disciples like my husband, we have to step out of the boat.
Water walking is frightening. You know as well as I do that to do something extraordinarily radical – to step away from what we know – can be terrifying. Think about Peter. It was dark and stormy, and he has just STEPPED OUT OF THE BOAT and is walking on the water. He miraculously succeeds, too, until he takes his eyes of Christ, and focuses on the wind and the water. He focuses on the fear. And he sinks.
Sometimes, in the darkness of fear, we forget that Christ is always with us. Jesus was there for the disciples when a storm threatened their lives. He was there for Peter when Peter started to sink. Even in the middle of the night, when it is the darkest and our fears are all we can see, Christ is there.
In the passage, Jesus tells the disciples, “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ I think Jesus is encouraging us to “take heart – take courage” from him. He reminds the disciples – and us – who he is. He says, “It is I” – it’s Jesus, their teacher and friend. And that’s comforting – strengthening – for them and for us. But there is more. In his statement of encouragement, we can also hear, “I am.” He is reminding the disciples and us that he is not only their friend, but he is also their God. This is God who is with us, and that is a powerful companion on even the darkest night, and even in the most impossible task.
In my office, on the wall in front of my desk, is a print of an empty boat on the water. I hung it there to remind myself that each and every day, I am called to step out of the boat and to walk on the water. I am reminded to stay focused on Christ, instead of on my fear, to remember that he walks on the water with me, and that he will not leave me alone.
Do you, like Peter, recognize the voice of Christ when he calls to you to leave your boat behind and to step out and walk on water? What radical, impossible task is he calling you to do?