Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Peter and Jesus on the water

This is my sermon from three years ago. I'll likely say something like this again but I still have some reading to do. And today is the Feast of the Transfiguration so I have that sermon to think about as well - although that story appears about twice a year besides today so I have some idea what I'll say.
Anyway, here's Jesus, Peter, the water and the boat.

Proper 14A
Matthew 14:22-33

After feeding all those people
in last week’s gospel,
after overcoming
the disciples’ skepticism,
Jesus manages to disperse the crowd
and get the disciples to row back
across the lake without him.
It’s been a very long day
but now Jesus
gets time alone to pray.
Well the disciples haven’t been away
from Jesus in a long while
so they might wonder
why he forced them to go.
But going out in the boat
is not a problem.
Remember that many of these men
have made their living on this sea.
They know the boat inside out,
know when to raise
the sails,
when to bring them down
and when it is best to row.
The disciples also know the sea
as well as we know our way to work
or school or the grocery store.
They know where it is deepest.
They know its winds and weather.
They know the trip back across
will be into the wind
and that the water is likely
to be choppy.
We have this image of hapless disciples
floundering around in a sea whipped
by gale force winds
that cause mountainous waves
to wash over the boat.
This is not a boat about to capsize.
Yes, there is a struggle
to row back to the home shore
four miles away
but the boat and the disciples
have made this kind of trip before.
It is early in the morning
when Jesus ends his prayers
and begins his own
journey back across the sea.
By now, the disciples are tired
from the exertion of rowing
as well as from the lateness of the hour.
So when they see Jesus coming,
they are, not surprisingly, frightened.
In all of Near Eastern theology –
Jewish or pagan –
no one can walk on the chaos
of the sea except God
because only God can tame
the chaos.
We are still two chapters away
from Peter’s statement,
“You are the Messiah,
the Son of the living God.”
and the disciples are still getting the big picture.
Naturally, we
think they should have figured it out by now
but we weren’t there
and I’m fairly sure
we wouldn’t have done any better.
Be certain, though,
that the disciples hear Jesus say,
“Take heart”
just like Moses told the Israelites
when they were caught between the sea
and pharaoh’s army;
“it is I”
just like God answered Moses
from the burning bush;
and “do not be afraid”
just like Isaiah told Israel
when she was in exile.
In Peter,
ha Satan finds just enough lack
of faith
to insinuate the idea of testing
what Jesus is saying and doing.
“Lord,” says Peter –
he really does know
who this is –
“if it is you,
command me to walk on water, too.”
And Jesus,
who has already
given ample demonstration of his authority
and even shared that authority with
these twelve men,
now shares his power and authority
over the chaos of the sea
with one who questions
that very authority and power.
Peter steps out of the boat
and takes several steps,
keeping his eye on the Christ.
But the wind catches his cloak,
and distracts him just enough
to replace his growing faith
with fear of the elements.
Like so many of us when we get in trouble,
Peter cries out,
“Lord, save me!”
Jesus stretches out his hand
and helps Peter back into the boat.
The message here is not
that Peter’s lack of faith caused
him to sink.
The message here is that Peter
should have heard Jesus’ words
telling the disciples
that, even though he was not physically present
in the boat, he was there anyway.
“Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.”
There should have been enough faith in the boat
for Peter to have stayed put.
Peter never should have gotten out of the boat.
Theologian Eugene Boring says,
“Faith is not being able
to walk on the water –
only God can do that –
but daring to believe,
in the face of all the evidence,
that God is with us in the boat,
made real in the community of faith
as it makes its way through the storm,
battered by the waves.”
Matthew is telling the story of the disciples
but he is telling
it to a community battered
by the political and religious waves
of the time.
In this passage,
he is clearly saying to his community,
“you will find your faith within
the community.
Don’t go testing God
thinking that will bring you
what you already have.”
For centuries,
the boat has been a symbol
for the Church,
the body of Christ in the world.
It is from stories like this one
that that image grew.
So here we are in our boat.
There are storms out there
of one kind or another.
How are we going to weather them?
Not all of the disciples
were fishermen.
We know that Matthew was a tax collector.
You may think that he had nothing
to do with getting that boat
back across the sea.
But I suspect that he probably helped bail
or maybe took a turn at the oars
when one of the real sailors
needed a break.
If those twelve men had not worked together,
even a small storm
would have capsized their boat.
If half of them chose to be rowed
instead of helping row,
the same fate would have been likely.
Despite differences in skill
or intelligence
or opinion,
the disciples pulled together
to get the boat home safely.
Being in the boat requires
being a member of the crew.
We cannot sit quietly and hope the others
can get us back to shore.
We have to pitch in however we can
and keep the boat afloat.
We are one in Christ.
We have different skills
and some of us are smarter than others.
We have lots of opinions
on all sides and in the middle
of just about any issue we can think of.
But we are still one in Christ
and part of this community.
Our faith in the triune God
is expressed in what we do here together.
Our strength for facing personal storms
comes from being part of this worshiping community.
And our commitment to each other
is necessary for our spiritual growth.
Jesus is in the boat with us.
He manifests the love and grace of God here.
Our job as disciples of Christ
is to stay in the boat
and do whatever we have to do
to keep it afloat.
And that takes all of us
working together
for the glory of God.

1 comment:

Sally said...

wow, just surfed by, I love this!