Scripture: Matthew 14:22-36
I don’t know what it is, but it seems that we as humans love the water. Usually the number one reason why we cannot wait for summer is because it means we can either get into the pool or get out onto the lake. We seems to look for any excuse to get wet. This became very clear last week when I went with the youth group on the canoeing trip. We barely started down the river before someone found a reason to get into the water. It almost seems like a love for water is instinctive. My little girl is just over one, but if she gets near water all she wants to do is get in it. Water, like fire, is something that we are fascinated by but we should still have a healthy respect for. Water can be dangerous, and that is one of the reasons why we built boats. Boats allows us to venture into deeper water safely. I learned the value of staying in a boat in 2009. It was the final day of a youth mission trip. We had only traveled a couple of states away, so before going home we had made plans to go white water rafting. When we got to the rafting place, the owner/operator pulled me aside and explained the situation. The stretch of river we were on normally had class 2 to 3 rapids. However, the water was up and the rapids were class 3s to one strong class 4 (the scale ends at 5). He asked me if we still wanted to proceed. I had a group of teens and adventurous adults who had waited all week for this moment, so of course I said yes, and I knew that it was not a good idea. Despite not being a good idea, it was fun. However, about half way through we were navigating around a rock. I went to paddle at the same time that a bump pushed the boat up. I was expecting to meet the resistance of the water, instead my paddle hit nothing, I lost my balance and fell in. Luckily, we had to wear helmets because mine had a freshly made new deep scratch in it as I was pushed over a rock. Fortunately, the guide of my raft was very skilled, and he managed to pull the thing around and pull me out of the water very quickly. I had a life vest on, and I was in a more mild part of the river, so I was never in huge danger but that unexpected plunge game me a new appreciation for the power and potential danger of water.
I think the fact that people in general like water is one of the reasons that this miracle of Jesus resonates so much with us. Jesus performed a lot of miracles, but this is the one we all know. This is the one that is preserved in pop culture, and everyone seems to know about. For example, in 2008 someone made a video of their golf video game where a glitch allowed Tiger Woods to hit a ball from the middle of a lake. The company EA games, responded with this humorous ad.
That ad only works because we, everyone not just Christians, know that walking on Water is a Jesus thing. We all know that walking on water is the sign that “he’s just that good.” There is something about walking on water that really resonates with us. Maybe it is the impossibility of it, walking on water is something we all know is not possible. I know for me, the reason why this miracle sticks out, the reason why I am always drawn to this story is because Jesus is not the only one who walks on water. Peter does as well. Perhaps one of the reasons why this miracle should resonate with us, is because it reminds us that we can do impossible things.
We know the story well, we know about how only Peter got out of the boat while the other eleven stayed put. We also know that Peter eventually began to sink. My question is why did Peter sink? He was walking on water, why let go of that? On one hand it is an easy question to answer, verse 30 states “when he saw the wind he was afraid.” We have to remember that Peter was a fishermen, he grew up on the lake, the Sea of Galilee as it is called. This large lake is surrounded by hills, and this creates an unusual meteorological effect, that makes the Sea of Galilee very prone to sudden and violent storms. Peter knew this, there is probably an above average chance that Peter even knew a couple of fishermen who had died in such a storm at some point. Peter had a healthy respect for the water and wind, and he knew the safest place to be was on land and the second safest was in a boat-not where he was. Given all of that, it would have been impossible for Peter NOT to be afraid.
Yet it is not just fear that makes Peter begin to sink, when Jesus helps him he says in verse 31 “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?” What did Peter doubt? He was not doubting Jesus. As soon as he started to sink, he cries out Lord save me! Peter had full confidence and faith in Jesus. Who Peter doubted was himself. He found himself doing the impossible, he was walking on water. His eyes were fixed on Jesus, and he believed that he could do what Jesus could do, but when he got distracted by fear, he lost faith in himself. He doubted that he had what it took to follow Jesus. Peter saw the example of Jesus gave, and he followed the example. Jesus said “come” and that is exactly what Peter did! However, he then began to doubt he began to think that he could not do this, that he could not be like Jesus and he started to sink.
How familiar does that sound? How much do we experience that in our daily lives? How often do we sell ourselves short? It has been my experience that often Christians have amazing faith in what God can accomplish. However, we have a lot less faith, in what God can accomplish through us. We are quick to believe that God can do all things, but we are very hesitant to truly believe that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Going through the ordination process with other people, I have heard a lot of “call stories”. Everyone called into ministry has their story of how God did that, and many of the stories are similar. They involve a person feeling called by God, but they resist that call because they believe that God could not possibly use them. God is inviting them to do great things, but their doubt in what they can do held these pastors back for years. One of the amazing things about this morning’s scripture is that Jesus believes that Peter can walk on water. “Come” was not a dare from Jesus, it was invitation. I believe that Jesus still invites us today. We are still invited to get out of the boat we are in, the place where we are most comfortable, the place that feels the safest. We are still invited to come, and join him in doing the impossible.
Jesus is still inviting but we are still following the example of the disciples and not his example. The disciples on the boat set an example of fear and cynicism. As we mentioned with Peter, it would have been impossible for Peter not to be afraid. The disciples on the boat had all of the same fear. We also let fear hold us back. For example, if we feel Jesus inviting us to share our faith with others we might be afraid of what they will think. If we feel Jesus inviting us to use our gifts for God’s glory in some way we might fear that we will fall short, not be good enough, or fail. If God is calling you to do something unknown and unfamiliar then we might just be afraid of the unknown. Instead of trusting, we want assurances. Could you imagine if instead of getting out of the boat, Peter instead demanded to know the science of how Jesus was walking on water? We let fear keep us in the boat. We convince ourselves that getting out the boat is too big of a risk or not worth it. Worst of all is when we do not get out of the boat because we are convinced that it’s not possible. We feel God calling us with big plans, big ways that we can make a huge difference ways that we can transform the world. Instead of responding to the invite, we list all of the ways that it is not possible, that it is too much, and it is just not something we can handle. I can not help but think of a scene from The Empire Strikes Back, one of the Star Wars movies. To prove how strong the force is, Yoda lifts Luke Sykwalker’s starship out of a swamp. Luke says “I didn’t think it was possible” and Yoda responds, “that is why you failed.” God is the maker, creator, and sustainer of all things. With God impossible is not a word. With God impossibility is not a possibility. When we refuse to get out of the boat, when we refuse to respond to God’s invitation to love the world around us, we are essentially saying that the problems, the logistics, the impossibilities are bigger than God. We are quite honestly showing a lack of faith in what we believe God can and will do.
Other times we do get out of the boat, we do (figuratively speaking) walk on water, we respond to Jesus’ invitation and we begin doing what God has called us to do. However, like Peter we find ourselves sinking, and like Peter I think it is not because of a lack of faith in Jesus but a lack of faith in ourselves and what we are capable of. I recently read a quote I quite like by a Canadian pastor named Carie Nieuwhof. He wrote “The best way to incite zero opposition is to do nothing significant.” If we are being obedient to following God, if we are taking steps of faith on water to be more like Christ, if we are doing things that can truly transform the world-then we are doing something significant. If we are doing something significant, there will always be opposition. As the Internet says, haters gonna hate. Like Peter let fear get the best of him, we begin to believe the lies. We listen to the wrong voices and instead of taking steps closer to Jesus we begin to sink.
There is a powerful story about this from Mark Hall, the lead singer of Casting Crowns. Mark Hall grew up with a couple of academic challenges. He is diagnosed with both ADHD and dyslexia. Both of these conditions made anything school related very challenging for him. He grew up very timid and frightened to step out in that area of his life because he was afraid of failing at it. However, Mark was a Christian and he felt strongly that it was God’s will for his life to go to college, to get a degree, and to use that degree in service to God. Mark got into college and struggled mightily at it. One evening he was discouraged, he had tried his hardest and failed. He wrestled with himself and with God, he told himself that this was all a mistake, that he could not do it, and that he should give up. As a musician he did this all in prayer at a piano, and he beat out a simple tune on the piano. As he continued to pray and wrestle with God, this tune began to grow into a song. Listen to these powerful words that he wrote:
“Oh what I would do to have The kind of faith it takes To climb out of this boat I'm in Onto the crashing waves. To step out of my comfort zone Into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is And He's holding out His hand. But the waves are calling out my name And they laugh at me.
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed. The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again. "Boy, you'll never win!" "You'll never win!"
But the voice of truth tells me a different story. The voice of truth says, "Do not be afraid!"
The voice of truth says, "This is for My glory". Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.
My favorite part of this well known scripture though is the end. Verse 32 states “And when they climbed back into the boat the wind died down.” Now verse 29 states that Peter walked out towards Jesus. This means, to climb back into the boat he had to walk. Peter did start to sink, but Jesus helped him back onto the water. They walked back together. This is an encouraging thought, because it means that when we sink, when we fail when we get fall short. Jesus will be right there for us. Peter may have doubted that he was capable of doing what Jesus asked him to do We can count on him to be there for us, and that is a promise that we can stand (and walk) on.
In some way God is calling each of us. For each of us there is some way that we can further God’s kingdom. There is a disciple we can help make or nurture. There is a way that we can be used to transform the world. May we answer that call. May we decide that boats, place of comfort and safety in rough water, are over-rated. Boat are overrated because our Lord and Savior is walking on water, and he is inviting us to join him. May you not let fear of failure, fear of perception or fear of the unknown hold you back. Jesus is saying come. May you not believe the lies that and doubt yourself. Jesus believes you can do it, if not he would not be calling out to you. May the wind and the waves in your life not be a source of fear, because Jesus is already on the water. How is God calling you? What is God asking you to do? Today, may you find out. May you get out of the boat, and may you get your feet wet.