There are two levels to the story in our gospel reading from Matthew 14:22-33. The first level in which we see Jesus as the stiller of the storm; as the one who brings peace to those who sail through life in the boat called the church and the second level in which we see Jesus as the one who bestows power; as the one who calls to his followers – to those who are willing to step out of the safety of the boat – “Come to Me” – and who supports them when they do so.
It is this second level to the story that I want us to think about today – the level at which we see Jesus as the giver of power to those who, as a part of His church – are willing to take a chance.
Think with me on the whole episode of Peter and his trip upon the water. Think with me of how Peter was willing to risk all on the word of his master.
We hear in the Gospel reading that the disciples have been commanded by Jesus to take a boat and go before him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while Jesus stays behind to dismiss the crowds that had gathered to listen to him.
By evening, Jesus was alone – praying – and the disciples were far from shore, being battered on the sea by wind and waves.
They struggle almost all night against the storm that is crashing down against them, and they struggle successfully, until near dawn, then they see an apparition – they see someone or something – walking across the water towards them – and they are terrified and quiet naturally given the circumstances, they cry out in fear.
Immediately Jesus, because it is he who is walking upon the water, responds to the disciple’s fear with the words – “Take Heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
Peter answers Jesus first – saying “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
And Jesus answers by saying “Come”. Peter climbs over the edge of the boat and puts his feet upon the water, and begins to walk towards Jesus.
Now some people dismiss the miracles recorded in the Bible as simply tall tales. They claim that the stories of healing and of resurrection and of walking on water ware but symbols for others things. I don’t agree with these people at all. I don’t agree that these things never happened because I know that miracles still occur. Miracles did not cease with the writing of the New Testament.
People do get healed and that many other marvelous, unexplainable things occur when people call upon the Lord. I know the power of prayer; I felt numerous times in my life, I felt it this year when I was at Cleveland Clinic with Elizabeth. I also know of marvelous testimonies of miracles in other lives.
Even so, many of the miracle stories in the Bible are symbolic in that they teach us things about life and about faith even as they tell us about the marvelous things that Jesus and the Disciples did. The story of Peter walking upon the water towards Jesus is one of these.
It shows us what can happen when we respond to the call of Jesus. It shows us how we can triumph over the forces of chaos and meaninglessness. It shows us how, when we take a chance on the word of Jesus, his power lifts us up and allows up to weather the storms of life and do something new.
Think about it, Peter did not need to get out of the boat. He did not need to venture out on the stormy waters. He could have simply stayed where he was and waited for the Lord to come to him. He could have sheltered himself in the safety of the boat in the knowledge that everything would be okay, now that the Lord was coming to him and the other disciples. But he did not. Instead, Peter took a chance. He asked the Lord to bid him to come to him, he asked the Lord for the power to meet him in the middle of the sea.
Here is courage indeed – the courage to venture out into danger and to do what the Lord has said can be done; the courage to risk taking a step that does not really need to be taken, simply because the Lord tells him it can be taken.
Most people suffer from a lack of boldness, a lack of courage – even Christians suffer in this way. Given the choice between continuing in a situation where, despite the burdens and the dangers that are all around, there is a reasonable degree of safety or venturing out into ta new and unknown situation where the dangers seem even greater and where there is no apparent safety net. Most people will elect to stay put – to stay where they are.
Thus it is that women will stay in a home where they and their children are being abused, rather than walk out and try to find a new life. Thus it is that men will work for years in a job that is slowly destroying their health and happiness, rather than risk their security by returning to school or starting a new career. Thus it is that teenagers will not speak to someone whom they are attracted to because they are afraid of botching up, afraid of being laughed at and rejected. Thus it is that people who have had dreams of traveling or doing something else very special will stay where they are and allow their dreams to wither and die. What have we been afraid to do? What have we postponed because we dreaded the possible consequences? Who have we avoided because we did not know what to say to them? Where have we refused to go because we feared what might happen there? What goal have we hid from because we have felt inadequate? What dream have we let wither and die?
Sometime we need to get out of the safety of the boat. We need to say to the Lord, “Lord, if it is You – bid me to come to you.”
I am not saying here today to go out and take a wild chance on the first thing that comes along, but I’m saying, if you have a dream, or if you are in a situation where wholeness and happiness are elusive, and you hear the Master calling to you to take a chance, if you see that you can do something to helping someone else, or simple feel that God is calling you to change something in your life that seems unchangeable, risk it.
Peter, though he did not need to, in the absolute sense of the word need, got out of the boat and upon the bidding of the Lord, walked upon the sea. He did well, his faith held him up, the power of Christ held him up, and he continued to do well until he forgot about that power that he had called upon. He did well until he focused upon the danger he was in, till he looked at the strong wind and the waves, and became afraid. Then he began to sink.
When we take a risk, when we venture out upon the bidding of the Lord to do something new, or simply to fulfill what we believe our calling is, it is very important that we remember to stay focused on our goal, to trust that God will see us through, despite what is happening all around us.
Peter, when he is overcome by fear, when he starts to walk according to his feelings instead of by faith, he begins to sink. His risk looks as if it has failed, but as our story shows, it does not fail. Peter sinks, but as he sinks Peter remembers from where his help comes, and he cries out “Lord! Save Me!” And Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him.
That is what the Lord does when we risk as well; it is what He does when He calls us to come to Him over the dangerous waters. When we step out, when we take a risk to come closer to God, and then falter, the hand of Jesus reaches out to us and lifts us up.
Jesus says to Peter after reaching out to him to save him, He says, and I believe He says it gently, He says “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
When we take a risk for the Lord, when we dare to do what is right, when we decide to go an extra mile, a mile that we need not walk, but which Jesus tells us when we can walk, He is near to us to help us.
Blessed be God, Day by Day. Amen.