The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
August 7, 2011
The Gospel: Matthew 14-22-33
Sermon: "Take a Walk On The Water"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles, Rector
Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."
Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
Take a Walk on the Water"
Jesus walked on the water. This story of Jesus is one of his most familiar in our culture. It ranks right behind Jesus turning water into wine, which everyone seems to know about, though they seldom have a clue as to why he did turn the water into wine. It’s so familiar that nearly every one of us knows some variation of that joke about a priest, rabbi, and preacher in a rowboat on a lake. Here’s a true story on that line that you may not have heard, though. Mark Twain, the great American author, once went on a visit to Palestine. He decided to go boating on Lake Galilee with his wife. It was a beautiful moonlit night, and they felt that it would be very romantic. Twain asked the boatman how much it would cost. The boatman looked at Twain’s characteristically all-white suit. Taking him for a wealthy Texan, and seeing the opportunity to make some extra money he said, “It costs fifty dollars.” Twain took his wife in arm, and as they walked away, he said, “Now I know why Jesus walked!”
“Take heart, it is I, have no fear.”
Fear: so pervasive in the world today. It determines political decisions, and it seems to rule Wall Street. It sways life directions from doomsayers who fear that the world will end, to survivalists who, counting on it, fear that it might not.
Someone has said that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear. Fear can paralyze our lives. It can even cause us to shrink back from achieving our dreams; a fear that keeps us unhappy and dissatisfied with ourselves, while it keeps us unable to cope with meaningful change.
Fear is our enemy. It blinds us and binds us; blinds us to adventurous possibilities and binds us to the safe, yet sterile life of the ship always anchored in the harbor.
Into the midst of this defeating fear arising from within us, the calming voice of Jesus speaks, “Take heart, it is I, have no fear.” He calls to us as he did to his disciples in our Gospel lesson this morning, compelling us to push out into deeper waters; compelling us to dare to accomplish great things in his name. Along with his disciples, he brings us also his assuring promise that when the storms of failure, weakness, and fear arise, he will be with us to guide the way.
And that leads us to the point this morning. The Christian Faith at its best is always a call to adventure. It is a call to walk on the water. Make no mistake about it. When Jesus told the disciples to fear not, he was not telling them to seek safety and security. He was telling them to trust him and follow.
This is true for you and me today. It is the person who cowers in the corner of the boat who is most likely to keep his fear of the storm. It is the person who always takes the safe passage who trembles most when the strong winds begin to blow.
A timid hunter once went looking for bear. He spied the biggest bear tracks he’d ever seen. He thought of what fame he would gain if he could get that bear. Looking again at the large tracks, though, he said to his companion, ”You go see where he went; I’ll go see where he came from.”
How do we keep that fear in check? Christians long before us have had a simple formula for dealing with fear. It is this: keep your eyes on Jesus. That was the lesson that Peter learned. Peter wanted to walk out to meet Jesus on the water. He knew that the Lord was calling to him, and he had the faith to follow that call. By that focus and faith in Christ, he was actually doing what could not be done otherwise. So why did his faith fail? He made the mistake we so often make; he took his eyes off Jesus. He started looking down at the wind-blown waves. He began to look at the storm instead of Jesus. He became afraid even though Christ had said, “Come!”
It happens to us, too. We set out boldly on a new venture, an opportunity presents itself and we grasp at it, move into it. With expectations we head out in joy just to be growing and facing a new challenge. Then difficulties arise; a problem we hadn’t planned on; an obstacle that now looms larger than we had perceived at the start; and our courage melts. We sink because we now believe in the power of the problems around us more than in the power of Christ in us.
Peter sank. He had put more faith in the storm than in Christ. Yet Christ never fails even a half-faith. Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught Peter. Trust in Christ is never a misplaced trust. In him the impossible task can be done. The impossible challenge can be met and overcome.
Let me reiterate the point here. So many people think of Jesus’ walking on the water when they hear this story, that they miss the point. The point is not that Jesus walked on the water. It is that Jesus is calling you and me to walk on the water. We are being called, just like Peter, to do the impossible with Christ.
Harry Emerson Fosdick, possibly the greatest American preacher of the last Century, once said, “Many can be found to do the possible. They can be hired for the going wage. The prize is for those who can do the impossible.”
Since when did Christ ever call his people to do the easy thing, the safe thing? Since when have his ways been those of least resistance, least effort, greatest security; the way that poses no threat or inconvenience, or real challenge?
Is that the path he walked? Is that the call the disciples answered? No! The call of Christ to every believer-to you and me- is to go after better than what we would otherwise think is our best; to rise to meet the greater challenge; not necessarily the most easily attainable; to strive to be and do like Christ. Otherwise, why should he bother to call us at all? Christ helps us, of course, with direction and wisdom for those things that we can already easily do. Perhaps we especially need wisdom when we are that sure of ourselves. And he will also supply endurance when we call upon him in such ventures. For even in those instances where we already possess the talents and resources in ourselves before we start a task, we still need his strength for the journey. But if we want his full power, the power to do the impossible, then we must be willing to lay aside fear, focus on him, and go after the miraculous, the unknown, the life-changing.
When some voice speaks to your heart, saying that you are too weak, your future too uncertain, your life too threatened to dare to do greater things than those in your immediate power, then know this: That was not the voice of Christ calling to you. His call is always to trust in him, believe in him, and dare even more for him.
A little boy came home from Sunday School one morning and said, “Mom, I learned how Moses got the Israelites out of Egypt. He hired and engineer and built a suspension bridge across the Red Sea. Then he got a big B-52 bomber to blow up Pharaoh’s army. Then he started a big MacDonald’s franchise in the desert to feed everybody.” “That’s hard to believe,” his Mother replied. “Look,” he responded, “If I told you what they really taught me, you’d never believe it.”
That’s our problem: we don’t believe it. Or perhaps you really do believe it, and you fear it. You fear what a call to venture out might mean. You fear what could happen. You fear that, as with Peter, once you have begun the adventure, you too will lose sight of Christ, be left to yourself, and sink. But just here is the good news: even if you do lose sight of him, he doesn’t lose sight of you. His promise is that, as with Peter, he will grasp your reaching hand and pull you back up and take you to the finish. He will not fail even a faltering faith. He will be there for you, because he ventures with you. He wants to journey with you. Jesus doesn’t leave you and me to face the challenge alone. He walks beside us. He empowers us. He makes the impossible happen through us.
A pastor I once knew said it best. He was conducting a large wedding rehearsal and was showing the bride just how she would enter and take her majestic walk down the aisle. The bride, already shaking from the magnitude of the event to come, said, “I can’t do it. I’ll never make it. It won’t work.”
The pastor took the young woman by the arm and said, “My dear, do you see that huge window of Christ at the front of the chancel? Tomorrow, when you come down this center aisle, Jesus will be there just for you. Keep your eyes on him, and you’ll get there.”
That is the message for you and me: to keep our eyes on Jesus. What adventure is he calling you to take? Perhaps you know, but you’re wondering if it’s even possible to take a step out of the boat. Perhaps you’re already stepping out of the boat, you’re excited about the journey before you and your feet are set to go, but you’re wondering if you have what it takes to see it through. Perhaps you’re well along on the journey now, but that first flush of excitement is long past as the waves are rising and you are sinking, and you’re wondering how you will survive. Christ is calling to you, “Take heart, it is I, have no fear!” Friends, he is with you; each and every one. Fear not! Look to him, and take a walk on the water!