If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat
July 28, 2019 Matthew 14:22-33
Rev. David J. Clark
If you want to walk on water, first you need to get out of the boat. If you want to do amazing things, then you must go beyond your comfort zone and take some risks. I want to talk about how the scriptures encourage us to go further than we’ve ever gone before and really embrace the amazing life available to us through the Spirit.
Our lesson is the second of two boat-riding scenes in Matthew’s gospel. In the first, Jesus and the disciples were in the boat and Jesus was very tired, so he fell asleep in the back of the boat.
The wind howled, the lightning flashed, rain stung the disciples’ faces. The sea grew angry and the boat pitched. They took on water. Frantically, they bailed water out of the small fishing boat, but it felt like a losing effort. They thought they were goners. One disciple noticed that Jesus wasn’t helping. He was asleep at the back of the boat were the steering mechanisms were.
The panicked disciple shouts through the howling wind, “Jesus, what are you doing asleep? Don’t you care that we are perishing?” It is a revelatory moment. At some point every Christian asks that question on their spiritual journey. “Jesus, I’m in trouble, bad stuff keeps happening to me. The storms of life are raging–don’t you care? Why aren’t you doing anything to help?”
You know about the storms of life. Maybe you are in one right now. Those times when problems seem insurmountable and cumulative. Someone gets cancer, there is an unexpected death, loss of a job, kids in trouble, betrayal, divorce, financial trouble. Sometimes they come in rapid succession. We wonder, “Jesus, are you asleep at the wheel? Don’t you care?”
Jesus seems a little irritated by the disciples’ lack of faith. “I am with you. I’ve got this.” He reaches out his hands and yells, “Silence!” The storms stop raging, calm settles over the sea. Jesus won’t abandon you and will be with you all the way. He does care. And the one who has power over even the earth and skies and seas is in the boat with you — and you can have some sense of peace — the peace faith brings.
Well, things settle down and Jesus and the disciples go along performing their ministry. Some weeks later, after a long day of teaching, Jesus needs time to rest and pray. He sends the disciples off in a boat ahead of him and he says he will catch up later. Jesus modeled healthy self-care. When you’ve been going hard at it for a while, you especially need to remember that to take time for your spiritual renewal. Even Jesus needed to do it, so do we.
The disciples climb into the boat and not long after they set out, another whopping storm rises. But this time, Jesus was not with them to calm the storm, or their anxiety. They were alone, and they were freaking out.
This boat ride in the storm is a counterpoint to the first one. Here is a storm Jesus sent the disciples into. We might be tempted to think that if we believe in Jesus, if we pray we will have Jesus in our boat and that the storms of life won’t affect us. But here, we discover that sometimes, Jesus sends us into storms. He doesn’t promise us that everything for us will be smooth sailing. Sometimes when we are called to do the right thing, we won’t be popular, and the storms of conflict will surely come upon us. When you take a stand for conscience’s sake, a storm will come. Sometimes we are called on to make interventions, to speak the hard truth in love, to blow the whistle, to make hard sacrifices that demand a great price and we wonder if it’s worth the blowback.
When the disciples are out there on their boat, at least they are together. The earliest symbol for the church was a boat. We are all in the same boat together. Most church architecture is built in a way that looks like the hull of a ship. We are in this boat together. And sometimes the waters are not smooth. So, we gather here. Even when the seas are rough, we cry out and Jesus comes. He comes. When we think that things are lost and we are abandoned, Jesus comes. He comes to be with us in this very room, in this ship. When the going gets rough, he hears our prayers and he comes. As it says in Romans 8, “Neither life nor death nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height, nor depth nor anything else in all creation” can keep him away. He is fully present with us in our hour of need.
As the story suggests, he doesn’t always come in ways we would expect him to come. The disciples didn’t expect Jesus to come walking on the water. They thought he was a ghost. Often he comes to us in the form of other people. People who show up for us in our need. People who stay. People who encourage, care, and let us know that we are not alone, people who pray. Jesus’ first words to them were “Fear not.” In scripture, the words fear not appear 366 times. One for every day of the year including leap year.
Jesus comes saying, “Fear not.” But the disciples are not sure that this is exactly the time to abandon their fears. Peter wants a little proof, “Lord, if it is you, command me to get out of this boat and walk on the water too.” Throughout the scriptures, Peter says and does a lot of curious things. But in my mind, this ranks right at the top. I don’t know about you, but if I were in a boat about to capsize, I am going to say something more along the lines of, “Jesus, if it is you, please get in the boat with us, and do that thing where you stretch out your hands and calm the waters.”
But to say, “Command me to get out of the boat and walk on the water? Let’s see up until then how many miracles had Peter preformed? Zero. And he wants to start with walking on the water — in the middle of a storm? Why not start out on a sunny afternoon with some water in a wine glass and see what he’s got? But nooo. He’s not even sure it’s really Jesus.
What could be going on? Peter felt this could be his defining moment—a time to take a risk of faith to put it on the line, to do something impossible because he was with Jesus. John Ortberg wrote a book about it called If You Want to Walk Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.
Maybe Peter was taking Jesus at his word. Fear not. Maybe for that one moment, he got what we are all looking for—a moment when you know in your bones and soul. To have no fear, to lose yourself in such a moment where you totally believe, that assurance that no matter what, everything would somehow be okay. So Peter said, “Lord, if that is you, then the world is different than I thought. I never have reason to fear. With you around it will be okay. Lord, if that is really you, then whatever you command me to do, no matter how foolish it may look to Dave Clark 2000 years from now, I will do it! Maybe it will teach him and those wonderful peeps at Bay Shore Church that they can walk in faith rather than by sight. That they can get over their fears and temptation to play it safe instead of getting out and do amazing things.”
Jesus said to Peter, “Come.” And for that moment he had faith, he got out of the boat and began to walk on those billowing waves. He did it! A few baby steps but then he took his eyes off Jesus and saw the wind. His fear grew, and he began to fall into the sea. The lesson? Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus or else we will be sunk.
When we keep our eyes on Jesus and what he taught, when we focus on following his ways of peace and love and compassion and generosity—amazing, miraculous things happen.
But when we let our fears rule us we look to someone or something other than God to define our worth and we sink into a sea of misery.
When we turn in on ourselves. Start turning negative; filled with worry, we sink.
When we get greedy, when we get insecure, or mean we sink. Don’t be surprised that you sink when you act out of fear and anxiety instead of faith.
When we as a church start acting anxious, afraid, getting more concerned about the peripheral stuff than the main thing. When we make it more about our traditions than where God is calling us in the future, when we play it safe in the boat, we can’t fulfill all the great things God has in store for us. But when we are true and focus on our call to proclaim good news to the hurting and our community, we will do amazing things. People will find hope. Lives will be transformed. Infectious goodwill, the Aloha Spirit, spreads across our community.
When we as a nation look at the wind, and let ourselves react out of fear we turn on our brothers and sisters and it gets ugly and people get hurt.
When we in this world forget that we are called to be stewards and caretakers of our earth we pollute it and drown in our own toxic sludge.
When we finally realize we are sinking we, like Peter cry out, “Save us!”
And Jesus reached out his hand and he grabbed Peter’s hand and pulled him up. When we reconnect with our spiritual selves, with the Divine, we find our footing again.
What am I saying? I’m saying you’ve got to, Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters. Put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea. Take a look at yourself and you can look at others differently, by putting your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee.
For Peter, those first faith steps were like a toddler’s first steps, unsure, falling. But as time went on, he got better at faith. After Pentecost, he had the courage to preach faith to the very people that killed Jesus and threatened him. He had the courage to include people in the church everyone else said shouldn’t be welcome, he is the one who stood up to people who said, “We’ve never done it that way before.”
He had the guts to go to his own crucifixion without betraying what he most believed in. Maybe whenever he took a stand, summoned his courage, he remembered that first step out of the boat and believed in what could be possible. Maybe he was able to do that because he had such a moment of assurance on the water.
There is a greatness that God calls everyone to. Will you embrace yours? Or are you going to sit it out in the boat. It doesn’t feel very good there, but at least it doesn’t make you risk looking like a fool. To risk love is to risk looking like a fool. To risk being a person of faith in a cynical world is to risk. To be a generous person in a time of uncertainty is to risk looking like a fool. But the miracles you are called to do are outside of what’s comfortable.
Maybe you can have such assurance today, too. To pray that God will help you let go of all your fears, of all your insecurities, of everything else that would distract you. Begin today to take some first steps. Stop fearing. He comes to be with us, even in this old boat. When we are in trouble, he hears our cries and comes. To the sinking, he reaches out his hand. Take it. Learn to walk. Take some risks get out of the boat, and keep your eyes on Jesus. May you do wonderful things in his name. Amen.