God calls us into deep waters . . .
A Sermon on Matthew 14: 22-33
God calls us into deep waters so that we may have the opportunity to deepen our faith.
"Come." Jesus calls.
In January 2009, as I sat in the front of the boat, with my eyes closed and my back resting against a flag pole, the sun beamed down upon my face and a warm breeze blew by. I tried to imagine what the Sea of Galilee would have been like back in Jesus' day. But right now the waters were calm; the atmosphere was quiet and tranquil. I tried to imagine noisy fisherman out at sea, birds flying around and squawking; but a strong sense of peace overcame me. As I opened my eyes I saw nothing but still waters and mountains—big mountains that surround the Sea of Galilee.
My seminary group and I had just come from the Church of the Multitude which, as you'll remember from last week's Gospel, celebrates Jesus' miracle of feeding thousands on the shore-side with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Now, here we were, in the middle of the Sea. My imagination begins to run wild as I recall story upon story of Jesus and his disciples performing miracles and healings.
This is where the first disciples were called and miracles happened. This is where Jesus was woken up by frantic disciples fearing for their lives, and with just three simple words, "Peace, be still." Jesus calmed the terrifying storm. And this is where Jesus walked on water and called Peter into the deep.
I imagine a storm coming through; thick dark clouds, turbulent winds, huge waves, and rain beating down. The thought is only fleeting, however, as I quickly remember that I am just gently floating in the middle of a Lake—because as we know the Sea of Galilee isn't actually a Sea, it's a lake. But the lake is called a Sea because "sea" means chaos. When storms do come in the wind rolls down those mountains surrounding the lake, and stirs the water up like chaos.
As I sat in the boat, I then recall another story where Jesus comes down from a mountain of prayer, and walks on the water towards the disciples. I start to imagine Jesus walking on the water towards me, and wonder what my reaction would be. I think that if I saw an apparition hovering over the water heading straight for us, I would do a cartoon double-take. Maybe rub my eyes and wonder if I'm really seeing what I think I'm seeing, or whether I just ate some bad fish from earlier. And I am fairly certain that my first instinct would not be to jump out of the boat and try to walk on water towards the person.
Going back to today's Gospel, Peter, being the first disciple he is, full of courage, faith, questions, certainty, and doubt, the whole mixed bag. Peter boldly calls to Jesus and steps out of the boat. For a quick moment, Peter walks on the water towards Jesus, but he soon starts sinking. Jesus reaches out, saves Peter and returns him to safety. And then the most miraculous thing happens, more miraculous than God walking on water.
Does anyone remember what happens next in today's Gospel?
As a result of one person's action of faith and fear, a whole boat-load of people was changed. When Peter and Jesus returned to the boat the disciples responded as one voice as they fell down and worshipped Jesus.
(Now this is significant!) For the very first time in Matthew—the first of only two times in the Gospel—the disciples worshipped Jesus in recognition that he is God.
Today's Gospel passage is more than Jesus and Peter walking on water. Today's passage tells us so much about Jesus, the person of God, about who Jesus is and how he lives. Today's passage tells us so much about us as disciples and about the power one individual can have on their community.
"Come." Jesus calls to Peter. "Do not be afraid. Come."
Peter, even in the midst of his fear, trusted Jesus enough to take the risk of stepping out into deep waters. And even though he had a moment of doubt or distraction and started to sink, greater faith and conviction came out of that experience. See, doubt is not always bad.
Sometimes a moment of doubt gives us a chance to wrestle with our faith and fear. In which we often come out the other side with a stronger conviction in God, a deeper sense of faith, and a better understanding of who we are. See, God calls us into deep waters so that we may have the opportunity to deepen our faith.
A wise woman once told me, "Once in a while we have to go through tough times so we can have a chance to grow. If everything stays the same and is always good, then how are we being stretched and transformed?"
Maybe you are going through a tough or scary time right now. Maybe the Sea of life, the chaos of the world, is blowing around and beating you up. The safety of the shore is nowhere in sight. All of a sudden, in the wee hours of the night you see a faint figure in the distance. Could it be? God is there with you, calling out to you, "Do not be afraid. Come." For a moment you are completely Christ-centered and you step out in faith. Regardless of whether you stand or sink, stay faithful or fearful, when we follow Jesus in our lives, God is always present with us amongst the storm, and ready to catch us when we call. We cannot let fear of the unknown paralyze us. Instead when we focus on Jesus our fear will dissipate.
So if you see Jesus walking towards you and calling for you to step out in to the deep waters, then "go!" Go either faithfully or fearfully, but nevertheless "go!" Follow where Christ wants to lead you, and put your trust in him. One person can make a big difference. One person in particular, did make the biggest difference of all. Through Jesus Christ God entered space and time and changed the world forever. As disciples of Christ we to are focus on Jesus, take risks and act boldly so we make a difference in the world.
—The Rev. Jessica T. Knowles