By the Reverend Sally S. Weaver
How does this Gospel story speak God’s word of truth to us today? What are we to learn from Peter’s attempt at water walking? First, the story reminds us that it’s OK to step out of the boat. In fact, Jesus beckons us to come. For most of us, myself included, we like the comfort and security of our boat. Remaining seated, snug in our boat, allows us to survive the storms. And let’s face it, if 2020 has taught us anything so far it’s that life is full of storms. So in response we want to spend much of our lives securing and maintaining our boat, making sure it’s water-tight, sea-worthy, and well-provisioned.
And then Jesus does his typical Jesus thing and invites us to leave the safety and security of our boat and join him in the water. We’re not being asked to step out onto dry land, we’re being asked to come for a stroll across a wind-tossed sea. Why in the world would we consider such a crazy idea? The answer to that question is simple: Because we know that as we take that step of faith from the boat onto the water, Jesus is there. It’s especially important for us, the body of Christ we call the church, to remember this. We have to risk stepping out of the boat, knowing that when we do, God will be there.
The second thing the story reminds us is that believing in our own success is OK. Peter was walking on water. He was making his way toward Jesus over the waves. He was accomplishing what he had asked for Jesus’ help to accomplish. And then he lost heart, he lost faith. He felt the wind and stopped believing that what he was already doing was even possible.
It’s so easy for us to lose heart, to lose faith. When we find ourselves achieving what we thought was impossible our first reaction is that it’s a fluke, it can’t be trusted. We do this as individuals and as a community.
Often it’s success that we fear most. Perhaps Marianne Williamson describes this phenomenon best when she says, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us…We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone…As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Recognizing and believing in what we are achieving is the faithful response to what we have attained. If Peter had held onto that fact, he wouldn’t have started to sink.
The third thing the story reminds us is that when we get out of the boat, we need to grab hold of Jesus’ hand. Stepping out of the safety of our boat is a risky proposition. Water walking doesn’t come naturally to us. It didn’t come naturally to Peter, either. So when he began to sink and cried out, “Lord, save me,” the Gospel tells us that “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.” There was no hesitation on Jesus’ part, no pep talk or tough love. The moment Peter asked for help Jesus offered his firm grip and saving arm. When we leave the comfort of our familiar boat and journey onto the water, we need to remember that Jesus has his hand out, ready to hold ours. All we have to do is ask. We also need to remember that Jesus’ hand is often attached to someone else’s body.
If we remember to grab onto Jesus’ hand, walking on water isn’t such a daunting prospect. Perhaps another lesson that can be inferred from today’s story is not to attempt water walking alone. I suspect that if James and John had stepped out of the boat with Peter, together they might have successfully skimmed the waves. They would have had Jesus’ hands at the ready and each other’s encouragement. I suspect that Peter felt all alone, wondering what his enthusiasm had blundered him into this time. Venturing into choppy water and attempting to surf without benefit of a board sounds like a task best undertaken by a group, not an individual. We need each other. Particularly when we journey into unknown waters.
And so, God of the water and all creation, nudge us to take the risk and step out of the security of our boat, knowing that you will be there. When we find ourselves accomplishing great things, enable us to trust our faith, knowing that with you all things are possible. Help us to remember to reach for Jesus’ hand as we set our feet to water walking. And cure us from the arrogance of attempting to go it alone. Give us the humility and wisdom to join with others as we learn to defy realism, pragmatism, and the laws of nature. And we pray in your name, Lord Jesus, knowing that we will only wet the soles of our feet as we dance across the sea into your welcoming arms. Amen.
The Reverend Sally S. Weaver serves as co-priest in charge at St. John's.
Various members of the St. John's congregation contribute to this blog. For editorial suggestions, contact Jeff McIntire-Strasburg at firstname.lastname@example.org