The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 14th Chapter
Immediately 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.”
Here’s a joke a friend’s six year old grandson told her recently. Actually, it’s just the punchline. Here goes… “The seaweed.” Hilarious, right? Actually… not that funny. BUT if you add the SET UP that goes with that punchline… “Why is beach sand wet?” “The sea weed!” NOW it’s funny… well, it’s funny to six year old boys… and 50 year old boys, anyway!
The setup is really important and that’s true in today’s Gospel too. It’s super tempting to just race down to the punchline… where Peter, God love him, steps out of the boat, but when you do that, you end up missing some really important stuff. So, let’s take a minute to look at the setup for this story before we get to the punchline.
The first thing to notice is that it’s JESUS who puts all the disciples into the boat and pushes them off from the shore. AND, importantly, Jesus puts them into the boat TOGETHER! This isn't an accident. Discipleship is meant to be done TOGETHER, with EVERYONE in the boat. In our Baptisms, you and I were all put into the same boat to be disciples... TOGETHER! In many churches a ship hangs in the nave, the part of a church where people sit. There’s one in the cathedral in Stockholm. The ship is there to remind us that we’re in this boat, called “Church” TOGETHER, and it’s TOGETHER that we’re called to be disciples. It’s TOGETHER that we’re called to hear and wrestle with God’s Word, TOGETHER we’re called to discern God’s Spirit and it’s TOGETHER that we are called to reach out in service to the world.
The second part of the setup is the setting. It’s a dark and stormy night! In Jesus’ day the sea and the dark were symbols that represented chaos, evil, uncertainty, monsters and everything nasty that goes bump in the night… you know, life. It was into that chaos, uncertainty and just plain danger that Jesus shoved the disciples off from the safety and security of solid ground and out into the place where the Wild Things are... into a completely unpredictable future.
The last bit of the setup is that we need to see is that even though it was a dark and stormy night and the boat was battered and the wind was against them, the disciples weren’t in trouble. It wasn’t a sunny, summer sail, but this was largely a group of very seasoned fishermen. They weren’t sinking.
Working TOGETHER in the boat they were doing alright. They might have been sore, tired and maybe even frustrated BUT, they weren’t sinking. When we’re in the boat TOGETHER supporting one another... each taking a part, with someone bailing and someone rowing and someone wrestling the tiller and someone trimming the sails, it’s ALWAYS better than being out in the chaos and in the darkness of life alone. Jesus put the disciples in a boat TOGETHER on purpose. Jesus knew that for you and me to live the abundant life God created us to live in the middle of a world filled with wind and waves and chaos, our best bet would be to sit down and work TOGETHER with our fellow disciples! TOGETHER we give each other strength in the darkness, TOGETHER we sail over the chaos of life, TOGETHER we get through the storms.
So, now we’re finally ready to talk about the punchline! It was over those waves and through that darkness that Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water, trampling the chaos of the world under his feet. Into their darkest, farthest-from-shore, most frustrating time, Jesus came and was with them. That’s not just part of this story. That’s a promise! God is with us, ALWAYS, reminding us to take heart and to not be afraid.
And now we come to Peter. Peter’s name in Greek is a play on the word for “Stone” or “Rock”. Basically Peter’s English name would be Rocky! I love Peter, because Peter always does everything 100%. Sometimes 100% right… and sometimes it’s 100% wrong, but ol’ Rocky is the poster boy for Martin Luther’s famous advice to us to “sin boldly.” Peter calls out to Jesus. “Jesus, I wanna walk on water like you’re doin’.” Jesus, knowing exactly what will happen and ready to deliver the punchline for this whole story says, “Come on Rock!” And out of the boat he steps… looks around and sinks just like… well, a Rock!
NOW, here’s the important question of the day. Why did Peter sink? Some say he didn’t have enough faith. But lack of faith wasn’t the reason! He had faith. Jesus said so. Granted, it was “little” faith, but faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains! So, faith wasn’t the problem. The real reason Peter sank was that HE WAS HUMAN! HE GOT OUT OF THE BOAT, TRIED TO GO IT ALONE AND TRIED TO WALK ON WATER! He tried to walk on water like God and he sank because he wasn’t!
This story is here to remind us… we’re human! We’re not God! So when WE head out into the chaos and darkness of the world… we really, really NEED one other. This crazy idea that rugged individualism is the way to get through life... that's a lie! You might be able to skip yourself over the chaos for a couple skips but you’ll eventually end up on the bottom of the lake… sunk… like a rock. We humans… we need community… that's how God made us. We only make it through the storms and over the chaos when we do it TOGETHER! Together, with each of us doing our part inside the same boat, working together steering, rowing and sailing toward the place Jesus is leading us to go, we can move over the chaos and through the storms and darkness of this life and live the abundant life… a life filled with meaning and purpose and joy... that God created us to live.
God has put us in the boat together in our Baptisms. Jesus has pushed us out into the world to love God and love neighbor... Out into world that all too often looks dark and stormy, but remember Jesus knows that TOGETHER we can do this and when we get frustrated and battered by the storm, Jesus will come to us again, no matter how far out we might be, and he will trample to peace our biggest worries and our greatest fears and when we start to sink, he’ll pull us back up into abundant life. Amen.