Get Out of the Boat
Faith is a belief in the trustworthiness of an idea that has not been proven, that is according to Wikipedia. Faith, in the Christian context is directed towards the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Faith is believing in something that is unseen. In the limited English language, like love, we can have faith in many things. One can have faith in God or faith in a chair. Faith is trust that someone or something will live up to the promises it makes. We have faith that when we step off a curb the street is only a half a foot down. We have faith in the other drivers on the road that they will follow the law and stay on their side of the yellow line. You all had faith that when I said, “Please be seated,” that the pews would hold you up and not collapse. We have faith in the promise God made to offer up his Son for our sake, which were made true in Jesus Christ. We live in a constant state of faith in one thing or another.
Today’s reading is about a story of faith and of challenge. This is a calling story and one of obedience. In this story faith is tested and miraculous things happen. Today is the start of a three part series on the disciple Peter. Peter is my favorite disciple because he is the essential follower of Christ. At times he is egotistically, and at others humble, mouthy, dumbfounded, cocky, pig headed, and often opens his mouth and inserts his foot. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this about this story, “If Peter had not taken the risk, he would never have learn[ed] the meaning of faith. Before he can believe, the utterly impossible and ethically irresponsible situation on the waves of the sea must be displayed. The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus. Unless a definite step is demanded, the call vanishes into thin air, and if men imagine that they can follow Jesus without taking this step, they are deluding themselves like fanatics…For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p.63-64)“Faith is only real where there is obedience.” That hurts a little. That is a little demanding of God don’t you think. Surely there is a way I can have faith in God and not have to obey him all the time. There has to be a way I can skirt that issue or at least amend it. God is demanding a lot if “faith is only real where there is obedience.” Cannot I not simply believe and that be good enough for God.
Today’s scripture picks up right after the feeding of the 5000. After the disciples collect 12 baskets full of leftovers Jesus sends them across the sea, while he retreats to a mountain top to pray. I am sure the death of John the Baptist and the rejection he felt in his hometown was on his mind and he had to spend some time away and in prayer. Jesus sat there alone, on the mountainside way into the night. The disciples were on the lake, “a considerable distance from land, buffed by the waves because the wind was against it.”
The twelve disciples are in the boat. There are some that are use to the water. Peter, Andrew, James and John were all fisherman. Life on a boat was second nature to them. The other eight may not have been so use to it waves and the wind. I am not lover of rough waves. I am a high fan of Dramamine. While we were at the beach a couple of weeks ago my dad, cousin, Alycia and I all went deep sea fishing. We went on a head boat, which are usually big boats. For the three and a half hour journey out to the gulf stream, the waves were pretty rocky. Thank goodness for some pretzels we took or I would have been adding some chum to the ocean. On the way back we were sitting on the upper deck, once again going through some moderate seas. The boat would hit the waves in front of them and the water would crash against the boat, sending water over the wheel house and onto us on the second deck. I’ll admit it, it wasn’t my favorite part of the day, but I kept my lunch. This is nothing like those boys on the Deadliest Catch. They work in 20-30 foot waves and there is no way I could do that type of work.
The disciples were struggling against the waves. In Mark and John’s version of the story it says that they were rowing their boat for three or four miles now. The story doesn’t say they were scared for their lives. They were sacred for their lives in chapter 8 of Matthew when the waves are swamping the boat and the Jesus is asleep. The disciples wake him up because they fear for their lives and he calms the wind and waves. The waves were big and the disciples were battling with them all night. They were probably tired, worn out, and wishing they could get to land.
Matthew says that during the fourth watch Jesus walked out there to them. The Jews broke up the night into four watches. The first watch was from 6pm-9, second 9-12, third 12-3, and the fourth watch was from 3-6am. It was EARLY in the morning, Bobby and Lynn early in the morning, when Jesus came walking to them. When the disciples see Jesus walking on the waves they don’t cheer or sit amazed. They cry out like little school girls because they think they are seeing a ghost. “When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.” Immediately Jesus calls out to them and tells them to be brave, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
You don’t have to hang around a pool too long during the summer to find people attempting to do the same thing as Jesus here. I know growing up swimming in the neighborhood pool we would have contests to see who could walk on water the farthest. The contest would simply start by having a judge watch for when the person’s head would finally sink into the water after he ran has hard as he could along the pool’s edge and into the deep end. Even after ordination I have not been able to walk on water. I thought there were some perks to this job!
But there was one person on the boat who was not afraid to attempt to do the same as Jesus. Peter calls out to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus tells Peter, “Come.” Peter hears this calling and gets out of the boat and to his amazement he stands on the waves like he would on the land. He starts walking to Jesus smiling and amazed. Then he looks around. He sees the waves, he becomes conscience of the wind and he starts to get afraid. He starts to sink and now Peter’s heart is pounding and he calls out to Jesus, “Lord, save me.” Immediately, Jesus reached out and catches him and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt.” Then they got back on the boat and the wind dies down and they “worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”
Like I said this is a calling story. Jesus makes two calls. The first one is when he tells the disciples to go out on the boat. He sends them into the night, into the wind, and into the waves. Jesus has faith that they will be safe and that they will be alright. The disciples follow without argument and they work into the night to following the calling Jesus laid on their lives at that moment.
The second calling is the one we are all familiar with and the one that comes to the disciple we will be looking at for the next two weeks. Peter calls out to Christ and Christ calls back, “Come.” When Peter gets out of the boat he is being obedient to Christ’s calling. Peter wanted to do everything that Jesus did, like a good student of a rabbi. Being the brownnoser he was, he asks Jesus to invite him out into the waves. He hears the call, “Come,” and leaves the comfort of the boat. “Before he can believe, the utterly impossible and ethically irresponsible situation on the waves of the sea must be displayed.” Peter, in his attempt to be a true follower of Christ gets out of the boat. His faith is tested by his obedience to Jesus who is calling him out to the waves.
Try and imagine what you would do. The boat has been rocking for hours. The waves have slapped the bow of the boat and you are wet from the water splashing you for the last four hours. This God/Man you have been following then shows up walking on the waves. You are scared to death because you think he is a ghost but when you realize it is Jesus, you want to do it too. Jesus tells you to come to him and you come to the edge of the boat and look over. Being a fisherman you have jumped over the edge on hot summer days before. When you did you sank into the deep. What could you expect now? This is where your faith is being tested. It doesn’t take faith to stay on the boat, it takes true faith to get out of it.Remember Bonhoeffer’s words. “Faith is only real where there is obedience.” These words hurt but they are true. Faith without obedience is not faith. One can believe in Christ but if they are not willing to follow Christ’s call, their faith is null and void. For those stagnate in life, ignoring that calling Christ is laying on their hearts, their faith has become useless.
As a present, almost two years ago, I was given a new set of irons. It was a lot of fun to go out and pick them out. I loved trying to find the right ones for me which I hoped would better my golf game. The truth is I have yet to play a round of golf with and I have only gone to the driving range twice since I got them. Right now they are sitting in my golf bag, in the garage closet. My brother-in-law keeps reminding me that soon he will be forced to come and confiscate them because my abuse by not playing with them. They are worthless sitting in the garage and only have real purpose when they are being used. We cannot place our faith in the corner of a dark closet, hoping to bring it out someday. If we keep faith there, then it starts to lose its purpose and fades away. To get the full sense, power and purpose of faith, one has to take it out of the closet, dust it off, and use it by being obedient to the one calling.
Peter, in the midst of the waves and the wind, gets out of the boat and walks to Jesus. He follows Christ call on his heart to come. When he does he participates in the impossible. As Michael Turner puts it:
“It’s not the first time Jesus has called his disciples to do something that
seems impossible. He’s already called his disciples to turn the other
cheek if somebody walks up to them and clocks them in the face. He’s
already called his disciples to walk two miles if anybody asks them to walk
one. He’s already called his disciples to love their enemies and pray for
those who persecute them. He’s already called his disciples to be
perfect, just like their Father in heaven is perfect. He has already
called his disciples to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers,
and cast out demons. He’s already called his disciples to follow him wherever he goes – even to the cross. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise
when Jesus honor’s Peter’s request and again calls him to do the impossible
– ‘Okay, Peter, come to me. Walk on water.” (Michael Turner, Pulpit
Resource Vol. 36, No.3., pp.27-28)
We are called to do the same. As we come to the table of the Lord today, we are reminded that a hand is always there if we get scared. Jesus is there to lift us up when we sink because we start to see the wind and waves. He will always be with us but that doesn’t mean we have permission to stay on the boat. We are called to leave our faith in the boat keeping us afloat and to do the impossible, to walk on water with Christ.