There was a church out east in the Maritime’s. The congregation had decided to host a social event, it was to be a potluck. Well in this congregation were two fishermen and these fellow’s decided that they would go out the morning of the event and catch some fish. A whole lot of fish and this would be their contribution.
So they set out in the early hours of the morning. God must have been with them because it didn’t seem to matter what side of the boat they cast their nets. They caught fish aplenty.
Satisfied that they had enough fish to feed the congregation twice over they headed back to shore. What they hadn’t planned for was the extra weight of all those fish. The engine on the boat had to work harder and before long ran out of gas. But they weren’t far from shore and so they pulled out some paddles and began rowing into shore.
Unfortunately, they got hit by a rogue wave and the paddles were snatched from their hands. They were close to shore, but not quite there yet. That’s when one of them spotted some rocks in the water. He figured they could use them to get to shore. So the two men step out of the boat and begin walking on the rocks to shore.
When they arrive they are met by the local pastor. The pastor has heard about the plan for the fish and wanted to check in on how things were going. When the fishermen see the pastor one of them exclaims, “Pastor, we just walked on water!”
“Yup, we sure did!” the other man chimes in.
The pastor just nods and smiles and then replies, “You sure did. However, you left the fish in the boat and the tide is coming in.”
Have you ever been in that situation?
Stay Focused on Jesus – Audio[audio:https://standrewscobourg.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/sermons/14-08-10-rev-neil-ellis-focus-on-jesus.mp3]
When everything is going right, everything is working out as you planned. You almost can’t believe your luck at just how good things are.
And then it happens. Something comes along and just upsets everything. All our well laid plans, our regular routines, everything gets upset by some unforeseen incident. It is something we could never have predicted.
Usually, when this happens we can recover easily. We can clean things up and continue along. Most of the time, that’s how it works.
However, there are those instances when we just can’t recover as easily. Perhaps it’s an illness, a diagnosis we didn’t want to receive. When I was fifteen I was diagnosed with cancer, not what I was expecting to hear that morning. Could I die I asked? The doctor replied I suspect we will have a 90% chance of removing the cancer. So that means 10% chance I might die? That kind of information changes you.
Or perhaps a loved one has recently passed away and we are trying to find a way through our grief.
If find issues surrounding our health and our family are the most difficult to find a way through. They are the hardest to make sense of. As people of faith our relationship with God, our faith interwoven with these narratives about health, life and death. And when we read scripture it is easy to understand why. Jesus came and he healed people. He promises life eternal, but in the midst of grief and anger it is hard to hold onto that promise. It can be hard to make sense of that promise.
We are just like Peter. Peter gets distracted by a wave. Friends, what is your wave? Is it the rampant consumerist society we live in? The relentless pace that life can sometimes have us moving in? Truth is we all have distractions in our lives. Distractions that keep us from seeing Jesus as our center. That keep us from trusting fully in him.
A traditional telling of the story of Jesus walking on water is one that is full of Christian moralism. A cautionary tale of what you need to do and what you should not do. A story that tells us you need to be brave and courageous. That you need to be strong and firm in your faith. That we are to follow Peter’s initial actions and take giant strides with our faith. Then we too can walk on water!
Our faith is one that can be described as courageous, that requires a resolve to stay true to God. Let’s be clear though, this is something that we aspire to. We aren’t there yet, I know I’m not. Just like you I have questions; there are things I’m not sure about, that I need greater clarification on. But at the heart of things, I trust in God.
Peter trusted. He asked, if you are the Christ then command me to come out to you on the water. Jesus bids him to step out of the boat and walk to him. I can imagine Peter getting the edge of the boat, looking back at the disciples and saying “watch this.” He jumps out and starts walking. You could imagine his elation; I’m actually walking on water! A miracle, but then Peter notices the waves, he remembers that it is actually a dark and stormy night and maybe that isn’t Jesus that he is walking towards. He stumbles and he begins to sink. And at that point Jesus reaches down and pulls him up. Jesus asks, why did you doubt? Why did you doubt?
However friends, I don’t think Peter doubted. I think he did something else. When he saw those waves, when he actually thought about what he was doing, during those moments Peter did something else. As he was walking on water he shifted his attention from Jesus to the waves and he got distracted.
Friends, Peter took his eye off the prize.
It is such an easy thing to do. Here, now, in this place we have our eye on God. We are focused in on God. However, when we leave, when we go about our lives it is so easy to become distracted.
Friends, we need to keep our eye on Jesus. We need to recognize Christ in our lives and understand how God is calling us and working through us.
Yes, there are times when like Peter we are going to need to get out of the boat. When we are going to need to be big and bold with our faith. There will be times when the Session and I will ask that you dream big with us and follow a bold vision of serving God in this community. Times when we are going to have to trust, times when we are going to have to be bold in our faith.
In one of her sermons, Barbara Brown Taylor said, “If there is a miracle worth savoring in this story, then it’s maybe not that Jesus could walk on water (after all, if Jesus is God, then his ability to walk on water is no more surprising than your or my ability to walk up a flight of steps.) And the miracle is not that Peter managed that same trick for a moment or two. No, the miracle is that when it was all said and done–while a soggy and chagrined Peter sputtered seawater out of his lungs and as the boat continued to bob around in the dead of that rather dark night–somehow in the midst of those humble surroundings way out there in the middle of nowhere, the disciples realized that no one less than God’s own Son was sitting right in front of them. So they worshiped him. They believed.”
Friends, if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. True enough. And here and there, now and again, as I have suggested we will be called to be visionary. We will be called to be courageous, there will be times when we decide to do something new and something bold. We will be called to step out of the boat.
But friends, there are far more times when life in the “boat” as a community of faith is what we need to be. As a community of faith that trusts in God and which is faithfully pulling on the oar’s against the winds that howl, believing that Jesus is near, and so we press on.
We press on in faith not because we’ve tested Jesus and found that he lives up to our expectations and not because Jesus has enabled us to do something quite grand and eye-catching.
No, we press on because we believe Jesus when, through the Spirit, we hear him say, “Courage! It is I! Don’t be afraid!”
Friends, Jesus is with us. Jesus comes to us, walking over water no less. No obstacle can separate Christ’s love from us. We simply need to keep Jesus as our center, to proclaim ‘You are the son of God!’ and to worship him, just as those disciples did so long ago in that boat on a dark and stormy night. Amen.