I am a real fan of this part of Matthew’s gospel. I cannot even imagine what it was like to be the disciples in the boat during this storm, and then to see Jesus coming toward them, telling them to “take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”. How many times in my life have I needed to hear those words? How many times has Jesus said them to me, only for me to not be paying enough attention to hear them?
One of the reasons I love this story is because of my own sin of smugness that I confess to all of you. Back when I was in seminary, I was involved in a conversation with a retired priest and I don’t quite remember how we got there, but he was talking about preaching the gospel, and he said something like, “well sometimes you just have to say, maybe he didn’t walk on water.” In my head, I replied, “well, maybe he did.”
That little incident was actually quite formational for me, and I will get to why in a minute… As I was driving around town this week, I was playing one of my favorite Matt Maher albums in the car. Matt is a contemporary Christian musician who is Roman Catholic. Take a listen, if you don’t know his music. Anyway, a song was playing that I have never really had a strong reaction to one way or another, but I happened to catch something I hadn’t before. It’s a live recording that he does with another artist named Martin Smith. Right before they sing a part of a repeating refrain, Martin says to the audience, “let us sing this song together… Expect God to move here tonight”. Then they sang “Come, Holy Spirit Fall on us Burn like a fire
Living flame of love” Suddenly, I realized something about our gospel story today… It’s true of the disciples who were in the boat, but it is perhaps even more true of Peter… At first, Peter, overcome with joy at seeing Jesus on the water says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”. And so, Jesus commands him to come. And at first, all is going well… Peter is walking toward Jesus on the water… but then, he becomes frightened (even after Jesus commanded him and the others to not be afraid) and he begins to sink. What occurred to me, as I was listening to this song in my car, is that Peter sank because he did not expect God to move, Peter did not expect God to work at that moment. Peter let fear get the best of him, because he began to depend on himself… he lost the focus of looking and Jesus; he didn’t trust that Jesus as God and savior would or could act. So, he began to sink and drown because he couldn’t keep himself above the water; only Jesus, his Lord and savior could keep him from drowning, and when Peter finally refocuses by saying, “Lord save me!” does he get saved from the water.
Back to my friend the priest who said, “Maybe he didn’t walk on water”… well friend, I like you, sometimes believe that God will not or cannot act in my life. I can easily lose my way and quit expecting God to move… Fortunately, God’s movement, God’s actions, do not depend on me; and, just because I want God to move in a particular way, doesn’t mean that God will move in that way. God is certainly in control… I am not… living a life of faith, means that I can expect that God will move. I get into trouble when I stop expecting it….
When I got to my last parish, things were a bit shaky. As a parish, they had lost their confidence and their sense of vision. My job, was to go in and love them back into life, to show them through Word and Sacrament, that God wanted an Episcopal church in that place. I told myself, and them, that I refused to lose sleep over issues of money; that I believed that God would help us to achieve some of our goals and allow us to minister to our community. Even after we lost a substantial pledge, I refused to get anxious or lose sleep. God certainly moved in that place. We made budget that year; we put in a new church sign so that people in the neighborhood could see what we were up to; we started to gather the money to fix our parking lot, which I understand has now been done… and these are not rich people; but we believed and expected that God would act in our midst… and God certainly did…
I believe Jesus walked on the water; but more importantly, I believe that Jesus acts in my life and in yours; I believe that through his Holy Spirit, you and I are empowered and expected to act in our community. What do you expect God to help you do? Do you expect God to move? What might happen if you did? How do you expect God to move in this place?
(Sing) “Come, Holy Spirit Fall on us Burn like a fire
Living flame of love”