Sermon preached at Fairview United Church August 7, 2005.
Stepping Out In Faith
I quite like the story of Jesus walking on the water to the disciples in the boat. Think about this story for a moment, it has all the makings of a great movie. It has the drama of the disciples being tossed about in the dark, stormy sea. They struggle against the elements, just trying to stay afloat. It has the hero, making a grand entrance, emerging from the darkness to save them.
It even has the comedic sidekick who seems to get himself into even more trouble as he attempts to be heroic himself. The hero saves the troubled crew, calming the storm in the process. A superhero that even has power over nature! What a story!
But, this is not the latest Superman movie. This is the story of the importance of faith. Not that we have faith, we all have faith. But what we are willing to do in our faith.
Have you ever watched children play? Especially young children around adults. They are fearless! A friend of mine says that when he was growing up, he was willing to try anything twice, provided it didn’t kill him the first time! I find that our daughter Anna will try things that will stop your heart! But she knows that we’re around, and we’ll make sure that she doesn’t hurt herself, at least seriously.
Young children will take big risks in experiencing new things, knowing that they are still under the watchful eye of a loving parent. If we haven’t jumped out to stop them in whatever they are doing, then it can’t be that dangerous, now can it?
Getting back to our movie of the week. Jesus instructs the disciples to get in the boat and leave for the opposite shore while he dismisses the over 5000 men women and children that were fed… So the disciples go. Jesus sends off the crowd and heads to the mountain to pray.
Meanwhile, a storm moves in over the sea. The disciples are trapped in this storm, unable to continue their journey. Remember, these are not inexperienced sailors. There are fishermen on this boat, experienced sailors who have sailed in all sorts of weather. But this storm is battering the boat. The wind and waves are beyond what these men can sail through. The storm tosses them about on the water. Just as the light of day begins to brighten the sky before sunrise,
they see a shadow on the water, moving towards them. They cry out in fear, not knowing what to make of this figure. It is Jesus, he says to them, â€œIt is I, do not be afraid.â€
Peter hears the call of Jesus, and asks to join him on the water. Jesus simply replies â€œComeâ€. So Peter stands in the boat. Places one leg over the side, then the other, white knuckles gripping the side of the boat. And he lets go. He stands on the water, and begins to walk towards Jesus.
As he gets farther from the boat, the reality sets in about what he is doing. The wind is blowing around him, the waves are splashing him. The storm still rages, and Peter becomes afraid. As he begins to sink into the water, he calls out â€œLord, save me!â€ Immediately Jesus reaches in and pulls him out of the water to safety, reminding Peter that he was always there.
As the two return to the boat, the storm calms. The disciples recognize that only God has power over the seas and worship Jesus as the Son of God. With the sea at rest, they complete their journey.
Now what was going through Peter’s head when he stepped out of that boat? What purpose would this serve?
My sponsoring congregation near downtown Ottawa is always looking for ways to reach out to the community in which it is located. As the minister, Anthony, was taking one of his daily walks through the community he noticed the amount of low income, subsidized houses in the area.
As he talked with the people who lived in these crowded, cramped rooms, and with those who work with these people, he had an idea. These people were hungry, alone. They spent days traveling the city to whatever kitchen might be open for a meal. What sort of ministry would would help these people?
A vision came to mind, a thought in the darkness, deep in the back of Anthony’s mind. Through prayer and discussion with people in the church and community, a plan for a new ministry was drawn up. Through the cold Ottawa winter months, November through March, every Saturday, a hot meal program would run.
But we didn’t just want a soup kitchen. We wanted a meal that would fill the body, and fellowship that would fill the soul. A local butcher donated meats to the program. Not ground hamburger… but salmon! Beef! Chicken! Real meats! Other donations came in, money, volunteers! Professional chefs even donated their time to this ministry.
So, now every Saturday throughout the winter months, over 100 gourmet meals are served to people in the community. The meal includes soup and salad, a main entree and desert. On top of that, the project has grown to offer used clothing and reading programs.
In the beginning, as the program was being developed, doubts began to arise. What about security of the building? What about safety of the volunteers? Where will the money and food come from?
Money and donations came from the church and community. Security was handled by volunteers, and some minor modifications to restrict access in areas of the building. No doubt you as a congregation had many of the same questions and fears when you started your family outreach here. Security concerns, concerns for the safety of the children, and many more.
In Ottawa, the congregation had to step out of its comfort zone. Into a place where it was not sure of success. A place where there could be danger of failure, or even worse, harm to someone involved. But they felt God was calling the church into this ministry, so they took that risk. They got out of the boat, and into the unknown of the stormy seas.
Peter and the disciples in the boat are the church. Around them is the chaos of the world as they sail in the water. The disciples, afraid of the circumstances they were in, chose to remain in the safety of the boat. But Peter heard the call of Jesus, and took a chance. Peter decided that waiting for Jesus to come to him was not an option. Peter wanted to join Jesus in the work he was doing.
But it was a tough journey. The world lashed out at him. Peter struggled in the gales of wind that swirled around him. He stumbled over the pounding waves. He became disoriented in the storm. He lost his way. â€œLord save me!â€ And Jesus joins him, lifting him out of the stormy sea assuring Peter that he is always there.
Children, when they try new experiences they don’t know what to expect. But they know that when they get into trouble, a simple cry will get them back into the safety of a parents arms. Whether the experience was a failure or a success, the parent loves them just the same. And they have learned something from that experience. People are shaped by the experiences they have as a child. Through the successes and failures of life, we learn about ourselves and the world around us.
God is alive and at work in the chaos that is around us. Do we see him? Do we hear him calling in the darkness? God’s work is done with our help, when we engage God in God’s world. We as a faith community should always be looking for ways in which we can engage God in the world around us. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t. But like the parent, God is with us in all we do. Success or failure, God loves us just the same.
Are we willing to get out of the boat to meet the needs of the community around us? To proclaim the love of God to the world around us? Or are we afraid of getting wet?
To borrow a phrase from the title of a book by John Ortberg, â€œIf you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat!â€
What is our boat? Where might we be too comfortable? Remember, God is with us in all we do. He’s just waiting for us to join him in the water.