Matthew 14:22-33; Romans 10:5-15
A couple of years ago, Bev and I went to Ottawa. I was still a student in seminary at that time and was scheduled for my annual interview with Ottawa Presbytery. It was just another one of those wonderful hours of terror as I was interrogated as to my preparedness for ministry. But those aren’t stories for a sermon, they’re stories for my therapist.
I want to share a different experience from that trip. The year before some friends of ours had gone on an aerial adventure. The same friends we stay with whenever we get back to Ottawa. Susan did such a fine job sharing her experience, Bev and I decided we wanted to try it too. So off we went.
Aerial adventures are a growing tourist attraction. What they tend to be are courses of varying difficulty through the forest. Sounds simple right. Well, I forgot to mention you are on average about 2 or 3 stories off the ground. There are ladders to climb, obstacles to maneuver, things to climb over and, the fun part, zip-lines.
You put on a harness like you see mountain climbers wear, hook yourself to some safety wires and begin. It gets pretty exhilarating at parts, I can tell you that. At one point I was about 4 stories off the ground, standing on a little swing trying to step on the next little swing. You try very hard not to freeze with fear. Which is kind of funny, because you shouldn’t really be afraid since you are hooked to a safety line. So even if you slip, you can’t fall. You’ll just hang there until you climb back on the obstacle. But tell that to your body when you are looking straight down at the forest floor from 4 stories up! I can’t wait to go back again! (seriously!)
But there were some people who just froze and couldn’t go any further. I remember one girl, she must have been about 10 years old. They start you off on a low course, you never go more than about 10 feet off the ground. And it’s fairly easy, you’re mostly just going across bridges with wide gaps between the boards. But this girl just couldn’t do it. She couldn’t overcome the fear she was feeling with the fact she was perfectly safe. She completely froze and had to be helped down by the staff.
To be honest, there were about two points where I could have been in the exact same boat she was. Two moments where I asked myself, “What in the world am I doing up here?” and that maybe I should have stayed home. My fear was beginning to take over my knowledge that I was safe because of the equipment I was wearing.
But like many who travelled the course before me, I pushed through it, took a good couple of deep breaths at the next tree and looked forward to hopefully easier obstacles.
Keeping fear in check is not an easy thing to do. Being afraid causes our brain to release hormones. It causes our adrenaline to increase, our heart rates quicken. It’s part of the natural instinct to flee in the face of danger. It keeps us alive.
But when you are 4 stories up in the air, there’s no where to run to. You need to keep reminding yourself that slow and steady is the way to go. You need to keep your head and wits about you, because letting fear overtake you is when you end up in trouble when on an adventure such I was.
Peter faced the same situation. He and the disciples were told by Jesus to head across the sea where he would meet them. These experienced fishermen found themselves in a storm when they got far out from the land. The boat was being thrown about by the wind and the waves.
Then out of the morning fog they saw Jesus coming towards them. Striding across the water. Walking.
Every once in a while, science tries to explain the unexplainable. How did Jesus walk across the water? There was one theory a couple of years ago that some sort of freak atmospheric event combined with the mixture of salt and fresh water could cause a sheet of ice to form that could have carried Jesus across the water.
Now, here in Canada we are very experienced in the art of walking on water. We do it pretty well every winter, and some of us are quite good at it. Canadians are known for winning medals for their ability to do things while walking on water. But I’m not sure someone could float on a thin sheet of ice during a storm with high seas.
But that’s science, trying to explain something that cannot be explained by natural means. Jesus walked on water. He’s God’s son, he can do what he wants.
Jesus is walking to the boat and Peter asks if he can join him and Jesus invites him to come out onto the water. So Peter climbs over the side of the boat and begins to walk towards Jesus. And he’s doing it, he’s walking on the water. But after a few steps, getting further from the safety of the boat, and not yet to Jesus, Peter gets afraid. He’s left the safety of the boat behind him, and he’s not yet reached the safety of Jesus’ side. He getting wet from the waves and his body tells him it’s time to be scared. Peter freezes, he loses his focus and he begins to sink into the stormy water. As he’s going down, he cries out to Jesus to save him.
Of course Jesus does. As Jesus pulls Peter from the water he asks why he was afraid. Why did he doubt?
Peter got in trouble when his brain took over his heart. Peter knows the power of the seas. He knows that without something to hold onto in the middle of the storm he could perish. What started out with a special feeling in his heart, a desire to be close to Jesus, a desire to walk with him anywhere, was overcome with fear of what he knew from experience. Falling overboard in stormy seas meant death. As a fisherman, he knew this. It was probably drilled into his head at an early age as he learned from his father.
A lot of us learn that falling from a tree hurts. Some of us have it drilled into our heads by our parents who want us to play safely, others learn it through experience. So even though I knew I was safely harnessed in, I also knew falling from such a height would mean a whole lot of pain.
But sometimes we need to take the risk. And taking that first step is a hard one. Whether it be letting go of the tree and stepping out on a swing 4 stories high; or letting go of the side of a boat; or something all together different, that first step is a tough one.
The church needs to make a step. The church has been holding onto to something for a very long time. Something that has been a safe place for generations. The church has been holding onto a certain way of being, a certain style of existence, a way of being “the church” which recently has been a real struggle to maintain.
Our numbers have been declining dramatically. Our seminaries are empty. Our head knowledge of Jesus, our knowing the stories, isn’t that bad, but our heart for Jesus has weakened. Our desire to be with him, actually more than our desire, our need to be with Jesus has diminished over time.
I believe Jesus is calling us into a new direction. He’s asking us to take a risk and let go of that which is holding us back. Jesus is asking us to try something new, and as the creatures of habit that we are, new stuff scares us. We freeze because we’re scared of what might happen if we fall.
Peter actually made it a few steps before he started to sink into the waters. I was out between two trees when I started to freeze 4 stories off the ground.
Stepping out into a risky situation means we’ve got to commit ourselves to the whole journey. Yeah it’s going to get scary at times. There may be times when we want to go back. There will be times when we want to throw our hands up and walk away.
But look at what is waiting for us at the other end. It’s Jesus. He’s inviting us to join him. He knows our heart’s desire is to be closer to God, so he’s holding out his hand and waiting for us.
It’s all part of the journey. Sometimes we have to leave our comfortable place and take some risk in order to accomplish something. Just ask high school grads how they feel as they get into the car to head to university for the first time. Just ask new parents who are holding their baby for the first time. When I held my daughter Anna in my hands for the very first time, just minutes after she was delivered, my tearful prayer was this, “Thank you God for this amazing gift, don’t let me screw it up.”
We need to be bold in our journey. We need to be willing to step out of the boat and take some risk, even trying things that maybe have never been tried before. Things that even may seem impossible.
Peter was a fisherman, what in the world made him think that after years of experience on the seas that he could walk on water? What in his past told him that this was possible? You’d have to think the other disciples in the boat thought he’d finally lost his mind. It really was an insane request to ask to walk on the water.
What would you say if someone said, “I’m walking to Sydney this afternoon.”
You’d probably say, “It’s a long walk, you sure you don’t want a ride?”
But what would you think if they said, “No that’s ok, I’m just going to take the shortcut across to South Bar”?
When Peter climbed over the side of that boat, he looked at Jesus, let go of the rail and started walking towards him. Peter did the impossible.
Can we do the impossible? Can we step out in faith and do things only God can do? I believe we can. I believe the church can be revived by asking Jesus if we can walk with him.
We had a wonderful reading from Romans 10 this morning,
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?
How can someone believe if they’ve never heard of him? How can they hear about him unless someone proclaims him? How can someone proclaim him, if they aren’t sent out?
How do you answer those questions? How can we learn? Listen to those who are talking. Who do we listen to? Those who are sent. Who is being sent? Those with the word on hearts and their lips.
We are being sent. As people who proclaim the risen Christ we are being sent into the world with a faith that is bold and full of the love of God to share with those who know no such love in their own lives.
We don’t need to be afraid. We can’t let the fear overtake us. The fear of the unknown. The fear of failing. The fear of having to close our doors.
We have the Word of God on our lips and in our hearts. If we don’t, then we need to get it. We need to know Jesus Christ in our hearts as our Lord and Saviour.
From there the adventure begins. Climb over the side of the boat.
Let go of the tree and walk to the edge.
And take a step.
Jesus is on our side. We can let go, because with Jesus as our focus we won’t fall very far. He will catch us, and put us back on the path.
Thanks be to God. Amen.