â€œWalking on Waterâ€
August 10, 2008 â€“ Matthew 14:22-33
There is an old story that has often been re-told in especially the Eastern Orthodox part of the church. According to the tale, a devout abbot from a monastery decided to take a prolonged spiritual retreat in a small cabin located on a remote island in the middle of a large lake. He told his fellow monks that he wanted to spend his days in prayer so as to grow closer to God. For six months he remained on the island with no other person seeing him or hearing from him in all that time. But then one day, as two monks were standing near the shore soaking up some sunshine, they could see in the distance a figure moving toward them. It was the abbot, walking on water, and coming toward shore. After the abbot passed by the two monks and continued on to the monastery, one of the monks turned to the other and said, “All these months in prayer and the abbot is still as stingy as ever. After all, the ferry costs only 25 cents!”
Sometimes the obvious is hard to see. It smacks us right in the face and we are still blind as to what it is saying to us. It happens often, probably more often than we know. And, no doubt, when we’re reading the Bible, it happens even more.
Our reading from Matthew this morning could be one of those texts. This morning we heard of Jesus walking on the water, and that’s what we remember. But how often to we remember that Peter joined him. Sure, it’s only in Matthew where it’s recorded that Peter joined Jesus on the water, so it may be easier to forget when out of the three recorded instances of Jesus walking on water there’s only one with Peter joining him.
So what is the significance of Peter walking on water? Why should this be something we remember? Does it say anything to us today?
Well, what does it take for Peter to walk on water? What sort of characteristics is he showing the church today? Peter is showing us key characteristics of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. There are probably many different characteristics we could name, but this morning I’ll just look at five key characteristics of discipleship being shown by Peter.
Before I start with them, it should be noted that we can find these traits exhibited by many others in the Bible, but not very often is it all of them at a time when someone is voluntarily putting his or her life on the line.
The first of which is trust. We can be reasonably assured that walking on water was not a common occurrence in Jesus’ day. So what makes Peter think he can do it too? Trust. Peter has grown to trust Jesus entirely with his life. Peter trusts Jesus so much, he is willing to try something he knows is impossible. Man cannot walk on water, you know it, I know it, and most certainly Peter knows it, he was a fisherman after all. It then goes without saying then that Peter must have incredible trust in Jesus to make him think he can join Jesus walking on the sea.
The second attribute that Peter shows is commitment. Peter is a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ. Peter will follow Jesus wherever he goes, including places one would never think possible. The interesting thing about this is, while Jesus has challenged his disciples to move spiritually into many new and different places, and physically by asking them to travel to areas where Jews normally wouldn’t travel, Peter volunteers for this mission. Peter stands up in the boat and says, â€œLord, call me out onto the water with you.â€ Peter wants desperately to be with Jesus, to follow him wherever he goes.
Next we see Peter show us risk. Peter knows he cannot walk on water. He sees Jesus doing it, but knows Jesus is more than just a man. But he trusts Jesus, and is committed to following him wherever he leads. Now Peter is going to risk his own life to follow Jesus. Remember, this is not a calm lake right now, the boat is being battered by strong winds and waves. If Peter falls into this stormy sea, he knows he’ll likely drown. But, because of his incredible trust and commitment that Peter to take that first step over the side of the boat.
We also have to recognize the incredible faith Peter has. Without his faith in Jesus, trust, commitment and risk is impossible. Peter has to believe that Jesus is who has been saying he is, or else nothing else is possible. Beyond the faith Peter has shown, he also shows his hope. Faith gives us hope, and Peter has great faith and hope in Jesus and his ability to sustain him.
For those of you who are counting, those are four characteristics of discipleship we see form Peter. The final one this morning is freedom. Believe it or not, being a disciple of Jesus Christ gives you freedom. Jesus calls us to do many things, and by calling Peter to join him on the stormy sea, Jesus gave Peter the freedom to step beyond anything he could have conceived as possible.
So there we have it, 5 characteristics of discipleship exemplified by Peter when he stepped out of the boat and walked on water. Trust, commitment, risk, faith, and freedom.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to walk on water? Granted there are many who do it all the time in Canada. Hockey players and curlers do it in buildings all over the nation. But as a Christians, who gather together in a building called a church, how do we walk on water?
First it comes back to the five characteristics we see in Peter. We first need to trust. We need to trust in Jesus Christ to lead us and be with us in everything we do. We need to be committed to what we do. If we feel Jesus is calling us in a new direction, we need to be committed to the journey. Risk… everything we do carries a certain amount of risk. It might be financial, it might be personal like in our reputation or our relationships, but risk is a part of what it means to follow Jesus Christ. Tied together with commitment, we need to realize that the risk involved in what we do cannot deter us from completing the task. Faith of course is a huge part of being a disciple. Without faith, why even bother? Why do ministry without faith? Sure, it’s good to do things for others, to help those in need. But we are Christians, we do it because our faith calls us to serve. Family resource centres, food banks, there are needs within our community that have resulted in the church helping build solutions to these needs.
And freedom… freedom is an amazing gift. Our faith allows us to have the freedom to try new things, to search for new ways to serve our neighbours, to step out of our comfort zone maybe to try something different. Something like hire an energetic student to introduce a second service on Saturday nights with new music and approaches to worship, and to also help lead the youth back into the church as full members of this community.
This church has started to think about taking a step or two out of the boat. You might think that by my standing here this morning we are already walking on the water, but I don’t think so. By hiring me to be part of this new ministry, you have asked me to help you step out of the boat. Together, we are all Peter and together we will take the steps out of the boat into the stormy sea. We haven’t stepped out the boat yet because we haven’t taken the risk of actually starting the work of the new ministry. We have yet to have a full evening service, we have yet to have a full youth group night, we have yet to take the risk of stepping and and trying the new. But it’s coming soon!
I also want to remind you that I am not stepping out of the boat by myself, because that will ensure our failure. By stepping out of the boat together, supporting and running these new ministries as a team we will help ensure it’s success. 1 Corinthians tells us we are the body of Christ, and only as a full body are we able to do God’s work here with Jesus Christ as our head.
Which leads me to one last thing we can learn from Peter this morning. Peter also teaches us the importance of focus. As long as Peter was focused on Jesus he was able to walk across the water. What happened to Peter when he stopped watching Jesus and began to let the stormy water sea impact his focus? He started to sink into the sea.
Over the next year, as we explore ministry together in Fairview we need to have trust, we need to be committed, we need to be ready to take some risks once in a while, we need to have faith, we need to be free. We need to be disciples of Jesus Christ and give him our focus in each ministry we are a part of. If we keep our focus on Jesus and live out the traits shown to us by Peter, we can stay afloat as we step out of the boat into places we may have never thought we would go.
Like Peter, we have asked Jesus to call us out of the boat, out of our comfort and into a place where we are taking risks. Jesus has responded to our call, and now we’re ready to take the first steps into that unknown place. All we need to do now is keep our focus on the one who answered our calls.