Get out of the Boat

Written by Joel on August 7th, 2011

Water Shoes

Aug 7, 2011
8th Sunday after Pentecost; 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Proper 14
Matthew 14:22-33

Our Gospel reading this morning reminds me of a time I was very young – young enough that I didn’t know how to swim, and I needed those little orange arm floaties. We were vacationing as a family in Ocean City, MD and had chose a pool day at the hotel instead of an ocean day at the beach. We had been swimming the afternoon away and my dad told me that it was time to go. I hoped out of the pool, dried off, and gathered all of my things. But then I saw that our floaty hippo was still in the pool. Being the helpful young chap that I was I decide to go fetch it. I, of course, had already removed my orange floaty arm bands, and the hippo was just within reach by the edge of the pool – the five foot section of the pool. I reached and reached, and then the weight of my big ‘ol child head was too much for my little body and in I went. And then I realized – Oh yeah, I don’t know how to swim yet! I panicked and splashed and flailed about. It was the most scarred I had ever been up to that point in my short life, and this was going to be the end; I was sure of it. Until out of the blue an arm reached in and single handedly lifted me out of the pool, and I lived to tell you about it today.

A non-swimmer reaching out for a toy was pretty foolish, and I sure didn’t let little details like gravity get in the way of my goal. We hear the story of Peter and Jesus walking on the water and might realize some of his foolishness as well; but neither did he let little details like physics keep him from walking on the water (if even for but a moment).

This miraculous sign comes immediately after another – the feeding of the 5000 with two little fishes and fives loaves of bread. And Jesus sends the disciples on ahead. Why did the disciples cross the sea? To get to the other side! Well, they didn’t quite make it. The waves began to increase. Wind and wave battered against the boat and the disciples were afraid. Before dawn, it still being dark, a figure was seen out there walking upon the waves. Now this is becoming a ghost story!

Jesus attempts to calm the disciples fears saying “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” It is I, or literally “I am.” Without saying who he is, Jesus calls out to the disciples with the familiar yet simple phrase “I am.” The same declaration which is shared with Moses at the burning bush when he asks for the name of the almighty God. The voice from the bush responds “I am who I am.” And now, this revelation is echoed on the wind and the waves as Jesus declares “I am.” This is perhaps the first time it was made so clear to the disciples that Jesus, the Christ is the I am who I am; God in the flesh.

What happens next is not such much about what we are able to do; but rather what Christ does through us, his disciples. Peter is still sitting in the boat, with the wind and the waves still crashing about him – he is likely still afraid, likely still in disbelief concerning the presence of Christ on the sea. Peter opens his mouth and offers a challenge to what he is concerned is a phantom or a figment of his imagination; he says “If it is you, then command me to come to you on the water.” I can’t help but find this to be an incredibly odd request. Peter: Um…if your concerns are well founded and this is just a figment of your imagination then your best case scenario is sinking like a rock into the sea. I think Peter is showing a great sign of faith in this challenge – it boils down to Peter submitting himself to the command of Christ; in fact Peter was asking for it – asking to be commanded; asking to be command to come near to him. Peter asked to be commanded to come to Christ no matter the risk, no matter the cost, no matter the wind, no matter the sea. Peter didn’t consider the physics, he wanted to be with Jesus and at Christ’s command he went. Peter was still afraid, Peter still had doubt in his faith; and in the face of fear and doubt Peter stepped out in faith.

The church is often symbolized as a boat. This image recalls a time when the Christian religion was illegal and the faithful would conduct worship hidden in side boats. I have seen churches which are designed to look like upside-down boats – so that you could see what would be the planks over head. The church has been called a boat because it is a place of salvation, where we may be safe from the tossing of the sea and the crash of the wind. And in our Gospel reading, the disciples found their salvation when Christ entered the boat with them and the waves died down.

But, boats are vessels. They are vehicles that go somewhere. Why did the disciples cross the sea? To get to the other side! Sometimes I fear that the church these days values the safety of the boat a little too much. It is very tempting to, instead of going somewhere, to stay tied up at dock – and that is certainly very safe. But, could you imagine if the Disciples refused to cross that sea for the purpose of sharing the Good News with the people on the other side?

So Peter asks Christs “Lord, command me to come to you.” And Jesus did, and even Peter walked on the water, if even for a moment. Still, I believe this was such a humble, faithful, and brave request on Peter’s part; and he provides an example for us. Peter saw where Christ was, and while knowing the danger asked to be commanded to go to him.

Of course, Peter sinks like a rock at the first sight of real danger upon him. I’d imagine a thrashing sea looks a bit different when you are outside of the boat. Peter cries out “Lord, save me!” There is no “if” this time; Peter doesn’t say “If you are the Lord, save me!” If there was any doubt that the Lord was there on the sea, it is gone now. And immediately, immediately Christ reaches down to pull Peter out of the water.

“You of little faith.” Not so much a condemnation as a statement of fact. Peter – you do have little faith. We disciples, we do have little faith – that’s a fact. But the man walked on water with that little faith! I wonder that Peter sank perhaps as a little humility check – that he was not walking on the water by his own power but because Christ commanded him.

If we, also of little faith, are able to step out of the boat; step into danger, fear, anxiety, and discomfort at the command of our Lord – we can walk on water….and will also probably sink. And in that is the really good news – that Christ is mighty to save; and that Christ does save. He did not command Peter to his doom; but he commanded him to be placed in a position to receive salvation.

We the church, living up to the image of a life boat, need to be willing to step out in faith so that we might be saved!


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