22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
As many of you know, a couple of weeks ago, I was on a camping and canoeing trip with our youth. And at one point while we were bringing our canoes to the shore and unloading at our campsite for the evening, one of our youth, Dalton was out in the water helping to unload the canoes. And he was standing there in the water, with rocks underneath his feet. And by the way he was standing and the angle of our view, another youth, Raven, looked at him and said, “You know from here, it kind of looks like you are walking on water.”
And it reminded me of this story that we just heard. Of Jesus walking on water. And many of us are familiar with this story. It is one of the great miracles of Jesus and it is often what leads many of us to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Because who else could walk on water, except God? I mean, maybe you are like me, and you’ve even sat at the edge of the pool and lightly place your foot on the surface of the water, just to test it out. Just to see if maybe, maybe you too could walk on water. And then when you foot splashes into the water, it is so disappointing to realize that you aren’t God, isn’t it?
And so this is this incredible story of Jesus breaking the boundaries of nature and physics and performing miracle. Which has lead so many of us to see God in things that are mysterious and miraculous. Earlier this week, I asked a handful of people where they have seen God at work and for the majority of them, it was in the mysterious and seemingly miraculous events of life. One of them is a cancer survivor, but she shared that when they shaved her head, the way in which the shaving process went, it unintentionally created a perfect Cherub angel on the top of her head. Or another person, who had recently experienced the death of a loved one, prayed for God to give her a sign that the loved one was okay. And having not seen a butterfly all summer long, on the day of the funeral, a little butterfly floated past her and landed by her foot. And then when she went in, one of the flower arrangements had all these butterflies as part of it. That is where she saw God.
So often it is the mysterious and the miraculous. Which is a totally valid way of experiencing and seeing the presence of God in this life. But here is what is catching my attention in this miraculous story of Jesus walking on water….
The disciples don’t say one thing about it. Not one word about astonishment or amazement. And you would think that if that was the thing we are supposed to focus on – the walking on water – then the story would focus on it too. But it doesn’t.
As the story goes, right after the feeding of the 5,000 (plus women and children), Jesus sends his disciples out on a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. Meanwhile, Jesus goes up a mountain to get some alone time. But after awhile, the boat filled with disciples isn’t doing so well. Winds and waves have battered them all night long. So Jesus goes out to them. Walking on the water. And when the disciples first catch a glimpse of him, they are immediately frightened because they think that he is a ghost. But Jesus then is quick to say, “Do not be afraid. It’s me.” To which none of them say, “Oh my gosh! It really is you. We recognize your voice. How are you doing that? Walking on water. We haven’t seen you do this before. This is incredible! Is somebody recording this??” (Okay, they probably wouldn’t say the thing about recording because they would have no idea what that was. But you get the point.) They don’t say anything about it. They are not surprise or shocked. At all.
And that is surprising to me, because so often we will say that Jesus is God because he can do miraculous things. He can make 5 loaves of bread and two fish feed thousands of people and he can heal the sick and walk on water, but these disciples don’t seem to be impressed at all. Instead Peter says, “Well if it is you, then, command me to walk out on the water to you.” And even Peter gets a few steps on top of the water before he starts to sink. Which again, gets no reaction or amazement.
And so I can’t help but wonder if maybe this story isn’t all about Jesus walking on water and for us to be amazed at his powers. But maybe it is about something more or something different.
Maybe it is about what happens after that moment. So Peter tells Jesus to command him to come out on to the water. And so Jesus says to Peter, “Come.” Peter walks out on the water, gets a couple of steps in, but then he notices how strong the winds are and he gets scared and begins to sink. And then he cries out, “Lord, Save me!” And Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him. And then Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I don’t know about you, but this can be a hard phrase to hear from Jesus. Because I am a doubting person. My faith comes in waves. Sometimes it is paper thin. Sometimes I am of little faith. And so often we’ve been told never to doubt. That it’s a sign of an absence of faith or a weakness or is somehow against God. You just gotta believe, people say. But sometimes that’s easier said than done.
And so that leads me into this next question, what was the moment of Peter’s doubt? Was it when he wasn’t sure that Jesus was who he said he was, and demanded that Jesus ask him to walk on water? Or was it the moment when Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and started looking at the scary winds, and then began to sink?
Or was it the moment Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!”? Maybe that’s the moment Peter doubted.
Because here is the thing, you don’t tell someone to save you, unless you think there is a chance that they might not save you. Peter says, “Lord, save me!”, because he thought that there might be a chance that Jesus wouldn’t save him. If you had full faith in Jesus, you’d just wait to be saved, right?
This past week, my son Elliot did something new. When his babysitter came to watch him while Lauren and I each had to go to work, the moment the babysitter walked in, the corners of his mouth went down, and his eyes got big. And he immediately reached out to be held. And he said, “Daddy’s gonna come back. Daddy’s gonna come back.” But it wasn’t so much of a statement as it was a question. You’re gonna come back, right? He wasn’t entirely sure. He was a little doubtful. Just like Peter. Lord, save me! Because I’m not so sure you will.
And so maybe that is the moment that Peter doubted, because he wasn’t sure Jesus would save him, when the waves and the storms are crashing over him. And those words of Jesus, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Maybe those aren’t convicting words, but comforting words. Because we forget that as Jesus says them, he is holding Peter’s hand. And when you imagine Jesus holding Peter’s hand as he says those hard to hear words, they suddenly have a different tone to them. “Peter, my beloved friend, why would you ever doubt that I would save you in your time of need.”
And it is at that moment, it is after Jesus takes him by the hand and saves him that the disciples call him the Son of God. It’s not when Jesus walks on water, but it is when he takes Peter by the hand. In the simple act of reaching out a hand to someone in need. Pretty ordinary stuff and yet that’s the moment they claim Jesus as Son of God.
And here we are, sitting in the most ordinary place, a fair building. And just what if this place could be someone’s calm in the storm? A place where someone is treated with love and kindness that is from God? What if this place can actually act as the reaching out of a hand to someone who is windblown and battered by the storms of their life? Abusive relationships that they don’t know if they can get out of? Financial struggle? Pain that ripples through out their body with each step? Exhausted new parents who no idea if they are going to make through the next day. Just what IF we can be the hands and feet of Jesus this week, in this ordinary place, extending a hand in love to people who could use that hand.
If that is true, then we have an opportunity this week. We have the chance to be ministers this week to people living through storms. To reach out a hand in love and compassion to people who need some support.
We forget that discipleship, being followers of Jesus, doesn’t have to be amazing and miraculous. It doesn’t have to mean walking on water. But rather discipleship is pretty ordinary.
This past week, discipleship looked like a worker at Target noticing a customer having trouble with her car, and then offering to stay with her until help came. Discipleship looked like a Muslim man offering up his table at Starbucks so that I could talk with new parents about baptism. Discipleship looked like a person providing affordable, drop-in day care as a ministry to busy families.
Pretty ordinary stuff. So here is what I want you to do. Take a couple of minutes and turn to a neighbor and talk about where you have seen ministry happening here at the diner during fair week, or how you could imagine it happening. And if it sounds like pretty ordinary stuff – all the better.
What did you come up with?
This is not just a diner this week. This is not a fundraiser. This is not just a fun event. This is a sanctuary. The word sanctuary means, “Safe place.” We have an opportunity this week to turn this place into a sanctuary, a safe place. And you get to be the ministers. The disciples. Who have learned from Jesus how to reach out a hand in love and compassion to people who are crying out inside, “Lord, save me.”
What’s that look like? I’m not entirely sure. But it will probably look pretty ordinary. A welcome greeting to a new customer, sitting down and introducing yourself to someone sitting alone. Serving them a new cup of coffee. Being patient when a family a five has no idea what they want to order. Catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen since last year.
And wouldn’t it be lovely if this week we might be able to say, “Hey, you know from this angle, the way you helped that person in need, you kind of look like Jesus reaching his hand out to save Peter.” Amen