Peter is the man. He isn’t always the best he can be, remember he’s equally the guy Jesus says he will build the church on, AND the guy who will deny Jesus three times in Jesus’s greatest hour of need. He’s the guy who we see Jesus through; Peter is the one willing to ask the hard questions, say the wrong things, explore what it means to really be a disciple.
And there’s no time where that is more apparent than in our Scripture today.
Jesus has sent the disciples ahead of him. Even though they’re traveling together, Jesus tells them that he’s going to the mountainside to pray, because he needs some alone time, and he’ll meet them later. It says they again encountered a rough path across the water, and close to dawn, Jesus started walking across the water to them.
And they get scared, because they think he’s a ghost. Now, what does that tell us about them? That it makes MORE sense that it was a ghost than it was Jesus walking across the water? That makes me think that one or more of them had heard about ghosts or seen one, but they had never seen another human being walk on the water.
I came across the story a few weeks ago about a mother watching her son play in the kiddie pool outside the kitchen window. He splashed happily from one side to the other for a few minutes, then began frowning and emptying the water out of the pool with a bucket. She went outside to ask him what he was doing, and he told her that his Sunday school teacher had said Jesus walked on water and “this water wasn’t working.”
But this water works for Jesus. And he tells his disciples DNBA: “do not be afraid.”
Still, not everyone can overcome their fear to respond. It’s only Peter, the fisherman-in-training-to -fish-for-men who steps out of the boat.
Peter has a desire to be with Jesus. He WANTS to trust Jesus, and through Jesus’ encouragement, he steps out on the water. He wants to walk on water and so he gets out of the boat. He knows that if he wants to change, to grow, to understand, to be more like Jesus, that he has to leave the boat. He has to get onto the water.
But when Peter sees the wind, his courage falters, and he loses his vision. Back up for a minute though: in between getting out of the boat and experiencing fear, PETER WALKS ON WATER.
For all of the times when we say “but of course Jesus could do x,y, and z, he was GOD,” here’s the story of a human who was so focused on what Jesus, that he did what Jesus did. Peter performed a miracle, in a world where it was more believable that there are ghosts than that a man could walk on water, Peter walked on water.
Peter put his faith out there by taking a risk. He put it into practice.
And then he got scared and began to overthink it and he began to sink.
Now, it says that Peter saw the wind, but you can’t really see the wind, can you? You see the effects of the wind, and you feel the wind, but you don’t see the wind itself.
Casting Crowns, in their song “Voice of Truth,” uses anthropomorphic lyrics to explain how the context, the situation, impacted Peter.
Oh what I would do to have
The kind of faith it takes
To climb out of this boat I’m in
Onto the crashing waves
To step out of my comfort zone
Into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is
And He’s holding out His hand
But the waves are calling out my name
And they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times
I’ve tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again. “Boy, you’ll never win!”
“You’ll never win!”
From Peter’s perspective in the song, the waves laugh at him. And it’s not a nice laugh, not a case of laughing WITH him. No, this is derisive, corrupted, derogatory laughter, like those who laughed at Jesus as he beaten and nailed to the cross.
This is the way that the wind causes Peter to loses sight of his goal of walking with Jesus. This is the way that seemed impossible, that then became doable, now becomes a moment of failure again.
What do those waves look like for you? When you are motivated to follow Jesus? What gets in the way of the opportunity to be with Jesus?
Here are several “waves” I think many of us face.
The wave of our habits. I like to work out. I like the feeling of exercise, and even more, I like that when I work out, I can eat more of the thing I like. But when vacation comes or I get sick, my pattern of behavior gets fragmented. And even when regular life resumes, I don’t always start working out right away. I have gotten out of the habit of working out.
The same thing happens in our lives of faith. We don’t go to church for sickness or vacation or work and suddenly, the next time we COULD go, there’s a question where there wasn’t one before: should I go to church?
When the pastor says, “we should be praying everyday,” or “Are you regularly giving back to God financially?” And we haven’t been doing those things already, we can’t see where that time, or energy, or money would come from.
If we pull the timeline back from our committed level, to when we’re first introduced to faith and church, what was it like when Sunday was our 2nd Saturday? When we don’t get this God thing, why would we give God any of our money?
I can’t imagine NOT going to church, but I’ve been going to church week in and week out for 36 years! That is my habit, but for some, their habits are a wave.
The wave of our family and friends. For some of us, our families are a wave that laughs at us. Maybe they laugh at us when we say we’re going to make a change, when we say we’re going to stop drinking too much on Saturday and sleeping in instead of church, or stop sleeping around, or stop telling those kinds of jokes, because that’s what we need to do to follow Jesus better. Maybe they laugh at us when we say that we’re going to church more often, or (gasp) sing in the choir or go to Bible study or lead and serve. Maybe that laughter sounds like “aren’t you doing enough?” Maybe the people closest to us are the ones who seem to be the ones who undercut our ability to walk on the water, to follow Jesus wherever we’re supposed to.
The wave of our doubts. Now, I believe that we are to love The Lord our God with our whole heart, mind, body, and strength. I DONT think God wants us to turn our brains off at the door. I don’t think God is looking for a bunch of automatons who aren’t using their heart AND their mind in conjunction. But what happens when we let “experts” and their opinions get in between what we learn about God, what we experience in our hearts, and what we let other people say?
What happens is often that our balance gets off kilter. John Wesley set up our decision making through the quadrilateral, that Scripture was the base, but that our reason, church tradition, and our experience all mattered, too. If we use that, and we actually give Scripture its due, then we can get to a place where doubts are room for growth, not debilitating paralyzation.
The wave of our pasts. I have found that our pasts, specifically out mistakes. Often cloud how we behave in the present… But that many of us don’t give much thought to how we got here. What was my upbringing like? How do I interact with people at home and work? What do we go to when push comes to shove? Too often we only look at the negative, remembering our failure. And figuring that the failures will continue and we’ll never grow.
I imagine that Peter had all of these flitting through his mind as he sank. “what are the other disciples going to say?” “I’ve never walked on water before!” “Who is Jesus to actually walk on water?” “What happens if I sink?”
But this story doesn’t end with Peter falling. It ends with a profession of faith because Peter cries out with the simplest of prayers. Remember, prayer at its most basic is recognizing that we cannot do it on our own, acknowledging that God is god and we are not.
Peter cries , “Lord save me,” and Jesus does. Jesus comes through where Peter could not. Peter couldn’t stay focused. He couldn’t complete his own hopes and dreams to be WITH Jesus without Jesus helping him.
Sure , the adage is true: “if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.” But you can get out of the boat again and again, and face the same wind, the same waves. If you’re not willing to put it all on Jesus, you’re going to keep sinking. You don’t need to do this on your own. You need to admit that you can’t do it on your own.
Change and growth don’t occur when everything is fine. If Peter had walked on water, he would’ve thought HE had accomplished it, that his faith alone had given him the power.
Peter was at a place where he understood BELIEF but he didn’t yet TRUST. Peter didn’t really get trust until much later but he wouldn’t have ever trusted if his belief hadn’t changed over time.
Do you believe? Do you know that God is calling you out of safety into risk and challenge for the kingdom of God? Are you moving into further belief, into a deeper understanding of what God wants for you?
Because Peter started to sink, he realized belief wasn’t enough but that faith and trust in Jesus saves! That combination is what gets Peter through, that helps him get out of the boat and thrive.
That’s why the Casting Crowns’ song revolves around this chorus, one that I think speaks to so many of life’s situations:
But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”
The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.
I pray today that you would step out on faith, see the waves, and in the name of Jesus trust that they hold no power over you. I hope that our church will care about the real waves that others face, like cancer, slavery, job equality, racism, and do something about it.
I pray that you will embrace those moments and remember the message of the angels, and later Jesus: “Do not be afraid.” That we wouldn’t let what we think might happen get in the way of what God wants from us. That we would know that Jesus didn’t leave Peter to fend for himself, and he doesn’t leave us alone either.
I pray that you will hear God speaking to you, and look up from the waves, and rest in the grip of the one, true God. I pray that you will listen, too, and know that God’s plan for your life is a good one!
Then, and only then, will you see the storms, the boat, and every wave differently, because you will be riding on them, and they will no longer hold you back. Amen.