If You Want to Walk on Water, You Gotta Get Out of the Boat!

Matthew 14:22-33

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you and call us to action, our Creator and Sustainer.

In today’s gospel of Matthew it was pointed out that the wind was very strong and the waves were very high, but Peter did not notice them at first. In his excitement at recognizing his Lord he stepped out of the boat and walked on the water. When he realized what he was actually doing and he instantly sank. Glub! Glub!

Did Peter sink because he didn’t have enough faith as Jesus accused him when he said

‘oh, ye of little faith’? (Matthew 14:31)

I don’t think so.

The first thing I think is important to clear up is that, at least to me, “faith” or “belief” doesn’t mean belief in an expected outcome, but rather trust in another person. Believing in Jesus does not mean believing that we’ll be “successful” (however we define that!) in whatever it is that Jesus is calling us to do. Nor does having faith IN Jesus imply blithely signing off on a list of statements ABOUT Jesus, His teachings, His examples, and His call to us. Having faith in Jesus means a willingness to follow Jesus. To have faith isn’t an activity of the brain so much as a feeling of the heart. In other words, faith is about doing. A faithful person eventually gets to the point where they can say to God, “I don’t know where you’re going, but I know that wherever it is, I’d rather be drowning with you than anywhere else.” In my own life, that kind of trust in Jesus comes from knowing Jesus. The kind of trust I have in Jesus has come as I’ve experienced Jesus’ generosity and mercy. That process of building confidence, of getting to know Jesus so deeply that I can trust Jesus, is part of what I call the “journey of faith”.

When I say that faith is ‘doing’, what I mean is that I believe faith begins with action, with taking a step, with taking a risk. The best intentions in the world don’t do much without action, but taking that step, even with mixed or unclear intentions, or sometimes great fear, just might give you the experience of meeting God on the road, in a dark valley, or at sea.

So, if you want to walk on water, you gotta get out of the boat!.

But there is a lot of risk in doing so.

Water Walkers Will Face Storms
When you are serving God, and trying to be obedient to Christ, you will have to face storms of trials and difficulties. Even as you sit here today, you may be going through a personal storm. And in almost every instance, it is hard to see God’s hand and love as you weather those storms. Maybe it’s financial problems, or problems in a relationship; you might be having family problems, or problems at your job or school. We all have storms in our lives. Anyone who tells you that leading a true Christian life is smooth sailing – that life is easy or your worries disappear – doesn’t understand what the Bible teaches about serving the Lord. 2 Timothy 3:12 says,

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Remember, the disciples were in a storm because they were trying to be obedient to Jesus. Matthew 14:22 says

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side.

And they did, or at least they tried to. And many hours later they hadn’t made much progress. So, remember, obedient water walkers will face storms.

Water Walkers Recognize God’s Presence
Jesus wanted to be alone to pray, so He sent the disciples ahead without him. To them it was no big deal – they used boats for fishing on a daily basis. But this huge storm blew in – bigger than most storms. Matthew says that the boat was battered by the waves (Matthew 14:24). The storm was so violent that the disciples could barely keep the boat upright.

I can imagine that they wished the sides of the boat were a little higher and the wood a little thicker. Deep in the night, the storm was getting really bad. I can imagine that at that point they weren’t worried about making it to the other side – they just wanted to stay alive. The disciples were in great fear and deep distress. It is about this time that Jesus decided to come toward them.

It’s interesting – Jesus wasn’t in a boat and the disciples didn’t recognize him. The disciples were convinced he was a ghost, so they were terrified and cried out in fear. But Matthew wanted us to know that sometimes it is only with the eyes of faith that we can fully recognize when Jesus is present.

Often, our own lives are tormented by waves of disappointment and doubt. And we are usually no better at recognizing His presence than the disciples were.

What was Jesus up to, walking around on the sea in the middle of a stormy night?

He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them. Yet when Jesus came to the disciples on the water, he was not just doing a neat magic trick. He was revealing His divine presence and power.

It is interesting that the disciples took the boat out in the first place at Jesus’ command. They would have to learn, as we all do, that obedience is no guarantee of being spared adversity. But as the storm gained their full attention, Jesus decided that it was time for the disciples to get to know a little bit more about the one who was really piloting this storm.

Basically, Jesus wanted them to be able to also trust Him in the storms. The problem was “they just didn’t get it.

God was visiting them while walking on the water but they didn’t see it; for us, Jesus often comes when least expected – in the middle of a storm. I believe that extreme stress can be a frequent meeting place with God. These are those divinely-appointed defining moments that come into all of our lives. And, if you’re not looking for Him, if you cannot acknowledge that He can be there in the storm, you might just miss Him.

Twelve disciples sat in the boat; we don’t know how the other eleven responded to Jesus’ voice. Were they confused?

Did they respond with wonder?

Disbelief?

Or perhaps a little of each! But one of them, Peter, was about to become a water walker. He recognized that God was present – even in the most unlikely place, and he rushed to meet his Lord, oblivious to the risk – never questioning that Jesus was walking on water, only realizing that He was there.

Water Walkers Know the Difference Between Faith and Foolishness
Peter blurted out to Jesus,

“if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28)

Why doesn’t Peter just plunge into the water? This is not just a story about risk taking; it is also a story about obedience. That means we will have to determine an authentic call from God and what might simply be a foolish impulse on our part. Courage alone is not enough; it must be accompanied by wisdom and discernment. This is not a story about extreme actions; it’s about extreme discipleship! This means that before Peter gets out of the boat – he had better make sure Jesus thinks it’s a good idea. So, he asks for clarity,

“if it is you, command me…” (Matthew 14:28)

Peter had enough faith to believe that he too could share in the eternal mystery and power of the Savior of mankind. That if Jesus commanded him to do something, no matter how difficult or extreme, he could do it.

Water walkers will face storms; water walkers recognize God’s presence; water walkers acknowledge the difference between faith and foolishness.

Water Walkers MUST Get Out of the Boat
Put yourself in this story; picture in your mind how violent the storm must have been. It was strong enough to keep seasoned professional fishermen struggling just to avoid being capsized. Imagine the size of the waves, the strength of the wind, the darkness of this night. These were the conditions under which Peter was going to get out of the boat. It would be tough enough to try to walk on water when the water is calm, the sun is bright, and the air is still. Imagine trying to do it when the waves are crashing, the wind is at gale force, it’s pitch black and you are terrified!

Put yourself in Peter’s place for a moment. You have a sudden insight into what Jesus is doing. Jesus is inviting you to go on the adventure of your life. But at the same time, you’re scared to death. What would you choose – the water or the boat? The boat is safe, more secure, and certainly more comfortable. The water is rough and the waves are high, the wind is strong; there’s a storm out there. And if you get out of the boat – whatever your boat happens to be – there’s a good chance you might sink! But if you don’t get out of the boat there’s a guaranteed certainty that you will never walk on the water. If you want to walk on water – you gotta get out of the boat. I believe there is something – some voice inside us – that assures us there is more to life than sitting in the boat.

You and I were made for something more than merely avoiding failure. There’s something inside us that wants us to walk on the water – to leave the comfort of mere existence and abandon ourselves to the higher adventure of following God. So, let me ask you a very important question:

What is your boat?

  • your boat is whatever represents safety and security to you apart from God himself;
  • your boat is whatever you are tempted to cling to, especially when life gets a little stormy;
  • your boat is whatever keeps you so comfortable that you don’t want to give it up, even if it’s keeping you from joining Jesus in a miraculous and transforming journey;
  • your boat is whatever pulls you away from the high adventure of extreme discipleship.

Do you want to know what your boat is?  

Your fear will tell you. Just ask yourself this: what is it that most produces fear in me?

Fear of failure or loss of dignity?

Fear of judgment or making a mistake?

Fear or being seen as a fool or fanatic?

In what area(s) of your life are you shrinking back from fully and courageously trusting God? Fear will tell you what your boat is. Leaving it may be the hardest thing you will ever do. But if you want to walk on the water, you gotta get out of the boat!

Remember: Water walkers will face storms; water walkers recognize God’s presence; water walkers know the difference between faith and foolishness; water walkers get out of the boat.

Water Walkers Face Their Fears to Grow
So, Peter goes to the side of the boat. The other disciples are watching closely. They wonder how far he will take this thing. One can imagine he put one foot over the side, carefully gripping the edge of the boat. Then he put the other foot over the boat; he’s holding on for dear life.

For a while it’s as if Peter and Jesus are present on the water. Peter is beaming with delight. Jesus is thrilled with his student – like master, like disciple. Then it happens – Peter saw and felt the wind. Reality set in, and Peter surely asked himself, “what was I thinking?” He realized he was standing on the water in the middle of a storm with no boat beneath him – and he was terrified!

Nothing had really changed. The storm shouldn’t have been a surprise – it had been there all along. What really had taken place was that Peter’s focus had shifted from Jesus to the storm.

We are all the same. We start something filled with hope, then reality sets in. Setbacks. . . Opposition. . . . Unexpected obstacles. We see and feel the wind.

It should be expected. The world’s a pretty stormy place. But somehow trouble still has the power to catch us by surprise. Because of the wind.  some people decide to never leave the boat. If you get out of the boat, you will face the wind and the storms out there. But you should know there is no guarantee that life in the boat is going to be any safer, it is just more limited, finite, full of fear and doubt.

Peter faced a choice, as we all do. The choice to follow Jesus – the choice to grow –  the choice to overcome fear. You’ve gotta get out of the boat a little every day! Here’s a deep truth about water walking: the fear never goes away, it is always lurking there.

Why? Because each time you want to grow, it will involve going into new territory, taking on new challenges. And each time you do that, you will experience fear again. As you see in this story… you will always have choices…

risk vs. security

exhilaration vs. comfort.

Yet, every time you get out of the boat, you become a little more likely to get out the next time. It’s not that the fear goes away, but that you get used to dealing with fear. And each time fear loses its power to destroy you. On the other hand, every time you resist that voice, every time you choose to stay in the boat rather than heed its call, the voice gets a little quieter and further away.

Then, at last you may not hear its call at all.

Water Walkers Master Failure
As a result of seeing the wind and giving in to fear, Peter began to sink into the water. So here is the question: Did Peter fail? Before I offer you an answer, let me make an observation about failure.

Failure is not an event, but rather a judgment about an event. Failure is not something that happens to us, or a label we attach to things. It is a way we think about outcomes.

Did you know that:

  • Before Jonas Salk developed a vaccine for polio that finally worked, he tried 200 unsuccessful times.
  • When Thomas Edison was branded a failure in his attempts to create a light bulb he said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Before James Dyson invented the perfect vacuum cleaner he went through 5,127 prototypes.

So… did Peter fail? Probably.

He took his eyes off the Lord and sank. But I think there were eleven greater failures sitting in the boat. At least Peter got out of the boat and into the water and walked toward Jesus – and even for a short time he DID walk on the water.

Peter did not fail because he got out of the boat. The saddest failure is to never get out of the boat! Water walkers see failure as an opportunity to grow. As soon as Peter asks for help, Jesus was there.

“Lord… save me.” (Matthew 14:30)

Jesus helped him physically by pulling him out of the water. But he also helped Peter grow by identifying his problem:

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

I don’t think Jesus was being harsh or critical here. Jesus made this comment to Peter while they were still out on the water alone. Jesus didn’t embarrass him in front of his fellow disciples. The problem was clear: whether Peter sank into or walked on the water depended on whether he focused on the storm or on Jesus. Whether he focused on his own limitations and doubts or believed that Jesus would help him overcome these limitation and doubts.

It was Peter’s willingness to risk failure that helped him to grow. Failure is an indispensable, irreplaceable part of learning and growth. Failure doesn’t shape you; the way you respond to failure shapes you.

Jesus is still looking for people who will get out of the boat.

So, why should you risk it?

  • it is the only way to real growth
  • it is the way true faith develops
  • it is part of discovering your reason for being and answering your own calling.

I believe that there are many good reasons to get out of the boat. But there is one that stands above them all. . .

the water is where Jesus is.

Jesus is not in the boat!

The water may be dark, wet, and dangerous. But remember, Jesus is not in the boat.

Peter’s request was,

“Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you.” Then Peter got out of the boat and came toward Jesus. (Matthew 14:28)

Because Peter did this – got out of the boat – he came to a deeper understanding of His Master than ever before.

So, how about you? When was the last time you got out of the boat?

The call to get out of the boat involves discomfort, often disappointment, perhaps some failure, fear and sometimes suffering. It is always a call for a task too big for us. But there is no other way to grow closer to God!

We saw the underbelly of American the last two days in Charlottesville, Virginia. People who now feel that they have ‘permission’, even support from people in the government, to spew their hatred and bigotry and racism openly and violently. We saw armed militias carrying Confederate flags marching in goosesteps, white supremacists shouting angry slogans, members of the KKK no longer hiding under bedsheets, but openly proclaiming their part in the election of the president and their right to return America to a white, Christian nation. Hatred consumed these people; something that is NOT a Christian value.

And most tragic of all, we saw a young person from Maumee, Ohio, deliberately drove his car into a group of peaceful counter-protestors, killing at least one innocent bystander just trying to cross the street, and injuring scores of others, some who may still succumb to their injuries. This kind of hatred and violence does not only happen ‘somewhere else’, but right here in our state and our communities. We need to stand against this.

But we also saw a group of people of faith joined together (Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists and others) singing This little light of mine in love and fellowship to counter the vitriolic chants of the ultra-conservative Alt-Right, Neo-Nazis, KKK, nationalists, white supremacy, armed militia, and people angry because Charlottesville wants to remove a statue of Robert E Lee from a park called ‘Emancipation Park’.

Most of us cannot make any sense or see any justifiable reason for the actions of those who chose to create discord and spew bigotry and hatred and xenophobia. But, those people of faith chose to take the risk, get out there, arms joined together in solidarity, and do what was right.  They chose to get out of the boat! – to risk life and limb to present to the world what the love and teachings of Jesus really are.

They got out of the boat!

So where are you this morning?

  • Huddled in the boat with a life jacket and your seat belt on?
  • One leg in, one leg out?
  • Out of the boat, but fearful, still clinging to the edge?
  • Or looking with faith into the eyes of Jesus and walking on water?

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, help us to walk with you wherever this life may take us. Help us to recognize whatever it is that:

Helps us to seek you,

Helps us to trust you,

Helps us to obey your teachings.

Help us to face our fears and trust whatever the storms of life may be, You are there, guiding and redeeming us. Be with those who have died and are injured physically and emotionally from this horrid incident in Charlottesville. Wrap your loving arms around them and the rest of the nation, reminding us that

The greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13)

And give us the strength to get out of the boat.

Amen.

 

Delivered at Saint John’s Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 13 August 2017

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