Imagine this scene with me once again…. The disciples are on the boat after having just fed the 5,000. Jesus has been going throughout the country teaching, and everywhere they go, people follow them. So Jesus, who needs a break, tells the disciples to get into the boat and go ahead, partly so they can get away from the crowds and so that he can have some quiet time to pray. The disciples are filled with the teachings they have just heard and the miracles they have seen over the last few days, and I imagine them settling down to rest as they head to the other side, contemplating all they have witnessed and heard. But as evening comes, the disciples are no longer resting as the wind has risen and the boat is being battered by the waves. This doesn’t really disturb them too much, as they are fishers, used to the waters changing, but it has stopped them reaching their destination.
Just as the dawn was breaking the next morning, after a night of being tossed about on the waves, they see something walking toward them over the waves. At first they are scared, thinking it’s a ghost, but Jesus speaks and tells them “do not be afraid.” As their hearts begin to settle, Peter wants to make sure it really is Jesus, and challenges Jesus to invite him to walk on the water. I imagine Jesus smiling at this as he says, “Come on then, step out, come my friend.”
So Peter took a deep breath and walked on water! He did it!
And until he thought about what he was doing, until he remembered the waves that surrounded him, until he allowed his head to take over, he was walking on water!
But then, as so often happens, he looked around the miracle, saw the waves, felt the wind blowing, and began to sink. So Jesus reached out a hand and caught him, cheering him on by saying, “Oh yes! Ye of little faith! Why did you doubt it was me? Why did you doubt you could do this? Come, walk with me back to the boat…. Ye of little faith!!!.”
For I think that Jesus was not condemning Peter with those words, but praising him.
If we look back in the Gospel of Matthew, it was just before the feeding of the five thousand that led up to this story that Jesus had been sharing parables about the kin-dom of heaven and about faith, including these two:
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
In both of these he is speaking about the small amount of faith that is needed…. The tiny seed that grows into a tree, the small amount of yeast that leavens a whole batch of dough. It only takes a little faith.
And that is exactly what Peter had. A little faith. The faith that helped him step out of that boat into the stormy water and begin walking. For a few steps that little faith worked. And so when Jesus catches him when Peter’s faith fails, it is with praise…. Oh, ye of little faith! You walked on water!”
It seems that this is a story for our times. It feels like we are in a boat that is being battered by the waves of the world around us right now, with CoVid, isolation, shared grief over lives lost, with the many areas where we are encouraged to dislike another person or group of people, often with no logical reason, with fear storming through the hallways of the powerful, and misinformation spread daily by news sources, with uncertainty about schools reopening and economic stress for so many, with the waiting and waiting for this to be over. We feel like all we can do is sit in that boat and try to ride out the storm. Our attention can turn inwards and we become fearful…. How can I keep myself safe? How can I feel in control? How can I try to show the world I am not afraid, even when I am quaking inside. It makes it easy to miss Jesus heading toward the boat, or to mistake him for a ghost, something made up, because why would he be here in the midst of this storm?
This story challenges us to look with Peter’s eyes and see. See not the storm and the waves, but Jesus, and to be so focused on him that all we want to do is to move closer to his presence. So we throw out a challenge to Jesus…. “If it is you tell me what to do. Tell how to be. Tell me who to trust.” To which Jesus simply responds, “Come.”
And this is where our small portions of faith come into play. Do we have faith enough to stand up? Do we have faith enough to trust? Do we have faith enough to lift our leg over the edge of the boat? Do we have faith enough to begin to walk on water? It only takes faith the size of a mustard seed, of a few grains of yeast. But do we have enough? The simple invitation, “Come,” can be so hard to hear, to act upon, to believe. Does Jesus really want me to come? Is he speaking to the person standing behind me. No, I think it’s me. And he’s telling ME to come? He trusts me to do this? And we step out.
But that’s not the end of the story.
For as we find that faith, are we able to keep focus on Jesus, looking deep into his eyes as we walk toward him, or are we distracted by the noise and shakiness of the world? I often wonder if Peter would have made it all the way to Jesus if he had just kept Jesus as his focus. But Peter is human like the rest of us, and the fear crept in, the realization of the miracle he was living came upon him, the belief that he could not possibly do what he WAS doing overtook the fact that he was walking on water, and he began to sink. Even then though, Peter had faith, but no longer faith in himself, but faith in Jesus. He called out knowing Jesus would save him, that Jesus would take him by the hand and lead him to safety. And that faith is as important as the first act of faith of stepping out in the first place!
As a congregation and as individuals, Peter’s little bit of faith is challenging us to ask where we are being invited to step out into the storm. It can be hard to imagine right now, as we are encouraged to stay close to home and told to practice social distancing, and while these are acts of love to the world around us, ways of showing we care about the other and want to minimize harm to all we meet, it can feel constricting. But it does not stop us from asking the question… how is God inviting us to step out? To walk toward the Love of Jesus in this world. How are we being asked to sow our seeds of faith?
For each of us, individually, this answer will be different…. Turning deeper into prayer, making masks to give away, sharing food with those less fortunate, donating to cultural and environmental places that are financially struggling, sitting with a friend in a time of grief, reaching out to the school district to offer warm winter items of clothing, praying for teachers and students about to embark on a school year like no other. The list goes on. And in the coming weeks and months we are called to listen as a congregation to how we are being asked to step out in faith to share God’s love, to share hope, to share resources and joy. Beginning worship again is one way…. And, for as long as we can safely do this in a physical place, we can share faith with those we invite to worship with us. But if we cannot meet together, we can still worship as a congregation through written words, through recorded sermons, through prayers… we will continue to connect in ways that work for us, and we can invite others into that too.
We have been asked to step out in faith to be in relationship with one another…. Both you and I have said yes to this (thank you!!!), and I am delighted to begin this time together. It is certainly an act of faith to begin to build trust and to open to one another so we can listen together for places that need healing, for relationships that need strengthening, for new ways of praying and being with God during these times, to God’s call for this community. In the midst of a pandemic this may feel dangerous, but I have just enough faith, so I trust that this can happen, and I know you have just enough faith, so I’m eager to see what unfolds!
And this faith that is enough is enough to carry us close enough to Jesus so that if we do begin to fall, he will be there to reach out a hand, to catch us, to lead us back to safety. This beautiful knowing is that even if our attention is drawn to the waves and fear rises and we feel like we are sinking, Jesus is right there with us, holding us. Even if our eyes wander from his, Jesus always keeps us in his focus, ready to catch us, ready to help us. So what do we have to loose?
Let us put our bit of enough faith out there for the world to see, let us step out on the waves of the world, of trust of hope of security based on the One who gives us life. And, when we fall, let us hold out a hand to the One who always knows what we need!
As the Psalmist said,
O give thanks to God, call on God’s name,
make known God’s deeds among the peoples.
Sing to God, sing praises to God;
tell of all the wonderful works.
seek God’s presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works God has done,
Let us do likewise!