Scripture: Matthew 14:22-33 (Walking on Water)
Sermon: Wanted: disciples -- no walking on water required
When someone tells me "you can't walk on water unless you get out of the boat," I assume they mean well. I'm sure they intend only to draw me out of my comfort zone into something that will be challenging, but good for me (as long as I keep my eyes on Jesus).
I wonder, though. Is that what this story really says? Or have they missed the point?
Reading the story ... Jesus tells the disciples (us) to take the boat (from the earliest times, a symbol of the church or the community of faith) across the sea (a place of chaotic possibilities and anxiety), to join him on the other side (in new territory) in preaching and teaching the kingdom of God to whoever is there (our reason for being). The going is hard and slow (when isn't that the case with the church?), but even at that there is no suggestion that Jesus ever asks the disciples to abandon ship. He knows how hard the going is, and he is patient with the progress his disciples are making.
The idea to jump ship and walk on the water comes only from Peter, who tries to bolster his brittle faith in Jesus by asking for a spectacular sign to prove who he is (reminiscent of the famous, "If you are the Son of God..." temptations that the devil throws at Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus humours Peter, invites him out for a water-walk, and then simultaneously rescues him from, and chides him for his little faith and his need for miracles and spectacles. Then he quietly helps Peter find his place in the boat again with the others (whose faith seems somehow more secure).
One thing, though, lest we conclude that the story is about "staying safe." The boat is out on the sea on a mission from Jesus. As hard and slow as the going is, the disciples are steering the boat across the sea of change towards a new and other shore, and to people who Jesus wants to reach with the good news of the kingdom of God.
So as much as we really are not meant (or asked by God) to walk on water, neither is the boat we are in meant to stay quietly anchored in safe haven. We find security and salvation in the boat, but maybe only as we keep steering and rowing to whatever new place Jesus is wanting to go to with us.
On Sunday we 'll think more about these things, as we worship the God who calls us into the boat and onto the sea.