Sermon ~ Get Out of the Boat

The Gospel of Matthew 14:22-34

At that time, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they entered the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.


I have many favorite passages of Scripture but I have to say that this is my favorite.  I may have told this story before, but when I was becoming a novice in the monastery we had to selected three names to give to the abbot who would decide what our new name would be.  We were to write these names down, with a little description of why you wanted that name, and then pass it in to him prior to the service.  Now, I had never really named anything before, not having children I have been spared this particular task, and I have a deep appreciation for this job now, choosing a name that someone will be known by for the rest of their lives.  This was not an easy task.

So I chose three, Stephen, Philip, and Peter.  Stephen and Philip I chose because they were deacons and there is something special about the role and ministry of the deacon, the ministry of service to others that attracted me, but Peter was a different story.

Peter is a strong character in Scripture, the chief of the Apostles, but interestingly enough it was his brother Andrew who called Peter to follow Jesus, it was Andrew who was called first by Jesus and then Andrew went to find Peter and ask him to come to church as they say, and Peter, trusting his brother, followed him to meet this Jesus Andrew had been going on about.

Peter was a fisherman, married, presumably with children.  We are uncertain of his age but my guess is he would have been around the same age as Jesus.  More than likely he was a devout man who observed all of the rituals of his Jewish heritage.  He cared for his family; remember the story of Jesus healing the mother in law of Peter, but there was something else that drew me to him.

First the practical reasons, Peter’s feast day, which he shares with that other great Apostle Paul, is celebrated on June the 29th, the same day as my birthday, so it would be easy to remember. But there was more to the story.  The more I read about Peter the more I liked him.  You see, and we see this clearly in today’s Gospel, Peter was always a little behind everyone else, he never seemed to catch on as fast, and he was always putting his foot in his mouth, bingo, that was me!

In today’s Gospel passage we find the Apostles in a boat and Jesus is on the shore praying.  Jesus often withdrew from everyone and went on His own to pray and, I am sure, to gather the strength He would need to continue His mission.  But the Apostles were on this boat and the seas started to get rather choppy.  I am not sure how many of you have been on a small boat, on the sea, when a storm comes up but it is not fun, trust me when I tell you this.  They were all huddled together in the middle of boat, I am sure praying like crazy, when all of a sudden they look out and here comes Jesus walking on the water!

They thought he was a ghost and started to be even more afraid, and then Jesus spoke to them and told them not to be afraid.  Then Peter, being Peter, said to Jesus, if it is You bid me to come to you on the water.  So Jesus said, okay, come on.  Peter put one foot over the side, maybe looking back at the others for some encouragement, then the other foot, and then, much to his own amazement, he stood and began to walk on the water.  But not far out he noticed the waves and the stormy sea and he panicked and called to Jesus for help.  Jesus reached out His hand and brought Peter to safety.

Peter, as bold and as strong as he was, could not walk the walk he chose to walk without the help and strength of Jesus.  He took those first steps on his own but as soon as he realized what he was doing and where was he started to panic and asked Jesus for help.  Peter’s faith was so great that he actually walked on water, but at the same time, his faith was so weak that he could not complete the task.

We have all been in this position.  When times are good, we go it alone we think we can do it all no matter what the task is that lies ahead of us, but like Peter, we find out that we cannot do it alone and we need help.  We have all been in that storm tossed boat, clinging to the mast, praying for help and guidance and thinking it will never come.  Then a hand comes out of the darkness and the storm to pick us up and help us.  That hand might belong to a friend or it might belong to a family member.  Perhaps that hand belongs to you and you reach to help someone who is in the midst of the storm and you help them back on their feet.

We have seen some terrible images these last few weeks of our brothers and sisters in Egypt and Syria.  We have seen churches burned or destroyed and countless numbers of Christians murdered for no other reason than that they are Christians.  But we have also heard some pretty extraordinary stories of people helping people, ministering to each other when the waves of hatred are crashing over the bow of their ship.  There are stories of groups of Muslims, who join hands around Christian churches, to protect the worshipers while they attend Church, the same was done not long ago by Christians joining hands to protect Muslims as they prayed.

Peter began to sink because he took his eyes and focus off of Jesus and focused on himself and what was going on around him, as Christians we are called to focus, not on ourselves, but on Jesus and on others.  The moment we take our eyes off of Jesus and our mission, we begin to fail and flounder.  We need to keep our prayer life strong in battle against the evil one.  The Church is that place we come to, just as Jesus withdrew to pray and gather His strength, we come here each week to do the same.  We come here, listen to the word of God, receive His Sacraments, and return stronger to the world ready to walk on the waters of life without fear of what is going on around us.

I have said this to you before, Jesus never said it would be easy and being a follower of His, in this 21st century world we live in, is harder than it has ever been.  The waves of the world are crashing over the bow of our lives and of the Church and we can chose choose to cower in the corner, or we can chose to be as bold as Peter, and throw our feet over the side and get out of the boat, and get the job done that we are called to do.  Jesus will give us the strength, just as He did for Peter, and He will carry us along the path, but we, like Peter, have to take that first step of faith and get out of the boat.  We are no longer passengers it is time for us to take control!

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