11th Sunday after Pentecost
August 13 2017
Genesis 37.1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105.1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10.5-15; Matthew 14.22-33
Rev Anita Venter, Bethlehem Bible College
Who does not like a great and beautiful story?
When I was young the best way my mother could get us to take a bath, was to promise that she would tell us a story. But of course, we had to bath first. As I grew older most often you would find me snuggled up in some corner with a good book. Up to this point in my life nothing has changed. I just love stories, especially when they are based on the truth.
Here is the thing about stories, in a nutshell. They inspire us. They help us make sense of things, help us understand one another and ourselves, both as individuals and collectively as a people. They celebrate our differences, yet show us how much we are alike.
Stories remind us that we are human. When we hear a story and nod our head at its truth, we realize that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and we are not alone.
Now tell me if I am wrong, but I think we are all here in church this morning because at some point in our lives we heard a story … and that story got hold of us, shaped us and changed us. If you go back on memory lane, you will remember a time someone told you a story about a God who created the universe using words only. A God who split the Red Sea, let water come out of a rock, spoke from a burning bush, sent fire from heaven, made the sun stand still. A God who came to us in Jesus, who challenged and scoffed at the powerful, who cared for and ate with sinners, healed the sick, fed thousands with only five loaves and two fish. You heard the story of a God who loved you so much that he gave his only Son, who suffered and died and rose again and calls you out of your own grave to new life. And because the great impact this story had on your life, you continue to keep the words of it near you, on your lips and in your heart.
Here is another thing about stories … they tell us who we are. Sometimes they can tell us what to do. When we identify with someone in the story, when we hear who we are, then we know what to do, and God’s story does this more than any other can.
Today is no different. We gather around the story of a God who defied all laws of nature to walk on water. No doubt you have heard this story preached many times and the following version might sound familiar.
Jesus felt the need to separate himself from the crowds and his disciples to pray on the mountain. He insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people.
The disciples end up in a battle, as their boat has been tossed about in a storm. But they were not afraid. Not yet. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water and that is when the game changed as they became terrified at seeing a ghost. Once Jesus put them at ease by identifying himself, Peter became bold in courage and for a moment, he was a hero. He actually did it! He managed to muster up what it takes to be God-like and it takes a disturbing amount of faith. Because, with enough faith, you can walk on water all the way to Jesus. If you have faith like Peter you can do it too and you will be even better at it, because since you heard the story, you will know not to take your eyes of Jesus or else you will sink.
So the moral of the story, as preached so many times, is that if you are not God-like in your ability to prosper financially or if you are not God-like to overcome a sickness, keeping your job during lay-offs, saving your marriage, convincing your spouse and kids to follow Christ, living life without any form of fear or to overcome all your failings as a human being, the problem is that you do not have enough faith and you should really work on it praying for and doing everything it takes to grow more faith, because the thing is, it is all up to you to make your way to Jesus. So, do not be afraid. You can do it if you really try. Therefore, come on, take that step of faith and get out of the boat.
I know this sounds a bit world-weary, but the truth is, having a preacher tell me that I failed at something in my life due to lack of faith just does not sound like good news to me, because if I did not manage to get to the needed level of faith after thirty-six years of following Christ, what hope do I have?
Please do not misunderstand me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using this particular story of Jesus walking on the water to encourage us to have more faith. I just believe there is just so much more to it. Like much of the Bible, it can also be a way to see who we are and see who God is for us right now in our life.
Can you recognize yourself in this story?
Maybe some of us are like the disciples who saw Jesus for a ghost. Maybe you are so caught up in fear that you see a ghost in the near future due to what is happening in our world today.
I am reminded of the time when Nelson Mandela was about to become the first black president of South Africa. Most people saw a ghost of doom, war, and bloodshed standing on the horizon. So much so that many put their hands on spades to dig bomb shelters in their back yards and bought a vast supply of non-perishable foods to ensure survival for several months. At the end they had to take them out again and turn them into dishes served during the largest street barbeque of all times, when South Africa won the Rugby world cup and a nation of black and white was united in peace. A moment in history never to be erased.
Are you the one who fears making the wrong decision that you cannot make any decision at all?
Or maybe you are the one who had enough courage to step into the unknown, but now you are doomed because your own effort failed and you are crying out to God to save you from sinking.
Are you the one sinking in debt or depression or hopelessness because you just do not know what to do anymore?
Maybe some of you are the ones who Jesus has reached down to catch and you are clinging for dear life.
What about being the one who witnessed the miracle, who saw the hand of God reaching down and pulling up and you stand in awe saying “truly this is God”!
At some point or other, I know, I have been all of the above. Where do you fit in this story?
The amazing thing about this story that really touches my heart is that no matter who the characters are … no matter where you fit in …. whether you are with the fear stricken ones who sink and call for help, or whether you are with the cautious who rather remain in the boat due to lack of enough faith, the courageous who do walk on water for a while or whether you are with the witnesses who confess Jesus to be the son of God … they are all equal in God’s eyes because they are all those whom Jesus draws near with the comforting voice saying “it is I, do not be afraid”.
We always seem to focus on Peter walking toward Jesus. We hear so often that we should have enough faith to walk on water that we miss the truth, the depth and the beauty of this story. The point is that neither our abundance of faith nor our lack of faith deters God from reaching out and drawing close. In the storm Jesus walks toward the disciples. When Peter sinks Jesus reached toward him. At the end Jesus comes so much toward them all, that finally he just gets into the boat.
This is not just a story about a hero of faith making his way to Christ, but much more of compassion and love. A story of Christ drawing near to those, scared to death, crying out to him to save them, and surely the hand of the Lord will find them in their darkest hours and in the deepest waters.
What might have been missed is that the wind did not cease when Peter walked on the water toward Jesus. Only when he cried out for Jesus to save him, and Jesus took his hand and they interred the boat, only when Jesus entered right smack dab into the individual situations of his disciples, did the wind calm down.
I don’t know about you, but when I read a good story or watched a great movie that touched my heart and inspired me to change or take action the first thing I want to do is to run off and tell somebody. I want somebody to share my excitement and inspiration. I want somebody to change and challenge the status quo with me.
As our reading from Romans says, “the Word of God is near to you, on our lips and in your hearts”.
Paul continues to write “how are they to call on the one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news”.
No matter which character you identify with in our story today, if this true story of Jesus who reaches down when you call … of Jesus sitting right there with you in the boat of your life calming your storms has encouraged, inspired and comforted you today, yours are the beautiful feet who are sent to tell the story of God so that others might call on the Lord too.
For this is your beautiful story to tell.