Matthew 14:22-33

August 10, 2014 by Ken Dale

Our text this morning begins immediately following last Sunday?s gospel story of the feeding of the 5,000. I have long loved the thought that the miracle was in the possibility that everyone present had a little something with them. When one shared his fish and bread Jesus looked at what was there, gave thanks to God, and as what was seen was passed that which was unseen got shared. The miracle happened because everyone shared what they had for the benefit of all. No less a miracle. Today, the story continues as Jesus dismissed the crowds and had the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side. Jesus then goes off up a mountain by himself to pray ? solitude! But that evening a storm comes up as the disciples are crossing the water and we?ve heard the story. Jesus appears to them, walking on the water and they think he?s a ghost and are terrified. But Jesus assures them saying, Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.

It?s interesting what happens ? a voice in the boat says, Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. We might think it would be more of something that would identify Jesus as who he is ? like, If it is you, how many people did we just feed??? If it is you, what did we just have for supper? Or maybe even, If it is you please take this storm away ? make it stop now before we sink. But instead, Peter says, if it is you command me to come to you on the water. That?s fascinating to hear in the midst of a storm. In the context of knowing the story we know what Peter is saying is something like ?show me what I can do if you tell me to do it ? take away my doubt and give me the faith I need.?

Jesus simply says, Come. And Peter steps out of the boat. What if Peter didn?t get out of the boat? He would have missed this great opportunity. He would have missed the opportunity of recognition by Jesus who did in fact call him to experience what undoubtedly could have been, and maybe actually was, a life changing experience. And he would have missed the opportunity of being rescued by Jesus, which in many ways would have been the same kind of event. And Peter steps out of the boat.

There is so much in that step. It begins hearing Jesus? words ? do not be afraid. That means more than just take it easy. It?s more like ?take heart? or ?have courage? and coming from Jesus it implies that what is coming could very well be something new and different, for God is about to do something new in your life. I read this past week of liminal space ? rather intriguing and I?m sure we can relate. Richard Rohr describes liminal space as a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when we have left the ?tried and true? but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when we are finally out of the way. (from ?Giving as Sacred Space? 01/02)

That?s an interesting phrase ? ?when we are finally out of the way.? When we are in between, we are in liminal space. It is after we take that step out of the boat ? after we have taken that risk. Sometimes it is our own decision. I knew a family up north that lost their business in a fire and they were faced with the decision to just take their loss and close or take that leap of faith and invest in rebuilding. They took the leap and rebuilt and it was the best thing they ever did as the business recovered and then kept growing. We experience liminal space in our relationships and sometimes are faced with the same kind of decision and possibility. But sometimes we are thrust into liminal space by forces beyond our control. That happens with a medical diagnosis or a serious injury or the death of a family member or close friend. Sometimes we question ourselves ? wondering what we have done? Long term illnesses sometimes put us a liminal space where a decision to continue treatment or not is before someone and their family.

A lot of current literature on the mainline churches today would say we are in liminal space. Denominations are declining and we wonder what?s next. As individuals of faith many may also find themselves in that liminal space ? not sure we believe everything we used to ? or we wonder about it. We want to renew our grounding in faith but wonder about the options before us. We know we need something but we?re not sure what that something may be ? it?s an in between space that is scary but can be a good place to be. It?s space to take inventory and consider what?s most important.

Back to Peter. And I can?t read this story without going back a few years when I read of a totally different take on the story! ?The text says that Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. It wasn?t until he was distracted by the waves and wind around him that he lived up to his name ?Rock.? Did he get himself in the way at that moment? Jesus reaches out to rescue him and says, You of little faith, why did you doubt? How do we read that ? how do we hear that? More often than not it?s with a tone of judgment isn?t it? The emphasis is on the ?you of little faith? and we read and hear it as words of Jesus with maybe a little anger, maybe scolding or shaming Peter for his ?little faith.? Can we hear it in a different way ? in a different tone? Can you hear it as the voice of Jesus with a tone of amusement, maybe even playful? Instead of a demeaning ?little faith? that challenges one to a bigger faith ? what if Jesus is focusing on the fact that Peter did actually walk on the water, until he was distracted. But he did do it! The rest of them stayed in the boat ? but Peter, even with his ?little faith? was able to not only get out of the boat ? which we must note is no little thing ? it?s the middle of a storm remember ? but after getting out of the boat he does it ? he walks on the water. ?Little faith? came from the mouth of the one who talked about mustard seed faith, who fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish. How do we hear those words of Jesus, you of little faith?

Getting out of that boat was a most risky thing to do but he got out knowing that Jesus was there with him it must have become a most fulfilling way to live life to the very fullest. Looking back do you suppose Peter focused on the walking or the sinking — I think for too long we?ve focused on the sinking! He did it ? he got distracted and sank, yes ? but he still did it!! And he did it with little faith! He did what Jesus told him to do ? because he did, we have a story in front of us about the one person who dared take the risk and get out of the boat and he walked on water. And because he was willing to take that risk and get out of the boat, do something different, we have a story that starts in terror and ends in worship.

You of little faith, why did you doubt? Hear it without the scolding ? hear it with the joy that could very well be there. Jesus is commanding, inviting, however we want to read it ? but the word is Come. I can?t help but wonder all the other things Jesus invites and commands us to do ? and if we dared take that risk, how our lives and even our world would change. Jesus who is always pointing to those in need and asking, inviting, commanding us to reach out to them, take care of them, make a difference in their life. As family of faith, even in our own personal lives ? what risk would we dare take in faith ? trusting that Jesus would be there with us, trusting that God would be there with us. The miracle, once again ? that we look at what we have, that we give thanks to God for what we have, and share ? that everyone just share for the benefit of all.

What if Peter didn?t get out of that boat? I for one think it would have been quite tragic ? and I think it will be quite tragic if we do not learn the wonderful lesson that is being taught in this story.

May we be willing to take that step ? that risk ? in whatever ways we have the opportunity to do so ? but may we take it in faith ? whatever ?little faith? we may have.