Faith and Fear; in the Boat and on the Sea..
Trust God! With a fist raised like in a cheer- we said it again and again during Vacation Bible School (VBS). It was the call and response of Wilderness Escape as we engaged via Zoom in online VBS with bible stories; the Israelites escape from Egypt through the Red Sea, the Manna and Quail in the wilderness, and the Ten Commandments given on the mountaintop. God is with us- Trust God. God gives us what we need- Trust God. God guides us- Trust God.
This weekend as we hear the disciple Peter being called out of the boat to walk on the water as Jesus is doing- it is a call to trust Jesus. In my sermons this weekend, I will be sharing two personal stories- one from an episode in the ocean as an 8 year old and another a mountaintop story of climbing Long’s Peak as a forty year old. Although at age 8 I didn’t have the words or understanding of it- the experience of nearly drowning would become over the years a reminder to trust God. At age forty on the backside of that 14’er when lightening was nearby, the day was getting late and we were lost I was much more cognizant of my deep need to trust God.
The biblical witness can become for us shared sacred stories to remind us to trust God. We like Peter are being called out of the boat- away from our fears, to trust God. In the our scripture we hear about faith and fear alongside one another again and again. At our weekly early morning bible study this week someone shared that in this episode of Jesus walking on the water toward his beloved disciples it is both the test of faith and the emotion of fear. Faith and fear and fear and faith and faith and fear…. It is a daily practice to trust God.
After the feeding of the 5000+ the gospel writer recounts Jesus going up to be alone on a mountain. When Jesus descends, the boat in which he has sent out his disciples has been battered by the waves, it is far from shore and the wind is against them. When the disciples see Jesus they are terrified and cry out in fear. The emotion of fear has overtaken them. Into this terror Jesus says to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”.
Peter wants to test this out. It is a ghost or Jesus? Peter has doubts, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”. Jesus calls Peter to come out of the boat and walk on the water. In Jesus calling Peter to step out of the boat, he is calling him to step out of his doubt, out of his fear, out of his lack of trust and faith. “Take heart it is I; do not be afraid.”. Take heart in Greek can also be translated - take courage, be of courage, be of good cheer. This is an instruction to be bolstered with a bold inner confidence from within. The Greek word signifies radiating warm confidence- warm hearted.
This is the lifeline, the rescue rope that Jesus extends to his followers. Take heart! Jesus instructs Peter; Come. And Peter walks on water. Peter walks on water. Sometimes we are so quick to skip by the first steps and focus on the sinking that we also loose sight; Peter walked on water- if even for just a moment. Peter took heart, he had bold inner confidence, he had the good cheer. He trusted the one who bid him, come.
And then…we know what happens next. Not keeping his sight on Jesus, who is ahead of him, Peter notices the strong wind. Peter becomes frightened. Peter begins to sink. (this song comes to mind). Peter cries out, “Lord, save me!”. Rescue me! And Jesus does just that. Reaching out, stretching out his hand -Jesus catches Peter. Jesus extends the lifeline, the rescue rope of his own arm and together they get back in the boat.
As Peter’s paralyzing fear causes him to sink, Jesus stretches out his hand and saves him, rescues him, heals him. Save, rescue, heal me- this is what Peter asked of Jesus. And Jesus does just that. Jesus and Peter get into the boat. The wind ceased. The Bob Dylan song, Blowing in the Wind, has been going through my mind. Here is a version sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. Wind a gift when you need it for the sail of the boat, a hinderance when the it whips up the waves.
This week I have been reflecting on how both happiness and misery are really “inside” jobs. They are winds that whip me around. This is going to be an ongoing learning. God is going to have to do the work on the inside of me regarding this. So, I am making my own request for Jesus to save me, heal me, and rescue me from this tumultuous sea. When in VBS I heard the stories of the parting of the Red Sea, Manna in the Wilderness, the giving of the 10 Commandments we together were reminded to trust God. We sang songs and did crafters to reinforce the learning and the stories. We were reminded; God is with us- always, God provides what we need- daily , God guides us- in all parts of our life. Trust God.
In happiness and misery the power and presence of God are consistent. In things working out and when I receive the critical letter God is providing for me. In joy and sorrow; trust God. On the shore, on the sea, in walking on water and sinking down, trust God. To learn that the gift of faith has been planted in each one of us. That little mustard sized seed can grow. To observe that the distortion of attributing my sorrow or my joy, my contentment or dissatisfaction to external circumstances is like Peter losing sight of his direction while walking on the water toward Jesus. Instead of trusting Jesus Peter is noticing the wind and the waves- the stuff going on around him. Just like me.
Save me! That’s what Peter called out and I am calling for it also. In particular, I am asking Jesus to save me from this misery/happiness rollercoaster. The rollercoaster of “I am miserable because this person criticized me/I am happy because this situation worked out”. Instead, Jesus help me try some new water walking skills- remembering that when I get out of the boat the key is to keep my eyes and ears, heart and mind, actions and intentions, prayers and pleas focused on You. The One who is with us- always, gives us what we need- daily, and guides us in all parts of our life. The same One who is in the same boat with us.
Those VBS lessons to TRUST GOD- I invite you to join me to take to heart. A step at a time asking God to be with us, give us what we need, and guide us. Together we get to find additional ways to practice “water walking" skills and “calling out to be saved” practices. And we get to know along with Peter; we will both walk on the water and sink, we will be courageous and afraid, we will call out to be saved and be like “those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:33).
On the rollercoaster and on the sea, in the boat and on the shore Jesus loves us more than we would ever dare ask. We get to trust that mustard sized seed of faith that God has planted in each one of us- it is a gift, it grows and it is enough.