Rev. Laura Fry at Covington United Presbyterian Church
March 4, 2018
“Mom, come on! Get in. I want you to swim with me!”
“I don’t know, honey, I don’t feel so well.”
“Please, please, please get in the water with me?”
Left to my own devices that day, just a few weeks ago, I would have stayed in the boat. After thirty minutes on what had, it turns out, been accurately advertised as a “high-speed thrill ride,” I wasn’t feeling so well.
A strong east wind was sweeping across the Atlantic, stirring up the waves, rocking our little boat to and fro. The last thing I wanted to do was get in the water. I was wearing a life-vest but didn’t know if I could trust it.
My reluctance to get in the water that day was about more than just the waves. For over two decades, I have carried around with me a phobia of snorkeling, ever since the time I tried it as a teenager and panicked at the strangeness of breathing underwater, and the nearby darting of unfamiliar fish.
I became determined last summer to overcome this fear, braved the waters, and discovered for the first time the great enjoyment of snorkeling, which was a breakthrough for me.
Last summer I was snorkeling in still waters. On our family travels to snorkel a few weeks ago, the waves were high.
And yet with a burning certainty, I knew that giving in to my fear would set an example I did not want to set. Giving in to my fear could very well mean I was passing my own phobia on to the next generation.
If I wanted my kids to be free of my fear, then I had to get out of the boat. I had to climb down the ladder with the six year old who was thrilled to snorkel at a coral reef. And join my son who did not want me to miss out. With my heart pounding, I crept over the edge of the boat, climbed down the ladder, and leaned backwards into the waves.
Clearly I survived. And of course it was wonderful once I got in the water. A whole world of beauty lay beneath the surface. And I was no longer afraid.
I wonder if Peter’s heart felt a bit like mine when Jesus called him to get out of the boat. A strange mix of terror and excitement, the certainty that it must be done, and that perhaps something wonderful lay just beneath the surface of the moment.
After all Peter himself had come up with the bright idea … asking Jesus to call him out on the waves, only to be quickly faced with the crisis of decision when Jesus did as he had asked.
So often we
remember Peter’s worst moments and
misguided ways, yet he also understood something of fundamental importance to
the Christian faith, something that none of the other disciples seemed to comprehend. Peter knew that the very sign of Jesus’ nearness,
the very proof of his presence, would be the command to step outside his
comfort zone. Peter understood that if
Jesus could walk on the waves, then Jesus could empower him to do the
same. But there was only one way for him
to confirm the power of Jesus: he would have to get out of the boat.
What Peter understood is that when we are close to Jesus, we will not always find ourselves feeling comfortable. When we are close to Jesus, our faith will not always bring us comfort. When we are close to Jesus, sometimes he will disrupt and disturb our lives.
Looking back at the beginning of this story, we see that Jesus was, in fact, the very one who sent the disciples into the storm. Matthew tells us that after the miraculous feeding of the multitude, Jesus “made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side,” while he himself went up a mountain to pray. Jesus sent his disciples out onto the lake that night, knowing they were heading into a storm.
Earlier on in the gospel, Matthew told us that it was none other than the Spirit of God who led Jesus into the wilderness to face temptation by the devil. In a similar way it is now none other than Jesus himself who sends the disciples out onto the lake, to have their faith tested by the wind and waves.
When Jesus comes to them, walking calmly on the waters that terrify them, he demonstrates his power—supernatural power over the forces of the natural world.
But along with revealing his own identity through this use of power, Jesus extends this power to Peter. To access that power, Peter has to step out of the boat.
So I wonder about those times in our lives when Jesus offers us power, if only we will get out of the boat. Often we are tempted to stay in our boat, even if we do feel queasy there.
The boat where we find ourselves may not be comfortable but it is at least a familiar place. Seemingly more secure than the open seas. The wind and waves tempt us to stay in the boat, to stick with the familiar, when the storms of life crash toward us,
believing our little boat to be the place of safety from the storm.
Some of our boats have been tossed about by the violent gales of addiction
or the storms of self-harm, some of our boats have been sucked down by the dark depths of depression, flooded with the crashing waves of anxiety, swamped with the sorrow of grief, and tossed against the turmoil of rocky relationships.
Moreover sometimes the waves that crash around us are not personal in nature but social in their scope: gathering storms of bigotry, tsunamis of mass shootings, and cyclones of corruption. We begin to wonder if the stormy waters of social struggle and personal pain are about to sink us.
But then, at the very height of the storm, in the coldest, darkest hours before the dawn, when the wind is blowing mightily against us, we catch sight of someone walking toward us. And we realize that it is Jesus, treading on the turmoil that terrifies us, and calling us to walk on those very waves toward him.
He calls us, with a simple, “Come,” then gives us his own power…
So we venture a step out of the boat; we begin walking toward Jesus.
But then we notice the wind, and we get afraid. We feel the waves, and just like Peter we start to sink. Yet in that moment when Peter thinks he is a goner, he cries out, “Lord, save me!” And “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘Why did you doubt?’”
Jesus critiques his failure of faith, and yet he also immediately reaches out to save him, putting Peter safely back into the boat. Jesus doesn't require perfect faith from his disciples; he doesn't demand unwavering trust, but readily responds to our need, whether we cry aloud in terror or whisper in the silence of our soul those words of sacred prayer, "Lord, save me!"
Rev. Billy Honor, a pastor in Atlanta, Georgia talks about how often we try to go through our lives forgetting about the saving power of God. Trying to make it on our own, to cope in our own ways, to get through life relying on a whole array of vices.
Rev. Honor says that so often we forget that we need the power, the batteries, of the Holy Spirit in order to make our lives work.
How much better to pray, he says, to say, “Lord, I need you to put some “super” on my “natural.” Because the “super” that God can put on our “natural” is better
than what the phone booth did for Clark Kent, better than what the lasso of truth did for Wonder Woman, better than what spinach did for Popeye and what vibranium did for the Black Panther.
When God puts the super on our natural, it’s better than what alcohol does to help us cope and what drugs do to numb our pain, better than what any object can do to make us feel safe or help us escape.
When God puts the super on our natural, we can be sure he is going to call us to step out of our familiar boat and risk putting our trust in him. And we can be confident as well that in those moments when storms of life threatens to drown us, he will reach out his hand to lift us up.
Peter says, “Lord, save me!” “Lord, put the super on my natural.”
And we can pray those words too…
Lord, save me!
Lord, give me the power to make it through this life.
Lord, put the super on my natural.
Resources: “Sermon” by Rev. Billy Honor, Opening Worship at the Next Church National Gathering, February 26, 2018, Baltimore, MD.