Jesus Walks on the WaterMatthew 14:22-33 (NRSV)
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them 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 in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
During our benediction–the words at the end of the service that send people off in peace–I always remind everyone to keep their eye on Jesus. Sounds like kind of a weird thing to say, doesn’t it? I mean, how do we keep our eye on someone we cannot see? But what that really means is, “Remember your faith.” No matter what is happening in the world around you, stay on the straight and narrow, following the way of Jesus and making good choices in your everyday life.
But friends, if we keep our eye on Jesus and do our best to follow him, does that mean that we will never make mistakes:? No! We all make mistakes because we are human. We were never created to be perfect. That may be upsetting to some of you, but to me, that is a relief because I make a lot of mistakes. But over the years, I have learned that sometimes it is through the mistakes that I make or the struggles that I face that I learn new things. I think that sometimes it is through the mistakes that we all make that we allow the Holy Spirit to step in. Because I do not know about you, but it is usually when I make a mistake that I am reminded that I am not in control of everything and that humility is not only an important part of ministry but it is an important part of being a human being.
Today’s scripture tells us about a night that the disciples were out in their boat on the sea of Galilee. You see, they had just helped Jesus feed five thousand people with just a few fish and a few loaves of bread. When they finished, Jesus knew that he needed a little break, so he told the disciples to get in their boat to go over to the other side and he would meet them there. Even Jesus needed to take time alone to rest.
Well, as the disciples were in the boat, they were tired too, and many of them rested. Early in the morning, the wind started to blow and the waves began crashing against the hull. And as they looked out across the water, they thought they saw someone walking on the water towards them. Now I don’t know about you, but if I saw something like that, I might start to worry a little.
Well, after realizing that it was Jesus, one of the disciples, Simon–who Jesus later named Peter–asked Jesus if he could walk out on the water to meet Him. Personally, not a choice that I would make, but Peter did, and Jesus replied, “Come.” So, Peter stepped out of the boat, onto the water and he began walking towards Jesus. Now he was doing fine until he felt the wind blowing on his face and he took his eyes off Jesus. As he looked down to see the waves crashing at his feet, he started to sink like a rock. He cried out, “Lord, save me!” and right away, Jesus reached out and grabbed his hand, pulling him to safety.
Friends, Peter made a mistake. The mistake was not stepping out of the boat and trying to walk on water; the mistake was taking his eyes off Jesus. Because that is when he allowed fear and doubt to creep in. But amid his mistake, Jesus was able to step in and teach him an important lesson about standing firm in your faith no matter what happens around you.
Whenever I think about ways that we learn from our mistakes, and how Jesus sometimes reaches out to us amid them, I always think way back to the time when I was a student minister. As many of you know, I worked for two years at a church in Hopedale under a Field Education Supervisor. We worked hand-in-hand leading worship, teaching Bible study, administering the sacraments and rites of the church, and pastoring to the community. I made a lot of mistakes during those two years, but I also learned a lot. One of the biggest lessons that I learned, however, was not a mistake that I made, but one that my supervisor made.
It was during worship and we were standing at the communion table. I had already broken the bread and told the story of Jesus sharing it with the disciples, and it was time for my supervisor to lift the cup and tell the story of Jesus sharing the wine. As he reached for the cup, he knocked it over, and juice spilled all over the table and down onto the floor. There were gasps from the congregation, and I have to say I panicked thinking, “What do we do now?” This was the most sacred moment in worship, and not only was juice spilled all over the tablecloth and the carpet, but the chalice was now empty and we had nothing to share with the congregation. I remember looking to my supervisor, petrified because I did not know what to do next. And that was when the Holy Spirit stepped in, right there amid the mistake. My supervisor took a deep breath, remained calm and cool, and used the mistake as a teaching moment.
He began to talk about the fact that the Communion table is not a place of perfection, where we come with our fancy clothes and our neat and clean lives, but it is a place where we come in our brokenness, when we are scared and unsure, a place where we don’t need to pretend to be something that we are not but where we can open our hearts and allow our doubts and our struggles to spill out just like the juice from our chalice did this morning. There was a hush over the entire congregation, and in that moment, we all understood the amazing grace of God like we never had before. And that never would have happened if it had not been for a mistake.
Friends, earlier we heard the story of Simon Peter walking on the water, and how when he took his eyes off Jesus he began to sink like a stone. Surely it would not be a person like that–a person that doubted and made mistakes–that Jesus would look to as a leader, right? But two chapters later in the gospel of Matthew, we hear that Jesus said to Simon, “You will now be called Peter, for Peter means Rock. And you shall be the rock on which my church is built.”
Friends, Jesus took a sinking rock and made it the cornerstone of his church. Wouldn’t you think that he would have looked for someone with a better track record, a better resume, a better upbringing? No, Jesus chose a simple fisherman who made lots and lots of mistakes. And the truth is, my friends, Jesus also chooses us, even in the midst of our mistakes and the messiness of our lives. Jesus does not ask for perfection; He only asks that we keep an open and humble heart that he might lead us and guide us each step of the way.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go into your week ahead, no matter what struggles you face or what mistakes you make, be sure to keep your eye on Jesus. Stay focused on what is important, and have faith that, no matter what happens, God will reach out His hand and help you through.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God! Amen!