Risk Rescue and Life

Sunday of August: 10 – Pentecost 9
Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the sea. (thalassan) 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ (hudata) 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

This is not a story about Jesus walking on the water; this is a story about whose sea we are going to drown in.

The point of the story is not really about boats and lakes and water, at all.
The point of the story is in the last sentence:And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

In other words, when push comes to shove, when the chips are down, when all is lost... who will we trust? Will we trust Jesus or...  will we put our trust in some other God than the God to whom Jesus points us?

This is a really scary story.... because it is Jesus who sends the disciples, on their own, out on the sea in the middle of the night. In Jesus' time the sea is the place of untamed evil, a bit like it says on the edge of old maps, "Here there be monsters..." And being out there in the night is to be there at the most dangerous time.

The message is that Jesus sends us out into dangerous territory where we are likely to get swamped— where we will certainly be battered because the wind is against us— and he  is  not  there.

Let's forget the theology of the Spirit and be real to our experience for a moment: We take on some ministry or service because we met Jesus; we heard the stories about him, and in faith, we stepped out. And when it goes pear shaped and horribly wrong, and we feel like we are sinking— and maybe we are—  where is he? Not here!!

•••

We are all going to die, sooner or later. We live in a risky world, where we can end up impoverished and living in a caravan park, or under a gum tree, if we are unlucky— or stuck in a hospital bed way too early. So it pays to be very careful when you travel, right? Don't cross the lake in the middle of the night; walk around in daylight when it's safe; reduce the risk; play it safe.

Except... if we trust Jesus we will be called into things that are much more like being on a leaky boat on a stormy night than having a safe picnic in the park on a sunny afternoon.

Now it's not always like this... but sometimes it is. It really is! There is not something wrong with us or with our faith if we feel like we have ended up on our own. The facts of experience are that sometimes we find that as far as we can tell, we are alone.

And it can get even worse...

because... it turns out— in the story—  that Jesus does come to help. But what happens when he comes? It's terrifying. It doesn't seem to be Jesus at all! It's something else... a phantasma, the Greek text says. Phantasms are not good. My experience, which is very limited, I'm glad to say, is that phantasms mean incomprehension and visceral fear, not rescure.

Do you understand what the story is saying here? It is saying that when Jesus finally does come to help... it may well be that it seems like things have become worse!

It takes some kind of transcendent insight to recognise the saving presence of God— the big picture—  when our boat is close to sinking.

But Peter does see the bigger picture, I think, in this story. Somehow, in all the chaos of life— in the middle of a life threatening storm— he sees the presence of God. He understands that they are not going backwards but that they are doing just what Jesus asked of them. So he says, "Lord, I'll come with you!" — Do you notice he calls him Lord!? That is a great statement of faith.

And what happens when he gets out of the boat? He sinks. If you get out of the boat you will sink. Only Jesus the Son of God walks on the sea. The rest of us sink.

The original Greek makes a distinction: Jesus walks on the sea— the thalassa. Peter tries to walk on the hudata— the water— and he sinks. When we see the wind around us we realise we cannot—  can-never—  survive on our own in this life, and we sink. We cry out for something— for someone—  to hang on to.

This does not mean, first of all, that God calls us to something we cannot do. It means that God opens our eyes. It means God calls us to a ministry that makes it clear that no humans survive on their own—
they need a boat, and they need a saviour.
Only Jesus is able to walk on the sea; that's  because he is the Son of the God who owns the sea.

The boat is the church, and our friends, and our family.
Family and friends sometimes turn out to be fair weather friends.
The boat is supposed to make a place for us in all weather, in all places, and despite our failings.

The thing is... we all end up outside the boat at some time. It's part of being human. It's what it means to be alive.

We fall out on a rough and windy day;
sometimes the people on the boat are not all they could be— they abuse us;
sometimes we get in such a depth of struggle the people in the boat can't help us.

And life itself can pull us out of the boat. Jesus may call us to lead; to go on ahead, walking on the water to show the boat the way—  we'll sink.

And in the end, we die. We have to leave the boat. I guess that's when we discover if Jesus is who he says he is— if there'll be a hand to reach and save us in some way, or whether we just sink to the bottom like one more forgotten piece of the debris of life.

•••

So how will we see the world— how will you see it?
Are you looking for a picnic?

The only picnic Jesus gave was in a wild place by the sea. And then he sent those who believed in him out onto the even wilder sea.

But it's on the sea that we find Jesus is truly the Son of God. He walks on the sea.

If we stay on the edge, what will we find? Eric Bogle sings

Like a river my life hurries by.
If I jump in perhaps I might drown,
But if I don't then my spirit could die
Before that change in the weather comes round.

The Waifs sing

Sink or swim, sink or swim
What's it going to be when you dive on in
Dive on in, dive on in
What's it going to be when you dive on in

Water's fine from the edge
But how you gonna know if you don't get wet?
Don't get wet, don't get wet
How you gonna know if you don't get wet?

WE have to go out in the boat. We have to risk rescue.

Peter Mayer sings this:

It used to be a world half there
Heaven's second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
'Cause everything is holy now...

But we have to risk the sea. We have to step out.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.




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