On the way back from our vacation road trip recently, Terri, Erica, and I had to travel through a line of severe thunderstorms. Of course, if you travel anywhere in Florida this time of year, you can expect a few showers right. On this day, the wind was blowing, the rain was coming down in sheets, the road was covered with water, and we were all getting a little anxious. A couple of times, the car hydroplaned and it was difficult to see out of the windshield. Finally, we had to pull off the road and stop. Our fear overcame us, our trip was halted, and we sat on the side of I-75 as lightening and rain fell all around us. You would think that we would have been panicked. The storm was bad, our journey had been halted and we would lose hours on the road, but actually, it was not so bad. The brief respite did keep us from reaching our destination, but we had found comfort and the fear subsided. We were comfortable in the car, dry, safe, and really, we felt no urgency to move. We had good company to share, XM radio for our listening enjoyment, a cooler full of Diet Coke and some snacks we picked up at the local convenience store. If there is a way to spend a storm in relative comfort without challenges, without risk, without arriving where we were destined to arrive, we had found it on the side of the road.
Today’s scripture introduces an event in the life of Our Lord that involved a storm, but a storm on the sea. This scene follows last week’s in which, the disciples and Jesus had been busy healing, teaching, restoring and feeding a huge crowd of people (5000 to be exact). Then, Jesus sends the twelve on a journey, from here to there, from one side of the sea to the other. No sooner were they in the boat and on their way that a big storm appeared and the progress they expected was stalled. The wind was against them and they were stuck in the big waves, tossed and turned, without moving forward. Fear began to mount, anxiety abounded all around, and then, out of the darkness they got a glimpse of what appeared to be someone or something strolling across the water. They did not recognize that it was Jesus. “It’s a ghost,” they said. This story is not just about the twelve apostles and this isolated incident over 2000 years ago, it is the story of the church over the millennia and the church today. It is our story.
The Church is sent out on a mission, to move forward, to go from here to there, and like those first disciples, the waves come, the wind blows against us, we get stuck, become comfortable and quite possibly we become unable to recognize that Jesus is with us in the midst of the storm. The winds and waves the church is up against today emerge from a culture fraught with spiritual indifference, social isolation, multiple distractions, and a sense of self-absorption. In the past few years, individuals have become more and more detached from God’s presence in their lives. Assemblies have become isolated from the community around them, they struggle to relate and thus, they fail to attract new folks to the fold. Distractions like internal strife, relational misunderstandings, non-mission related issues emerge, and associations fall into conflict and division.
These storms emerge in the life of human gatherings and we see evidence of these things even in the church. These storms are a deterrent to the mission of the church, the destination that is on the other side which includes: spiritual renewal, an active life of missions, teamwork/unity, and a focus on being the sacramental presence of God’s grace in the world. Sometimes we have to leave our comfort zones and face the storms around us. We have to come out of the boat, stand in the midst of the winds and waves and put our full trust in Our Lord. The grace in all this is that we are not called to be perfect; we are called to be faithful to our mission as the church. The Body of Christ is a gathering of the broken, the least, the lost, the lonely, the imperfect, and those struggling with life. Discipleship is not about being perfect and in today’s gospel and we have a great example of the blessedness of being the imperfect disciple.
The Apostle Peter is a beacon of hope for us imperfect Christians. Peter, the “Rock,” really struggled with his faith. He tried very hard but he did not get it right all the time, he made some terrible mistakes too. Peter even denied our Lord not once, but three times. Despite all that, Jesus saw in the “Rock” a potential that Peter himself could not recognize. Jesus knew that deep down; Peter had a craving in his heart to do what Jesus did. Peter wanted to follow Jesus’ lead. Peter wanted to be a beacon of hope for others; he wanted to participate in God’s reconciliatory grace. Peter’s struggles with his own walk with Jesus should give us hope, that we too can be faithful disciples.
Peter stepped out of the boat into the midst of the storm, but became overwhelmed and began to sink. It was not his faith in Jesus that faltered; it was his failure to believe that Jesus had faith in him. Peter’s example gives us hope not because of his own faithfulness and success in ministry, Peter gives us hope that we can follow Jesus, because Jesus had faith in Peter, and Jesus most certainly has faith in us as well.
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” With one word, Jesus expressed his faith in Peter. God believes in us even when our faith fails us and even we find ourselves sinking. Even when the waves and storm clouds begin to deter us, Our Lord reaches out his hand, grabs us, and pulls us up out of the water. Jesus believes in the church and our response is to face the storms and not let them dissuade us from our mission.
God invites us out of the boat, onto the rocky waves so that we can like him, do amazing, wonderful, miraculous things for the Kingdom. We are invited out of the comfort of the boat, out of the imagined safety and out into the storm so that we can face those things that threaten the sacred ministry of reconciliation left to the church by Our Lord. God believes in us. God believes that we can carry on the mission of healing, restoring, and reconciliation. God trusts it all to us. Imagine that for a moment. God leaves it up to the church to carry out Christ’s mission in the world. The great thing about God’s faith in us is the success of our mission is not all up to us. The Spirit empowers us, strengthens us, and whispers encouragement to us. When we recognize Our Lord is present in this mission of love given the church, we accept that Jesus is waiting with outstretched hands to reach in and help us, and then nothing should stand in the way.
We like Jesus can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, and share love to the least, lost and lonely. We like Jesus can be an instrument of grace, love, and mercy right here among each other and in the community where we are planted. We like Jesus, and like our brother Peter, with just a little faith, might very well be able to walk on water.