DON’T BE AFRAID TO GET OUT OF THE BOAT
(OR WALK ON WATER)
June 21, 2009
>It had already been a long and emotionally stressful day for Jesus and the disciples.
Just that morning they had received the horrible news that Jesus‟ cousin, John the
Baptist, had been beheaded in the court of King Herod.
According to the reports, it had all come about at Herod‟s birthday party when Herod‟s stepdaughter had entertained the King and his guests with a dance.
Herod had enjoyed the performance so much that he promised her anything her heart desired.
Prompted by her mother, Herodias, who along with Herod had been a target of John‟s criticism for their extramarital affair, the young girl asked for John‟s head on a platter. Matthew tells us that though Herod was sorry this was her choice, since he had made his promise in front of all his guests, he ordered the girl‟s wishes to
>When Jesus got the news that morning, he was devastated. He needed to be alone, to grieve the loss of his kinsman and close friend. So he and the disciples took off in a boat to a lonely place away from crowds and work and other distractions.
However, the paparazzi of his day, the TMZ of his time, found out where they were and very soon a large crowd had gathered „round. In spite of his grief, Jesus had
compassion for the multitude of sick who had come to be healed by him, and when he went ashore, he went to work.
He worked all day until dusk began to fall. The disciples wanted him to tell the people to go away—that it was dinner time and they should all go home and take care of their own meals. But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
Most of you know this story—how the disciples protested that they didn‟t have
enough to feed that big of a crowd; how they ended up finding 5 loaves and 2 fish that somehow multiplied to feed, according to Matthew, 5,000 men, plus women and children.
>What you may not know is that immediately after that meal, Jesus made the disciples get in their boat to go back to the other side of the sea. Perhaps it was a diversionary tactic. If the crowds saw the disciples leave, they would follow, buying Jesus some time to grieve on the mountain by himself.
>When I have previously dealt with Matthew 14, I‟ve focused on Jesus. This is a
text that mirrors those times in our lives when we have felt emotionally drained but life continues to keep coming at us relentlessly, leaving very little time for rest and renewal. I‟ve looked at Jesus‟ persistent practice of trying to carve out time
for self-care—for getting away from it all to the water or to a lonely mountain top retreat.
>This time with the text, however, we are invited to consider the disciples. Like Jesus, they were also grieving the loss of John the Baptist—not as a kinsman, but
as a friend and influential partner in their ministry. Like Jesus, they had worked the crowds that day, helping to organize the chaos there must have been with that many people coming to their teacher for help. It was they who had helped to distribute the loaves and fishes. At the end of it all, they were probably exhausted.
They could have used some r & r too.
While Jesus had the fortitude of the Deity; the disciples were merely human. While Jesus had the direct ear of his Father; the disciples only had each other.
Maybe that‟s why Jesus put them all together in the boat that night—so that they
could learn to turn to each other when life became overwhelming.
But the problem was, the night was just beginning for them—no rest for the weary.
Our text picks up when they were several furlongs out to sea. High winds suddenly blew up, battering the little boat and the spirits of the tired men within it.
Their biceps were shaking with the exertion it took to pull on the oars, fighting for every inch of ocean they could get behind them.
At some point near dawn, they realized they weren‟t going to make it. Fear rose
up in them and choked any hope they might have had. Mother Nature was throwing her best at them, and they were quaking with dread.
Then, as if a battle with the natural world wasn‟t enough, the disciples truly almost lost it when they thought they were being visited by the supernatural. Something was walking toward them on the water. Since they knew it was physically impossible for human beings to walk on water, then it had to be a ghost.
It was at that point that fear could have paralyzed them perilously.
>The disciples‟ fear rose from feeling powerless. They were powerless to control nature‟s fury; they were powerless to control what seemed like a supernatural phenomenon.
In fact, I would guess that most of our fears arise when we feel out of control of our own environment. What calms us is being able to have some semblance of order to our terrestrial and extraterrestrial concerns. We put a lot of energy into being able to understand and know what we thought was unknowable before.
For example—just look at how far we‟ve come in the last 20 years with being able to predict almost to the minute when a storm will hit our neighborhood and if we should expect hail or tornadic activity.
We‟ve even tried to tame our fears of supernatural phenomena with movies about zombies and vampires who are really more “humane”, while ghost whisperers and mediums on TV calm our fears by being able to communicate with the dead.
Still, as much as we try to be in control and stay in control of as much as we can, life still is chaotic. There are always those events that surprise us and throw us off kilter, sometimes putting us in danger, and fear overwhelms.
This morning‟s scripture invites us to join the disciples in their boat at the moment when their fear was at its most heightened. How did they—and how do we—
handle times such as these when we are already tired, when we already feel vulnerable, and yet we find ourselves having to confront fearful situations?
One option, of course, is to hide. Sometimes that‟s the right thing to do. When the tornado sirens are going off outside and the sky turns that gray-green and the wind that has been blowing really hard becomes deathly still—you bet I‟m going
to hide in as safe a place as fast as I can.
For the solider in battle outnumbered by the enemy, for the person alone in a house being robbed, of course hiding is the rational response to fear‟s helpful
warning of danger.
But the thing about most of the things we fear is that we cannot hide from them. They are insidious. We may think that by ignoring them they don‟t exist. We may think that by not dealing with them that they are walled away in some brick dungeon of our psyches.
The problem with fear is that it keeps oozing back into the cracks of our living unless we confront them honestly.
This morning‟s scripture shows us how the disciples chose to respond in the midst
of that fearful time. Eleven of them chose to hide—or at least we don‟t hear of
anyone but Peter standing up and confronting the apparition that looked like Jesus and sounded like Jesus, saying “take heart—it is I; have no fear.”
Some people consider Peter‟s response foolish when he said something like, “if it
really is you, Lord, then I dare you to double-dog-dare me to come out onto the water with you.” But I consider it a very courageous act, addressing his fear by perhaps pretending to be all brave and everything. Sometimes acting like your brave even when you don‟t feel like it gives you courage.
But then Jesus called him on his dare, saying, “OK—come on!” Uh-oh. Peter
found himself having to follow thru on his dare.
Ed Bentley asked me—why didn‟t Jesus just part the waters like Moses—that
might have worked better for Peter.
But Jesus wanted Peter to confront his fears, to step out in faith.
And by golly, he did! He threw his leg over the side of the boat, took a few steps, and for just a few moments, Peter, too, was walking on water!
In those moments Peter learned that if you confront your fear, if you trust in Jesus to be there with you, you can do anything.
Peter is a portrait in courage, even though he did freak out when the wind blew more strongly and his fear caused him to start sinking. Still, because of his courage to step out, to act, to do something, his life was changed.
Even though the words of the text sound harsh when Jesus says “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” I hear the tone of Jesus‟ voice gently chiding Peter, but also with a hint of pride that they had, for a few moments, walked together on water.
Jesus put Peter back in the boat with the others, a symbol that Peter‟s destiny was in the same boat with the rest of the disciples. The eleven were not chastised for remaining in the boat; Jesus knew that it was good that they felt safe together.
But Jesus also knew that one of them would have to have to courage to lead the group in the days ahead, someone who had confronted his fears and wrestled with his doubts. Jesus knew the ones who had instigated the murder of his cousin John would also be after him someday, and the disciples would have to confront their fears and forge ahead if they were to survive. It was just a couple of chapters later in Matthew that we hear Jesus calling Peter his rock upon which he would build his church.
We, too, are called to look at the places in our lives where we are called upon to step out in courage. What fears are we called to confront? When are we called to step outside the relative safety of our life‟s boat and attempt to do what we think is impossible because Christ call us?
When I think of people who have had that kind of courage, I think of those men at Normandy so many years ago now. What courage it took to get out of the boat, not to walk on water, but to walk into certain death for most of them.
When I think of people who have had that kind of courage, I think of those Palestinian Christians and Jewish leaders on both side of Gaza who have come together to work for unity, trying to find a way to live together, even though the majority of their nation fear one another.
When I think of people who have that kind of courage, I think most recently of Glenn Hillin, who was hospitalized this past weekend and almost died on Friday night. He shared with me yesterday that at the moment he realized that it could be a possibility, he felt a sense of peace. He was ready to step out of the boat of this life and into the next, and he was rather amazed at that feeling, because it was the first time he had confronted it.
At different times in our lives, Jesus calls us to step out of our boats, to walk with him on waters that may seem threatening, choppy. But he promises to be there with us. That is our great salvation and hope. May we know that God cares if we are immobilized by some fear in our life. But there comes a time when, like everything else, you must place your fear at the Foot of the cross and then lean back into the arms of an ever loving and gracious God. Then we too can echo the words of the old hymn: God will take care of you; he will take care of you. Fear Not!