Rev. Don Beyers, Christ Church, Bolton
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There is always something new to be learned when reading a scripture passage. Or at least I find this to be true. Over the course of two decades of ministry I have read many of our scripture stories a dozen or more times. After awhile you would think the stories would become so familiar to me that there would be little new to found in the text. Yet I find as I read again a familiar passage of scripture, something will strike me that I never considered before. Perhaps it may be an image, a word, or even a phrase. Whatever it may be, I find the stories will often speak to me in new ways.
This isn’t entirely surprising; Christians have long understood the scriptures to be the living Word of God. We believe we encounter God when we read the Bible and that God speaks to us and our life experience through the sacred scriptures. It’s no wonder then that the scriptures may speak to us in new ways despite reading various passages dozens of times before.
Such was my experience this week while reading, and re-reading, our lesson from the Gospel of Matthew. I have long read this passage as a story of Peter’s lack of faith. Yet the more I read it, I sense there is something more about Peter than what we may first believe. I suspect the story of Jesus walking on water and his invitation to Peter to walk out to him omits certain details, or at the very least, subtlety implies something more than what is spoken in the text.
This is not a story of Peter’s lack of faith; instead, it is a story of Peter’s over-confidence and forgetting his need to depend entirely on the grace of Jesus to sustain and hold him up.
Admittedly, I may be reading more into the story than what is there. Yet one commentary got me thinking about this story more deeply. The commentator suggested Jesus’ expression “you of little faith” was not so much as an insult to Peter, but rather an acknowledgement of Peter’s courageous faith in the midst of the chaos of the world. By stepping out of the boat, Peter demonstrates extraordinary faith. How many of us would be so trusting of Jesus that we would respond to his command to get out of a boat in the middle of storm and walk out to him? I think few of us would. Yet Peter does precisely that. I don’t think Peter was testing Jesus by demanding a miracle; I think he genuinely responded to Jesus’ invitation and believed deeply in him. Yet no sooner had he got out of the boat, he became afraid and began to sink. Why?
I pondered this question over the past few days and I wondered if Peter got a little too confident in himself and forgot it was the grace of Jesus that upheld him across the choppy waters of the stormy sea. I imagine Peter must’ve been amazed as he stepped out of the boat and found himself walking across the water. Although this may be too simplistic of a read of Peter and his situation, I wonder if he thought “wow, I can do this!” and began to race across the water, completely forgetting it was Jesus who called him and Jesus who sustained him. Realising the waters were not subsiding, Peter panicked and began to sink. The story is not so much about our faith in times of trouble, but our dependence upon the grace of God even when the storms of life fail to ease.
It seems to me the story of Peter and his inability to persistently depend upon Jesus speaks to the experience of many people of faith. It is a common experience for those who have profound conversion experiences to later find themselves challenged or dismayed that their new found faith seems not to have changed much of their world experience. It’s almost a naive expectation to think that now we have found Jesus or have had this amazing, thrilling conversion experience, that all will be right in this world, that pain and suffering will be no more, and the chaos of life will be calmed. Or some may even think their new found faith will bring them perfect happiness in this life.
The truth is, faith in Christ will not wipe away all pain, suffering, and struggle of this world. As I said before, Christian faith is about God’s slow transformation of the human condition into his glory. Instead, faith in Christ — our trust and dependence upon his grace — sustains and enables us to walk through life’s trials and tribulations. But we have to turn to the living God over and over again. Our trusting in the grace of God is not a one-time act; rather, it is a repeated act of trust in Christ. We can be assured Christ will sustain us, even though that may not be obviously apparent as Peter initially discovered in today’s story. As Saint Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans, “Jesus Christ is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.” (Romans 10) Christ yearns and desires to uphold and strengthen us, we just need to repeatedly turn to him.
Yet we turn to Christ with humble hearts. Again, what struck me about Peter in today’s gospel lesson is perhaps his over-confidence. Now I don’t fault him for his feelings; to be sure, I think I would just be amazed were I to walk on water! Still, Peter’s response to Christ reminds me to remain humble. God’s work within me is not about me nor is it about making me great. Instead, it’s about his grace transforming me so that I may go out and proclaim the glory of God. After the disciples witness Jesus’ extraordinary grace they proclaim his glory.
While you and I may not be called to walk on water like Peter, we are called to remain humble and steadfast in faith and hope during a tumultuous time of human history. I’m sure most of us are rather tired of this pandemic, of the daily news of political discord and unrest, and of videos showing horrific acts of racism and violence here at home and abroad. Yet maybe all these storms swirling around us challenge us to once again turn to Christ with humble hearts and ask him: Lord, how must I live and proclaim your Good News in this world?