Sermon: The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14A, August 13, 2017
“…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.” (Matthew 14:27-29)
The disciples were in the boat through the night and battered by the waves. Their fear increased upon seeing the figure walking on the water. In the midst of that fear, amidst the waves and the wind, I picture Peter standing up in the boat. He peers out into the darkness ready to take that step into the choppy waters.
As we imagine him in this moment, let us recall the amazing scenes in scripture that tell us about Peter’s character. Remember that Peter was a fisherman on the shore of the Sea of Galilee who left his nets to follow Jesus. Picture him on the mountain top when he sees Jesus transfigured. Listen to him tell our Lord when asked, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Clearly Peter was a leader among the disciples.
Then, too, recall his stubborn, impetuous side. When Jesus told the disciples he was going to Jerusalem to undergo great suffering and death, Peter rebuked our Lord. In the garden after Jesus had been taken prisoner, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.
Now we witness him standing on the bow of the boat, looking into the storm. In this moment, we see Peter’s full character: his strength, his stubbornness, and his willingness to take risks. We see his impulsiveness and fear as he steps out into the choppy waters. In this moment we see Peter take a courageous leap of faith. With all the forces working against him, we see Peter step off the bow of the boat and walk toward our Lord.
This week as I reflected on this Gospel scene, I thought of a dear, devoted disciple named Robert Pitts. Robert was a member of the Cathedral in St. Petersburg when I arrived there as Dean in 1998. St. Peter’s is located directly across the street from Williams Park, and many people seek refuge in both the park and in the garden of the Cathedral. Every day people were there looking for food, shelter or medical care. In the midst of this turmoil, Robert Pitts stepped forward. With his help we started a downtown ministry called Our Daily Bread. I can remember him being there on the designated weekdays, listening to people, offering help, and providing food from our panty. He was never alone. We had a wonderful team of faithful parishioners who carried out this heartfelt ministry. Robert was the leader, and he often told me that he knew that God was calling him to be there with his brothers and sisters in need. From the beginning, I saw Robert stand up in the boat and step out into the choppy waters and walk toward Jesus.
Faith grows when we are willing to test it out. Faith grows when we openly face our fears and step off the bow of the boat. Peter sank when he experienced the strong wind. He cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out to him. When you and I take a courageous leap of faith, sometimes we are unsure about how everything will work out. We, too, may be afraid. But the strong arm of the Lord is there to help us. The strong arm of the Lord is made manifest when many of us reach out to help.
I am thinking now about people who take such a courageous leap of faith. I am thinking first about the person who stops drinking alcohol. They seize the moment to stop drinking, and they rely on the strong arm of God to help them. That strong arm may be offered by their sponsor, by family, friends or colleagues. I think, too, about many who are courageous and choose a new direction in life. I think of those who leave a line of work to find a greater satisfaction and meaning in their work. I think of people like Robert Pitts who are willing to take a courageous leap of faith and start a new ministry.
The church throughout history has been viewed a vessel travelling through the rough seas. You and I come together here seeking calm. You and I come together on this vessel, listening for our Lord saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
In addition to seeking this reassurance, we know there are times when Jesus calls us to step out of the boat.
That is where we are in our history at Holy Trinity. It is time for us to take a courageous leap of faith. I hear our Lord calling all of us, saying, “Come…walk toward me on the water.”