Sermon – 9th August

John Ortberg wrote that book with the splendid title: –

If you want to walk on water first you have to get out of the boat. It’s a book about faith and like all his works manages to be challenging and humorous at the same time. This has always been a favourite story. It was great coming to Tollerton to see it so beautifully depicted in our stained glass window.

There is nothing about those waves that would make anyone but an idiot want to step on them.

I say this with appropriate reverence but if there ever was a person in scripture with the capacity to be an over enthusiastic excitable but lovable idiot it was super impetuous Peter.

Again this is a very familiar passage and I have read it often but for the first time I realised that Peter walking on the water was not Jesus’ idea. In my mind I remembered that Jesus had said come. But I had passed over fact that that Peter suggested it. Here it is in the message translation:

28     Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”

The word here is interesting. The authorised version has bid me come to you and the literal translation is ‘entice’. Lord: encourage me to want to come to you. Draw out of me the faith that will bridge the gulf between us. If it is really you then I believe that you can do this.

We think this is strange but the whole context is strange. What put this strange idea in peter’s mind? Well Jesus was doing it right in front of him. In some way by some physics that we don’t understand, The human Jesus who mast have weighed at least 150 pounds was just standing there failing to according to the equation that every school child knows to displace his own weight of water and therefore having no right under natural law to float let alone ride surging waves.

The supernatural was going on before his eyes and faith welled up within him enough to think I want some of this. After all this is the Jesus who said the works that I do you shall do and greater works even than these. Might this not apply to this as much as to healing the sick and picking up the serpents and drinking the poison and so on.

And added to all that not only did Jesus open this frame of thinking by standing there on and not in the water he also added a comment that was almost guaranteed to provoke this response in Peter. Just seconds before Peter asked Jesus to entice faith out of him Jesus had said this: And this is my translation of verse

27     Seeing their fear he dealt with it quickly saying

Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

I once did one of those questionnaires designed to show you what you spiritual gifts are. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the results suggested I might have the gist of faith. That course described faith in these terms

It describes Faith in these terms

  • The gift of Faith is the divine enablement to act on God’s promises with confidence and unwavering belief in God’s ability to fulfil his purposes.
  • To believe the promises of God and inspire others to do the same
  • To act in complete confidence of God’s ability to overcome obstacles
  • To demonstrate an attitude of trust in God’s will and his promises
  • To advance the cause of Christ by going forward when others will not
  • To ask God for what is needed and to trust him for his provision

Part of me was really encouraged that such a clear answer emerged from the process and quite excited by the nature of the spiritual gift. I don’t know how well I do these things listed but I do know that they are things I want to do and things I feel excited about doing and things that I would like to do for this group of people in this setting of Chilwell were God has placed me. I gulp and say to myself those things can’t be talking about Alan Howe. I’m just me and those things are so scary but also so, so exciting.  What vicar would not want to advance the cause of Christ.

We are all aware in 2020 that there are storms out there.

Back before covid I listened to a A radio 5 ‘phone in’ and email dialogue on the subject of miracles and it provoked this response from one lsitener

Miracles did not happen in the past and they don’t happen today the whole thing is a load of bunkum.

For them a God man who walks on water is a fairy tale. Anyone who is barmy enough to have aspirations about copying is a lunatic who will soon become a deceased lunatic. They would say that any idiot that builds their lives on teaching and understanding these truths is at best deceived and at worst a danger to a right thinking society.

In one Stoppard play I can remember a scene in which a bumbling Vicar comes to offer condolence to a bereaved family who politely brush him off and send him away and one of the family sighs and says who do you tell a nice man without offence that his whole life is based on a lie.

Yet you and I whenever we say a creed take an enormous risk together we say publically I believe. I believe in God the father Almighty. We believe in Jesus. We believe he is the son of God. We believe he died and rose again.

We believe those things and we base our lives on the things that we believe. We are risk takers. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 if there is no resurrection from the dead and Christ did not win us place in heaven we are above all people most to be pitied.

It probably says something about me but as I thought of an illustration for this my mind went to that history flight clip that is shown often on TV at Christmas were you see all the wonderful potential flying machines all picking up speed zooming along the pier for a launch into the sky an the man who must have spend months designing and building his multi-winged craft only to see it buckle and drop like a stone into the sea. That man was taking a risk based on a dream and the dream turned out not to have substance.

Yet for 2000 years there have been Peter’s who in their different ways have got out of the boat in the name of Christ. We have taken the risk of becoming men and women of faith. The world seems out of control right now. Covid has produced one set of problems but those problem have been added to so many others. Every time we think it can’t get worse something like the Beirut explosion happened to show human folly knows no bounds. Yet even in the midst of all that people are searching for eternal meaning.

Let’s return to Peter and ask what was it that made him ask Jesus if he could get out of the boat and walk to him?

Peter’s risk was the ultimate step of faith but it was not mindless groundless faith. He was glimpsing Jesus through the storm. Through the spray and mist and against the violent rocking motion of the boat He was looking into the eyes of a man who just fed thousands of people with a tiny amount of fish and bread. A man who could make the lame walk and the blind see. It may have been the same boat he was now in that was almost sinking from the storm had been on a much calmer day almost sunk because of the weight of fish provided in a miraculous catch.

Here was a man who rose above rules like gravity and storms like disease and challenges like hunger. Here was a man whose power Peter had seen to be almost limitless. So then had the time come for doing the works of Christ? Had the time come to take the courage that Jesus was drawing out in him and use any means to close the distance between him and his master.

Inside Peter a realisation dawned. If I can’t follow him through the storm against the odds to impossible places then how can I ever hope to lead a church in his name?

How can I ever be a rock for those who believe through our testimony if when Jesus says come I don’t come because the journey from me to him seems impossible?

I asked him to identify himself by calling me to him and he did and with the answer also came the courage.

Peter could not bear to stay in the boat when every fibre of his being wanted to walk with Jesus. Was it to be the risk of getting out of the boat to get to Jesus or was it to be the pain of staying in the boat knowing that Jesus is calling him?

All of us face enormous challenges as we try to make sense of the current situation. We have no idea what ministry will look like in the days and months ahead. Will you join me in asking Jesus what step of faith he wants us to make. Even to keep faithful keep believing the best is yet to come. Believing that God has a plan for good and a future in a step of faith.

Perhaps that is our first step. To say in our hearts. Even if the current reality feels like one sucking us all under, we will make a choice to step toward Him.