Sunday Sermon for 7th August 2011

Reader - Peter KaneSunday sermon for 7th August 2011

Sermon given by Reader: Peter Kane 

The area where you are sitting is known as the nave. Taken from the Latin word navis, meaning boat. Note the roof of St Cuthbert’s church; the nave is the ‘barque of Peter’ the boat. From which comes the idea of the disciples, the people of God in the boat together in the storm?

This is a very ancient metaphor stretching back to this Gospel story from Matthew today, where Jesus comes to the disciples in the boat in the stormy sea. Of the gospel writers Matthew is the only one to include the story of Peter attempting to walk on the water to meet Jesus. The reasons for this might be that Matthew was writing at a time when Christians are being persecuted. By this time, Peter has most likely been crucified. The storm stories address issues of danger, fear and faith. In both stories, the boat seems to represent the church, buffeted by temptations, trials and persecutions. Jesus appears as the church's champion, who is strong to save those who call on him in faith.

So the boat represents safety, the sea represents danger. It was thought the sea was a place where evil monsters lived, it was dangerous. The temptation might be to stay in the boat.  But Jesus encourages Peter out of the boat in the words he uses.

We too have to get out of the boat and take our faith into the stormy seas of life. Many people would actually say that we Christians should keep our religious stuff contained in the boat, that our religion has no place outside of church. We however obey a different master. This world does not need less reminding of the teachings of Jesus it needs more.
Jesus walking on water
So far so good. The message is challenging but we all understand it. However I am reminded about a book by John Ortberg titled “‘If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat.”’  Now things start to get complicated, because the problem is that we cannot walk on water, and if we get out of boats we will get very wet.

Nobody can walk on water. We sometimes use this fact as a way of saying somebody is divine, people say footballers can walk on water. Leonardo da Vinci did some drawings of shoes to enable a person to walk on water, but no matter how hard we try nobody can ever walk on water. If we go in the water we get wet.

I say this because there is belief, from someTV evangelists, that if we get faith, then God suspends reality in miraculous ways. Yet from all of their extraordinary claims to be able to cure cancers and change world events, not a single one of them can walk on water. If we are honest, real miracles are very few and far between.

How it would make the clergy’s job so much easier if they could conjure up a bit of magic now and then. People want miracles and some people are so desperate that they will believe the worst charlatans who proclaim to have magic powers which would allow us to stop our loved ones from dying, or enable us to talk with them when they are dead.

We still have to get out of the boat

So if we cannot walk on water does that mean that we stay in the boat? No! We know that as Christians we are called to go and reach out to a troubled world. In this run up to the 2012 Olympics, I am reminded of the phrase 'you've got to be in it to win it.' The point is obvious, we will never achieve unless we participate. 

The flip side is that as well as achievement, we can also fail in our endeavours. Perhaps it is that fear of failure which prevents so many people from making the effort, and trying to make our dreams become reality. This is true of so many things, not least our willingness to serve God, to allow our talents to be used in his service. The Apostle Peter is a real example to us all, he made mistakes, he had failure in his life, yet he was prepared to have a go, and because of that Jesus called him 'the rock' the one he chose upon which to build his church. In the passage from Matthew today, Peter jumps out of the boat to meet Jesus. Whilst walking on water for a time he soon loses confidence and starts to sink. However we have to pay tribute to Peter because at least he had a go.

Theodore Roosevelt once said 'It is not the critic who counts; not the one who points out how the strong stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows great enthusiasm and great devotion; who spends themselves in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who, at worst, if they fail, at least fails while daring greatly. So that their place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.'

You and I have to be prepared to leave the safety of the boat, knowing that the basic laws of physics will not be suspended. We are subject to the same turmoil in life as everybody else. There will be no spectacular miracles to make our life easier.

The disciples were not doing anything wrong when they got into trouble. They were doing what they were told to do; but that didn’t prevent them from getting caught up in a storm. 

There they were in a storm which made them feel separated from Jesus, as we sometimes do.
“tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against them.”
Does that describe situations in which we sometimes find ourselves? There are waves which we all struggle against in our lives;
separation from loved ones, death and divorce, loneliness, questions about the meaning of our lives, concerns about family and friends, the church and the world.

We are tempted to ask a question faithful people have always faced: Where is God when I am in need? Where is Jesus in the midst of the storm? Matthew tells us he came to his disciples “during the fourth watch of the night.”  What took him so long? Were they being tested consideringthe intensity of the struggle?

Jesus is not a “Mr. Fix-it.” He does not usually take away the storm, but instead enables us, with him, to walk on the stormy seas. He reprimands his disciples for not trusting his presence and strength for it is that strength will enable us to persevere.

St Francis of Sales noticed a farm girl walking across the field to the well to collect water; he also noticed as she lifted the brimming bucket from the well the girl always put a piece of wood into it. When asked why, she looked surprised and answered, as if it was a matter of course “to keep the water from keep it steady”

He used this analogy to say when your heart is distressed and agitated put the cross into the centre of your heart to keep it steady.

The storms we face will be manageable if we turn to Jesus. We are called to leave the safety of the boat and walk through stormy seas as we become involved in complex issues, as well as family and community need. The waters may not be calm, but we are not alone. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and one another. In times of need Jesus reaches out to each of us, his hands are present in one another.

Matthew says that Jesus and Peter got into the boat and the storm died down. The disciples worshipped Jesus saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Jesus is no ghost. He is the living Lord. And he reaches out with his arms to save the last, the lost and the least. In trouble? Call his name. He is the alpha and the Omega. He will not allow us to physically walk on water. But if we putour trust in him we’ll be safe, even as we leave the safety of the boat.

As Paul reminds us in Romans, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame…everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”   Amen

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