Another reflection of Peter walking on Water - the words of Nadia Bolz-Weber
Rarely have I shared another person's words for the Weekly Musing but reading this on Monday after preaching about the story of Peter and walking on water with Jesus I thought it was worth sharing. It is by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Nadia is sometimes controversial and I do not always agree with her (or sometimes her style) but she is committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and always makes me think deeply. Anyway, I hope this engages you the way it did me. Blessings for a great week. Clay Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately 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. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” - Matthew 14
Recently I was talking with a friend who had met with this venture capitalist that likes to fund projects around so-called “human potential” – and the first thing I blurted out was, “I hope he understands how profoundly limited that is.”
I mention this because I’ve often heard this walking on water story from Matthew preached as like The Little Disciple Who Almost Could.
Like Peter could have kept walking on water if he just thought I think I can, I think I can enough. The message being that with enough faith you too can walk on water all the way to Jesus. Which, on the surface, sounds inspiring.
But taken to its logical conclusion, it also means that if you are not God-like in your ability to overcome all your fears and failings as a human….if you are not God-like in your ability to defy the forces of nature then the problem isn’t the limits of human potential, the problem is the limits of your faith and you should probably muster up some more.
I guess I’ve just never heard that way of telling the story as good news. Because for me, all the “I think I can, I think I can” in the world doesn’t make the storms of life any less terrifying. All the power of positive thinking and high self-esteem on the planet doesn’t seem to do the trick to make me less afraid when the dangers of life surround me.
If anything, this “unlimited human potential” approach to religion means that a) the chaos of my life is still terrifying and b) now I also have to feel bad for not being able to transcend it through a sufficient amount of faith and self-esteem.
This might explain why I was never a big fan of those What Would Jesus Do bracelets. I mean, I get that it’s maybe meant as a reminder to be loving and compassionate and quick to forgive. And for the record I think all those things are great.
But when I am struggling in life, I don’t know if “Nadia, what would Jesus do” is the most helpful question. What would Jesus do? I don’t know – something super cool like Raise the dead or cast out demons or turn water into wine… none of which feel like a fair test of faith for someone who can’t even remember to send thank you notes.
And honestly, it isn’t just the unreasonable expectation that we COULD do the stuff Jesus did if we just had enough faith that bugs me, It is also that, when taken too far, WWJD kinda just leads to a weird form of atheism.
I mean, if we really could just muster up what it takes to do what Jesus did, doesn’t that mean we wouldn’t end up really needing the guy anymore. I mean, if you can make yourself that Christ-like you’ll never again be in need of healing. Mercy and forgiveness will be things other people need but not you.
But that doesn’t sound like faith to me. It just sounds like arrogance.
Which is maybe why I’m tired of sermons on this Gospel text that feel like I am being told to prove my faith by stepping out of the boat.
Or that somehow walking on water is what real faith look like.
So the alternate title for today’s sermon is 3 other things we can learn about Jesus walking on the water that aren’t “just try harder so you can do what Jesus did and then “congratulations” you can go and be your own savior now.”
1. Making things harder than they need to be is a real stupid way to prove ourselves.
One thing that stood out for me this week while I was reading this story is how that day on the lake, when the disciples were in a storm and they saw Jesus walking toward them…Not one person asked Peter to step out of the boat and walk on water like Jesus was doing. His fellow disciples didn’t put him up to it. Jesus didn’t come up with the idea as a way to test Peter’s faith. Peter made that up his own damn self. So you know what that was? Optional.
I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have assumed the hardest way to do something is the best way to do something. But when I make things harder than they need to be, I’m not proving myself I am just punishing myself and I’m trying really hard to remember that’s not the same thing at all.
2. What we believe will determine what we see.
Jesus sends the disciples out in a boat and then there is a terrible storm and the wind is against them and they are scared. If there was failure on the part of the disciples I don’t think it was finding a storm at sea terrifying because, come on - that is legit scary. I think their failure was not unlike ours - believing that if their lives were screwed that must mean that God is far off.
Their failure was in buying the lie that calm waters are the only satisfying proof of God’s presence.
A lie that to this day can keep us from seeing that Jesus is not far off, but indeed is walking toward us in chaos saying Take heart, I am here, do not be afraid.
3. When in doubt, don’t try and do what Jesus would do, try and remember what Jesus has already done.
This is weird to admit but I often struggle with the exact same discouraging thought when trying to write a sermon. I wish I could stand here and say that I just trust in the Lord the entire time – I wish I could say that looking back over my entire career in ministry I remember how faithful God has been in always providing a word for me to preach and that in remembering that I am always assured. But it’s not true. For some reason, nearly every week I panic, sure I won’t come up with anything to say - I think well, I’ve had a good run…but I it’s probably over now. And then God hooks me up with something…every single time. Almost like out of nowhere – I suddenly have what I needed all along. All I have needed thy hand hath provided.
You’d think I’d start remembering this.
I mention this because maybe when Jesus says to Peter – You of little faith, why did you doubt – maybe that wasn’t about Peter not being able to do what Jesus can do and walk on water, maybe it was about Peter and the other disciples not being able to trust what Jesus HAD already done.
I mean do the math here -
Who is that they had seen cure the incurable and cast out every demon? Jesus
Who is that they had already seen calm the winds and seas during a previous storm just a couple chapters earlier? Jesus
Who is that they had seen make the lame to walk, and restore sight to the blind? Jesus
Who is that they had just seen feed 5,000 souls with a few fish and a couple loaves? Jesus
Who is that they had seen raise a little girl from the dead? Jesus
And who is it that they think it is walking on the water toward them when their little boat was getting lashed by a storm at sea? … GHOST.
To my knowledge not one of those miracles they had witness was performed by a damn ghost.
But that’s who we are - we are terrible forgetters.
So if you are wondering what it looks like to have faith, know this: Faith isn’t you doing the impossible – it’s remembering that God can and has and will again do the impossible.
And to have faith is to know that God is God and we don’t have to be.
And to have faith is to know that’s a good thing. History has shown we make terrible Gods.
So people of God, That’s what I got for you today when it comes to Jesus walking on the water.
There are no tests of faith. Not really.
You do not have to make things harder than they already are, you do not have to walk on water.
And if life is storming around you it does not mean God is far off.
It’s just that…
Sometimes the winds are against us and life is terrifying.
Sometimes we forget what God has done.
Sometimes we do not hear it when Jesus says take heart it is I do not be afraid.
Sometimes we assume the worst – we look for ghosts and not for God.
Sometimes we sink in the stormy waters of our own mistakes and miscalculations.
And Sometimes, sometimes at the very last minute we have the faith it takes to just call out Lord save us.
And every time THAT happens. Every time we cry out for help The Lord reaches out his hand and catches us. There’s not some kind of deductible of self-reliance you have to meet before your spiritual benefits kick in. You can be downright wasteful with your prayers for help.
Because God never tires of pulling us out of the graves we dig ourselves. Never tires of being our help and our salvation. Never tires of walking toward us in a storm.
The link to her page with the original post is here.