At our Church Camp we had a sign by the swimming hole that said NO WALKING ON THE WATER. Thinking back on it now, maybe was there to remind us of the dangers of a natural swimming hole, the importance of checking on our "buddy," not to dive off the cliffs around the water, as there might be an unseen rock, and that we should use the mind and body God gave us to swim safely and watch out for one another. Now the camp just has a No Diving sign. Not quite as inspirational as the old sign.
Whenever I read this Gospel, I get the earworm, "Here Comes Jesus" by Sonny Salsbury, found in Songs.
Here comes Jesus, see him walking on the water,
He’ll lift you up, and he’ll help you to stand.
Here comes Jesus, he’s the
master of the waves that roll.
Here comes Jesus, he’ll make you whole.
Here comes Jesus, he’ll save your soul.
With that little tune running through my mind, each lesson has a bit that stands out for me.
In 1 Kings, the story of Elijah:
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
But the righteousness that comes from faith says, "Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) "or "Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart."
And of course the Gospel of Matthew with the story of Jesus, who goes off to be by himself and sends the disciples off in a boat. When he walks across the water to join them, seeing that they are "battered by the waves" and "the wind is against them," they are terrified. The blog OCICBW reflects on this passage as telling us about our life after Christ's death, resurrection and ascension.
In our reading today Jesus sends his disciples away because he needs to be away from them and they need to be away from him. This action alludes to the time when Jesus will leave them to be with his Father in heaven - when it will be up to the disciples, and those who will come after them, to continue the work of the Son.
This will be difficult and dangerous work. Their boat will be rocked by wind and storm. Many of them will die because of their commitment to the gospel. But, although Jesus is physically no longer with them in the tangible way he had been during his ministry on earth, in order to have the power to continue that ministry, the disciples have to know, that Jesus, in a very real way, is still with them. That when they are in their metaphorical boat being bashed by the waves that would destroy them, Jesus is walking beside them and will be there to pull them out of the metaphorical sea should they fall in. This story is about faith and love. Christ’s faith in us and love for us and the necessity of our faith in and love for God.
Putting this together with the other lessons, I think it also reminds us that our conception of God and how God will act are very limited. Elijah looks for a big production number and gets the still small voice. Paul has discovered that God is not out there, somewhere, delivered to us from on high or from the authorities (whoever they might be).
Jesus is not chiding us for our inability to walk on water, but our need for the spectacular, the miracle, to prove the existence of God. Stepping out in faith, waiting out the storms of life, rejoicing in life and love wherever we find it - these are the very near, on our lips and in our hearts, signs of faithful living.
Another hymn comes to mind:
Jesus calls us over the tumult
Of our life’s wild, restless, sea;
Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”
As of old Saint Andrew heard it
By the Galilean lake,
Turned from home and toil and kindred,
Leaving all for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world’s golden store,
From each idol that would keep us,
Saying, “Christian, love Me more!”
In our joys and in our sorrows,
Days of toil and hours of ease,
Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love Me more than these!”
Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
Savior may we hear Thy call,
Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
Serve and love Thee best of all.