Matthew 16:13–20 (NRSV)
Peter’s Declaration about Jesus
(Mk 8:27–30; Lk 9:18–20)
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
How often do we take the time to really consider how we got to the place that we are? I know it is an odd question and probably not one that many of us even want to consider, but so often our culture wants us to forget about cause and effect. If you eat fast food everyday chances are you are going to have serious health problems in the future. If you sit all day at a computer your body will develop odd configurations of your bones. There are always cause and effect relationships. I want us to consider these relationships as we reflect on this passage today.
Jesus has gone to the northern part of what we call Israel to a town named after the emperor of Rome and the son of Herod the great. Caesarea Philippi is a very interesting place. It is a deeply religious place, it was one of the centers of Baal worship, and was also a major center for the worship of the Greek god Pan. The town was one that had been renamed multiple times but the interesting thing about the name is that it has a similar theme: Baal-Gad or Hermon, Paneas, Caesarea Philippi, and even the current name Baneas all point to the worship of a god that is not the God of the Hebrew people. But there is still a connection.
This city is at the base of mount Hermon which is important in history because this is the place where after the Generals of Alexander the Great divided the Greek Empire the Egyptian branch and Persian branch fought over what we know as Israel, and Antiochus III defeated Ptolemies (the Egyptian ruler) and allowed the Jewish people to freely immigrate back to the land of their ancestors. Antiochus the great was a friend of the Jewish people, but his son Antiochus IV was the one that desecrated the temple which started the rebellion and subsequent independence of Israel under the Hasmonean Dynasty. It was at this Mount courses of history began.
But there is more this mountain has a cave with a large body of water inside, a pool of water that was seen as a gateway into the underworld because it was so deep and dark one could not begin to imagine where it ended, and this pool of water is considered one of the sources of the river Jordan.
So here at the source of the Jordan, the very river that was used to initiate the ministry of Jesus, at the site of one of the largest and most active pagan shrines Jesus asks his disciples to examine themselves and their understanding of who He is. At this cultural cross road they are challenged. “Who do they say that I am?”
This discourse between Jesus and his disciples beginning of a new era, it is the start of the next chapter of the history of faith. “Who do they say I am?” and “Who do you say that I am.” The question was asked not in Jerusalem or even in Judea, but on the very northern border of Israel nearly outside of the land of their ancestors, laying in the disputed area between Lebanon, Syria, and Israel known as the Golan Heights. Even today this is a historical and cultural crossroad.
But now I want to jump forward and consider the response to the question. The apostle we know as Peter responded, “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God.” This response has great value, not only does it establish that the disciples were beginning to understand that Jesus was more than just a Rabbi, it was also developing a newer understanding of the very nature of God. It is here that Jesus then gives Simon his second name Peter. But the explanation of this name change is what is most interesting.
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” There are several things happening here. First though we need to understand why Jesus gave him a new name to begin with. In many ancient cultures, especially the Hebrew culture a name carries great meaning. The meaning of the name is often a prophetic declaration of the individual. There are three names mentioned in this response by Jesus: Simon, Jonah, and Peter. Each name has significant meaning. Simon means, “He has heard”.
He has heard, what a prophetic name for one of the disciples that heard and listened to the calling of Jesus to follow. It was Simon that basically took the leadership role of the apostles. He has heard. Along with hearing comes the more active form of listening. So not only does Simon hear, but he listens.
The second name is Jonah. Jonah is an interesting name because it could mean two very different things. In most cases it means dove. The dove was used in the worship at the temple, and has long been associated in the church as the symbol of the Holy Spirit, mainly because that was the visual imagery used in describing the spirit deciding on Jesus. But Jonah also has a negative connotation to it. Hebrew is a language where the written form does not use vowels, so the reader must insert them in their mind, so depending on the usage the written form of a word can take on a totally different meaning. In the case of Jonah, dove or the bringer of grace through sacrifice, or it could also mean to vex, or oppress. So this name could be a blessing or a curse.
The third name is Peter which means stone. Now this is where it get interesting. Because Peter or Petros is not the type of rock that you would build a building out of, it is a fragile fragment of a rock. But the feminine form of the word, Petra is solid and is the type of rock that builders and artists would want to have access too. Petra is the word used for what the church is going to be built, but Petros is the name. Again both negative and positive aspects, and a prophetic message in both depending on which path one was to take.
So the message in the names can mean two things: 1. He hears and is vexed and crumbles, or 2. He hears the spirit and builds on a firm rock. The question Jesus asks again, “who do you say that I am.”
Jesus is standing there on the crossroads of culture, history, and faith and he is laying it out all out before them. They are saying things about me and you are saying things too, which are you going to believe? I mention this because we have all stood at a place very similar to this in our lives. We have faced a challenge and the decision that we would make at that moment would direct the course of our lives. How do we move forward, how do we see through the vexations and the blessings?
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus is still asking that question to every person in every age. There are many answers to this question, and with each answer comes a very different path. There are those that say that Jesus is just a myth, a hopeful figment of the imagination of broken people. That answer will set a course in life. A course where the only strength available to you is what you personally possess. The problem with that is the constant erosion that is presented in the various aspects of life. Although you have the freedom to choose whatever you want to do with no bonds most that choose this path become bitter and broken people. They are hard to love because they have been hurt deeply by relationships and have no one to turn to but their own fragile stones.
Then there are those that equate Jesus to a good moral teacher, these people will often hear the teaching of Jesus and find them very appealing but are often swayed by other teachings that sound just as good. To them, Jesus is no different than any other religious founder, just a man with a good message. The path they tread is a bit more solid because they now have a moral guide that will help them deal with the struggles of life, but still they must rely only on their own strength.
Then there are those that believe as Simon Peter, “you are the Messiah, the son of the Living God.” Those that say this are set on a different course, one that does not rely on their strength but the collective strength of those in their community and in their weakness they have faith that God will provide the necessary power to overcome.
It sounds so simple in word, but in reality we all move up and down this spectrum with each major decision we face. With each there is a form of belief but only one is the type of belief that we are able to see the hand of God moving. We reach these crossroads and we choose. Will I move forward in myself, will I trust the ways of our spiritual forefathers, or will I step out and entrust all I have to God. How do we move forward, how do we move beyond into greater trust and belief?
Through listening. This is where Jesus will build his church. It is on those that will look beyond the worldly wisdoms, the moral codes of centuries of dogma, and will simply listen and follow. This is why Jesus came to live a full life, from prenatal existence, through childhood and on into adulthood. This is why he showed his disciples the holy rhythm of life of worship, prayer, and service. Because it is in that rhythm we can begin to listen and respond. It is in that rhythm where we make it our custom to join together in worship to encourage each other and praise God that we find the strength to take deeper steps into faith. When we withdraw to the isolated places to pray, we remove ourselves from the chaos of the world and can center down and hear the voice of God teaching, encouraging and calling us to action. And it is in service that our faith is tested and the fragile pebbles of our life are pressed into beautiful stone fit for building. Then the cycle begins again, because the testing of our faith and the pressure of service can discourage us so we go back into worship to have our community join with us to encourage once again, it is through our prayers in the isolated places where we again are called, and we are provided with the strength to minister once again.
It is that rhythm that is the key to the kingdom. It is that lifestyle of Jesus that the church is built. Because it is in that holy rhythm of devotion that reaches out the people marginalized by the world, leading defeated bitter lives. But the question still remains, “Who do you say that I am?” How we answer that question will determine how we approach the calling God is giving us. If we honestly say that He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, then we have access to the power that create out of nothing, and can use the insignificant to bring about the amazing. Who do you say He is?
As we enter into this time of open worship and holy expectancy, I want us each to examine our lives just for a bit, consider the choices that we have made in the past that have led us to where we are today, and ask God to reveal to us where and who our faith was in? Then I want us to imagine the future, where is God calling us? Are we hearing the voice of the spirit leading us to solid rock or are we being vexed by our own desires and standing on fragile stone?
Matthew 15:10–28 (NRSV)
Things That Defile
10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
The Canaanite Woman’s Faith
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Today’s generation often feels pulled between two dominate cultural points of view. One that focus’ on respect and responsibility and the other on action and experience. For many these two dominate cultural personalities seem to be at odds. But really it is all a manner of perspective.
We can often get caught up on issues and interpretation and miss the truth behind the situation. This is common when there is a significant shift in the culture. Usually these shifts are due to great technical advancements or great disasters. Either the cultural advances or it digresses and the people that are caught in the middle of this shift are left to interpret the situation they find themselves in. Is our culture in the worst decline in centuries or are we advancing into the greatest era of Christian history?
Let us just contemplate that for a moment. How you answer that question will probably greatly affect how you look into the future and what approach to ministry we will have. But as we contemplate that question let us remember that this is the very sort of question these people in the first century were facing. Judea during this time frame was being colonized by people of Latin and Greek heritage, and for centuries there have been consistent minority of the people known as the Cannonites. With this constant influx of non-Jewish people the Hebrew population had questions. Can we incorporate these people into our culture or should we continue to separate ourselves from the outside world. We understand their struggle, we have faced struggles such as these for centuries. Sometimes we think that the issues we face are new issues but as scripture reminds us there is nothing new under the sun.
Jesus and his disciples were in an area of Judea that was in a cultural dispute. This area had the highest concentration of Greek colonists clustered around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This is the area that Jesus spent his childhood, where he work alongside the family in their business of trade. Jesus lived and grew up in an area filled with cultural tension. In areas like this the communities have groups with different ideas, there are extremes on both ends of the spectrum and then many in the middle. Jesus is caught in the center of these cultural controversies and those around him are trying to force him to make a stand. Then someone does something that causes the entire group to go into an uproar. They eat without washing their hands.
For most of us this is seen as kind of gross but it not something to go crazy over, but this seemingly insignificant act was one that grayed the lines of separation between the various cultural factions. These rituals of cleanliness were passed down for generations, often they were not even questioned but simply participated in. These ritualistic actions were attached to a cultural identity that many took pride in. For a disciple of Jesus to eat without washing not only showed something to those around him, but it screamed something. Profane.
As we read this passage we can be brought right into the center of the very same cultural debate, if we are not careful. Choosing a side without really knowing what is going on. We are quick to judge the Pharisees saying that they are being legalistic, but when we do so we automatically are lumped into the other extreme. This happens because we often do not understand what is being said. We read the word profane or defiles and immediately we think of sinfulness, mainly because that is the common understanding. This word though is not necessarily a bad word, it simply means common. The word was used to describe the things common to a community. For instance if a city park was to be described in ancient Greek the word used would be the same that is translated as profane or defiled, because the park common to the community or is owned and used by all within the community. This term gained its negative reputation when the Greek culture was expanded out into the east because then it began to be used for the things that were common among the people not like us. With that being said, there are certain aspect of faith that are not common outside of a tradition, these things separate or sanctify a group from another for a special and specific reason. The profane and the sanctified, the common and the separate, it is like a scene from the evening news.
Those around Jesus are caught up in this debate, the debate over watering down the identity of the faith and being set apart as righteous. But what is Jesus’ answer? “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Stop there and just consider that answer for a moment. “[I]t is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
What did Jesus just say? Did he turn his back on the faith that has defined the Hebrew people from Abraham and side completely with the Gentiles, did He say that the Greek culture prevalent all around him was not offensive to God? Did he side with either group of extremist or moderates? What he did was say that you are all asking the wrong questions and getting the incorrect answers, and the incorrect answers are distracting you from what is truly important in the kingdom of Heaven.
It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles. The disciples immediately began to scramble, entering into damage control mode. They were comparing notes and getting their heads together on how they were going to explain this statement when the angry from all sides started coming out in mass to protest. They approached Jesus and said to him, “you realize you just offended them…so can you explain this so we can help.”
Why were the laws given? What is the reasoning behind the law that was given to Moses and passed down through the generations? Is it the law that is important to God or is there something behind the law that is really what is important but could not be fully explained to people without knowledge of things like cells, and viruses? If we do not ask the right questions, if we do not seek the right answers we can easily be led around in directions that could be very contrary to the spirit behind the law. These are the things that Jesus is wanting them to consider. He says in his explanation, what enters the mouth enters the stomach and goes to the sewer. This probably does not need an explanation, but in essence Jesus is saying that this issue is not one that really matters, anything that may cause harm will be digested and flushed out in the proper courses of time. But what is really important is living the truth behind the law out in our daily life.
The law was given to be a guide to teach us how to live healthy and just lives as a community. They encourage healthy eating and hygiene habits to keep our families and friends from getting sick when we share our lives with each other. Does it really matter if our hands are clean if we are not going to share our food with others? The law was given to teach us how to treat others with justice instead of vengeance, to prevent unnecessary harm to those in our community. The law was given to form a group of people that would become the ideal for the entire world. Yet through the ages the spirt behind the laws given to Moses took on different forms and shapes, to the point that the intent of the law was so clouded by interpretation that we totally miss the point.
Jesus then goes on to say what is really important is what comes out, or our actions, because this is where the truth resides. It is what we say and do when people are not watching that is more important. This is the very reason that George Fox and the early Friends turned away from the Church of England to form the Society of Friends. This is why they removed all the common rituals from our worship and distilled it down to the simplest forms possible. Because evil people can hide behind religion. People can claim righteousness while people are looking and watching but when it comes to life they can be as deadly as a snake.
Jesus then proceeds into the Gentile dominated parts of the area, where he meets a profane or defiled woman. A woman that has not been set apart in the eyes of the religious but is common. A common Gentile woman, with no heritage that mattered and cut out from the kingdom. Yet she cries out to Jesus, “Have mercy!” Jesus continues to walk, which is almost odd. Directly after he criticizes the religious for being blind to the truth, he walks on past a Gentile woman that is in need, the disciples want to silence her because she is persistent, and eventually Jesus stops. Consider the conversation and the scene:
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Matthew 15:24–27 (NRSV)
She is a woman in need, her daughter is being tormented by a demon and Jesus says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus almost…well he actually sounds mean in this conversation. Here she is falling on her face before him and He is calling her a dog. Dogs at this time were not common pets but were often wild and dangerous, the righteous would often call the Gentiles dogs because they were not disciplined and were often seen as wild and dangerous. But this woman was genuine in her faith and responded with great wisdom and discernment. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She may not be part of the community of the faithful but she still has faith. She knows that due to her heritage she will never be accepted as part of the community, yet her heart is not profane. Out of her mouth pours the spirit behind all the law.
Israel was not chosen because they were great, they were chosen because they were common. They were not set apart because they were better, but because they were profane. They were chosen because they had nothing in themselves that would be perceived as greatness outside of the fact that they had faith that their God would and could provide for their needs. They were called not to be set aside, but to be the light of the nations. To be the light of the nations you must step out into the darkness carrying that light with you.
Our culture is on the crest of a new era. Our culture is advancing rapidly in areas of technology but this does not change our mission. Those that are with God are still called to bring light. We are still called to feed the hungry, care for those that cannot take care of themselves and to share the Gospel of the Kingdom of God being near. I asked earlier to consider a question, Is our culture in the worst decline in centuries or are we advancing into the greatest era of Christian history? Again our answer to this question will greatly effect our ministry. If we claim that our culture is in the worst decline in centuries we will isolate ourselves from the outside, deem everything around us as being profaine and we will justify actions that go against the advancement of the Kingdom of God. If we claim that we are advancing into the greatest era of Christian history we will engage the culture around us and speak to those people that are often considered profane. But really that question can be simplified into something else, “do we believe that God can and will provide for what he calls us to do?” If we believe let us step out entrusting our future into his hands and like this Cannonite woman let us have faith that even the crumbs that fall from the table can be used to change the world around us.
Matthew 14:22–33 (NRSV)
Jesus Walks on the Water
(Mk 6:45–52; Jn 6:15–21)
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
This has been a whirl wind of a week for many of us. For some the primary elections were adding stress to our lives, not just for those running but the issues that were included for many to consider. Then we hear the stories around the world: War in Israel, War in Ukraine, War in Iraq, Iraq extremist bringing a new reality of persecution into the minds of Christians, and our nation flirting with the concept of entering into a new Cold War with Russia. It is about enough to make anyone question the point of everything, because if you were to just watch the news you would think the world was on the verge of collapse. But we forget that that is the point of the news, they want to break the latest big news story and the one to be the first to break the news of the collapse of the world is the one that wins.
Truth in most cases has taken a back seat to perception. Ideas are planted in our minds and then those ideas are being constantly fed by endless cycles of ideas working us all into a frenzy. To be honest it has been extremely difficult for me personally to not get caught up in the frenzy of the day. I read stories on the internet that break my heart for the people of Iraq as their nation and communities that have been in existence for a millennia have been destroyed by people claiming to be the hand of God. It works me into a near state of rage when I hear what has been done to the women and children. The inhumanity of it all actually puzzles me. What could cause a person to treat another as if they were garbage? Then I had to step back and consider myself and my own attitudes for a bit. What is my response? Am I calling out for vengeance? And could I participate in something nudging the line of inhumanity?
I bring this up because I feel that often we get caught up in this whirlwind of media and we often forget that there are real humans on the other side of the controversy. Humans that are caught in their own whirlwinds of trouble that are not the same as ours but just as real to them.
Life is filled with troubles and whirlwinds. That is why this scene in the gospel message is so important. Just after the greatest miracle the disciples had ever seen Jesus send them out on the boat, and a storm begins to rage around them. I want us to first think of this scene as we reflect of this passage. The waves are crashing over the edge of the boat, the disciple are bailing water out as fast as it comes in with the constant threat of everything ending at any moment as they are trying to pull the oars through the water to bring them to safety. Their very lives are at risk and where is Jesus?
Can you identify with these disciples? Their promised messiah was supposed to come in and take away all their troubles. Reestablish them as a great nation, a nation flowing with milk and honey so they would not have to struggle and toil. They had eaten manna from heaven coming from the hands of their teacher and friend. Yet the waves are crashing in, they are soaked and their muscles and bones ache from the wind chilled air. They looked into the face of their salvation and now they stare into the face of death.
How often do we feel like we are on that boat? Feeling like everything we have worked and hoped for is on the brink of destruction and we ask ourselves, where is Jesus? Where is Jesus, when the world all around us seems to be falling apart? Where is Jesus when children are being killed and displaced by a war they know nothing about? Where is Jesus when nations are being ripped apart by political ideology and the people they claim to protect are being left to fend for themselves? Where is Jesus when your health dwindles and your finances are shot? The waves of life crash all around us threatening to engulf us as we struggle to make it to shore.
Where is Jesus? I imagine the disciples crying this very question out to the howling winds. Where is Jesus? The very question so many today scream out in desperation. Jesus sent these guys out into that storm, while he dismissed the crowd and went to the mountaintop to pray. Jesus sent them out onto the sea to face the storm, He sent them out there to struggle. I want you to think about that for just a moment, Jesus did not remove them from the struggle.
Now let us go to the mountain with Jesus. Jesus had just performed a miracle that would get people talking. Five thousand families just ate a meal that began as a ration for a single individual, those that were in the crowd had an idea of the future beginning to form in their minds. Their troubles were going to be over they might think. God was going to provide for their every need. Imagine the excitement, imagine the struggle Jesus must have had dismissing that crowd. Also remember that Jesus is still mourning the loss of his cousin, which is why he was in this particular place to begin with. Jesus was emotionally and spiritually drained, but He knew what he needed.
There are always going to be struggles threatening our well-being, how we respond to those struggles are what makes the biggest difference. Jesus had a rhythm to his life that we can recognize as we walk with him and his disciple through the pages of scripture. Jesus made it his custom to worship in the synagogue, he took time to praise and encourage the faithful in the worship of the one God. He also would withdraw to an isolated place to pray, spending time in a deeper more intimate setting where He could commune with His Father. He would then go out into the community to minister to the needs of the people, healing the sick and encouraging the marginalized of the culture that they were not forgotten by God. This rhythm of life, this life of discipline that Jesus shares with us is one that will give us strengthen in the storms of life, it will give us direction, and allows God to walk with us.
The disciples are struggling in the midst of the storm and where is Jesus? Jesus is participating in a holy lifestyle of constant communion with God. The disciples are struggling through in their own strength while Jesus calmly walks in confidence with God. The disciples are living in fear and self-preservation where Jesus is focused on the rhythm of life. Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and loving and ministering to others.
The disciples are rowing for their lives as the wind is tossing them around the sea and Jesus calmly walks out to them. They scream in fear that death himself was walking to take them to their final resting place. Jesus calls out to them to, “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Easy, right, just not be afraid as the waves are crashing all around you and someone is walking on water. This is an interesting image though. Waves crashing and Jesus calmly walking through the turmoil. Peter cries out to him, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Imagine the faith in that statement. Jesus grants Peter the command and Peter gets out of the boat. Imagine the confusion as the others watch this event unfold before them.
Peter with his eyes on Jesus walks out to him. The storm rages on but Peter walks. But the winds pick up and distract Peter from Jesus. His eyes once again move to the world and the chaos around him and he begins to sink. He takes a step, the wind picks up, the next step he descends a bit into the water but he takes another step as he looks around and again his foot goes deeper and deeper, slowly as he walks he descends until he is nearly under the raging surf and he cries out, “Lord Save ME!” The passage implies that he did not quickly sink but slowly, as his eyes were more and more distracted from Jesus he sank deeper.
Lord save me, Peter cries. He cries out because even in his lack of faith he knows that Jesus stands firm where others fail. Peter knows that Jesus has the strength and power to reach him before the waves overtake him. But still he doubted. He doubted that He could do what Jesus called him to do. He saw the waves around him raging on, and he doubted that if he was called to walk on the water that Jesus would provide the power for him to do so. But in the doubt he still believed that Jesus could provide the help he needed. Jesus reach out and caught Peter’s hand and they made it safely to the boat and the storm was silenced.
Do we doubt that Jesus is able to provide the strength and power necessary for us to do what we are called to do? Do we doubt that Jesus is able to provide for us even though the storms rage all around us? Do we allow ourselves to be distracted by the waves instead of keeping our focus on Jesus? I so often sink beneath the waves. This is why it is so important to participate in meetings for worship. Because it is in worship that we are reminded and can help each other stay focused on the one that can accomplish through us what we are called to do. Worship is our time to encourage one another to look past the waves and whirlwinds of life and stay focused on the one that calms the raging seas. When we neglect meetings for worship we begin to sink, each step we take we slowly step deeper into the sea, deeper until we are nearly overtaken by the waves.
Worship encourages us, but prayer deepens our faith. It is in prayer that we converse with the divine and develop a relationship with the God who loves us. It is in the moments of prayer that we are inspired to take the step out of the boat into the chaotic world around us. It is in prayer that we learn and experience the grace and salvation of Christ, knowing that His hand will grab hold of ours when we need help.
And it is in ministry where we live the love of Christ with others. It is in our ministry where we become Jesus’ hands and feet for others. Lifting them out of the waves and into the calmness of the kingdom of heaven.
We often get distracted by the chaos around us. The politics of our nation distracts our attention from our callings to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a world drowning in sin. The wars raging on our planet cause us to forget that Christ is the prince of peace. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ, to become the instruments to bring the will of God on earth as it is in heaven. This is the full gospel, that God is all around here today as he will be tomorrow, and God lives in and through the lives of those that participate in that holy rhythm. It is through this rhythm that the miraculous happens, and we are able to see beyond the waves into the very eyes of God.
As we enter this time of holy expectancy, as we enter a time of communion and prayer with each other and God, let us imagine this seen through the eyes of the disciples as they struggle against the raging storm. Then let us look at the waves through the eyes of Jesus. What are the distractions that we have around us keeping us from experiencing the calm that Jesus wants for us? Let us look beyond those waves and step out of the boat and into the hand of Christ, who came to show us and give us Life more abundantly even as the chaotic storms rage around us. Let us become the people He has called us to be, a people Loving God, Embracing the holy spirit, and living the Love of Christ with Others. And let us become the hands and feet of Jesus that are willing to reach into the waves to pull friends to safety.