Thursday, 4 August 2011

If it is you...

Notes so far for the sermon. If it feels unfinished, it's because it is. I just stopped & I'm not sure where I'm going for the last part - but I quite like this 'If it is you' theme & might rework the whole sermon to make more of it: or just tag a bit on the end - who knows?


Last week’s gospel passage told the story of the feeding of the five thousand. This week’s passage begins with Jesus sending the disciples back across the lake while he dismisses the crowd and spends time alone in prayer. And then, in the depth of the night, as the disciples struggle against a head wind, the most amazing thing happens – Jesus walks across the lake towards them.
I am not surprised the disciples were terrified – wouldn’t you be?
The storm is wild, the night is dark, they just want to get to land. And through the dark and the storm comes a figure …walking on the sea. What??

Maybe they had already lamented the fact that Jesus wasn’t with them when the storm started – after all Jesus had already shown them on another occasion that he had the power to still the storm. But the last thing they expected was for Jesus to come and join them in the boat by walking on the water. This is not normal – maybe it is even an evil spirit or something – a sign that something awful is going to happen to them.

And then the figure speaks – it IS Jesus, and he tells them not to be afraid. Hearts start to beat a little more normally, and maybe if Jesus is there he will sort the storm out for them, too.

And then Peter does a very strange thing. Peter calls out 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water'.
Is Peter genuinely unsure that it is Jesus? But then surely a more natural thing to say would have been 'if it is you come into the boat with us'.
Or is Peter sure now that it is Jesus & is he trying to gain 'top disciple' standing by doing what Jesus does? What is Peter doing?

I can't help comparing this with John's account of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus on the beach. Remember? After the death & first resurrection appearances of Jesus, the disciples go fishing, and then spot a figure on the beach. John says “it is the Lord” & again it is Peter who is first out of the boat - this time to swim to shore while the others bring the boat in.

Maybe Peter is just impetuous and can’t wait to be with his Lord – putting his friends, the other fishermen, and even the safety of the boat itself to one side in his eagerness to join Jesus.

“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you”. You have to admire Peter’s loyalty and reckless abandon!
And at first it works: he, too, walks on the water. Then he notices the storm – the high wind, the huge waves – and he is afraid and starts to sink. Peter cries out “Lord, save me!” and Jesus reaches out and catches him and together they get into the boat. Then the oart that perhaps we all remember. Jesus says to peter “Why did you doubt? Oh you of little faith”.

We all like Peter because he is fallible, like us.
In fact only Matthew’s gospel includes this part about Peter in this story – and one suggestion is that Matthew puts Peter there to stand for every disciple of Jesus.

Peter is each one of us.
So what does this story tell us about our following of Jesus? Our faith, our doubt? Our need to call out "Lord, save me!"...
Maybe Peter’s question to Jesus becomes a question to each one of us ‘if it is you..’
If it is you in this story, how are you getting on with following Jesus. If it is you, are you prepared to get out of the security of the boat and risk the storm? If it is you, dare you trust Jesus to help you? If it is you, what do you do when you feel you are sinking?

Here’s good news. The identity of the disciples in this story may be interchangeable – it could be Peter, it could be me, it could be you. But the identity of the one who can help us all is the same. It is Jesus who comes to us when the storm is at its height. It is Jesus who can give us the power to follow him onto the water’s surface. And it is Jesus who will catch us when we fail.

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