The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - August 13, 2017
Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:22-33 
Sermon Title: Walking on Water

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     The story we read this morning comes right after Jesus feeding the 5,000, plus women and children, which we read last week.  Sometimes transitions in the Bible are not very smooth, and this is one of those.  Just before Jesus feeds the 5,000, Jesus finds out that his friend John the Baptist was beheaded.  So Jesus goes off, probably pretty upset at this news, but the crowds follow him.  Then Jesus feeds over 5,000 people, they collect up baskets of food left over.  Without a break, immediately the Bible says, Jesus tells his disciples to get into the boat and go ahead of him while he dismisses the crowd.  Remember, before they ate this meal, it was getting late, the disciples had already suggested to Jesus that he send the crowds away.  So now Jesus immediately sends the disciples away, and dismisses over 5,000 people.  Despite the fact that it is now probably really late the crowd leaves and Jesus goes to pray. 

     Later that night the disciples are making progress, slowly.  A storm has blown up. Although they had been working at rowing all night, they were not too far off from shore.  And just before dawn, there is a figure walking on this rough sea toward the boat.  The disciples were understandably disturbed, thinking it was a ghost or something.  And Jesus says “Hey, don’t worry guys, just me.”  Or something along those lines.  Peter, Oh, Peter, cannot accept Jesus walking on the water.  Hey Jesus, if it is really you, tell me to walk on the water also.  Jesus says “Come.” 

     Now I don’t follow Peter’s logic here.  Say it is not Jesus, but some ghost or something.  Already heard this vision talking to them, what does Peter expect Jesus or this ghost to say.  “Peter, sit down, you’re rocking the boat, stay there, I am on my way.”  No, I think that Jesus, or anything else that might be walking on water and speaking to them at dawn, would probably suggest that Peter come out of the boat.  But this did take a lot of courage, you are stepping out of the boat onto the water.

     Peter does step out, and it is working, he is walking on water, until he isn’t.  Those are some pretty big waves, rough seas, and here I am standing on top of the water.  And below me, sea, lots of really deep water, and if I don’t keep walking on top of the water, I am going to sink and drown, and die.  It is when the doubt comes in that Peter starts to sink.  Jesus grabs him, puts him back in the boat, gets in the boat, the waves die down and they row on their way. 

     When I started to do my research this week for this sermon I found an article that suggested this was a really easy scripture to preach on.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, don’t worry about the seas around you, just keep focused on Jesus and everything will be OK.  Give your troubles over to God.  You have heard that sermon before I would guess.  And honestly it is not a bad thing for a minister to say.  We can all use the reminder to keep our eyes on Jesus, keep our focus on Jesus and it will all be OK.

     As a minister, I can give this advice, as a human being, I find it much harder to live that way.  I find little use in sermons that do not challenge me to think or give me a new way to look at something.  If the roles were reversed, I was sitting in a pew and someone else was talking, I would agree 100% with keeping your eyes on Jesus, and I might remember that sermon until Sunday afternoon. 

     You see, it is easy to express good advice in words.  Eat your 6 servings of vegetables a day, eat your 10 servings of grain a day, eat your one serving of oil and one serving of sweets a day.  I think with the new food pyramid that is about what is suggested.  My doctor always has good suggestions for me.  My dentist has suggested that I stop drinking coffee.  Good advice, but not going to happen.  Families are sometimes worse than doctors and dentists, parents have advice for their children, then they start to get older and suddenly the children have advice for the parents.  Spouses always have advice for the other.  We are faced with advice everywhere we turn.  Have you been in a car lately?  Those speed limit signs, we can call them laws, but really they are advice for the maximum speed you should drive.  If you ignore that advice, you are more likely to get into an accident, or more likely to be stopped by the police.  I just bought a new washing machine last week, the first advice was suggested on the outside of the box.  Two people should work as a team to lift this box.  And then I did glance over the instructions.  Not too close, I am a guy, real guys don’t use instructions to put things together or install things.  But first page was a whole list of advice. 

     Being bombarded by advice everywhere you turn, the last thing you need is more good advice when you come to church.  Even the best advice, keep your eyes on Jesus, will not stick with you after you leave the building. 

     A few years ago I got to try rock climbing.  I was at a camp, and we had well established routes.  At the top of the face we had anchors so we would put out safety lines through the anchors and drop them down.  Where I was climbing there were two routes up, easy and harder.  Those who had climbed them many times knew where the handholds were, where you could put your feet, and they would give you advice as you went up when you got stuck.  If you reach up with your left hand you will find a little spot you can hold onto while you move your foot over to that crack over to your right. 

     Have you ever tried Yoga or played Twister?  It was that, on a vertical surface.  No, I am sorry, my arm does not go that way.  Oh, yes, I was on the easier route.  I think the climb was about 40 feet, maybe a bit more, and I made it about 10 feet.  I got to the point where you let go with one hand and one leg, and kind of jump up to the next handhold, then you can get your other foot situated.

     Have I mentioned that I don’t like heights?  Does not really matter if it is 10 feet or 50 feet, there are rocks at the bottom.  Big rocks that would really hurt you if you fell on them.  I had a helmet, I had a safety rope, I got ready, took a deep breath and jumped.  Nope, didn’t make it.  There was a moment of panic, I am falling, then I stopped.  The fall was only about 6 inches, the person belaying knew that you really needed to let go and jump.  You have to commit yourself, and he suspected I was nervous and would not commit totally.  He was not going to let me fall.  He had enough slack in the rope to allow me to move, but kept it tight so I would not fall more than a few inches. 

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.  It was a guy named Pieter who was belaying me, it was not Jesus who saved my life that day.  And at 10 feet, I probably could have been hurt, but my life was not really in danger.  But in that moment I think I know what the Peter in our story felt like.  I started to fall, started to lose my footing, but rather than falling, the safety rope was pulled tight and I was safe.

     We don’t have to look very far to find things to worry about.  We each have our own fears: jobs, relationships, finances, reputation.  Some of these are physical and others are mental, but they can grip us the same way.  And we are problem solvers.  It is in our nature.  That good advice we often get, sometimes is unsolicited, other times we ask for it.  It is hard for us to sit and listen to someone with a problem and not offer a possible solution. 

     “Turn your problem over to Jesus” is not what we want to hear or the advice that we normally give.  Talk to a lawyer, see a doctor, go talk to the folks at Social Security, go see the town welfare officer.  We want to offer real solutions, things that can make a difference.  How do we solve your worry?  To be honest, there are problems that, when turned over to Jesus will not be solved.  If your house is being repossessed, turning that problem over to Jesus is not going to save your house from being taken away.  It may open up a new opportunity that you had not considered, but may not solve the problem in the way that you anticipated. 

     Unfortunately, even if we can solve one worry, there is another right behind it.  Just flip on the evening news, pick a problem in this country or any other, and you can worry and look for a solution.  Hunger, war, flooding, terrorism… or anything else.  And as a church we do what we can, we collect money for one great hour of sharing and other special offerings, we have made flood buckets, some members have built homes with Habitat for Humanity, we have our food pantry, some members are preparing some meals for the homeless shelter in Keene… These are all good things.  And all of these things can solve a bit of a problem for someone. We should continue to do these things.

     We run, we fix, we problem solve, and yet there are still problems in our world.  Even in that running, that fixing, we forget to hand it over to Jesus, and we fall.  We start to sink.  We forget why we are doing all that we are doing, and we know, no matter how much we do, some will still be hungry, some will still be homeless, some will die tonight. 

     The sea was rough, Peter was doing OK, walking on water, until he started to worry about all the things around him that he could not control.  And he started to sink, and that was when Jesus reached out his hands, pulled Peter up and put him back in the boat.

     While the advice to keep our eyes on Jesus is solid, good advice, I am not going to always take it, and I don’t expect you to always take it.  We try to fix problems, and we can, sometimes, solve at least some problems.  Sometimes we are lucky enough to be able to turn it over to God, but often those problems build up and we start sinking.  That is where God is.  God is the one who reaches out and keeps us from going under the waves.  God is the one who lifts us out of the water, puts us back in the boat, and then calms the stormy seas. 

     Our lives are just like that.  Just as the disciples were immediately sent off after the miracle of the feeding, in our lives we are immediately sent off, often don’t have time to sit and marvel at miracles.  But we are sent back into the boat, back into the stormy waters of life.  This week, when you encounter those rogue waves that threaten to topple over your boat, remember that God is there, God will not let you sink.