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19th sunday in ordinary time

Matthew 14:22-33

Just One Small Step of Faith

Climbing the Towers

Climbing walls and towers come in all different shapes, sizes, and even colors. They can be rather imposing structures standing over 40 feet high with overhangs and protruding bumps and concave dents. Some are designed to master the maneuvers and techniques needed to master the world's tallest peaks. Others are there for the therapeutic value. They are constructed to teach a person how to overcome their fears and build self confidence. These are the types of walls that we used at Eagle Village. Each wall or tower had “routes” of various degrees of difficulty.

Corporations, schools, church groups would participate in one and two day retreats. Group building exercises would build bonds of mutual support and encouragement. Then the individuals would test themselves on the towers. We never forced anyone to do something that they did not want to do but we never let any one “not” participate. Once you arrived on the campus, once you agreed to attend an event, once you put on a helmet, we expected you to do something. That did not mean you had to scale a 40 ft tower. It did not mean you had to balance 20 ft off the ground on one foot. We expected you to in some capacity, step out of your comfort zone.

This one small step would be different for different people. One woman from Flint had great difficulty just putting on a helmet and waist band. During a week long school outing a young man froze on the wall only three feet off the ground. He was not immobilized by a fear of heights. I am sure that he had climbed step ladders that were higher but something happened that day. I spent over an hour helping him to decide what the “one step” beyond his comfort zone would be. After several false starts, he finally took a step up to a block that was just over a foot higher than the one on which he was already standing. Learning to step beyond our comfort zones is an important part of the life of discipleship. Comfort zones may feel safe but they are very limiting. The story of Peter's one small step offers us some valuable insight on how we should face such circumstances.

His Providence and Sovereignty

The story takes place shortly after the most popular of miracles—the feeding of the 5000. I call it the most popular because it is the only miracle story recorded in all four gospels. It is also just before the healing of a man possessed by demons. We have miracles of feeding, walking and healing. Matthew is telling us that Jesus is lord of hunger, nature and sickness. One of the common theme to all three stories is the disciples reluctance. They wanted Jesus to send the people away so that someone else would provide the people with food. Later they had no choice but to accept the people who brought the sick to him for healing. In this passage, Matthew tells us that Jesus “urged” his disciples to get into the boat. This has two possible meanings. First, the fishermen in the group could tell that a storm was coming and did not want to cross the lake without him. This seems very logical. The lives of those men depended on reading weather patterns. The Sea of Galilee was not that big but their boats were quite small and could be easily swamped by a long storm with waves that were just large enough to splash over the sides. Another possibility may have been that Jesus knew the storm was coming and wanted them to experience it out on the lake.

Whatever option you choose, they both speak volumes about the paradox between our theology and our faith. We will glibly speak about the Sovereignty of God but then are so very reluctant to trust his requests. I could understand the hesitation in the woman from Flint. We had never met. We were not friends. The school boy did not know that I would intentionally ask him to do something that would hurt him. Both had reason to mistrust me. In contrast, we who claim to serve a god who works all things together for good, do not have any reason not to trust God. Even if what he asks us to do somehow causes us bodily injury or financial distress, we know that he will use that painful circumstance to advance his will. We call this providence. Ironically we, like the disciples still have to be “urged” to get into the boat.

Our Capacity

The second lesson that I glean from this story is about courage and faith. The story is often times used by motivational speakers as an inspiring example of the importance of courage in our expression of faith. A nationally known pastor even wrote a book using this story entitled, If You Want to Walk on Water You have to Get Out of the Boat.

Over and again this well-known story comes to mean something like the following: Peter had the right idea getting out of the boat and quite literally stepping out on faith. Indeed, in all of our lives, we can see Jesus standing out on the stormy waters of life, bidding us to "Come" unto him. Like Peter, we must heed this invitation, find the courage of faith needed to swing our legs out over the boat's side, and then step out onto the waters. If we do, then we will walk to and with Jesus, trusting him alone to help us do great things for God! 1

We are told by such motivational speakers and preachers to ignore our doubts, to ignore the threatening winds and look past the splashing waves and only see Jesus. Are you sensing God calling you to the mission field? Don't think about the rebel war that is ripping the country apart. Don't think about the dysentery that is killing one in four children under that age of five! Don't think about the AIDS epidemic that is creating a nation of orphans, keep your eyes on Jesus and he will give you the courage to risk it all.

Risk does require courage- and faith requires a high degree of boldness. However, nothing in the story before us tells us that Peter had a particularly high degree of courage. Peter knew how to swim. The boat was only a few feet from him. He was not risking his life by getting his toes wet. What am I suggesting?

Jesus only commanded Peter to do what he believed Peter had the capacity to do. We only asked the woman from Flint to put on the helmet after she told us that she thought she could. We only asked the young boy to step up to the next block after he told us that he thought that he could. Jesus only told Peter to come after Peter had said, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus let Peter define his own terms. Jesus knew that Peter had the capacity to believe that he could walk on the water.

Do you believe that God is calling you to take on a new project? If he is than God believes that you have the capacity to complete that ministry. God has not called you to a ministry that requires more courage than you are capable of showing. He has not called you to a greater sacrifice than you are able to offer.

This is not to imply that we do not have the possibility of failure. Every opportunity always has two outcomes. You may succeed to varying degrees or you may fail. We must learn to live with both options but if God has created you, if God has gifted you, if God has guided you throughout your life than God knows that you are capable of stepping onto the water.

In 1999, a church in Lancaster, California, was at a low point. Attendance had dropped to 50 members, and the congregation was desperate for revitalization. As the church discussed its future, a 92-year-old member stood up and challenged the church to become “mission-minded.”

They believed that Jesus was calling them.

The congregation took a leap of faith and embarked on a mission trip to Southeast Asia in the year 2000. They repeated the trip the following year, then went to Egypt and Southwestern China. To date, some 70 percent of the congregation has been overseas on church-planting trips, and the work has revitalized the church at home. It’s no longer hard to get volunteers for Sunday school and VBS, because the people have been trained and equipped by their mission experiences.

There is also an Episcopal church in Pittsburgh called “Three Nails,” described by one of its founding members as “a cell group thing.” The church doesn’t really exist in any one place, but instead it has six cell groups that meet all over the city. They don’t own a building, but instead they rent a place where they can meet once a month.

Just think: No mortgage, no AC problems, no roof to repair. A church without walls.2

I wonder how they moved from a church building to a church with out walls. Do you think they heard the voice of Jesus?

So if Jesus did not reprimand Peter for his lack of courageous faith why did he scold him? The answer came in Peter's own words, “Lord if it is you...” The question has an eerie ring to it. An adversary once used a similar question on another occasion,

If you are the Son of God, turnl these stones to bread

If you are the Son of God throw yourself down

Matthew has already told us that when Jesus came walking on the water the disciples were terrified because they thought that he was a ghost. To calm them, Jesus said, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” In Greek he actually says “I am.” The same Greek phrase that God used to address Moses in the wilderness at the burning bush. In the midst of a storm, Jesus connects himself to Yahweh who called Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. Jesus reprimands Peter for doubt not fear.

Why did you question me when I told you who I was Peter?

Faith is not about squelching our fears. You can be afraid of the wind. You can be afraid of drowning. You can be afraid of a whole lot of things, just never question who is the One who calls you to faith.

1Scott Hoezee, Walking on Water, Pulling on Oars

2“Blue Ocean Strategy,” HomileticsOnline, Vol. 17, no. 3.

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Walled Lake MI 48390

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