Sunday 9th August

Walking on the water

Opening words Romans 10:8-10

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”[a] that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Prayers

Jesus said: ‘Take courage, it is I. Don’t be afraid.’

Our God is a powerful God,

who does things way beyond our understanding.

But we have no need to fear,

for we know we are safe in God’s presence.

Let us come to our God now.

Let us bow down and worship.

Lord, sometimes life following you can be difficult.

We find so many dilemmas and struggle so much,

wishing it could be easier.

We so want to trust you and see your plan for us.

Help us this morning to relax into your presence,

to clearly hear your word and be prepared to act on it.

In Jesus’ name.

As we approach you today, Lord,

we probably feel pretty much like Peter –

full of bravado to begin with,

but then just not quite so certain of ourselves.

We come to you, Jesus,

trusting that even if we feel ourselves

beginning to sink under the pressures that we face,

we know you are still there holding us up.

Please reassure us that you won’t let go,

no matter how we feel.

Thank you, Lord.

Lord’s Prayer

Bible Readings:

1 Kings 19.9-18 Psalm 85.8-13 Romans 10.5-15 Matthew 14.22-33

Comments on Bible Readings:

Last week we looked at the feeding of the 5000 and this story follows on from this event. So Jesus having fed the crowds aske the disciples to leave Him along and so they went into the boat, note the word immediately He asked them. Now was His time to be alone, He had waited for this for so long. Jesus then went up the mountain to be with God and spend some time alone with him. Jesus, like Moses, goes alone to be with God on the mountain. The Old Testament reading emphasises the parallel with Elijah, who feels that his life is under threat – as Jesus must have done after the death of John the Baptist. Elijah feels that he isn’t known and understood, and after his experience at Nazareth (Matthew 13.54-58) Jesus must feel the same. However, we hear little about Jesus’

personal need as instead He is called to rescue his disciples (again)

The disciples who were out in the boat had now got themselves into a problem, a storm had arisen and however experienced they were, this storm had suddenly come across them and they were unprepared and afraid. Jesus saw all of this from His mountaintop position. So it is that Jesus goes to help them, just as He will come and help us too when we call to Him.

Matthew constructs the story in ways that make this appear like a post-resurrection event. The disciples think Jesus is a ghost, they are afraid, Peter reaches out and touches Jesus’ hand, and the disciples say, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’ These details, post-resurrection or not, emphasise Jesus’ divinity.

Peter at least gets out of the boat to be with Jesus, sometimes we have to step out in faith. If we only ever stay in the boat we will never see the miracles that Jesus can perform. We will never understand how He can hold us up if we don’t allow Him to. Jesus is still asking us to come to Him, but do we have the courage to step out in faith? To leave the security of our dry land and move into the waters. If we take our eyes from Jesus then we will drown, it will all be too much for us, but if we hold His hand and look into His eyes we will remain above the water. Peter, by getting out of the boat, shows that he is willing to leave behind his old life and its safety, to follow Jesus. However, he still and always seems to find faith a struggle, this should encourage us, that the rock, he person the church was built upon struggled with his faith. It is OK for us to struggle with our faith at times. It is those struggles that strengthen us.

Peter has doubts, but he is often considered (on the basis of his role in Acts) to be the greatest of ‘the twelve’. Does his question to Jesus help us to go on in faith despite our own doubts? His getting out of the boat is as symbolic as his leaving the life of a fisherman and going to become a disciple of Jesus. He leaves security behind. Can we? If we are always careful to stay within our comfort zone, do we avoid stepping out in faith?

While Jesus’ stilling of the storm is miraculous, Matthew adds to the drama by including this account of how Peter is saved from drowning. Is this one more instance of Peter telling a story of his failings against himself, to emphasise how much his salvation relies utterly on Jesus? He does nothing in his own strength but constantly needs to be rescued. His conversion isn’t a single event: Peter is ‘saved’ again and again in the Gospels and in Acts.

Could it be that Jesus seemed to set up this scene to test the disciples’ faith? And there’s something encouraging in this: if the disciples had doubts, it suggests that we’re allowed to as well. And they are all changed as Jesus meets them in their doubt, fear and discomfort. We too are changed as we meet Jesus in all our fears and doubts.

An exploration of Jesus’ possible tone of voice may be helpful. How does he say ‘Come’ in verse 29? Is it an invitation or an order? I always assume it is an invitation, for Jesus does not order He allows us free choices. His ‘come’ would be spoken in quiet tones, encouraging Peter to turn to Him, that is how He speaks to us, encouraging us to ‘Come to Him’. How does he say, ‘Why did you doubt?’ Is it a rebuke, or does he take delight in the lesson he has taught? I assume it would be a to allow Peter to think and learn from the experience, just like a teacher, what did you learn from that? If the students come up with the answer then they will have learnt. Our walk with Jesus and our discipleship is a continuous process of learning. We learn from each experience and the more we learn, the greater will be our understanding of just how much God in Jesus will be there for us. He will never leave us or forsake us.

The Early Church, especially in Rome, faced persecution at the time that the Gospels were being written, and these stories of a hostile sea, the danger of perishing, and indeed, Peter drowning, would strengthen the resolve of the Christian community.

In this story, something is also revealed about Jesus’ identity. Verse 27 Jesus says ‘It is I’ they are the same words (in Greek) that God uses to describe himself in the Old Testament. Yahweh – ‘it is I’ This is very important for Mathew who is writing to the Jews and is hinting that something about Jesus’ identity is beyond human, this Jesus is God. So, at the end of this passage, the disciples declare that Jesus is the Son of God.

Both Elijah – in the Book of 1 Kings – and Peter struggle to maintain their faith in God despite having seen God perform amazing deeds in front of their eyes. All three passages challenge us to consider whether we find it easy to hear what God says – and believe in it. The challenge for us is to take that risk of faith, and ‘step out of the boat’.

Sometimes we feel that life is out of our control, out in the vast deep blue, miles from land, we are faced with the reality that life is beyond our control. How do we find the courage to continue after a world pandemic like Covid, or a man-made disaster like the terrible explosion in Beirut this week? Sometimes all we can do is take a leap of faith. But then maybe, like Peter, we panic when we find ourselves in at the deep end! Sailors will call on the RNLI to come to our aid; as Christians we can call on God, and each other. Who do you turn to when you need rescuing? How can you encourage each other to hold on to hope and keep faith, when you find yourselves in at the deep end?

This week I along with Susan, Jackie, Rachel, Carol and Hollie ran a holiday club for 16 children (this was the maximum number allowed) of ages 5-8, we stepped out in faith and we all had a really good week. The children came back everyday and had responded well to the stories and the teachings we told them. They all made things each day and took them home. We went to Stokes S