Saturday, July 28, 2007
In the small hours Jesus went out to them, walking on the water of the lake. When the disciples caught sight of him walking on the water they were terrified. 'It's a ghost!' they said, and screamed with fear. But at once Jesus spoke to them. 'It's all right! It's myself, don't be afraid!' 'Lord, if it's really you,' said Peter, 'tell me to come to you on the water.' 'Come on, then,' replied Jesus. Peter stepped down from the boat and did walk on the water, making for Jesus. But when he saw the fury of the wind he panicked and began to sink, calling out, 'Lord save me!' At once Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying, 'You little-faith! What made you lose your nerve like that?'
'If you can do anything, please take pity on us and help us.' 'If you can do anything!' retorted Jesus. 'Everything is possible to the one who believes.' 'I do believe,' the boy's father burst out. 'Help me to believe more!'
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered, 'Your Majesty, we will not try to defend ourselves. If the God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power, then he will. But even if he doesn't, Your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up.'
(Matthew 14: 25-31, Phillips; Mark 9: 23-24, Phillips; Daniel 3: 16-18, GNB)
It must have been painful for Peter to be reminded of the times when he goofed!
In fact it is one of the subtle miracles of the New Testament, that the stories of Peter's failure became incorporated in the Gospel accounts. Surely they should have been edited out! At the time of the compilation of Matthew's Gospel, Peter had been a respected figure in the church. He had a reputation for strong leadership. The flocks looked to him for pastoral wisdom. He was a rock on which Christian communities depended for stability.
In Matthew 14 we have the embarrassing story of Peter climbing out of the boat with holy bravado, then sinking in the waters of his panic. It's all so unbecoming!
Certainly the story would have been encouraging to the young churches experiencing the first fierce winds of persecution. The account reminded them that in the midst of such storms the Lord Christ would come to them through the storm. He was never far away even though his people may have felt alone and unprotected.
It was so typically impulsive of Peter: 'Lord, let me come to you on the water.' It was bold, rash and enthusiastic. If he'd thought a moment more he may have stayed in the boat. But Jesus' coming to them made him feel confident. A kind of brash faith.
It was not the kind of thing we would do... surely! We'd need to weigh it up carefully, taking soundings, put it to the vote, call for a feasibility study, test the idea in controlled conditions!
But Peter failed. Spectacularly. His confidence could not keep him afloat. And with wise theological hindsight we nod our heads and damn him for lack of trust. It was foolhardy anyhow, we tell him.
The feeling is familiar. We've dreamed of making a mark for God. Our ardour for his kingdom encouraged us to take bold steps for him. But then we lost our nerve and the initiative failed.
So, once bitten, next time we are more careful. And we become tentative, a little less enthusiastic about the kingdom. Our love becomes tepid. We begin to feel that we are not quite as keen to do anything our Lord may want us to do. Perhaps almost anything... given the right situation and if the project seems viable. We cool off. We become formal. Our Christianity loses its sense of adventure. It's not safe outside the boat, you see.
Good for you, Peter. You had a go. You failed, that's true. So what? At least you got out of the boat!
I find that your will knows no end in me. And when old words die out on the tongue new melodies break forth from the heart.
Keep your feet on the ground, but let your heart soar as high as it will. Refuse to be average or to surrender to the chill of your spiritual environment.
A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous
He was a gambler, too... And, sitting down, they watched him there, The soldiers did; There, while they played with dice, He made his sacrifice, And died upon the cross to rid God's world of sin. He was a gambler, too, my Christ, He took his Life and threw It for the world redeemed. And ere his agony was done, Before the westering sun went down, Crowning that day with its crimson crown, He knew that he had won.
G.A. Studdart Kennedy, The Unutterable Beauty
Nothing before, nothing behind; The steps of faith Fall on the seeming void, and find The rock beneath.
John Greenleaf Whittier
Not daring to care, Not caring to share; Not seeing a want, Not wanting to know; Not trying to think, Not thinking to try; Not hearing a cry, Not crying for change; Not living a hope, Never hoping to live. ... Dare to Live!
On the earlier occasion of storm on the lake, Jesus had been with them in the ship. Now he withdraws, as though to teach them to battle alone and to rely upon an aid they could not see; he sends them into the tumult and darkness without his visible presence. God often does this. It is his will that we should grow to spiritual maturity and trust where we cannot see. Too often in such situations of testing, past lessons are forgotten, and fear banishes faith. But God is always in the shadows, keeping watch over his own. We have only to cry out and he is by our side.
E.M. Blaiklock, Bible Characters and Doctrines
Risk means the refusal to be shaped by the world as it is. It is a refusal to be cowed by tradition, realism, 'the facts' or social pressure. It is an act of freedom and a breaking of bondage. It is an insistence on reopening situations that appear closed, on following a third alternative when only two seem to be available... Maybe the situation is closed. But maybe not! If God himself can enter human history in Jesus Christ, if God can carry out the Great Miracle, the resurrection from the dead, then anything is possible.
David W. Gill, Peter the Rock
If someone had come up to Jesus when he was on the cross and asked him if he hurt, he might have answered, like the man in the old joke, 'Only when I laugh.' But he wouldn't have been joking. Faith dies, as it lives, laughing.
Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you're going but going anyway. A journey without maps.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking
Life opens up. Instead of the stuffy, ponderous life of Ur in the Chaldees -- rich, oppressive, monotonous -- there is a wind-blown life in the austere desert, a place that is empty of human achievement, but full of opportunity to respond to the great invisibles of grace and love and hope. Life becomes adventure, growth, exploration, faith.
Abraham was the person for whom the invisible was more real than the visible. What God said to him was more important than what others said about him. He chose to live extravagantly and recklessly by promise rather than cautiously on a guaranteed income from the Chaldean banks. He chose to live the free life.
Eugene Peterson, Travelling Light
Half of the failures in life arise from pulling in one's horse as he is leaping.
Julius and Augustus Hare, Guesses at Truth
It is faith that lifts us up to heaven. It is faith that saves us from the flood tide of fear. It is faith that sets us free from our prisons, extinguishes the burning fire that threatens us, feeds us when we are hungry, raises us from death and makes nobodies into somebodies.
Aphraates of Persis
Those who are free to fail are the most free. Fear of failure inhibits freedom; the freedom to fail encourages it. The life of faith encourages the risk-taking that frequently results in failure, for it encourages human ventures into crisis and the unknown. When we are in situations where we are untested (like Peter at the arrest of Jesus) or unaccustomed (like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration), we are sometimes going to fail, sometimes ignominiously. These failures, though, are never disasters because they become the means by which we realise new depths of our humanity and new vistas of divine grace.
Eugene Peterson, Travelling Light
Nothing ventured, Nothing gained.
Have faith. The faith that uproots trees, moves mountains, calms the sea, extinguishes fire, heals the sick, raises the dead. Have faith. Live selflessly while others are trying to profit from everything. Be poor, while others are thinking only about increasing their wealth. Work, while others are neglecting their duties. Serve the people, while others are just wanting to be served. Be charitable, while others are thinking only about themselves. Stay in the shadow, while others are striving to glitter in the limelight. Have faith.
May we live our lives conscious of our past and true to our heritage, keeping ablaze the fires our prophets lit. May we, like our fathers, still stand out against the multitude, protesting with all our might against its follies and its fears. May a divine discontent give colour to our dreams, and a passion for holy heresy set the tone of our thoughts. May the soul of the rebel still throb in us as it throbbed in our forefathers that, refusing to be silenced, we may take the part of those without a voice. And may our ultimate loyalty be only to you, that we may never surrender to the threat of falsehood, or capitulate to the idols, caesars and powers of this world.
Terry Falla, Be our Freedom Lord
Save me Lord, I'm sinking! I'm sinking... in trivia and detail in soft and safe options in church politics in shuffling papers in the avoidance of bold decisions in familiar well-worn things by meeting people's expectations by keeping machinery oiled by doing what is normal and predictable by propping things up that have outlived their usefulness. I don't think I can tread water much longer.
Let me know you will catch me and pull me out. Help me to really believe you are there, your arm still strong to save.
Lord Jesus, I feel safe in the boat. Especially when the wind is blowing so hard. I enjoy the fellowship; it's so supportive.
But I feel compelled to ask whether there's something new you want me to do. I'm rather hoping you'll be willing to leave me where I am and as I am. But maybe there is something more.
You know I love you. I've told you so. Do you really want me to show you?
If you need to shake me from complacency and half-hearted devotion, I'm willing for that. Help me to climb out and walk to you.
Take a step today. Not too many. Enough to know you're heading in the right direction. Keep your eyes on Jesus.
May the Lord reassure you that he is there with you. And even if you fail, be encouraged that he is strong enough to hold you.
Place your confidence in him.
Rowland Croucher, ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys (Albatross/Lion) chapter 50