Sunday, October 12, 2008

Peter gets cold feet

The Bible passage for the evening

"Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”" Matthew 14.22-33

I got two of the young people to precede my sermon with the sketch from Eh Peter, Yes Jesus series from Iona

The passage from the gospel we heard has a lot to say about faith: About Jesus’ faith, about Jesus’ faith in Peter, about Peter’s faith in Jesus, about Peter’s faith in himself and at the conclusion of the passage about the disciples’ faith in who Jesus was.

We’re often so excited about the movie moment of Jesus walking on water that we miss what happens at the beginning of this passage. Jesus goes off on his own for some quiet on the mountainside to pray. Not he goes to a huge gathering of people where there’s the best worship band ever or the greatest gospel choir or cathedral choir. He goes off ALONE and spends time with God. This is Jesus we’re talking about. Perhaps you’d think he didn’t need to do that. I mean – he’s the Son of God isn’t he. He’s part of the trinity. He’s surely got it figured? Exactly that. He HAS got it figured. He KNOWS that he needs to pray. Jesus knows what he is there to do. He is there to show God’s light in what has become a rather dark world. He knows he has to offer himself up to death and he knows he needs to keep praying to be able to do that. He has faith in God but not by some magical or “just add water” kind of a way. His faith in God is something he has to work on. It’s not an automatic thing that BOOM you’ve got it and it stays that way forever. He tries to teach the disciples that by his own retreats into prayer at key moments. At his time of greatest doubt in Gethsemane he has asked his disciples to be there with him but they fall asleep. It’s the same for us. Even the most righteous of Christians cannot maintain their faith without turning to God in prayer and it’s not big and glamourous. Tim Hughes might stand up in the front at Soul Survivor and play the greatest most vibrant prayerful worship songs that make hundreds of people feel alive in the spirit but he doesn’t do it fuelled by that experience alone. He spends time in solitude and prayer.

How about the other faith we see in this passage? Jesus has great faith that Peter will come out to him. Now if you know Peter’s record in the Bible events before and after this and Jesus knows Peter. You’ll know that he’s not the most faithful guy. He’s the one who denies even knowing Jesus. He’s the one who when Jesus says I will wash your feet loudly declares he’ll do no such thing. Yet he’s also the one who leaves everything when Jesus says follow me, who declares that Jesus is the messiah when Jesus asks who people says he is, the only one of the disciples who follows Jesus when he’s arrested the one who goes to the tomb on Easter Sunday, the one who preaches at Pentecost. The foundation of the church. The rock.

Unfortunately for peter, in this passage he lives up to that name a little too quickly and sinks.But wait. He doesn’t sink at first. He DOES walk on the water. He DOES IT. Then what happens? Does God take away something he’s given? Does Jesus look away? No it’s Peter who loses faith and no longer stands on the water but in it! The good news though is that Jesus is there and pulls him back up again and Peter doesn’t lose faith in Jesus, he loses face a little perhaps but he still follows in awe of his great teacher

Sometimes it feels like that for us. We step out in faith in something God has called us to do and then something strikes us. Some doubt creeps in. Not a lack of faith in God perhaps but a lack of faith in ourselves. Do you have those times too? When we’ve followed God into something and suddenly you get cold feet. Just like the waters rising above your ankles as it did for Peter. It’s at that point that we need to turn to Jesus, walking towards us across that water. To trust in ourselves and his faith in us, even if our faith in ourselves is in doubt. It’s also a time we can look to Christians around us and ask for support.

I know when we were organising Rock the Cathedral last month there was a time when I really began to doubt. We had been hoping for 300 people and we’d only sold 30 tickets with a few weeks to go. Yet I stuck it out and handed it over to God. I worried about it of course. The young people seemed sure it would work out. Their faith was pretty incredible. I’m sure it’s the same for Stu here as we get nearer to Alternate but I also know that he’s got you guys supporting him and praying for him as that event approaches. I’m sure, just like the young people on the diocesan youth council, the young people here don’t worry that people won’t come. I reckon your faith is pretty strong and you know you’re going to bring loads of your friends to what will be an awesome weekend. Just like Jesus walking on water which was a pretty amazing thing, it takes that preparation of prayer beforehand before you can have something as amazing as alternate. Peter waling on water was pretty miraculous but one of your mates from School coming to alternate and GETTING it, finding their faith. How amazing would that be?

God doesn’t give us faith on its own. It comes as part of a package. A 3 for the price of two deal. Faith comes together with Hope and Love. Jesus showed that three part gift when he invites Peter to come to him. He hopes in him and Peter clearly hopes he can do it too. They both show faith, though Jesus a little more clearly perhaps and when Peter fails, Jesus shows him the greatest part that of love.

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