When you go to the beach in the summertime for vacation, one of the things you might do is take a walk down by the ocean. When I walk along in the sand next to the surf and look back towards the shore at the homes lined up next to one another I always marvel at how close they are to the ocean. I know there’s insurance for that, but it just seems very brave that people are willing to build their home that close to the strongest force in nature.
Of course, the Sea of Galilee is not an ocean, it’s not even salt water, and you can see clear across it from East to West, but Peter’s home, where he lived with his family, was built astonishingly close to the water’s edge.
I have stood on the shore and seen the remains of this home with my own eyes, I can tell you that from this house to the water’s edge is a stone’s throw, thrown by a very weak person.
And the location of Peter’s home is astounding because back then, and still today, a storm can come out of nowhere. The sea of galilee is notorious for the skies being blue one moment and the next moment a storm is rolling in with thunder and lightning, leaving fisherman and sport enthusiasts ducking for cover and getting to the side of the lake and to safety as fast as they can.
But Peter’s home, where Jesus gathered, and spent time, and taught, and healed is RIGHT THERE on the shore.
Its rocky foundations still stand as a testament to the fact that Peter and his family were not scared of these storms! You wouldn’t build a house that close to the water’s edge if you were scared of the storms. But they are at home near the water, in the waves, and even in the unpredictable weather.
So after Jesus feeds the thousands of people with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread, and sends the disciples across the lake to begin the mission to the gentiles – people who look, act, think, and worship differently than they do as Hebrews, and he goes to be by himself to pray, a HUGE storm arrives over the lake AS THEY DO, and this little boat of disciples is being battered by the waves. And they are terrified.
But they are NOT terrified of the storm. They are scared of something much more terrifying. They are afraid because they see a flesh and blood man walking toward them on the sea.
If you and I had been on that boat holding on for dear life, I wonder how we would react. My guess is we would probably be reaching for our phones to take a picture and post it, so everyone would know we were there!
But these men in the boat are afraid because in their Hebrew world-view: the sea symbolizes chaos. It is the very power of darkness, and the power of death. They believe there is only one force in the world stronger than the sea, and that is the LORD God of Israel.
In all their stories God is pitted against the force of the sea. In the creation story, the flood story, and in the story of the crossing of the Red Sea, we’re told God pushes back the waters and keeps the chaos at bay. Repeatedly the psalms celebrate that the Lord makes a way through the waters and tramples on the sea.
Peter and these Hebrew fishermen, then, are paralyzed with fear not because of the storm, but because they see Jesus doing what only God can do.
And Jesus, coming closer and walking on the waves, sees the fear in their eyes and says, “Take heart, it is I. Be not afraid.”
Jesus knows your fears and he knows my fears.
And he knows we are afraid of an awful lot of things.
We are afraid of failing, of trying our best and not succeeding, and, if we do fail, of what people will think of us, and what that will mean for our feelings about our self, or our value in the workplace.
We are afraid of something terrible happening to people we love and finding ourselves without the power to do anything about it.
We are afraid for our nation and our communities and what it means that violence and hate has come to Charlottesville and so close to us that we can’t ignore it and pretend that it’s not real.
We’re afraid of the power we have and what it means if we use it and what it means if we choose to be comfortable rather than accept it and speak up.
My friends, Jesus is here this morning, in this place, saying to you and to me: “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
In the word, in the forgiveness of sins, in the bread and wine, Jesus is saying to you and to me: “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
In our daily blessings, in the gathered community, in our baptism remembered, Jesus is saying to you and to me: “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
The disciples were afraid because they SAW JESUS doing what only God can do, and maybe we are afraid and think we would like to see him face to face, as they did.
The question is: As people who live after his death and resurrection, who cannot see him in the flesh, but only experience his Spirit… can we, like these disciples, surrender our lives to him and let him silence our fear like he stilled the storm?
On Thursday night of this past week, I went to dinner with 9 college students who are alumni of our Epiphany Youth Group and after dinner as we were standing in the parking lot of Carolina Ale House, and we got to talking about the church year. We all agreed that Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost were the seasons we prefer and that the time after Pentecost, or ordinary time, the long slog of green, is less appealing.
As I have reflected about it, I think (for me) it’s because the first half of the year focuses on Jesus and his life, while the second half of the year focuses on the church and how God calls us to continue Jesus’ mission and ministry. This season after Pentecost, which we’re in, asks more of us.
You see, this story of Peter walking out on the waves is our story.
Peter is commanded to come with Jesus out on the waves and WE are called out of the boat, and into the waves and the storm, to walk on the sea.
It’s not a coincidence that the room of the building we gather in for worship is called a ‘nave,’ which comes from the Latin for boat or ship and is the same word that gives its name to our Navy.
Jesus who appeared to these disciples in the boat, literally appears to us here in this place, this nave, calls us to step out of this boat into the storms of this world to walk with him on the waves.
Maybe Peter who we know was not afraid of the storm, is afraid because he has been following the Lord long enough to know that whatever his rabbi and teacher does, he is going to be asked to do too.
Maybe Peter is terrified as soon as he sees Jesus walking on the waves because he knows he will be asked to do the same…to walk out into the chaos and darkness and put himself on the line.
And that is scary.
It is scary to put our life, our well-being, our family’s well-being on the line for the sake of Jesus and his mission.
But sometimes that is what God calls us to do.
Yesterday a group of probably-scared disciples gathered in Charlottesville. Bishop Mauney, our Bishop-elect Humphrey, our Pastor Emeritus Chris Price, joined that group in McGuffey Park, which is about two blocks from the epicenter of the Rite to Unite rally. Our sisters and brothers in Christ were in that city, in the midst of a storm where people were assaulting one another with racist rhetoric, shields and bats, and concrete filled bottles. These disciples stepped out onto the waves of the storm to give witness to Jesus Christ, who calls us to love one another, take care of one another, and to protect one another.
We are called to give witness to Jesus and to step out of the boat and into the storm to speak out against racism and hate and violence.
Jesus calls us all out of the boat, out of our comfortable lives, out of our fear, to walk through the world trusting he walks by our side and to be a part of his mission to heal, protect, and restore.
Jesus is saying to you and to me today: “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
And the one who walked on the waves, walks with us.
The one who stilled the storm, sends us his Spirit.
The one who is our Living Lord, is renewing the life of the world today.
You could say Peter sank in the waves and that would be true. But you could say he walked on the water and that would be true too.
What we know for sure, is that when Peter cried out for help, Jesus immediately reached out and caught him. And he is with us, saying through the wind and the waves, the storm and the sea, “Take heart, it is I, be not afraid.”