Oh Peter from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
Our third scripture reading this afternoon comes from the 14th Gospel of Matthew. This story comes right after Jesus dismisses a recently fed multitude, and has gone up onto the mountain to pray by himself. The disciples are out on a boat in the middle of a storm. Listen now for the Word of the Lord.
Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed.
Just then, Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged, It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”
Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”
And Jesus said, “Come.”
Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!”
Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” When they got into the boat, the wind settled down.
Then those in the boat worshipped Jesus and said, “You must be God’s son!”
The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
Oh Peter. You’ve got to give it to him, he certainly tries. He is by no means lukewarm, and definitely at least tries to keep the Lord always before him. When he sees Jesus out on the lake, we can almost hear him say to himself, “If Jesus can do that, I wanna too!” So at a word from the Lord, Peter gets out of the relative safely of the boat, and joins Jesus in the storm.
Oh Peter, why’d you get out of the boat.
Imagine Peter telling the story to some folks later: So there’s this storm right? And we’re all out in the boat trying to keep her afloat, and she’s doing a pretty good job of protecting us from the waves that are battering us. Then we see Jesus out walking on the water. So we start freaking out, and Jesus calls out to us and says “Chill out, it’s me, no worries.” So I get the big idea to call back, and I say “If that’s really you, prove it! Tell me to come out there with you!” And Jesus yells back “Well come on then!”
Oh Peter, why’d you get out of the boat. We all knew where this was going, we all knew you were just going to sink.
Jesus responds simply, “Come.” And in that short command, Peter hears enough that he’s willing to do something as ridiculous as trying to walk on water with Christ.
Maybe he heard the Word that was with God and was God in the beginning. Maybe Peter heard the voice that called out “Let there be light!” Or the word given to the ancient Israelites “Hear O Israel: The Lord is God, the Lord alone!” Perhaps in Jesus’s command to walk on the water, Peter heard the words recorded by Isaiah, “Comfort, O Comfort my people.”
Peter certainly heard the voice that said “You give them something to eat.” We know he heard the words of the Parables contained in that simple command. He heard the voice that cast out demons and healed the sick and lame. He heard the words of the sermon on the mount. He heard the voice that said long before, Come, follow me.” Christ is doing something that reveals that he is God, and Peter hears all of that authority in Jesus’s voice, and gets out of the boat.
Oh Peter, why’d you get out of the boat. We all knew where this was going, we all knew you were just going to sink. You’re just a poor sinner, you can’t walk on water.
Jonah makes a great foil to this story. He gets the command from God to “Go” and immediately gets on to a boat, hoping to run away to the farthest reaches of the earth to prevent another people from experiencing God. He expects the hull and mast to protect him from not only the storm they encounter, but his identity as a prophet. His attempt is an image for the way all of us try to run and hide from what God has created us to be, because we can’t get past our own weaknesses and fears. So we hide on a boat until someone throws us out into the raging waters, and a large fish comes to swallow us. Jonah hears the command, and books passage on the farthest ranging boat he can find. We’ve all heard this same call. And we can’t help but build little boats around ourselves to protect us from being honest and vulnerable. But when Jesus speaks in this passage, Peter gets out of the boat, and joins Jesus in the storm.
Oh Peter, why’d you get out of the boat. We all knew where this was going, we all know you were just going to sink. You’re just a poor sinner, you can’t walk on water. Come back to where it’s safe, stay out of the storm, we don’t want you to sink.
Peter does begin to sink, and for some reason, rather than running to the boat, he cries out “Lord, rescue me!” And Jesus does, and says to him: Oh Peter, my beloved little idiot, why did you doubt? I didn’t call you out here because it’s safe, I called you out here because you belong here, with me, in this raging power that you cannot understand or control.
This is a great pulpit. Great big piece of wood to lean on, Great place to *thump* for emphasis when a prophet says “THEREFORE!” It’s also a nice sturdy barrier to protect those of us who preach from those of us who hear. This is a great pulpit, but there’s this terrifying little brass plaque on the back that says “We would see Jesus.” And though I’d like to use this pulpit as a boat to protect myself, that little piece of brass grabs me and proclaims in my ear that there’s a storm out there, and I’ve got to get out and walk in it.
We do love these things that provide limits, boundaries, control. Especially when we’re doing something that risks as much of ourselves as preaching does. But we don’t need to hold onto these little boats, our futile comfort blankets that we think keep us afloat when it would be easier to be overwhelmed. We don’t need the boats, because the voice that spoke creation into being, the Son who redeemed us, and the God who reigns over all, the Word made flesh, who is foolishly in love with us, says “Come.”
Although Peter sank, his great triumph is that of all the disciples, he alone was willing to trust God enough to get out of the boat in the first place. Likewise we will sink, from time to time, I don’t doubt that. We will begin to have doubts that will drive us down into the chaotic waters. Sometimes we have to sink before we remember to cry out “Lord, rescue me!” But our God is powerful enough to save us, and loves us enough to drown alongside us when we will not be helped. The world asks us, as we ask ourselves, why in the world would we go into this storm, why would we leave behind the safety of what we build around ourselves.
Oh Peter, why’d you get out of the boat? We all knew you were just going to sink. “I’ve got to get out of the boat, even if I sink, because that’s where Jesus is. Never mind the storm, my God told me to come. That’s why I get out of the boat.”