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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Sally Sanderson's sermon


7th August 2005

Sally Sanderson

Trinity XI

Matt 14 22-33

So Jesus' disciples were altogether in the boat when the storm blew up. I don't know if any of you have been to Galilee when the wind begins to get up. It is a common occurrence and when our party from church were there a few years ago we had to wait until it became calmer before they would take the tourist boat across. So the disciples, particularly Peter, a fisherman, should not have been too worried about the weather. But then something quite out of the ordinary happened. Their mentor, leader and guide came to them walking on the water. He said to then "Do not be afraid. It's only me."

But then Peter was truly inspired. He asked if he could walk on water too. From many of the gospel stories we hear that he was the impetuous disciple, the one that was always first to speak, often putting his foot in it, and sometimes regretting it afterwards. But Peter was always willing to act. He was always willing to take the risk. He didn't stand still and was always growing in the faith that he was beginning to see would lead him to the kingdom of heaven. And here in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, he was the one that acted; he did not just sit in the boat, too frightened to move in case they made fools of themselves. If we are to be disciples of Jesus there are two ways to follow him. One is the way of the eleven and just sit in the boat and leave active faith to others and the other way is to take the risk and get out of the boat and rely on Jesus to provide and support when we need him.

Let us see what getting out of the boat means. Peter called out "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." Peter first of all made sure that the person that he thought was out there was truly Jesus. This is not a story just about risk taking - it is about obedience. Walking on water is not just for the fun of it, or for doing something spectacular, like abseiling off the Harlequin building for charity. It is about extreme discipleship, trusting that Jesus will be there for us. So Peter had to discern that it was Jesus that was calling him out of the boat, and if we are to walk on water we have to decide whether it is Jesus calling us or otherwise it is foolishness rather than faith that is leading us.

So given that we have discerned the call of Jesus in our lives, what should we expect if, like Peter, we venture out of the boat? I can tell you, for I've looked many times to console myself, that nowhere in the gospels does it say that following Jesus will make life easy and comfortable for us. But if we stay huddled in the boat we will not receive the many blessings that will come our way. Many years ago, my husband and I separately came to the conclusion that our giving to the church should be bible based and that we should tithe our money. Our children were just teenagers, who easily used up our resources; but we felt the commitment and at that time we had to step out of the boat. Shortly after that Bill was made redundant and we had to make adjustments to our spending and it made us question our decision, but I could stand here all morning to relate the blessings that we discovered. One day I found a complete set of china on my doorstep. Nobody knew that we were getting very short on crockery as the odd plate or two got broken. I asked around where it had come from or who it really belonged to but no-one knew. That's how the Lord provides.

So relying on the Lord is not going to be plain - the wind had not died down when Peter got out of the boat. This was not the time for Jesus to still the storm. What would you have chosen? The boat is safe and secure, and comfortable, the waves are high and the wind is strong. But if you don't get out of the boat, there's a guaranteed certainty that you will never walk on the water. How can WE relate this to our personal discipleship? Everyone of us can get to know Jesus Christ better. Everyone of us can grow closer to him. But it is human nature that we put barriers up between us, or we walk away when we know in our hearts that there is work to be done to promote the gospel message to the world outside these walls. What is your fear? Talk to yourself and ask yourself, what is your particular fear? Are you frightened that people you speak to will reject you? Are you frightened that you will make a fool of yourself? Peter did that a lot and nobody thinks badly of him. Or would you like to sit back and let others do the work, sit in the boat and not discover the hidden treasure that is to be found in following more closely our Lord Jesus Christ.

The mission of the church is to reach out to people. This is how it will grow. Growth means going out to people, it takes courage to grow, because it requires putting yourself out to give time and energy and to put away those gremlins that haunt us that this is going to be frightening. Growth means new things and although they first sound exciting, when we stop to look at what it might entail we see the storm in the corner of our eye just as Peter did and we flounder. Fear and growth go together. But if we don't try to get out of the boat we will never walk on water.

You will surprise yourselves if you offer to do a task that is unfamiliar to you. The church is crying out for people to do the various jobs that need doing, and the leaders should be encouraging each member to have a task that is his/her own. We should not leave it up to the "faithful few." If thoughts such as "I will be a failure," come into your head then remember that Peter risked failure and that taking that risk helps you to grow. How will each of us grow, and grow in faith if we only stick to the same routine year after year?

Or are you committed to staying in the boat with the eleven disciples? Have you got your excuses ready for Jesus when he asks you why? When we have accepted the Christian faith and the commitment of a life with Jesus, then, I believe, we have certain responsibilities to nurture and care for the people who live in our area, our street, our parish. There may be a place for you to exercise your ministry where you least expect it, but it means you will have to go and look for it, step out of your comfort zone and risk failing, but you are sure to grow.

So what is it going to be? Are you taking the risk and getting out onto the water to follow Jesus more closely, or are you just going to sit back in the safety of the boat. If you want to taste the delights of God's gift of grace, and walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.

Amen

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