Last week we heard the story of the feeding of over 5000 people, beginning with just five loaves of bread and two fish. The disciples had thought there was nothing there in that deserted place to feed all those people with, and they told Jesus to send the people away into the villages to buy something to eat. But Jesus said that wasn’t necessary. “You give them something to eat,” he said. The disciples looked around and saw only scarcity. “There’s nothing here but these few loaves of bread and couple of fish,” they said. So Jesus made everyone sit down on the grass and blessed the offering of food. “The place of abundance is here,” he said. In your midst, when you stop to notice it, when you stop and give thanks, the place of abundance–the God of abundance– is here. Ultimately the disciples had to figure out what to do with all the leftovers–12 baskets full.

“We often confuse safety and stability with abundant life,” one commentator suggests (David Lose, in the meantime, 8/4/14), and so we work hard to build a safe, stable, and secure life for ourselves and our loved ones. Which is not a bad thing. We know that children thrive in a stable environment, and surely human flourishing is what God intends for all of us. The problem is that we can get too settled, too satisfied, too smug, thinking that we’ve got it all under control and don’t really need anybody else, let alone God. We start defending our comfort zone.

But have you noticed that it’s when the going gets tough–really tough–that that’s when people start invoking either the first or second members of the Trinity– ” O God!” or “Jesus Christ!” I think I might have been uttering one or the other if I had been in that boat on the Sea of Tiberius with the disciples that dark and stormy night. And I have no idea what I would have said had I seen Jesus walking across the waves toward us. “A ‘behold’ or ‘shazam!’ or something like it would be nice here,” suggests one translator, “to signify that people (even Jesus) don’t come walking across water everyday.” (Mark Davis, left behind…, 8/10/14)

“This is the most ‘useless’ miracle in all of the gospels,” Mark Davis writes. Unlike feeding hungry people or healing someone’s sight or long-term physical condition, Davis wonders if Jesus walked upon the water just to prove he could do it, just to show who he was. (Ibid.) I’m guessing that the disciples, who, in Matthew’s gospel, had already experienced Jesus’ stilling the storm after they’d woken him up from sleeping in the stern, may have found it quite useful for Jesus to walk across the water to them.

But it’s not even Jesus’ walking across the water that grabs me so much in this story. After all, he’s spent all night praying and being filled up with God’s Spirit of power, which, by the way, is what the first hearers of this story would have thought–This man is more powerful than the wind and waves–more powerful than the other spirits or people who claim to have power. A human being who is utterly empty of his or her own agenda and who opens themselves up to be filled with God can do amazing things.

Which is what Peter did, and THAT’s the part of this story that strikes me. “What in THE world,” as Mark Davis asks, “would compel someone in a boat in a storm in the sea to say to Jesus at this point, ‘Command me to come to you’?” And then when Jesus says, “Come on in,” jumps out of the boat onto the waves! …and walks! Now, see, that’s the miracle in this story for me. Not that Jesus could walk on the water, but that Peter could. He doesn’t do it on his own power–he knows that Jesus has to be in on this–but for those few seconds that he can keep focused on Jesus, he can do what Jesus can do. It’s when he loses that single-point focus, when he “doubts,” or waivers, or “stands in 2 ways” that he begins to sink, and cries out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus doesn’t say to him, “Sink or swim, buddy–you got yourself into this” – but rather “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him… And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.”

All four of the gospels tell the story of Jesus having power over the wind and the waves–either by walking on the water or calming the storm from the boat. It’s only Matthew’s gospel that includes this part about Peter walking – however briefly – upon the water as well. This Jesus is full of the power of God who has power over the wind and the waves, because, by the way, God created them; but for Matthew’s community, living probably some 50 years after the death of Jesus, it was important for them to know that this power that was in Jesus was beside them, in the storm of persecution and struggle with them, even inside them.

This story of Peter stepping out of the boat onto the waves was much more powerful than any theological statement about the power of God. “You can’t get to God through your head,” says Seane Corne, yoga teacher and activist. “I’ve only been able to get to God through experience, through my heart, through surrender,” she told Krista Tippett, host of the public radio show onBeing. In fact, as this morning’s guest on onBeing, neuroscientist Adele Diamond has found, we learn with our whole bodies. Our brains develop through movement, dance, music, doing, stepping out. We’re all “kinetic learners.” When Peter started to rely on his head–like Wiley Coyote noticing the air below him after running off the cliff in pursuit of RoadRunner– when Peter looked down and noticed the waves beneath his feet, he immediately began to sink. The world told him walking on the water is impossible. The God embodied in Jesus told him to come on out. “Fear not,” Jesus had told them. “I am–it is I.” “I am”–the name of God–God is here.

This is not an advertisement for merely being impetuous, for abandoning your mind and intellect before acting; but it is a story about focus, about how to enter into the chaos of our lives, which, if you haven’t noticed, is all around us. Multi-tasking does not serve us well in these situations. What is needed is focus on the essential. Jesus was called “the One” –ihidaya–not only referring to his uniqueness but more importantly describing his ability to be at one, with himself, with God, to empty himself of distractions, of 2-sidedness, of duality, and to focus the power then available to him for healing, for multiplying, for bringing life and hope. Those verses tucked in the midst of these stories–”when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself…” …”And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray”–these times apart in prayer and meditation allowed Jesus to be “the One”–Ihidaya. It takes practice in times of stillness and focus, so that in times of chaos, that ability is available.

That is a practice still available to us. Meditation has been shown to literally rewire the brain; we can work on strengthening our ability to focus, which in this incredibly distracting and over-stimulated world, is more and more important. Faith is less an act of will or intellectual assent than it is an opening, a physical, emotional, wholebeing practice. It is the whole-hearted living that social scientist Brene Brown talks about, the “daring greatly” by being in the arena or out on the waves, being one’s true self, knowing that we are worthy of being loved by this One who is beside us in calm and in chaos.

When Jesus and Peter got into the boat, the wind ceased. “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.” The thing is, though, there’s no definite article here in the Greek–it’s not, “Truly you are the Son of God,” but a Son of God. Jesus was certainly a Son of God in a unique, Jesus-sort of way, but so was Peter a son of God, in a unique Peter-sort of way, and so are you a son or daughter of God, in a unique, you-sort of way. We may not all be called to walk on water, but we are all called to offer ourselves up to be filled and used by this power of Love and Healing and Compassion and Justice, stepping out though we may be afraid, yet focused on the One who calls us.

So as we head out into the storms of our lives, may this blessing over the waves by Jan Richardson go with us–

Blessing on the Waves

I cannot promise

that this blessing

will keep you afloat

as if by lashing these words

to your arms,

your ankles,

you could stop yourself

from going under.

The most this blessing

can do, perhaps,

is to stand beside you

in the boat,

place its hand

in the small of your back,

and push.

Be assured that

though this blessing

is eager to set you

in motion,

it will not

leave you forsaken,

will not compel you

to leap

where it has not already

stepped out.

These words

will go with you

across the waves.

These words

will accompany you

across the waters.

And if you

find yourself


this blessing

will breathe itself

into you,

will breathe itself

through you

until you are

borne up

by the hands

that reach toward you,

the voice that

calls your name. (Jan Richardson, Painted Prayerbook, 2011)

May it be so. Amen, and amen.


Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark


    Twitter not configured.
/* ]]> */