Sermon 7/21 Walking on Water

Date: July 21, 2019

Scripture Lesson: Matthew 14:22-36

Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells 

Fifty years ago yesterday, a human being walked on the moon for the first time.  There has been much in the news about that memorable day. How many of you remember that day?  What do you remember about it? Where were you? Did you watch it on TV? What did you think about it?  For those who did not see it live, have you seen video of the first moonwalk? What were your impressions?                 

Impressions shared from the congregation – 

I heard a report on NPR this past week that mentioned that when the astronauts got home, they toured the world giving talks about their experience.  And apparently everywhere they went, in every country, the attitude of the people was, “We did this!” All of humanity took ownership of this milestone in human history.  It wasn’t, “Look what the Americans have done.” It was look what WE have done, we, the human family. It created a great bond among people of earth.   

When we think about the story that we heard this morning about walking on the water, we think of Jesus overcoming the elements, calming the stormy sea.  We hear Jesus’ command Peter to step out of the boat. There is obedience and trust until fear leads to foundering and Peter is saved by Jesus. Fear, the great enemy of faith.  

But in addition to all of these messages and teachings from this story, there is more.  At the beginning of the story, Jesus sends the disciples across the sea of Galilee in a boat.  This is the first time they are sent on without Jesus. Obviously, Jesus has faith in them. He would not send them out if he was concerned for their safety.  He has confidence in them. Yes, there will be threats. The sea represents the forces of chaos in scripture. There are threatening forces. But Jesus has faith in the disciples.  He feels they have all the power they need. The presence of God is with them and within them. It seems he has more faith in them than they have in themselves. . . What if we take from this story that we have been sent out into the world together as a community with everything we need to live with love, compassion, peace, and justice? 

Also, we want to notice that the image of the boat is a common symbolic image for the church.  So in this story, we see Jesus’ faith in the church. The disciples are together in the boat. They have each other for community and solidarity and support.  Sure, they will be buffeted and there will be conflict and threat, but they have each other, they have the community, they have the presence of God in the faith community.  So Jesus has faith in their strength and solidarity. But again, they waffle. And Peter wants to get out of the boat, exposing himself to more peril and danger. He does not feel secure in the boat.  But when he gets out, he realizes that the situation is worse. What if we recognized and trusted that we need the faith community for our fundamental well-being?

The disciples seem to want some kind of magical display, some kind of spectacle to engender enough faith; to give them enough reason to trust.  But Jesus seems to be showing them, by sending them out together, that they have what they need in one another and in their solidarity, to face the challenges of life – accidents, disease, aging, difficult circumstances, conflicting values.  Jesus believes that in their community, they have the resources they need to live everyday life imbued with divinity, with a sense of the sacred, as part of a transcendent reality beyond them and within them and among them. In Jesus’ eyes, they have been given what they need to face the challenges of life.  So, if Peter, if the disciples, had enough faith, they would have believed from the boat and trusted that all would eventually be well. They wouldn’t have needed a test, a spectacle. The walking on water. Jesus had faith in them, in the boat, as a group, as a faith community – you are enough, you are what you need, God is with you.  There is nothing to fear. What if we truly had faith in what we have been given; no otherworldly spectacles and signs and wonders needed?

In this story, we see that Jesus came to equip and empower his followers to be agents of peace and love in the world.  He gave them all that they needed for this mission. He sent them. They were in the boat. They were fine. Yes, there were the stormy seas but they were safe.  They had been given what they needed. But because of fear, panic, anxiety, and doubt, they did not trust. They wanted to be rescued. And they wanted some kind of spectacle to engender their trust.  So, Jesus does it their way. He rescues. He gives them a spectacle in hopes that they will learn to trust the power of the love within them and among them each and every day.

In the book. Living Buddha, Living Christ, Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh offers a reflection on this story of walking on water:  “When I was a young monk in Vietnam, each village temple had a big bell, like those in Christian churches in Europe and America.  Whenever the bell was invited to sound (in Buddhist circles, we never say ‘hit’ or ‘strike’ a bell), all the villagers would stop what they were doing and pause for a few moments to breathe in and out in mindfulness.  At Plum Village [a Buddhist community], every time we hear the bell, we do the same. We go back to ourselves and enjoy our breathing. Breathing in, we say, silently, ‘Listen, listen,’ and breathing out, we say, ‘This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.’

“Our true home is in the present moment.  The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment.  Peace is all around us – in the world and in nature – and within us – in our bodies and our spirits. Once we learn to touch this peace, we will be healed and transformed.  It is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of practice. We need only to bring our body and mind into the present moment, and we will touch what is refreshing, healing, and wondrous.”  [Quoted in Resources for Preaching and Worship: Year A, compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, p. 216]

Fifty years ago, a human stood on the moon; touched the moon.  It was not some kind of magical miracle wrought by otherworldly forces.  It was an accomplishment based on the application of knowledge and scientific achievement, trial and error, creativity and ingenuity, money and luck.  And from that experience, we got a new image of the earth, the picture taken from space considered the most recognized visual image in human history. From this endeavor to go to the moon, we learned about the earth.  We saw that this earth is a precious, tiny blue green marble floating in a vast ocean of space. And we are together, on this earth, our boat, in the sea of the cosmos. What we see is our need to band together as a human community, as a planet, to survive and to thrive.   

We are the people who have walked on the moon and in so doing gotten a clearer view of our reality here on earth.  Every moment is a gift. Reality is infused with divinity. Life and creation are sacred. Humanity is a community.  And like the disciples in the boat, we have been given everything that we need. We are capable of amazing things! We must not cave in to fear.  We must trust and work together for good, for peace, in the midst of the chaotic forces around us – even though sometimes this seems as impossible as walking on water.   Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

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