Background: So this sermon was written after competing in the Louisville Ironman Triathlon (140.6 miles of running, biking, and swimming) with a heat index that day of WAY too hot!!
Intro: We Started the service by having individuals attempt to stand on water (a large bowl in front of the room) and when no one can, question the group with “why not?”
Have a member that you set up ahead of time read this “scientific explanation…”
Well you see… “a liquid or fluid (di-hydrogen oxide), is easily displaced by the application of force.” Whereas in the body of a liquid, the time-averaged force exerted on any given molecule by its neighboring molecules has a value zero, even though such a molecule may undergo diffusive displacements because of random collisions with countering molecules, there exist no substantial directed forces upon it of extensive duration. It is equally likely to be momentarily displaced in any one direction as in another. On the surface of dihydrogen oxide, the situation becomes increasingly complicated for the reason that beyond the free surface area, there exist no molecules on the surface of the compound to counteract the forces of attraction exerted at the interior molecular level. In consequence, surface molecules of a dihydrogen oxide compound experience a net attraction toward the interior of a droplet. These centrally directed forces cause the droplet to assume a spherical shape, thereby minimizing both the free energy and surface area leaving the surface of a given liquid inadequate to maintain enough cohesion amongst its molecules to support an outside exertion… such as a human foot.
A week a go today Adam and I were a little less comfortable than we are sitting here today (it didn’t help we were both trotting around the city in spandex!) And though I may sound like a horrible heretic for saying this, after many hours battling the humidity, I grew a little tired of (almost aggravated by) the many motivational verses printed on the backs of jerseys and posted on Church signs along the roadway? I saw a lot of Hebrews 12, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, “ (but my desire to persevere seemed to be lost in perspiration).
Phil. 4:13 was deeply imprinted in my mind… “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…”
I read them all and I prayed for strength, but my legs weren’t moving any faster and the temperature wasn’t going down. I couldn’t run. I was praying, but it seemed there was bad connection somewhere between 3rd street and the heavens… Those motivational verses weren’t working for me and I’ll admit, I don’t like to be seen walking, it doesn’t serve my ego well (a nasty three letter word we will return to.)
Before that, let us briefly bounce to Monday evening as a group of us went down to continue the walking ventures with our runPossible team at the Wayside (a much more pleasant stroll than the day before).
Let me lift up an amazing sight from the Sunday’s race right quick though… Midway through the run course the group of woman we have been training had come out to surprise me and were volunteering at the water station next to the shelter! … And they were still lit from the experience!
“I’m going to do a triathlon,” one exclaimed. “Me too,” another followed.
“Good because I sure as heck don’t want to do another right now” I thought. And then Pam, one of runPossible’s first participants looked at me and said, “Well I’m going to walk on water;” referencing a passage I’d long since lumped into the motivational category alongside moving mountains.
Hmmmm… “Really” I said, “I guess it would help you in the swim.”
“No, I don’t want to do a triathlon, why in the world swim in that nasty river on purpose. Not for me, I’m going to college! I just got accepted,’ she said glowing, “and I start this month! God doesn’t want me to do a triathlon; God wants me to pull myself out of this shelter.”
“Oh” I said, void of any eloquent or inspirational response words of encouragement… and feeling a bit foolish for my antics the day before.
You know, the Mark’s telling of Peter walking to Christ at the surface of the sea has always been one of my favorite passages; I read it and feel that I can do anything. But when Pam spoke, that passage suddenly spoke something deeper to me.
Before we read it, let me highlight my favorite thing about scripture… It always speaks the true word of God; but given the circumstances that we are facing, the trials or celebrations that life has thrown our way, and the point of on our spiritual journey that we find ourselves; the personal message God speaks to us, the boat God calls us out of, can be different one day to the next and from one person to the next. WHY? Because the word of God is alive.
God may speak to me through a verse in a completely different way than you; and neither is wrong, the word of God is unique to each of God’s children… So Matt 14….
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.
Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”… “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
That passage always leaves me with a beautiful desire to leap up and do something impossible, afterall, that’s what a good race is all about… We sign up wanting to push “our” limits and I hate to say, we love the praise (and the medal) that follows!
Pam’s comment helped open my eyes to the reality that I often wasn’t following Peter’s example and stepping out of the boat when competing, in fact it was exactly opposite.
I long since have heard Matthew’s words and envisioned a postcard-worthy crystal blue lake; imagined standing at the edge of a boat with bathing suit on and friends all around as witnesses, and just want to leap out and prance across the water’s surface.
Furthermore, I read that passage as a swimmer, I read that passage wanting to not only walk on water, but run and dance across it!
In reality, it was dawn (pretty dark and pretty intimidating.) It was rough, like we are talking serious storms and unpleasantries. Peter, ironically nicknamed the rock, probably wasn’t the best of swimmers; not to mention he was a fully dressed and scared man that most likely didn’t yearn to get soaked.
Pause for a moment here and think about our common prayers… how often do we start our day, go into an event, start a service, or the like by inviting God into the situation. “God be with me today as I… (You can fill in the blank accordingly.)
That’s exactly what I said standing on the piers (not the boat) before jumping in the water last Sunday. God be with me as “I” swim these miles… Give me the strength to run “my” race.
But Peter didn’t start off his conversation with the water-walking Christ by inviting Jesus into his plans, he didn’t say “Jesus, come in and join us in the safety of this great boat, calm the storm, and lets have some fish for breakfast…” though it would have been a lot easier!!
No, we like to make the plans, and rarely ask Christ, as did Peter “what is it your will for me today today?” Instead (and I’ll speak for myself,) I love jumping at opportunities to show the world I (and I highlight “I”) can do all things. I want to show the world that “I” can walk on water.
I alluded to this word early on, but you know how to say “I” in Greek? Ego. Stepping out of the boat was stepping out of the plans that Peter had for his own life, and instead following the plans that Christ had for his life. It was his moving from “I” to “You.” Is it “your” will that I come to you on the water Jesus, he asked? When we move from ego to discipleship walking on water is just the start… When we lose our plans to God’s, we become ignorant to doubt and impossibility.
TE Lawrence once wrote: “Ignorance of certain subjects is a great part of wisdom.”
The Psalms are a fantastic place to turn when you want to lose yourself in prayer and find some guidance, seek a bit of wisdom… so I turn to Psalm 59 in lieu of today’s lesson. See, as we call Christ into our plans, as we pray for him to be with us in specific ways as we run our race… as we recite those inspirational passages; “I can do all things” and “I” can move mountains and walk on water… I think that verse 8 best depicts God’s reaction to our plans, as David declares to God, “But you laugh at them Lord; you ridicule all the nations.”
The cartoon on the table I thought was appropriate… God laughing at our extended forecast, giggling at our futile attempts to keep the boat from rocking and ourselves dry. It’s not about losing our dreams and muting our goals, but about not being so shortsighted as to fail to allow God to show us the path to the fulfillment of our dreams and our purpose.
We plan our lives according to a dream that came to us in our childhood, and we find that life alters our plans. And yet, at the end, from a rare height, we also see that our dream was our fate. It’s just that providence had other ideas as to how we would get there. Destiny plans a different route, or turns the dream around, as if it were a riddle, and fulfills the dream in ways we couldn’t have expected. Ben Okri quotes
You know this story is in the other gospels as well but only Matthew tells us about Peter walking on water. In Mark’s Gospel, which utilized Peter as the source only talks about Jesus… Why? Because of humility.
I’d have been bragging and boasting… making facebook posts and posting instagram pics! Hey, look at me! I’m walking on water! But it was omitted. Why? Because Peter realized it’s not about us!
Peter knew that his walking on water was but a small reflection of the bright salvation of Christ who at the darkest moment of the storm came to save them. It is in the sinking and the rescue that the eyes of the other disciples are opened so that in verse 33 they confess that Jesus is the Son of God. That is the whole purpose of this experience for them.
Humility. You know I had a lot of people out on the course and at the finish line last Sunday… it was beautiful really. One in particular didn’t try to appease me or make me feel better though; my longtime friend and mentor, Philip, WALKED with me for a little bit of the marathon. I was expecting him to say, your doing great! Keep it up! But he didn’t, he knew I was frustrated. Instead, Philip looked at me and said, “Get over yourself.”
“Damn, that’s supposed to speed me up I said… “
“No, its supposed to make you thankful you can be out here and switch your perspective around so that instead of sulking like a spoiled brat, you can take this walk as an opportunity to go find someone who needs support, pray for them and walk with them.” An opportunity to step out of my boat.
Let it be known, Philip turned off and trotted home to his air-conditioning after that… but he was all too right. God wasn’t concerned with giving me the strength to finish the race at a sprint (does God really care about a triathlon finish?) God, instead, was trying to give me the opportunity to show true strength, ditch “my” personal plans, jump out of the boat, and walk to waters with someone in need.
We can do all things through Christ, but maybe we should ask what it is we need to be doing, from what boat we need to be leaping, to what person we need to be talking, and what waters we need to be walking before we do… otherwise, we aren’t stepping out of the boat, we are simply inviting Christ into it (and Jesus proved over and over, you don’t need to be confined to a boat when you can walk on the water.)