I hate water. It probably goes back to the swimming lessons I had when I was very young. Some kid held my head under the water and I was filled with panic. The thought of sinking beneath the waves is terrifying. If I were sinking, I would really want someone to reach out, grab my hand and pull me to safety, like Jesus did for Peter.
The gospel reading today tells us about a time that Peter started to sink into the Sea of Galilee during rough weather. Jesus walked on the water out to meet his disciples in the boat. The disciples thought it was a ghost, but Jesus told them not to be afraid. Peter asked Jesus to enable him to walk on water as well, but after a good start he began to sink. Jesus rescued him, pulled him into the boat and the sea grew calm.
Matthew’s point in telling us this story is simple. It’s right there in verse 33. Jesus is the Son of God. He is Lord of everything. Even the wind and the waves obey him. Ancient people were more at the mercy of nature than we usually are. Although working out here in these tents in the hot sun and the dusty wind, we recognize the power of nature maybe more than we normally do. Nature is a powerful force, but even it is subject to the Lord of all creation.
Someday, in the age to come, nature will no longer threaten humankind. Jesus’ power over wind and water are a foretaste of that coming day.
That’s the Jesus side of Matthew’s story, but what about Peter’s side. I think this is a story of restoration. The early church saw many people come to faith in Jesus but then some of them fell away from Christ. They started out walking in faith, if you will, but then they started to sink. What about them? Is there any hope for them? Once you’ve started with Jesus, is there any hope of setting things right if you start to muck it up?
There are a lot of things that you can begin with high hopes but then find so frightening that it makes you want to quit. Marriage. Parenting. Joining the Army. Deploying on an operation.
The first time I went to visit the hospital during my training as a pastor I became so scared that I turned around and walked out the door.
If you start something important and then make a mess of it, can you make it right again? Or do those who start to sink have no hope?
Are you sinking? Peter started to sink, but he looked up and saw the strong hand of Jesus reaching out to lift him up again. I thank God this morning that that hand is there for all who look to Jesus. If you are sinking, cry out to Jesus. The same Jesus who lifted Peter out of the waves will reach out his hand to you as well. Amen.