Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

S. Pentecost 11.23 Matt. 14.22-33

Lord—if you are—command me to come to you on the water”

There’s a line in one of my favorite books “Wind in the Willows” where the Water Rat says to the Mole: Believe me, my young friend, there is nothingabsolutely nothinghalf so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

How true that is with the Gospels, Jesus, and his disciples! My favorite parts of the story all happen when Jesus and his disciples are messing about in boats. Though it is very unfashionable today to be so imaginative and literary in reading the story, all the early church fathers thought the boat the disciples were always getting into (with or without Jesus) is an obvious image of the Church. This is why most (good) churches are designed like an (upside down) boat—as ours is.

Nothing better than messing about in boats with Jesus!

And water is another biggie for the church fathers (for me too, as I do enjoy a relaxing float, now and again ;-). To the good old fathers, all the stuff that happens on and in the water in the bible is obviously imaging holy baptism for us—its joys, its beauty, its terror (beauty is terror, maybe?)… Modern biblical “scholars” tend to get all stiff and bristly whenever a boat in the bible is seen as a picture of the church, or when every incident on or in the water is interpreted as ultimately pulling us under with Jesus into holy baptism.

David Maxwell, a Concordia Seminary St. Louis professor, recently published an essay warning against being too modern, historical-critical, and not early-church-imaginative enough; encouraging us to resist the temptation to read the bible as mostly giving us a human history lesson instead of drawing us into the divine adventure with Jesus, messing about in boats, on the water.

Prof. Maxwell also chides the “history lesson” type of biblical critic for being reluctant to see ourselves in the boat with Jesus on life’s stormy seas; but encourages us to dive in with Peter. 😉

So, our Gospel today—one of my all-time favorites—it’s got everything: messing about in boats on the water, Peter walking and and nearly drowning in the waves, Peter being gloriously impulsive, brave, stupid, all at once. Wet behind the ears, chagrined, rescued again by Jesus from himself.

I love Peter. He’s my favorite disciple, favorite bible character (besides Jesus, of course). He’s smart, brave, stupid—all at once! He runs his mouth with his brain in neutral. He dives in where angels fear to tread and then goes “What in the world was I thinking?”! He makes mistakes, but Jesus makes his mistakes turn out marvelously…

Jesus commands the 12 to get into the boat to get away from the 5,000+ Jesus fed last week in our Gospel. They were supposed to take the 12 baskets of leftovers, but Mark 8 implies they forgot. Anyway, Jesus prays alone on the mountain while they struggle on the water because the wind (Greek πνευμα is really windbreathspirit) is against them and they are battered by the waves, far from land, windblown and in danger. Perfect! If you are in touch with your inner child, you’re delighted with the setup!

And early in the morning (like just before dawn, so visibility isn’t great) Jesus comes walking to them on the water—like it’s just his normal morning stroll. “Why are you walking on the water, Jesus!”? “Well because I just ate.” “Huh?” “Do none of you have mothers? You shouldn’t swim until at least an hour after you eat, so I had to walk.”

Anyway, they scream like scaredy cats and go “Ah! A ghost!” When you throw ghosts into the mix, has the story not become even more excellent? For me, undoubtedly!

Jesus speaks to the disciples, and says: “Take heart!” and here’s where you need Greek, because Jesus does not say so blandly and history lesson-like ‘It is I’ but the Greek is εγο ειμι “I AM” the first two words of the divine Name Yahweh, “I AM WHO I AM”. Simply put, kids: this is Jesus identifying as GOD!

This both explains why/how he can walk on water miraculously, and also, if you have your thinking hat on, would tell you where the stormy wind is coming from in the first place—from him! Which would explain why the wind and waves and water ain’t nothing but a thang to Jesus, and can be, for us, a marvelous invitation to adventure. 😉

Peter gets IT: the divine word, the mystery, the wonder, the adventure of it. And wind in the hair, and spray soaking his face, he utters his most divinely daft request: “Lord—if YOU ARE— (he echoes exactly in Greek, not “if it is you”) command me to come to you on the water”. Jesus says “Come!”

And Peter walks on water! He does it! Because he isn’t thinking about the impossibility or the sheer coolness and BA nature of the thing—he just has eyes and heart and mind fixed on Jesus and getting out there with him.

But then, he notices the wind is blowing pretty hard,; the waves are kinda high; and: “I’m walking on water!” and when he thinks about it, he begins immediately to sink, and going down gasps: “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reaches out his hand and catches Peter, asking him, laconically: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

And they are in the boat, and instantly at land, and the wind and wave cease. Those in the boat worship him, saying “Truly, you are the Son of God!”

It reminds me of the one of the first times Peter and Jesus met. Jesus is being mobbed on the shore of the sea by a large crowd, and Peter’s messing about in boats 😉 and Jesus asks to mess about with him, a little ways offshore, teaching the crowd. Afterwards, messing with Peter some more, he says “launch into the deep for a catch!” Peter knows there’s no fish out there, but goes as Jesus says. They catch so many fish, the boat nearly sinks. 😉

And Peter says “Get away from me, Lord; I’m a sinful man!” But now, Peter yearns to be with Jesus—even if it’s dangerous, even if it kills him. Messing about in boats, out on the water with Jesus—absolutely nothing half so much worth doing!. Which tells me that being with Jesus is scary and delightful at the same time. Beauty is terror; I think this is true?

I remember, at age 12, getting a cheap skateboard and bombing down the steep, lakeside hill our house was on. It scared the beejeebers out of me—in a beautiful/ terrifying kinda way. One day, I hit a rock and fell near the bottom going 30 mph plus. I got banged up pretty good, still have the scars, but I wasn’t afraid really, so much, anymore. More thrilled than terrified, after that little spill…

In baptism we drowned like Peter, with Jesus. And messing about in the boat that is Christ’s Church, with Jesus, on the water? Well… Kenneth Grahame is right: there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as this. (!)

Is it safe? Goodness, no! That’s why it’s fun. Is it smart? Goodness, no! It’s the daftest thing you could ever do. Jesus will be the death of you before he is life for you! But; better to go down with him, in a storm on the sea, gloriously, than to live a long, historically correct life on land, I’d say 😉

There’s a song I like, goes: “Don’t leave my hyper heart alone, on the water/ Cover me in rag and bone, sympathy/ ‘Cause I don’t wanna get over you…” This is Peter’s plea, ours: “Lord— if YOU ARE—command me to come to you on the water”. He does. We do. By holy word, water, supper. Something you’ll never want to get over. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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