Think back to that summer day. Perhaps you were wearing Levis and tennis shoes with no concern for the heat. It was hot, but somehow you didn’t mind it like you do today. You could smell one neighbor’s newly mown lawn, another grilling burgers, and the honeysuckle from down by the creek. There were the sounds of the ice cream man, dogs barking as they played in the yard, and the laughs and shouts of your friends playing in the street.
You’ve been on the next street practicing to show off your new skill. Not to be out done by your next door neighbor, you have avoided your friends for the last few days as you get ready to go public. You even have a great case of road rash and a few bruises to show for it, which you will share with pride after your big reveal today.
You round the corner on to your street at the end closest to where all the kids are hanging out on their bikes, roller skates, and playing tether ball in the street. You wait until you have fully turned the corner and are headed straight making sure there are no rocks or sticks in your path.
Then you holler hey to your friends, sit up straight, and take your hands off the handle bars. All that practice has paid off as you hear,
“Look at her go!”
“Man I wish I could do that!”
Just as you fill with that warm, happy feeling of pride you start to wobble. You begin to lean over, getting ready to grab the handle bars. Then you hear your daddy say, “Don’t stop, just peddle faster. Come on, keep peddling. You can do it!”
So you peddle faster and sure enough you keep your balance long enough to get close to your friends, stop with just the right amount of rubber, and say, “hey, whatcha doin’?”
Peter’s dad seems to have been missing from today’s walking on water story. I wonder if Peter had just kept on walking if he would have stayed up. Perhaps the skill is much like riding a bike with no hands. I’m not sure, but Peter does give me hope.
He’s the one always rushing in to try new things, blurt out in excitement before thinking things through, and quick to say he’d never do things that end up being a bit obvious to the rest of us, that yup, he is gonna do it. So it is no surprise to me that he is the first one that asks to walk on water.
Remember they have just fed the 5000. Jesus puts the disciples in a boat, tells them to go to the other side. Then Jesus takes the time to go off, be alone, and to pray. Perhaps to mourn the death of John and certainly to reconnect with his father in prayer.
The disciples are in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. I have never been there, yet a friend tells me it is more like a small lake than a sea, it has been compared to Lake Erie. It gets no more than 200 feet deep in some places. This storm that comes up has to do with the differences in temperatures between the seacoast and the mountains surrounding it. The difference in height between the surrounding land and the sea cause temperature and pressure changes. The result is strong winds funneling through the hills which descend with violent results. When the contrasting air masses meet, a storm may arise quickly and without warning.
This is likely what happened as the disciples are in the boat. They may have been napping before the waves picked up leaving them a little unfocused and confused. The boat is suddenly being tossed about, rolling to and fro. The waves crashing about them, mist rising over the sides of the boat leaving them wet and cold. Being woke up as the result of a storm at sea in the early hours of the morning would be a fearful thing.
Something causes them to look at the horizon and they see a figure headed toward them. In their confusion and fear they think it is a ghost. Remember they have left Jesus on the other side. This walking on water thing, it is new to them.
He says to them, “hey don’t be afraid, it is me. Your friend Jesus. No need to worry.” Hearing his voice they relax.
Well most of them anyway. Our friend Peter says, “Hey wait a minute. Jesus, we left you on the other side of the sea. So if it really is you, call me on the water. If you can walk on water, I can too!”
And we know what happens next, Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking on water. Well at least for a little bit.
Most preachers will continue with the words that Peter took his eyes off Jesus and sunk. That it was his lack of faith or focus or whatever. Heck, I have even preached that sermon. But as I prepared for today, I was struck anew by something that came up as I talked with friends about today’s readings.
Perhaps it isn’t that Peter sank that is important, perhaps it is that he says, “Jesus I want to do what you do. I want to be like you. I want to heal people. I want to love people. So if it is you, if you are the Son of God, call me on to the water. Call me out of this boat. Call me out of this limited way of thinking about you, about God. I want more. I want to make a difference in our world.”
Think about it. We focus on Peter’s lack of faith and yet, how much faith did it take to get out of that boat? Waves are crashing all around him, the boat rocking so much that he can’t stand up, his robes soaked from the mist, his friend Jesus walking on water. Can you imagine the adrenaline rush he must have had flowing through his veins?
So I don’t think he was testing Jesus, I don’t think he suffered from a lack of faith this time. I think it was the opposite. He knows it is Jesus and he knows like he has never known before that Jesus is the son of God. And in that split second that he says, “Call me out of this boat Jesus. I want to be like you.
“I want to be the big kid that can ride my bike with no hands. I want to be the one who peddles faster. The one who does new, exciting, and brave things. I want to be like you!”
Most of us like our boats and we like them on nice calm water, with sunny weather, not too hot, not too cool with a pleasant breeze flowing around us. And we like being in our boats with our friends, with those we like, with those like us.
Yet Jesus says, “Get out of your boat! Come! Follow me! Heal! Clothe! Feed! Visit! Teach! Love! Be like me!”
I don’t know about you, but I want to walk on water, I want to be like Jesus.
Wanna get out of the boat with me? I will if you will. I’ll hold your hand if you will hold mine.