A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sermon (August 10) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Learning How to Walk on Water"

     In the small town where I grew up, all of the kids learned to swim at Glady’s swimming pool. I remember those swimming lesson days. They were held during the morning hours when the water was extremely cold.     
     They told us to just jump in the pool and we’d get used to it, but we never did. In a matter of seconds, our lips turned from red to blue and then to purple. When we finally let go of our senses and submerged into what felt like the Arctic Ocean, they asked us to hold on to our paddle boards and practice kicking the water for what seemed like an eternity. Those were my early memories in learning how to swim.
     When I was a little older, my parents took me to the Y for a more advanced class in swimming lessons. During one of those sessions, the instructor wanted us to learn to swim at the deep end.
      I had never been at the deep end of the pool. It always looked really scary to me. The water had a darker blue color to it and looked very intimidating and mysterious to me. Only the older kids ventured into those unchartered waters. I was content to stay right where I was, where at least my toes could touch the bottom of the pool. It wasn’t that I couldn’t swim. I just didn’t want to swim in the deep end.
     We were all instructed to get out of the pool and walk down toward the diving board end, yes, the dreaded diving board end. There I stood, dripping wet when the instructor motioned for us to get into the deep water. My decision had already been made. There was no way that I was going to swim across what might has well have been the English Channel.
     The instructor motioned for me to get in a second time. Not happening. And then a third. No deal. The instructor then came by my side and explained to me that it would be OK since I already knew how to swim. I was told that it would be no different at this end of the pool.
     I can still see myself standing there by the pool and telling my swimming instructor that there was no way that I was going to swim to the other side of that pool. This is why I am so impressed with the disciple Peter in our Gospel lesson for this morning.

     The disciples find themselves in a very scary situation. They are in a boat together on the Sea of Galilee where storms are known to occur when you least expect them. Matthew tells us that the boat was being battered by the waves and the strong winds had pushed them far from land.
     As they struggled to stay afloat, off in the distance, they could see a mysterious figure walking toward them on the sea. They thought it was a ghost and they cried out in fear, but then they realize that it is Jesus because he reassures them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
     Peter who is known to be impulsive and outspoken is willing to do the unthinkable. He tells Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” That was the last thing I wanted to say to my swim instructor that day at the Y. I wanted to tell him, “Command me to go back to the shallow end.”
     But like my swimming instructor, Jesus said, “Come.” The only difference is that my swimming instructor had to say it three times to me.
     “Come, you can do it.”  “Nope.”
     “Jump in the pool. You know how to swim” “Nope.”
     “You can do it. Just get in the pool. I’ll be right here with you.  No response for several seconds. Finally, I get into the pool and surprise myself by swimming to the other side.
     Peter didn’t need Jesus to repeat himself. Amazingly, he trusts Jesus enough to just go for it. Before he knows it, he’s walking on the water toward Jesus. 
     This is a story to help us learn to trust in Jesus in the face of our doubts and uncertainties. As we go through our day to day living, we find ourselves facing difficult decisions, complex situations, heart-ache, fear, and self-doubt. Our faith is what can help us face these uncertainties and challenging times.
     What does it mean for us to face our doubts like Peter and learn to walk on water?
     Maybe you’ve heard of the story of a church that was interviewing for a new pastor. They interviewed several promising candidates but none of them measured up to their very high standards. They were very picky about things.
     They had one more interview to go. This candidate had a very impressive resume and came with a many positive recommendations from his previous church.
     They began the interview by asking this promising candidate if he was a good preacher. When he told them that he had won the Billy Graham award for excellence in preaching one year, a member of the interview team said, “Do you mean to tell us that you only won that award one time?”
     Someone asked him, “What about involvement in the community? How many people from the town joined your church when you were the pastor?” When he told them that half the town had joined his church, one member said, “Do you mean to tell us that half of the town stayed away from your church? That’s not very good.”
     This interview was not going well at all. Another person asked him, “How much money did the people in your church give to the offering each year?” Again, the candidate gave what he thought was an impressive answer. He said, “I’m proud to say that every member of my church gave ten percent of their income to the church each year so money was never a problem.” Sure enough, somebody on the committee was not convinced and responded, “Do you mean to tell me that you didn’t get your members to give more than ten percent?”
     By this time, the candidate was very frustrated. He knew that he had to do something very dramatic to convince this committee that he would be a good pastor for them. He had noticed a pond that wasn’t far from the church so he invited them to all go outside because he wanted to show them something.
     When they got to the pond, he proceeded to take off his shoes and his socks. He then rolled up his pant legs and looked at the members of the interview team and said, “Just watch this.”
     Believe it or not, this candidate started walking on water. It was a miracle. He walked out to the middle where it was really deep and then he walked back from where he had started. He thought to himself that this would finally convince them that he was a really good pastor.
     To his surprise, each member of the interview team looked unimpressed. Finally, one of them said, “Do you mean to tell us that you don’t even know how to swim?”
     When Jesus calls us to walk on water toward him, he invites us to let go of our doubts and our fears so that we can trust him more fully. Justin Daley who attends our church has a testimony would like to share his testimony of how he has gotten out of the boat to follow Jesus. Justin, come and share with us.

[Justin Daily Testimony - Available on the youtube sermon audio link..]

     I am so grateful for Justin being willing to share his story with us. Like Peter, he got out of the boat and he trusted Jesus by walking toward him. Thank you, Justin for sharing your story with us.
     The story of Peter walking on water is our story. What storm are you facing in life? What fear is holding you back from getting out of the boat? Jesus invites us to walk on water and learn to trust in him through all of life’s storms.
     There’s one other very important point about this incredible story. You’ll remember that Peter started to sink as he was walking toward Jesus. He started to sink because he started to focus on the storm rather than on Jesus.
     But even then, Peter said, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.
     Even after we get out of the boat, we still might find ourselves focusing on the storm rather than on Jesus. If you should start to sink, look for that hand that is ready to save you.
      This is what it means to learn to walk on water. 

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