You may have heard the story about a man who gets too close to the edge of a cliff, loses his balance, and falls over the edge.
Just before falling to the rocks below, he grabs onto a root sticking out from the edge.
“Help, help!” he calls, “Is there anyone up there? Help me! Save me! Is there anyone up here?”
A voice answers,
“I am the Lord. I can save you. Do you believe in me? Do you really want me to help you?”
“O yes, Lord”, cries the man, “I believe in you. Please help me”.
“OK”, the Lord says, “I’ll save you. Now, let go”.
“What?” shouts the man, as the tree root begins to give way.
“Just let go of that root you’re holding on to, and I’ll save you”, says the Lord.
“You have to trust me”.
The man pauses for a moment, and then shouts out, “Is there anyone else up there?”.
Faith in times of Difficulty
All of this leads to the question: Where does our faith fit in during the difficult times?
Some claim that if you have faith life will be smooth sailing.
Some also claim that if you have faith God will cure all your ills and guard you from every danger.
However, that’s not been my experience, or the experience of anyone I know, and thankfully our gospel reading today challenges such claims.
Just before the story we’ve heard today Jesus has been having a very long day.
He’s heard about the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, and tried to get away on his own, only to be sought out by crowds of people and ending up feeding more than 5000 of them on only two fish and five loaves of bread.
If you remember, the crowds had gathered, and the disciples wanted to send them away to get food as it was getting late.
But Jesus told them to feed the people themselves.
The disciples are shocked, saying, “We haven’t got enough food! We can’t possibly do it!”.
But Jesus takes the little that is available and provides enough food to leave 12 baskets of leftovers.
I wonder what the disciples made of that.
They were right in the middle of it, after all.
Maybe some in the crowd didn’t see what had happened, but they did.
However, the disciples were rather slow learners, as we see often in the gospels.
After the feeding of the 5000 Jesus finally gets a chance to be on his own, sending both the disciples and the crowds away.
I expect the disciples thought he’d get on another boat to join them or just walk round the lake, which is actually the Sea of Galilee, and catch up.
So, they did exactly what Jesus had told them to do and went out onto the lake to sail over to the other side.
However, despite doing exactly what they’d been told to do they found themselves in the middle of a big storm.
So, do faith and obedience always mean smooth sailing in life?
Sometimes we follow Jesus and find ourselves in a storm.
Sometimes we’re battered by circumstances beyond our control, far from the safety of land, with the wind and seemingly everything else against us.
We all get our turn in this particular boat, usually when we least expect it.
None of us gets through this life completely un-battered and unscathed.
Returning to our gospel, though, early in the morning, Jesus comes out to join the disciples, walking on the water.
Interestingly, it’s only at this point that the disciples are described as being terrified.
They were familiar with the lake and knew all about the storms that to this day suddenly sweep down out of nowhere there.
I’m sure they were worried about being in a small boat in a big storm, but it was the sight of someone walking across the lake that really scared them.
Were the waves and wind hiding his identity?
Or was it just the sheer impossibility of what was happening – a person walking on water – that was making it impossible for them to know who it was?
But then Jesus called out to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid”.
In other words, “It’s me. You know me. I’m not here to frighten you. You can trust me”.
Then Peter, in classic form, blurts out that he wants Jesus to command him to come out onto the water as well.
I don’t know why Peter said this, perhaps he wanted proof, and maybe he regretted it as soon as he’d said it.
Jesus then simply says, “Come”.
It would be like letting go of that tree root you’re hanging onto for dear life, and Peter is probably ready to call out, “Uh, is there anyone else up there?”.
But he’s committed himself now, so he cautiously gets out of the boat, and there he is, walking on the water, just like Jesus!
But then something happens as Peter realises where he is and the impossibility of what he’s doing.
Often, we see in cartoons a moment when a character runs off a cliff and stays suspended in mid-air until he realises what a stupid thing he just did and plunges down to the ground.
Well, here is Peter, on the water, taking his eyes off Jesus, realising what he’s just done, and beginning to sink.
The name “Peter” means rock, but now, instead of being a rock of faith, he’s just sinking like a rock.
Panicking, he cries out, “Lord, save me!”.
We’ve all been there.
It’s the cry of every person faced with situations beyond our strength, beyond our ability, and beyond our control.
When all seems lost, we cry out, “Lord, save me!”.
And Jesus’s reaction is immediate.
He reaches out, catches Peter, gets him back into the boat, and the storm calms, to the amazement of the disciples, who’d apparently not realised, even after seeing the feeding of the 5000, that Jesus has power over all things.
Life is full of adventures and encounters and accidents and experiences that remind us, over and over again, that we are not as much in control of life as we’d like to be.
A car accident, a disease, or a relationship that breaks down might throw us off.
We might feel helpless in the face of war, wildfires, and disease.
Things can and do go wrong for all of us, and we’re not always able to stop or fix them.
Some of them are just too big for one person, some are too messy to fix, and some are just beyond our abilities to control or prevent.
And even when we’re certain that we’re doing God’s will, we can’t be sure that everything will go according to our plans.
We’re never guaranteed success in our endeavours, even those done for God.
And we don’t get a pass from heartache or disappointment.
But what we can be certain of is that, if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, then we will find faith and courage to do things we never thought we could, even when storms are raging all around us.
We can know that even those things we can’t control, or fix are not beyond God, even if sometimes we wish he’d act faster or more decisively.
Sometimes we will take our eyes off Jesus and get overwhelmed by what’s happening around us, because we’re only human.
Sometimes we will find ourselves crying out, “Lord, save me!”.
But it’s then that he reaches out to catch us.
And it’s then that he says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid”.