Walking on Water

Matthew 14.22-33


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?

Apparently not!

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”.




Miracles, Faith and Free Will

6th Sunday after Trinity / Proper 9

Mark 6.1-13 / 2 Corinthians 12.2-10


Mark tells us that Jesus has come home to Nazareth after performing a string of miracles, but if he’s hoping for some rest and comfort among his family, friends and neighbours, he’s going to be disappointed.

He goes to the synagogue on the sabbath and begins to teach, and people are reportedly ‘astounded’.

The word translated in our reading as ‘astounded’ is ‘ekplesso’, which doesn’t mean happy amazement but rather disbelief and scepticism.

And it’s not just what Jesus is saying that upsets them.

Their reference to Jesus as the son of Mary is a roundabout way of calling Jesus illegitimate.

Even if Joseph had died Jesus should still have been called Joseph’s son.

He’s still Jewish because Judaism is passed down through the mother’s line but he’s tainted by shame.

So Jesus is scandalous just by his very existence, and now he’s presuming to stand up in the synagogue with all the good, legitimate Jews, and tell them what to do.

Even worse, he’s just a local handyman, not a proper rabbi at all, so why should they take any notice of him.

They knew him when he was just a kid running around in the dirt with his brothers and sisters, so what makes him so special now?

The end result of all this is that Jesus can do almost nothing in the town, apart from heal a few sick people.

Before this point he has stopped a storm, freed someone from being tormented by evil spirits, healed a woman who’d been ill for years, and brought a young girl back to life.

But now, suddenly, all that power is gone, and Jesus can’t do anything.

But why?

Was it to do with the town’s lack of faith?

In his previous miracles Jesus has responded to requests.

He stopped the storm when his disciples woke him and demanded help.

He freed a man from evil when he ran to Jesus and begged for assistance.

He healed a sick woman when she reached out to touch his cloak.

And he helped a dying girl when her father begged that he would come.

But now no-one, apart from a few ill people, has even the faith to ask.

They’re too wrapped up in cynicism and doubt and preconceived ideas about Jesus to see and hear what’s happening right in front of them – the breaking in of God’s kingdom and the start of God doing something new.

And because they don’t believe they won’t ask for help – why would you ask for help from someone you think can’t provide it?

And because they won’t ask Jesus is unable to act.



Now, I’m definitely NOT saying that if we don’t see miracles or get answers to prayers it’s because we don’t have enough faith or haven’t prayed well enough.

Probably all Christians, even ones of great and deep faith, at one point or another, experience times when they pray for a miracle, a change, a healing, for things to be different, and are disappointed.

Paul refers to this when he talks about his mysterious ‘thorn in the flesh’.

He asks God to take it away three times but his request is refused, and I don’t think anyone could accuse Paul of lacking faith.

Sometimes we have to live with things for reasons that are unclear.


But there does seem to be some kind of link between God’s power and our willingness to ask.

There’s a scene in the film Life of Brian where a healed leper complains that Jesus came along and just healed him, when he was doing very nicely begging.

Jesus doesn’t work like that, though – we were created with free will, with the ability and right to decide whether we want anything to do with God or not, and he’s not going to march in and override that.

We may not always get what we ask for but if we don’t ask God won’t force his power on us.

What God can do, though, is find another way.

When Jesus can’t get through to his home town he goes to the surrounding villages and sends out his disciples to spread the message around the area.

And maybe the message filtered back into town and people were able to hear it then, separated a little from the Jesus everyone thought they knew, and maybe not, but the point was that Jesus didn’t spend his time trying to force the kingdom on people.

Instead, he offered it to them, and when it was rejected he accepted their answer and found a new way to get his message out and to bring help to people who needed it.

And if they won’t ask Jesus won’t force his help on them.

Instead he goes elsewhere and finds a new strategy, sending out disciples to spread his message to people who will listen.




This gives us both help and a pattern to follow.

It helps us because it prepares us to face opposition and rejection, even and perhaps especially from those closest to us, because we know that Jesus has faced the same thing.

This means we aren’t alone, and we haven’t necessarily failed.

It may be that the people we’re talking to aren’t ready to hear the message, at least from us, or prepared to be part of God’s kingdom, although that doesn’t mean they won’t ever be.

There’s always hope while God is at work.

And we have a pattern to follow because this story shows us that if something isn’t working we can change our plans, be flexible, find a new way of going about things, maybe involve new people.

The God we follow is living and active and prepared to adapt where things aren’t working, and calls us to be the same.


So let us pray that we will always have the faith to ask for God’s power to help us, the courage to bear it when we don’t get what we ask for, the consolation of knowing that we’re not alone in facing difficulties and rejection as we try to spread God’s kingdom, and the openness to God’s Spirit to go to new places, try new things, and see what God can do.