READING MATTHEW 14:22-33 (NRSV) - Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
SERMON: "Stepping Out - Taking The Risk" There are two levels to the story in our Gospel today - the level in which we see Jesus as the stiller of the storm; as the one who brings peace to those who sail through life in the boat called the church, and the level in which we see Jesus as the one who bestows power; as the one who calls to his followers - to those who are willing to step out of the safety of the boat - "come to me" - and who supports them when they do so.
It is this second level to the story that I want us to think about today - the level at which we see Jesus as the giver of power to those who, as a part of his church - are willing take a chance.
Think with me on the whole episode of Peter and his trip out upon the water. Think with me of how he was willing to risk all on the word of his master.
We hear in the gospel story that the disciples have been commanded by Jesus to take a boat and go before him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while Jesus stays behind to dismiss the crowds that had gathered to listen to him.
By evening Jesus was alone - praying - and the disciples were far from shore, being battered by wind and waves. They struggle almost all night against the storm that is crashing down against them, and they struggle successfully, until near dawn they see an apparition - they see someone or something - walking across the water towards them - and they are terrified and quite naturally given the circumstances, they cry out in fear.
Immediately Jesus, for it is he who is walking upon the water, responds to the disciple's fear with the words - "Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid."
Peter answers Jesus first – saying: "Lord - if it is you - command me to come to you on the water." And Jesus answers by saying "Come". And Peter climbs over the edge of the boat and puts his feet upon the water, and begins to walk towards Jesus.
Now some people dismiss the miracles recorded in the bible as simply tall tales.
They claim that the stories of healing and of resurrection and of walking on water are but symbols for other things. I don't agree with these people at all - I don't agree that these things never happened because I know that miracles occur, that people do get healed, that the dead are raised; and that many other marvellous, unexplainable things occur when people call upon the Lord.
Even so - most of the miracle stories in the bible are symbolic in that they teach us things about life and about faith even as they tell us about the marvellous things that Jesus and the disciples did.
And the story of Peter walking upon the water towards Jesus is one of these. It shows us what can happen when we respond to the call of Jesus, it shows us how we can triumph over the forces of chaos and meaninglessness, it shows us how, when we take chance on the word of Jesus, his power lifts us up and allows us to weather the storms of life and do something new.
Think about it - Peter did not need to get out of the boat. He did not need to venture forth upon the stormy waters. He could have simply stayed where he was and waited for the Lord to come to him.
He could have sheltered himself in the safety of the boat in the knowledge that everything would be okay now that he Lord was coming to him and the other disciples But he did not. Instead Peter took a chance. He asked the Lord to bid him to come to him, He asked the Lord for the power to meet him in the middle of the sea.
Here is courage indeed - The courage to venture forth into danger and to do what the Lord has said can be done; the courage to risk taking a step that does not really need to be taken, simply because the Lord tells him it can be taken.
Most people suffer from a lack of boldness, a lack of courage - even Christians suffer in this way. Given the choice between continuing in a situation where, despite the burdens and the dangers that are all around, there is a reasonable degree of safety, and venturing out into a new and unknown situation, where the dangers seem even greater and where there is no apparent safety net, most people will elect to stay put - to stay where they are.
Thus it is that women will stay in a home where they and their children are being abused rather than walk out and try to find a new life. Thus it is that men will work for years in a job that is slowly destroying their health and happiness - rather than risk their homes and their security by returning to school or starting their own businesses. Thus it is that teenagers will not speak to someone whom they are attracted to because they are afraid of botching up - afraid of being laughed at and rejected. Thus it is that people who have had dreams of travelling around the world or of doing something else very special will stay where they are and allow their dreams to wither and die.
What have we been afraid to do? What have we postponed because we dreaded the possible consequences? Who have we have avoided because we did not know what to say to them? Where have we refused to go because we feared what might happen there? What goal have we hid from because we have felt inadequate? What dream have we let wither and die? Sometime we need to get out of the safety of boat.
We need to say to the Lord, "Lord, if it is you - bid me come to you." I am not saying here today to go out and take a wild chance on the first thing that comes along - but I am saying - if you have a dream - or if you are in a situation where wholeness and happiness are elusive - and you hear the master calling to you to take a chance - if you see that you can do something to help someone else - or simply feel that God is calling you to change something in your life that seems unchangeable - risk it.
Peter - though he did not need to - in the absolute sense of the word need - got out of the boat - and - upon the bidding of the Lord - walked upon the sea. And he did well - his faith held him up - the power of Christ held him up, and he continued to do well until he forget about that power that he had called upon, he did well until he focussed upon the danger he was in, till he looked at the strong wind and the waves - and became afraid. Then he began to sink.
When we take a risk - when we venture out upon the bidding of the Lord to do something new, or simply to fulfil what we believe our calling is - it is very important that we remember to stay focussed on our goal - to trust that God will see us through despite what is happening all around us. A helicopter pilot who flew from an aircraft carrier in the Pacific told this story. "I was flying the helicopter back to the ship when a blinding fog rolled in.
Flying at a low altitude, I knew that a single mistake would plunge me and my crew into the ocean. Worse yet, I was experiencing a complete loss of balance - which is common for pilots flying by instruments. This loss of balance - known as vertigo - was so bad that despite the instrument readings I was certain that I was lying on my side. For 15 minutes I flew the helicopter by its instruments, fighting the urge to turn it according to my feeling. When we finally broke safely through the fog, I was deeply thankful I had being trained to rely upon my instruments rather than on my feelings. That is what people who live by faith do - they remember that feelings can be misleading, but the truths in God's word are reliable, trustworthy, and consistent.
When we believe and act on these truths, we eventually break through the fog and experience the fulfilment of divine promise. Peter - when he is overcome by fear, when he starts to walk according to his feelings instead of by the instruments of faith, begins to sink. His risk looks as if it has failed - but, as our story shows - it does not fail. Pete sinks - but as he sinks Peter remembers from whence his help comes - and he cries out - "Lord! Save me!" And Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him.
That is what the Lord does when we risk as well; it is what he does when he bids us come to him over the dangerous waters. When we step out, when we take a risk to come closer to God, and then falter... the hand of Jesus reaches out to us and lifts us up. All we have to do is remember - and focus on him once again.
Jesus says to Peter after reaching out to him to save him, he says, and I believe he says it gently - he says "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When we take a risk for the Lord, when we dare to do what is right, when we decide to go an extra mile - a mile that we need not walk - but which Jesus tells us we can walk - he is near to us to help us. We do not need to doubt the outcome.
We do not need to fear the adversity we encounter on the way. All we need to do is keep focussed on Jesus, to look to where our help comes from. All we need to do is ask for the help we need and trust that it will come. Like Peter who stepped out of the boat and walked on the water towards the Lord who had called him - we too can step out, and we really ought to step out, to respond to the Lord who bids us come to him.
When we do power flows, When we do marvellous things happen, When we do we discover new things about ourselves and our world. We can risk, because we have a powerful Lord watching over us, We can trust, because we have a forgiving God caring for us, We can step out because we have a God who is sure to save.Blessed be God - day by day. Amen
PRAYER: Let us pray: O God, when trials beset us it is natural to fear. You call us to be courageous, but we often find our faith lacking. When asked to take risks, we often take the easy way out. And when unfair things happen to other people, we are often too timid to speak out. But you, O Lord, are the God of justice and compassion; you are to be trusted! Have mercy on us. Forgive us our sin. Lead us forward even when the way seems dangerous.
Lord God - help us all to take risks in your name - to do that which others think impossible - to do that which we think impossible. Help us to dream and to do, to plan and to execute, to start and to finish, secure in the knowledge that from you comes salvation, from you comes the power that we need.