August 7, 2011


“Without Excuse”

Matthew 14:22-33




Matthew 14:22-33 (RSV)
Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,
but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them.
And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking 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 for fear.
But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus;
but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?”
And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”



We are called to step out in faith, even in the midst of troubled waters, if we are to be faithful to the call of Christ.


While it is tempting to focus on the intricacies of this text, there are many, what I want to do this morning is take one point of emphasis and hold it up, to ask you to look at Peter as this congregation.  Imagine, if you will, that we, the collective we, are Peter.  Look at us, disciples, through this one command, “Come.”


This call to Peter, “come,” is not a question, it is not an invitation.  These came earlier in the gospel.  Like Peter, we have made our baptismal commitments, we have signed on as disciples.  Like Peter, what we do is follow, respond to the Lord’s urgings.  The intellectual part, the belief part, is something that is ongoing, of course.  What we are about now is responding.  So, the church, then, is a place where Disciples are not only received and made, but strengthened.


Why strengthen?   If you have not realized it yet, being a disciple is not always easy.  Discipleship, by its very definition, is something we are; we live out this identity.  We call this practicing our faith.  These two words are very important:  Faith and Practice.


Faith is important, it is not some intellectual property, it is not belief; instead it is the ‘orientation of the whole person that can best be described as trust.’


Practice is important, not in the sense of ‘practice makes perfect’ but that it is something to be done.  Attorneys practice law, Physicians practice medicine, Disciples practice faith.


Sometimes we are hesitant to act because we see things happen that make us fearful.  When I think about practicing my faith, it is perfectly understandable that it is easier at one time than another. 


I have been thinking about riding a bike.  I still remember my green, 20” bike I got for my birthday.  I used the training wheels like everybody else.  I was confident.  So confident, in fact, that one day my father told me, “today we are taking off those training wheels.”  I was terrified.  “By myself,” I wondered?  And so that evening my dad took off those wheels.  He told me to get on the bike while he held the back of the seat in one hand.  For an hour or so he ran alongside me, without his hand on the bike, while I rode it, practicing.  What I depended on in those moments was knowing that his hand was just a few inches away, ready in an instant to keep me from falling.


This story is different in one way; the text tells us that Peter is not going to Jesus, but instead, Jesus is “coming to them on the sea.”  Amidst the storm, and the wind, and the waves, Jesus is coming to them.


Disciples are called to step out in faith, even in the midst of troubled waters, if we are to be faithful to the call of Christ.


Too often, we believe that Discipleship is only about ‘still waters’ and ‘green pastures.’  Such imagery is a minority report in the bible.  Any quick reading of either testament reveals that when God calls and we respond, we are likely to find ourselves amongst the waves.  Faith, or trust, seems absent, usually because we are not doing anything that requires it.   Faith is not really needed if we keep our boats tethered in the shallows.  It is only when we respond to the command ‘come’ that faith is not only present, but a much needed commodity.


If faith seems absent around here, it could be because we aren’t doing anything that requires it.[1]



Disciples are called to step out in faith, even in the midst of troubled waters, if we are to be faithful to the call of Christ.


So you see why it is easy to make excuses for why we do not act when Christ calls, “Come.”


So, let’s not be too harsh on Peter.  He is, after all, the only one who gets out of the boat. 


Remember my story about the bike ride?  I do not picture Jesus here as angry and scolding, I picture him as playful and perhaps a bit amused…like my father as he quickly reached out and grabbed my bike seat when I became too focused on the mechanics of riding, and not just riding.


This text offers the assurance of the love of God, the Grace of Christ, and the presence of these blessings when we need it most.   The church does not need superhuman or saintly faith to do miraculous things.  Didn’t they just feed 5000 people out of a picnic basket?  Let’s quit making excuses.  It only takes a little bit of faith for a congregation to change their tone from terrified cries to “Truly you are the Son of God.”








[1] Campbell, Ernest quoted by Clifton Kirpatrick in “Feasting on the Word,” Year A, Vol. 3, p. 335.