God be in my head & in my understanding; God be in our hearts & in our thinking. Amen
If you were to pick just one Bible passage which sums up what we’ve been going through with Covid-19, then I think our Gospel reading today would be near the top of the list.
The disciples are in a boat, battered by waves. They are far from the safety of shore – and the wind is against them. They’d been out there most of the night and must have been cold, wet and exhausted. Not all of the disciples were fishermen. For some of them this wasn’t their natural place to be and they might have been sick and scared, their soft hands perhaps rubbed raw from unfamiliar oars and ropes. Then along comes Jesus…
And that might be a good place to pause and draw some comparisons to today. We’ve had a long period of unusual, troubling circumstances, where we’ve all been buffeted around a bit. Some are a bit more scared and a bit more raw than others. And it’s still pretty stormy out there. Maybe you’ve lost someone close? Or it might be the thought of catching Covid-19. Perhaps not being able to see family & friends or not being able to come to church has left you a bit at sea. Maybe you’re worried about making ends meet if your job has suffered.
Our passage today doesn’t say that there won’t be storms – but that Jesus comes to us in the midst of them. And that should reassure us and comfort us.
But actually, there’s more to our reading than that. The disciples had been toiling away for hours. It was late afternoon when they got in the boat and it had started to get rough in the early evening. It was now between 3am and 6am – and they were still out there. The sea was a place of chaos for them. They’d probably been imagining demons and monsters all night. And just when they thought matters couldn’t get any worse, a ghost appears. They’re terrified.
Of course, we know that it’s Jesus doing the water-walking. But they don’t. And I wonder how often, in the here and now, we miss the presence of Jesus, thinking it’s something else. Perhaps he’s there in the things that unsettle us – and we don’t recognise him, because we too mistake what we see?
And I don’t imagine that his first words did much to settle their nerves. “Take heart, it is I: do not be afraid.” Because “it is I” is better translated: “I AM”. The same two words that God used to describe himself to Moses at the burning bush. “Take heart, I AM: do not be afraid.” Jesus was saying that he was God. Only God could calm the chaos of the water.
My Lord and my God
Up until then, for the disciples, Jesus was perhaps someone who could work miracles, obviously a prophet. But did they think Jesus was God himself? In Matthew’s Gospel it’s the first time we see the disciples worship Jesus. And I wonder if sometimes we think of Jesus as a holy best friend – and whilst he may be that, we forget that he’s a lot, lot more besides.
Thomas later said: “My Lord and my God” when face-to-face with the risen, and wounded, Jesus. Thomas recognised he was in a direct relationship with the creator of the universe who had made himself completely vulnerable, for us. Do we recognise that too? Can we say ‘My Lord and my God’?
You’ve got to get out of the boat
Is it any wonder that Jesus’ words inspired the reaction that we saw in Peter? The sea was still rough at that point, but he went for it. He got out of the boat.
We can easily get a bit dismissive of Peter – that he started to sink until Jesus reached out and caught him. And none of the other disciples said: ‘Nice try, Pete, better luck next time’. But for a short period, Peter did walk on water.
Now various footballers have walked on water over the years according to the terraces – and I can’t speak for any of you saintly people here today – but Peter walked further on water than I have. So, let’s give credit where it’s due.
It reminds me of a great book called: ‘If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat’. It’s based on this passage from Matthew and it’s about doing stuff outside of your comfort zone. It might be terrifying, and you might start to sink, but Jesus is there to help you get back up.
Inviting God in
And I started my talk today with two lines from the Sarum Prayer: God be in my head and in my understanding; God be in our hearts and in our thinking. In that prayer we invite God into us. Not near us or close to us – but into us. We hope God will be gentle in there – and it should prompt us to ask what kind of God we would want to invite in.
Maybe circumstances are difficult for us right now and we’re feeling bruised. But Jesus isn’t just walking towards us in the storm, he’s here already, within us. The wounded, creator God who wants to have a personal relationship with us. Eventually he’ll calm the waters for all of us here in this boat.
But there were 12 disciples – only one felt inclined to get out of the boat and take a short walk. Perhaps you are that one person in 12? Maybe you feel challenged or inspired to do something extraordinary and step out. If you do, then Jesus is there not just to catch you but to keep you from falling. Amen
- ‘If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat’ by John Ortberg, CBC.
- ‘God be in my head: The Sarum Prayer’ by Ken Wilson. Church Publishing Incorporated. See p94.