Sunday, 10 August 2014

Outside the comfort zone

The vastness of the Pacific, off Vancouver Island. Overwhelming even when calm. July 2014.
Trinity 8A

From Matthew 14: 22-33, Jesus walks on water.

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 towards 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?’ 

Today in church we thought about the story of Jesus walking on the water. In itself, it's pretty amazing. Why does Jesus display his divinity in this way? He so often seemed to hide his real nature (the so called 'Messianic secret') but here he does his own thing, regardless of anyone else. Perhaps. Or perhaps not...Perhaps he knew the disciples were out there, needing a divine encounter. Perhaps he just enjoyed being God in the flesh and doing God-like things once in a while. I personally like a perplexing Jesus sometimes...

The phrase 'outside your comfort zone' may be a relatively modern one but it describes exactly how it must've felt for the disciples to look up from straining at the oars on that windy night, seemingly without the help of their Master present with them, and to see him approaching in such a mysterious and other worldly fashion, fresh from his 'night on the bare mountain'. 

(I hear the voices of 'reason' saying 'you can't believe that he really, actually walked on water can you? It's just not possible...' but to be honest, when you're dealing with the supernatural, anything is possible).

But the very human side to the story begins in the second half of the reading. The disciples, crying out that it must be a ghost, are addressed by Jesus across the roar of the wind: 'Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid' (verse 27).

And the story could stop there. It would be good as it was. But it continues, with Peter's response. A display of divine power calls forth some response, and out of all the disciples, it was going to be Peter who would want to join in. 

'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water', says Peter. Jesus simply says 'Come'. And so Peter does. He gets out of the boat, in the wind and the waves, and begins to walk towards his Master, doing exactly what the Master does. But. And there's a big but; and it's a 'but' which I understand only too well, having spent a significant part of my summer holiday doing things and going places way out of my particular comfort zones (viz. flying, boating, climbing and going up high things in cable cars).

The 'but' is that Peter, understandably, forgets to look at Jesus and looks at his circumstances instead. The wind, the waves, the it-not-being-normal-to-walk-on -anything-other-than-dry-land business. Like me, looking out of the airplane window and thinking about the altitude and the 200 mile an hour clouds rushing by and the time zone changes and the cabin air pressure and thinking 'this is just not normal...'

Poor Peter: 'but when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Peter's cry is the basic cry of the human condition before a righteous and awesome God: 'Lord, have mercy'. 

The proper response to Jesus walking on water, calling us to follow, saving us and stilling the storms of life, is of course, worship.

Being 'outside your comfort zone' is perhaps a glib phrase, but outside can feel an extremely uncomfortable place. 

We thought in church of those we knew for whom there appears to be no comfort, or of our own situations where life has strayed outside of what feels good and normal, whether through relationship breakdown, addiction, relocation, bereavement, unemployment or illness. I thought of a brave little boy I know who, having just celebrated his 4th birthday, now faces 14 lots of general anaesthetic in order for radiotherapy to be able begin to fight off his recently contracted cancer. I thought of his parents.

Where is the Good News in this gospel story, or in countless stories of people struggling with deep, dark and difficult situations? 

The Good News is not a happy clappy, glib 'I'm okay really'; but a deep knowledge that, like Peter walking towards Jesus and crying out 'save me'; it is precisely outside the comfort zone where we have our deepest experience of God.

And so in church we dropped pebbles into a freshly filled bucket of water to represent each situation before God, as an act of prayer. They sank, of course. 

But not out of sight.

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