August 28, 2022 Reflection and Worship Link

Picture of Rev. Nancy Talbot

Rev. Nancy Talbot

Associate Minister

Walking on water

Trinity Sunday

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:22 to 33

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Several years ago I was on the search committee for a new minister at my home church.  We talked about what we wanted in a minister, and we would joke that the minister we were seeking needed to be able to walk on water.  We meant it as a joke, referring to the minister’s ability to perform miracles, but really – as you’ll hear through this sermon today, as we look deeper at the story – the story of Peter walking on the water was less about the miracle of walking on water, and more about his courage and the strength of his faith. 


In today’s Gospel story, Jesus invited Peter to take some pretty dangerous-seeming first steps.  Peter was in a boat and called out to Jesus who was walking across the water.  He said, “If it’s really you, Jesus, tell me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus encouraged him and said, “Come”


When my kids were learning to take their first steps, it did not just happen overnight. Do you remember watching your child or grandchild learning to walk? I remember it being months of gaining strength and balance by learning to sit, then leg strength when they learned to stand up… eventually they walk with support, and finally –they realize they have the physical strength and balance to do it, and once they also have the faith that they can – they are on their way!  And of course once that happens, there is no stopping them!!  But those first steps are the toughest.  It takes a while to get a feel for it.  She had to trust that when she picked up her foot and then placed it back down, she was going to hit solid ground.  And as the ground seemed to rock back and forth as she went, she learned to trust that she wasn’t going to fall flat on her face.  She learned to trust that everything was going to be okay.  With practice and perseverance, she gained more confidence and no longer thought twice about it.


Just as many parents encourage their children to take that first step, so Jesus encouraged Peter to get out of the boat, to step out onto the water. 


Life’s “first steps” happen for us in all kinds of ways.  Retiring, graduating, getting married, having a baby, starting a new job or new school, taking on a project, moving to a new home, moving into a retirement community trying a new sport or hobby, calling an old friend, mending a relationship, having your heart broken, receiving a diagnosis, going on a big trip, restarting activities post-Covid – all these are just some of the first steps life sends our way.  Usually, they require both courage and trust.  Think about it for a moment how in your life recently, you have had to take those first steps out of a boat and onto the water? 


As a congregation we often go through times when we step out of our comfortable boat.  Every time we try a new program or initiative, we take risks and have courage in doing a new thing that helps us to live out our ministry in our community.  Sometimes this is challenging, and sometimes things don’t go as we hoped or dreamed.  But each step helps us in determining who we are as Mount Seymour United Church in 2022.  It helps us to challenge us in the ways we maybe need to be challenged, and facilitate the ongoing ministry in this place – whatever that may look like.  We have many first steps ahead that will require patience, trust and faith. 


Perhaps it is too obvious to say, but important to mention nonetheless… that if we don’t take those first steps, we never learn to walk.  And the only thing more disappointing than falling would be if we had the ability to walk, but never made the attempt. 


Our faith journeys also consist of many steps.  It is hard for us, in today’s world, to accept that spirituality is not an instant product.  We are living in part of the first time and place in history where almost everything we need can be granted instantly.  Food can be purchased just down the road, or delivered to our door – an instant meal.  No wood needs to be gathered to kindle a fire to cook food that we also picked from our garden.  If our homes are cold, we turn a little knob on the wall and our house warms up.  If we have a ticket, any one of us could fly across the world in a matter of hours.  We have grown accustomed to this – instant results – and often we think this should apply to our life in the church as well.


But that is not often the case.  Most often, there are not instant results in our life in the church. It is one of the things that has remained untouched by the changes of technology and society.  Our journey with God still requires many steps.  The first of these steps is to recognize the value of nurturing our spirits.  We are like the disciples in the boat – Peter’s first step was to notice that Jesus was there in the first place.  They see this form out there on the water.  Something is there.  This is the first step – and for some people, this step of noticing God may take years.  Doug, the minister I used to work with at Grace United in Hanover, Ontario, would often comment about how people would say they “found Jesus, or Found the Lord.”  His response was “I didn’t know he was missing?”  He was partly being facetious, but also made a good point.  Jesus is there, God is there, Jesus’ life example is laid out before us, it is we who need to take the time to notice and pay attention. 


*Bruce Prewer [see his Lectionary resources pages] writes:

*To be a Christian can be like being at sea in a storm.

At times, it is like beating upwind,

or rowing against a strong current with threatening waves.

Life is insecure.

Yet even in our darkest moments,

 Jesus still comes, saying:

“Cheer up, my sisters and brothers. It is I. Do not be afraid.”

He comes through the storms with us

and brings peace which passes all understanding.

The worst storms cannot separate us.

“Cheer up, my sisters and brothers. It is I. Do not be afraid.”

*The early church treasured this story

because it spoke to them in their troubles.

They found Christ to be faithful, always.

“Cheer up, my sisters and brothers. It is I. Do not be afraid.”


Then Peter calls out to Jesus.  This is the second step – to go beyond knowing that there is something – or someone – of value to us.  To go beyond noticing, and to be wanting this, to want to know this man Jesus, to want to follow him, to try to live as he did. 


Peter calls out to Jesus – as we call out to Jesus in prayer and learning.


Then Peter takes his first physical step of getting out of the boat and walking toward Jesus.  For us, this is when we move beyond just recognizing Jesus, and even move beyond just wanting Jesus.  Now we begin to pay attention to how we live and to make real, visible changes to our lives and our routines to bring us closer to living like he did.  Perhaps we begin to pray regularly.  Or we begin to take time intentionally to sit in silence or walk alone to focus on our gratitude for life, and put aside our worries or preoccupations.  We begin to worship regularly.  We begin to change our daily activities to do things which truly fit our life’s priorities.  We make the conscious choices to have our lives reflect the commitment to justice and openness that is what Jesus was all about.  This is what it is to get out of the boat – to step out onto the water and begin to walk towards Jesus.


Stepping out onto the water – that sounds dangerous, doesn’t it?  And it seems difficult to us in our life in the church as well.  “I don’t have time to pray” or “I’m too tired or angry or hurt or busy to worship.”  “It is too much work or too scary to support the people of our society who don’t have the ability to support themselves or to see them as children of God.”  That’s someone else’s job!  We think of every reason why we should get back into the boat… it is comfortable there.  This is a difficult step.  Old habits die hard – and these include habits of the mind – habits of the things we tell ourselves and the ways we discourage ourselves from continuing on this journey.  It is hard to leave these old habits in the boat as we step onto the water.


It seems difficult – but when was it most difficult for Peter?  Peter was out there, walking on the water – when he began to think about how crazy it was.  “I’m out here on the water,” he thought, looking around.  “It was a lot safer in the boat” – and this is when he begins to sink. 


Notice that it is only when he takes his eyes off Jesus that he begins to sink. 


Our lives go through many times of sinking.  Someone dies, or we are angry about something – and we stop praying or stop attending worship.  Or maybe we go through one of the many steps in our lives, getting married or divorced, getting sick, moving, changing job, or we just get busy or distracted – the major changes happen in our lives and we take our eyes off our spiritual life – off of Jesus – and we begin to sink.  Or as a church, our focus gets sidelined by difficult times or difficult people.


Stepping onto the water wasn’t risky for Peter – after all, he was walking toward Jesus.  No, the big risk was taking his eyes off of Jesus and being overwhelmed by his circumstances.  Even then Jesus extended a helping hand. 


Jesus was the safety factor in Peter’s experience. 


If we are walking toward him to the best of our ability, he will help us through life’s unpredictable waters – but we must take the steps.  I am not suggesting the road will be easy.  We all know that is not the case!  But when we have faith and keep our eyes on our goals and priorities, and accept Jesus’s hand in the helping hands of the people around us, it makes our challenges a little less challenging and our struggles a little easier.  


A quote I love says, “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”  God calls us to set sail.  And once we’re out on the raging sea, we see God and some new possibilities.   Jesus is on the water and bids us come.  Do we dare like Peter?  God is patient with us when like the other disciples we can’t seem to leave the comfort of the boat.  But the church was built on Peter, not the others. Can you hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Come?” If you want to walk on the water, you’ve got to get out of the boat. 


May we take these first steps, and many more – and keep our eyes and hearts ever focussed on Jesus and the ways he has taught us.  With this faith, we, like Peter, can all walk on water!