■ By Kent Leydens / Contributed
The disciples are in a boat. The wind was against them, driving them out to sea. At early dawn, they see a terrifying sight – a figure walking toward them. “It is a ghost!” they cry out.
Then, Jesus said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
But, apparently, the disciples weren’t sure. Peter answered, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
I’d like to step back for a minute to ponder that strange question. “Lord, we’ll recognize it’s truly you only if you command me to risk my life and step out onto the dark, threatening sea.”
Really? I think Peter could have come up with something safer, like: “Jesus, if that’s you, name the people here in the boat,” or “Jesus, what was that prayer you taught us?” or “Jesus, if that’s you, what’s the special thing that happened yesterday? Here’s a hint: What’d we have for dinner?”
My closest Army buddies and I were those who did dangerous things our mothers wouldn’t have approved of: “Hey, floor this thing! Let’s see how fast it’ll go…” and “Guess what I found way behind the rifle range. Let’s go watch the tracer rounds bounce over our heads.”
That’s how we were known. And, surprise-of-surprises, Jesus is recognized in somewhat the same way. He’s the one who commands you to leave the safety of the boat, step into the sea and test the waters. He commands that we show what our faith is made of. That’s Jesus.
Jesus began his ministry calling a group of ordinary people to walk away from everything familiar and secure in the family business and venture out with him on a perilous sea called “discipleship” (Matthew 4). Now, 10 chapters later, we see what that’s come to look like – disciples knowing Jesus by saying, “Lord, if it is you, call me to get out of the boat and walk on the waves!”
I met an Episcopal priest recently – she’s ordained to serve a church that has no Sunday worship services. Her congregation is comprised of the homeless street people from the neighborhood. She prays with them and teaches them scripture as they cook meals for one another and work together cleaning up and caring for the old church building. She receives no pay for her work. Who’d command her to take such a call?
Some years ago, the congregation that sent me to seminary joined with another congregation. They sold their two old buildings and built a beautiful and expensive new facility in the suburbs. They had a multi-million-dollar debt when the financial crisis hit in 2008.
One of my seminary classmates was pastoring that church at the time. He told me that after the appeal went out to the congregation for more funds because the ministry was in real jeopardy, a young couple, on the limited incomes of school teachers, pledged $10,000 to the effort. That was $10,000 on top of what they’ve already committed to the church budget. How did they make such a commitment?
“We just thought this was the sort of thing that our Lord would expect of us,” they told their pastor, “so, we made this commitment.”
What sort of Lord expects such sacrifice?
Here’s the good news: When Peter ventured forth, even though the going was rough (he sank), Jesus reached out and caught him. Peter got back into the boat. He was safe, and the wind and waves were still.
None of that would have happened, none of it would be known, if Peter had not ventured forth. If he had not asked and obeyed the call, then he’d never had this great opportunity for recognition and rescue by Jesus. Now that he has, everyone goes on in a new way.
In another presbytery, a group of college students got together at a camp and made a video for us. In it, they gathered together thousands-of-dollars-worth of adventure gear. They’re ready to go hiking, mountaineering, white water rafting, snorkeling. They had it all. They heard a rousing speech about “getting out there and doing it!” They piled everything into a four-wheel drive rig and drove off.
They went about 50 feet, got out of the truck and stood silently at the edge of a pool in a little creek bed. Then, this little wisp of a girl in a bathing suit and water wings pushed her way through, gave them an incredulous look and stepped into the shallow, calm stream.
That’s the college group’s view of the church. They saw all that we have, they’ve heard our sermons, but what opportunities are we taking to test our faith? Who’s daring to get wet?
The Gospel tells that if we truly want to be close enough to Jesus to recognize him, then we’ve got to step out of the boat. We’ve got to venture forth. We’ve got to prove to ourselves his promises through trusting his promises, by risking and venturing out in his name.