Bible Readings: Romans 10.5-15 and Matthew 14.22-33
I have felt at times over the past several months, a bit like the disciples on that boat... somehow keeping afloat, but also somewhat adrift, without much (if any) control over the direction life might be going... very much at the mercy of external forces and circumstances, being tossed here and there between whatever unpredictable government policy and economic turns come next.
I have to confess, I’ve had some really awful days, when I’ve not felt like a particularly good or hopeful Christian. I’ve found myself incredibly frustrated, stressed, despairing, exhausted, anxious, angry, and finding it hard to see any light at the end of this rather long dark tunnel... just swamped by it all. A bit like Peter, I guess, that sense of the waves crashing all around.
And some of this seems irrational too – it’s despite being fortunate and protected – relatively young, healthy, secure job, food on the table, family are all well... but despite that, something about such a time of global uncertainty and instability does affect us all – and perhaps in ways that aren’t always straightforward or logical.
I share this not expecting any sympathy, but to say I’ve struggled a bit, and I know many many people, have found things many many times worse, in all kinds of ways. I know what has been a bit hard for me, has been much worse for others. [Bereavement in this time has been awful, when we have not been able to grieve and say farewell in the usual manner. So many people have lost jobs or have that uncertainty hanging over them. Parents and carers having to cope with home-schooling, and children adjusting to the changes – and all of us not having our normal support structures around.]
We might well be, and quite rightly, be asking where is God in this?
That of course is a question nobody can fully answer, if we’re being honest... I don’t believe there’s a simple or satisfying quick solution to that – just read the book of Job! However the accounts of Jesus life we have in scripture help us think about the hard realities of life, and how we do so through the lens of the Christian faith.
Unlike a certain Brian of Monty Python fame, Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to always look on the bright side, or say just count our blessings and then the hard stuff will just go away or affect us less... and neither did just retreat with them away in some protected place.
Jesus took them out onto the bare hillsides and open waters - where food or shelter was not guaranteed, and the weather could suddenly turn. Because that’s what life is like.
However in these wild places, he holds out his hands. Last week, offering bread; and this week, offering a saving grasp.
Through the chaos, it may be hard to even recognise him... and even when we know deep down in our hearts he is with us, faith is hard when the waves of life are crashing around us and the wind is buffeting us ready to capsize.
And even when we are clinging to faith in our storms, we may well say, like Peter, “Jesus, is it really you? Are you really there with us, because it doesn’t feel like it!”
This is part of being human. It doesn’t mean we are bad Christians – look at Peter and the rest – Jesus knew all their weaknesses full well – and still he chose them and loved them, and picked them up time and time again.
Belief is fragile – or at least can easily be shaken. It is human to be afraid. But that’s OK. Jesus doesn’t refuse to help because of Peter’s wobble. Despite the confusion, Peter still cries out “save me, Lord!” – he still does have that faith deep down.
The miracle Jesus walking on water is generally agreed to illustrate Jesus’ divine nature and particularly control over nature... but why? Is it just to make that point? Or is it something deeper?
Austin Farrer suggests that it wasn’t just to display some arbitrary power over the elements... but because love for Peter and the others, demanded it.
When Jesus was walking towards the boat, and while he and Peter had their encounter, the storm was still raging in full force. At that point of greatest need, nothing was done about the apparent cause of Peter’s wobble – the storm carried on. Jesus merely held out his hand and helped him up, in the middle of the crashing waves.
We read, it was only after they had both got back into the boat, that the wind died down.
At this point, the disciples outwardly express what we know was (albeit shakily) in Peter’s heart – that knowledge Jesus is indeed the Son of God, love embodied. They speak aloud what is in their hearts.
This is the kind of faith Paul’s letter to the Romans talks about – that faith in your heart, from which we call out to Jesus.
A faith that we hear outwardly from other people’s lips, that we take inwardly, into our hearts, and then we in turn share outwardly again with our words and our actions.
We are called to live by that faith in our hearts, as we keep grasping for Jesus’ loving hand through the storms...
and to live out that faith in likewise extending that hand of love to others, as we navigate these difficult waters together.