Stay In The Boat

Rev. Sarah Buteux
February 3, 2013
Matthew 14-22:33  

You can also watch the video of this sermon here and on our youtube page.


“Some people don't understand the promises they're making  

when they make them," I said.  

"Right, of course. But you keep the promise anyway.  

That's what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway.”  

 ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars  


Let us hear now the word of the Lord. From the gospel of Matthew 14:22-33


Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,* for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’  


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, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’  


Let us pray: Lord open these words to us that they might guide us as we seek to follow you. Amen.

Someone once said that, “if you want to walk on water you’ve got to get out of the boat,” and people liked that.[1]  


They liked it so much that the same guy who said it turned the idea into a book, and the book sold so well that people who buy it also frequently purchase the “if you want to walk on water you’ve got to get out of the boat” group study and leaders guide –  


and I bet, if I had dug a little deeper, I probably could have found a matching T-shirt and wrist-band, because truth be told, it’s a compelling idea.  


It’s a compelling idea that God, through stories such as this one, is calling us to get out of the boat, step out in faith, step out of our comfort zones, and believe that with enough faith anything is possible; even something as impossible as walking on water.   


Except for one niggling little detail. If you look at this story really closely, you realize that it wasn’t God who first told Peter to get out of the boat.  


It was Peter.


Walking on water was his idea. When Peter and the disciples saw a figure coming to them across the waves, they were convinced it was a ghost. Jesus said to them: ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’


But Peter, rather than trusting that Jesus was who he said he was, said: ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’

If it is you…” Now we don’t have a whole lot of time for exegesis today, so let me just say that that phrase - “if it is you” “ if you are the son of God” “if you are who you say you are”

– that question is only used two other times in this gospel: once toward the beginning when Satan tempts Jesus to prove himself in the wilderness and once toward the end when the jeering crowd challenges Jesus to come down off the cross. Which is to say that Peter is not in good company when he tests Jesus in this way, and the gospel writer wants you to know it.

The truth is that Peter didn’t step out of that boat as an act of faith. Peter stepped out of the boat because he wasn’t sure. He stepped out of that boat because he didn’t believe, didn’t believe that Jesus was who he said he was. He tested Jesus in that moment and that test would have gotten him and everyone else in that boat into trouble if Jesus hadn’t reached out to pull him back up once the man he had christened “the rock” began to sink like a stone.

And Jesus was disappointed in Peter in that moment - ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ but I don’t think he was disappointed in Peter for sinking, I think Jesus was sad because Peter felt the need to step out of the boat in the first place.

Which is why I don’t think this is a story about stepping out in faith. I think this is actually a story about the importance of staying in the boat.

I think the faith this story is calling us to exercise is not a faith that enables us to do the impossible, but a faith that gives us the courage to remain in the boat, stick it out with each other even when the going gets tough, and ride out the storm together knowing that God is with us, that God will come to us, that if we can tough it out together God will see us safely home.


And friends, I think this is a vital message for our congregation this morning because our boat is getting a little crowded and the seas are getting a little rough and the resources we started this journey with are running low.


So I think we need to cling to this story, as surely as Peter clung to Jesus, because the days ahead are going to be hard. I won’t lie. Growth is good and necessary but it is never easy.


I can tell you right now that there are going to be times when you are going to want to bail, times when you will wonder whether toughing it out with this group of disciples is really worth it, times when you will doubt whether we’re going to make it to the other side.


But hear me now, because those are the times when we need to reach out and hold on to one another that much harder and find it in our hearts to trust God all that much more, not by testing God but by doing everything in our power to work together and keep this boat on an even keel.


Friends, we were not designed to walk on water, nor has God asked us to do so. We were designed to live in community. The latter can sometimes seem as hard the former, but have a little faith, and trust that even when the night seems darkest and the seas get rough, that no one less than Christ is coming, and that no one less than Christ will lead us home.


Amen? Amen. Let us pray.  O Lord, as I turn things over to Paul now, I pray that your Spirit would flow in and around this congregation. That you would help him help us to see where we have been and where, by your grace, we are going. Grant us the grace to ask the right questions, the courage to hear your answers, and the compassion to listen deeply to you and one another as we make our way across the sea. Amen.


[1] John Ortberg