Standing on Faith in Rough Water

Image: Pastor Emily (right) and her sister (left) paddle board on Lake Tahoe. Photo by T. Stockert

This sermon was preached at Knox Presbyterian Church on Aug. 13, 2017. It is based on Matthew 14:22-33

Last week, I went to Lake Tahoe for a family reunion of my mother’s family which is spread out all over the country. The reunion was wonderful, and at one point we had four generations all together. Lake Tahoe is beautiful. It’s lovely water surrounded entirely by mountains, which were still snow capped even in August.

As one way to enjoy the beauty of the lake, some of us decided to go stand up paddle boarding. Anybody ever been before?

Ok. At first I was a little scared of paddle boarding - I tried surfing once and I did not like it. I’m not a fan of anything where you go too fast or where it feels like there’s an imminent risk of falling or drowning. Paddle boarding is actually pretty steady - there’s these new “stability” boards which don’t flip too easily. The board will hold you up if you relax and stand steady with soft knees. Last summer, I took a class over at Howarth Park, and I learned you can even kneel or sit down if your balance isn’t steady, and just paddle. That first time, I did kneel a lot. Also, you wear a life vest and they tether the board to you so you won’t lose it if you fall off.

In Lake Tahoe last week, I went out on the paddle board and standing much of the time - paddling God’s good creation, along the beautiful lake coastline - enjoying floating on the water - it got me to thinking about God and Scripture. In today’s passage, we heard about Peter’s attempt to walk on water.

In the scripture passage for today, Jesus has withdrawn to the mountains to pray. He comes back to rejoin the disciples. They have gone out on a boat. They are far from shore and the weather has gotten bad. Jesus walks out on the lake towards them. They’re terrified, but Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.

Like we saw in the Children’s Time today, sometimes we focus on the chastisement of Peter. Instead, we might look at the fact that Peter tries. He really tries, against all odds and logic, he steps out onto the water. .

Peter doesn’t have a paddle board when he steps out of the boat. He just has his faith. It holds him up for a few moments, but he gets scared when the waves come. Jesus catches hold of him.

One of the parts of the story we can relate to with Peter is the fear that comes with the rough waves. Each of us at some point faces rough waves in life. Sometimes, just getting up in the morning is rough. There’s health worries, family worries, financial worries. Not to mention how stressful it is to read or watch the news with all the national and international worries that are real and frightening. No one could blame us if we just want to curl up in a ball under the covers. Or stay on the boat instead of stepping out in faith.

Imagine what would you would do on a boat in the middle of the night in stormy weather? Step out onto the water? Honestly, I don’t know what I would do.

That’s our call as Christians, though: to have faith even in the stormy weather. To try, to step out, to grab hold of grace wherever we can.

Those of us here today will probably never have a literal walk of faith on a lake. If we’re lucky, we might get a chance to sit by the sea ponder the waves, or take a canoe ride with a dash of imagination, thinking about what it would be like to be on the water.

Some of us might get a chance to paddle around on a paddle board. They rent them out at Howarth, and they even offer lessons. With paddleboarding, what I learned was you have to trust that the board will hold you up, stay relaxed when the water gets rough, and drop to your knees when you’re scared you’ll lose your balance.

And if you, fall off remember your tethered to the board so it stays right with you.

Whether you take a real or imaginary trip out onto the water as a part of your faith journey, if faith is like paddle-boarding, then we can think of Jesus as the ultimate stability board. With faith, we have to trust to we will be held up, stay relaxed when the waves come, and know that we can always drop to our knees when we can’t keep our balance. And remember, we’re tethered together.

The good news of faith is that Jesus is present first, and stable always, with a unbreakable tether. It may feel like we are taking the first step out of the boat - but like Peter - we are actually stepping towards Jesus - whose love is always present before that first step. Amen.

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