(Prepared for Sunday August 10)
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
I found that strange? “Lord, if it is you, command me to risk my life, to tempt death, to walk out across a lake of dark, swirling, threatening sea.”
First it seemed strange that Peter was uncertain that the voice calling him from the waves was the voice of Jesus. Trying to hear in a raging storm, which Matthew tells us is the context for this favorite bible story, is something with which we can identify. Driving wind, white caps and rough seas, lightening and thunder… “What?” “I can’t hear you!” “You want me to do what?” It reminds us of that great old hymn – Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea, day by day his clear voice soundeth, saying, “Christian, follow me;”Peter doesn’t question the tumult of his life or ours, the wild restless sea. It’s Peter’s contention that Jesus voice wasn’t all that clear.
And Peter calls out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to walk on the waves.” Peter has the audacity to give Jesus an order and amazingly Jesus complies. This might be an important warning about being careful what you ask for. Maybe we should pay more attention to our prayerful petitions. One important aspect of this interchange is that Peter doesn’t walk on water on his own it is a matter of obedience. Running ahead of the Spirit’s leading – in an act of prophetic ministry or vocal ministry can be misdirected. In all humility Quakers have to fess up to coming up with the penitential practice of solitary confinement, a practice declared cruel and inhumane.
“Lord, if it is you….?” If Peter wasn’t sure, how can we know when it is Jesus calling us to step out on faith? With Quakerism’s orientation toward immediate revelation we’ve sometimes had to deal with the embarrassment of a Friend doing something stupid and the whole society suffers. We’ve had to find a way to support the individual who feels led to prophetic ministry and yet be ready to help someone pull in their wings, maybe for this story, water wings when it is thought that the call to service has been misconstrued. The process begins with one not keeping their leadings to themselves, trusting the community of faith to listen with respect to what they feel has put on their heart. That involves the whole community in the process of discernment, a process of discernment that is grounded in worship and Scripture. I love the story of Philadelphia Friends debating whether to invest in the Erie Canal. Some argued that had God wanted a watercourse in that location God would have created it so. After a time of worshipful stillness one older Friend rose and from his experience of being familiar with the Scriptures simply quoted Genesis 26:21. He said “and Jacob digged a well.” We aren’t Peter in this regard – we are in a wholly different dispensation, that of the Holy Spirit who with the Scriptures and the experience of a faith community we are better able to resolve the question that Peter knew was very important – important to his very survival.
There maybe another clue to how you will know that the voice that calls is that of Jesus. Jesus is the one who extravagantly, recklessly, commands us to leave the safety of the boat, to step boldly into the sea. There was no testing the waters, sticking in a toe to see whether it was too cold, no testing to see whether it would actually hold him up. No, what was being tested was what his faith was made of. That’s Jesus. It is far removed from another old favorite hymn that went “Far away in the depths of my spirit tonight Rolls a melody sweeter than psalm; In celestial strains it unceasingly falls O’er my soul like an infinite calm. Peace, peace, wonderful peace, coming down from the Father of above! Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray in fathomless billows of love.” That may be the kind of faith many of us would prefer but not here, not in this passage. Jesus calls you to risk your life, to throw caution to the wind, to step out the boat and defy death. In Matthew’s story Jesus doesn’t simply call Peter over the tumult. Jesus doesn’t call us out of the tumult. No, in today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Peter into the tumult. Jesus calls Peter out of the boat and on to the waves.