Come on! (Horizons 5)

Lesson 5 — Matthew 14:22-26

In my younger years, several adults and I took our church youth to a ropes course at a Presbyterian camp. A ropes course’s purpose is to build up a team so they will depend on each other. There are a variety of challenges that the group must face together. At one station, for instance, a person had to make it up a 10-foot pole with the help of the whole team. At another station, we steadied each other to make it across large rocks in a stream. If you fell into the water, you were eaten by alligators, so your team-mates had to save you. (The alligators were imaginary.)

My least favorite activity was the “trust fall.” The participants formed two lines and stood shoulder to shoulder with the people in their row. Then they linked arms with the person opposite them, each grabbing the elbow of the other. If you pictured us from above, we looked like a human ladder held four feet off the ground.

One by one, each team member stood on the hood of a monster truck and fell backwards into the waiting arms of the group. Now our youth group of 13- to 16-year-olds was not tall, nor into pumping iron. Indeed, on the whole, they were rather slight in build. I thought about the fact that I outweighed them by a good bit. I looked at their thin arms linked to catch me. I balked, imagining that I would crash through their arms to the ground. I was scared.

“Come on, Rosalind!” “Come on, you can do it.” I fell backwards. With the impact of my body, the line of arms gave way but did not break. I did it, but I didn’t like the experience one bit. It is no fun to take such a risk.

The disciples are compelled by Jesus to get into a boat and set off across a huge lake to their next destination. Jesus has learned that his cousin John has been beheaded by King Herod. Jesus has been mobbed by people who are sick, hungry for his teaching and hungry for bread. He needs some alone time, some prayer time, some refueling in order to face the next day.

In the dead of night, a storm with strong winds and waves crashes down, torturing and battering the boat. It is
a scene of chaos and understandable fear. Yet, whatever fear the disciples felt from the storm seems to be nothing compared to seeing Jesus walking across the water. They are terrified, believing that Jesus is a ghost.

Like God’s voice coming through prophets, angels and dreams elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Now we truly can’t blame anybody for doubting that it is Jesus at that moment. I mean, really, it is a wild scene. So Peter, speaking for the rest of the disciples and for us, says, “If it is you, Lord, command me to come to you on the water.” Like Moses and Gideon before him, Peter says, “If it is you, Jesus, give me a sign of your power, something that confirms that you are here with us.”

“Come on,” Jesus replies. God love him, Peter takes a big risk, moves away from his team and tries to go it alone. For a moment he keeps his eyes on Jesus and does indeed walk on the water. But then his fear of the waves and wind overwhelms him, and he sinks.

We as individual Christians and as the church are a lot like Peter. We doubt Jesus’ presence because sometimes he seems only a ghostly figure at best. Sometimes we do risk for Jesus, but then we focus not on Jesus but on the chaos and the storm, and we sink.

No doubt, you have heard the voices over the years that raise up the threat of chaos, rather than trusting Christ to provide: “Where will we get the money to do that?” “We have never done it that way before.” “It won’t make any difference.” “The problems of poverty are too big.” “I just don’t have time.” “I will do some Bible study or go on a mission trip after the kids are grown.” “People will think that I am intolerant if I talk about my faith.”

Peter sinks in fear. “Save me!” he cries out to Jesus, and Jesus immediately reaches out his hand to Peter.

The great thing about Peter is that he takes a risk. He risks failure to follow Jesus. Peter fails often. Yet, we need a lot more people like Peter in the church today. Without risk, faith gets very stale. Without risk, we may never experience the power of Christ.

rosalind-banburyROSALIND BANBURY is associate pastor for adult ministries at First Church in Richmond, Virginia.