I have always lived near the water. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. Summers were spent playing at the beach, staring out at the water, gathering mussel and abalone shells; now I ride my trike along the marina, I’ve got a favorite spot where I stare out at the water, meditate, watch the waves. All of my favorite screensavers and wall papers are of the California and Oregon coasts and Yorkshire. Other than Florence, my favorite place on earth is Goat Rock Beach at Jenner by the Sea up on the Sonoma Coast.
Funny thing though, I’m deathly afraid of the water. \
Won’t go in it unless it’s in a cast iron enameled bath tub, won’t go on it unless the ship is moored in port.
If Jesus invited me to go for a stroll on San Pablo Bay, I’d have to think about it. “Oh, Ellen of little faith!” He’d chide.
I’d reply, “Actually, Lord, I’m more of your go-to girl for loaves and fishes, planting mustard seeds and living among weeds, passing out sandwiches and sass at Hot Meals. Reaching out to little ones. See this shoulder here? Softest thing there is to cry on. So let’s skip the water, okay?”
Which is why this gospel both inspires and frightens me.
I know I have faith – it’s courage I’m lacking at times. There are moments, lots of them, actually, when I am brave, and then afraid, really brave, really sassy, and then timid as a mouse – kind of like Peter.
And now that I think about it, maybe my faith ebbs and flows like tidal waves, when it should be drinking deep, awash with the living water Jesus offers to each of us. I should be focusing on Jesus and not the storm raging around me.
What about you?
Do you find yourself struggling at times to have a rock-solid faith that is steady and secure? Well, you’re not alone. We’re in familiar company with Peter.
Of all the disciples, Peter is perhaps the one that each of us can find something with whom to identify. He’s less than perfect, he struggles to understand Jesus, has great ‘aha!’ moments where he finally gets it; he has moments of weakness and stupidity, he’s not afraid to speak up – remember when he sniped at Jesus, “Look, we’ve given up everything to follow you!” – Really? Who talks back to Jesus? And yet, when the final accounting is made, he is strong and sure, his love is evident.
That’s why he’s known as Cephas, the rock, the cornerstone. But that’s a Gospel for another Sunday.
Peter’s ability to walk on water only lasts as long as he keeps his eyes, keeps his focus on Jesus. He begins to sink when he looks at the monster waves around them. Wouldn’t you? I think that’s something familiar to our own faith journeys, isn’t it?
It’s like something we’ve experienced or dreamed – we’re doing the impossible with grace and ease and then as soon as we realize how dangerous or incredible it is, we start to sink and fall.
I remember my daughter’s first steps. She pulled herself up on the leg of the kitchen table and took tentative steps and started to run. Yet, as soon as she noticed me watching, her lip began to quiver and there were tears and then she crumpled onto the floor and howled. It was a day before she tried again. “Let’s try that again, Celia!” I coaxed. My youngest son, Nick, just got up and ran, but he had other trials that he kept working on, and my eldest son, Carlos Raphael, persisted in learning how to ride a bike until he got it down. Their father and I kept the encouragement going, telling them they could do it.
“Why do you hesitate?” Jesus asks. “Why are you afraid? Why the little faith?”
Having faith is easy enough most of the time – keeping it is perhaps one of the most difficult things we can do. It requires being single-minded – concentrating on the positive, and not letting the mind entertain doubts. And who doesn’t doubt? We have independent thought and free will. There will be times when doubt creeps in and takes hold. That’s when we should focus on Jesus. Keep our eyes on him.
Think of construction workers building the bridges that span our Bay or one of the many ridiculously high office buildings in the Financial District. They are able to get the job done because they focus on the task and not worry about falling. And there are the glassblower or metal worker who create using heat and fire despite the danger.
But the point is, focus. It’s all about focus.
So we focus on faith with the single-mindedness of that construction worker or artist – we should be mindful, however, not to wear blinders. Faith also requires an open mind and heart, the ability to listen to another point of view or idea, accepting a different path or journey to God as espoused by other faith communities. There is only one God
– how we walk down that path to Him can depend on our culture and our belief. And it should be respected.
You and I cannot truly walk on water – only God in Christ can do that. Faith is daring to believe, in the face of all the evidence, that God is with us in our boats, made real in our community of believers as it makes its way through the storm, battered by the waves.
Dare to believe, says Christ! I dare you to believe! Step out of the boat that is your safe, predictable, nine to five life and see if you can walk on the waters of a new
and different ministry, taking with you the New Commandment. What that ministry might be, you and I will decide with the help and love of God in Christ, but let it be for the good of the entire community.
Jesus is before us, there is no need to hesitate, or be afraid, is there? We may step out of the boat with certainty and boldness and not look down at the storm raging, or back at the shore, but keep our gaze and our minds on the sure, steady, calm power of Jesus which draws us to him.
Are you ready? Do you have your sights on Jesus?
If you do, please, take my hand and show me, let’s focus on Jesus together. Come
and step out onto the water, into the storm, with me.
I know I can do this – I know you can, too.