Last Sunday, Our Lord fed thousands on the hillside.
After the miracle of filling so many with so little,
he sends the disciples—the Apostles—ahead, alone.
They’re “Apostles” because he will send them;
They’re “disciples” because they’re still learning.
In large measure, that’s what this passage is about.
They go on alone; he comes later, during a storm.
Not an accident; it was part of the lesson.
Did you notice, it doesn’t say the storm frightened them;
These are fishermen, they understood the sea.
It was when they saw him that they were “terrified”:
“It is a ghost!”
See, they are still learning who Jesus really is:
God himself, come among us, as a true, human being.
And they are still learning to know Jesus will be there.
But they’re not there, yet.
Notice the boat.
In a previous storm on the sea,
Everyone—including the Lord—was in the boat.
This time, Jesus is out of the boat;
And he wants them out of the boat, as well!
He starts with Peter.
And we see what’s special about Peter:
Because notice, it wasn't Jesus who brought up
the idea of getting out of the boat; it was Peter!
He has the insight, and Jesus approves:
“Come on out! The water’s fine!”
And Peter steps out, onto the water!
But, he needs training wheels!
He is frightened, and he sinks—like a Rock!
He sees how strong the wind is,
and forgets how strong Jesus is.
He is not there yet.
As we move through
the Gospel of Matthew each Sunday,
We’re progressing with the Apostles
in the growth of their faith.
In two weeks, we’ll hear Jesus say,
“You are Peter—you are Rock—
and upon this Rock I will build my Church.”
But we understand that better,
when you see how Jesus is forming the Apostles,
as the foundation of his Church,
as people who stay standing in the midst of a storm.
Who, despite the storm, will cry out, “It is the Lord!”
Who could imagine walking on water?
But Jesus led them there.
Today, many people can’t imagine
having faith that God is working through the Church.
We can all think of reasons not to believe it.
Maybe we separate God from his Church:
“God’s there, somewhere—but in the Church?
No, that’s a ghost!”
Totally understandable, given sin and scandal.
However, the Gospels are firm on this point:
In and through human weakness, human failure…
In the midst of sin, suffering and injustice:
He came, and said:
“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid!”
And the Gospels are just as firm in insisting,
God came…and he didn’t leave!
God is in his Church!
Christ chose these Apostles: weak, sinful men;
Christ worked through them,
and he works through their successors,
Including our Archbishop and all bishops.
Perhaps we say, “that’s hard to believe.”
But it takes no great act of faith to believe
God acts in a Church of St. Pauls and St. Francises,
of Mother Theresas and Pope John Pauls!
That’s like stepping out of the boat…onto land!
But you and I are called to walk on water:
We see bishops and priests shock and dismay us;
We see scandal and failure; we’re hurt, we’re angry:
Why believe? It’s a phantom—don’t trust it!
We believe it’s not a ghost,
It’s Jesus standing there, on the water:
God vowed to be in the midst of our storm and darkness.
Will we believe it is Jesus, and not a phantom?
Will we hear him,
calling us his Church, to walk on water?
The answer to the storms and frights of our time,
Whether scandal, or lack of faith,
Or the assaults on human dignity from all sides…
Is not to huddle in the boat and ride out the storm.
It’s not to give up on Christ in his Church, saying,
“It’s just a ghost!”
No. You and I are called
to step out into the storm, on the water!
When we dress modestly, while “everyone else”
is dressed like, well, everyone else…
When you and I refuse
to treat God’s holy name as a joke…
When we refuse to treat sex
as anything less than
the awesome, sacred reality it is: full of God himself;
When you and I speak for mercy,
when all around us demand vengeance;
When you and I say Jesus is our true King,
while others tell us to keep God out of politics;
And, when we claim we really see Jesus our Lord—
We really see him!—
where others see only a symbol of bread and wine…
Then, you and I will face a storm!
And there will be every reason not to believe he’s there:
Every reason not to step out of the boat!
Every reason but one:
“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid!”