The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://www.users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r052.htm
s052g02 Lockleys 11/8/2002 Sunday 19a
"Come" Matthew 14.29
I always think what a strange request it was for Peter to make: "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water".
It reinforces my thought that had one of the disciples blessed and distributed the five loaves and the two fish - from the gospel story from last Sunday - that God would have similarly blessed and acted in the same way. And it puts the other statement of Jesus to the disciples, to "raise the dead" in context. This is no idle exaggeration. We are meant to do this.
Again and again, Jesus expects that we as disciples will be able to do the same things as he does. Again and again, Jesus dismisses the "miraculous" things he himself does, and we think that it is because he is modest or afraid of the reaction. In the light of this incident it may just as likely be that Jesus doesn't consider them something unique to himself. Again and again, he says to some of the most unlikely of people: "Your faith has made you well!" - not his power or eloquence or whatever. Lepers, women, Samaritans - all are similarly addressed.
The walking on water, if nothing else, this means that there is no abyss that keeps Jesus from reaching anyone. The fact that Peter is able to walk to Jesus means there is no abyss able to keep anyone from reaching Jesus.
This is remarkable stuff actually. We live in a culture where people still sometimes think clergy are just so much closer to God than the ordinary run of the mill person - I mean how misguided can you get :-) Clergy are wont to think that the Archbishop has just so much more power to achieve things than they do. The reality is, of course, that the Archbishop is no more a child of God than the smallest baby. Clergy of whatever persuasion are no closer to God than anyone else.
I was brought up believing that Anglicans were closer to God than people of other denominations, and it was even better if you were of a particular tradition within Anglicanism. No, let us be quite clear. The catechism teaches us that when people are baptised all are assured that they are children of God, members of Christ and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. No one can be more than this, so there is simply no point in trying.
And this is true for all people. If the gospel accounts are correct there will be far more deciding against eternal life because others are also present, than there will be people deciding against eternal life because Jesus is there.
We all go through stormy times. Sometimes the storms are unwelcome intrusions into our lives when we only want respite and peace. Sometimes the storms are of our own making. We need have no fear, for ourselves or for anyone else. Whatever befalls us, nothing will separate us from Jesus except our own unwillingness to allow others this same access. Sometimes some people even look for storms to enliven their lives.
If we, like Peter, allow ourselves to doubt this universal access, we begin to sink. If we begin to think we have to earn our way into heaven, we ourselves will most assuredly never live up to what we think is necessary for other people. In sinking, we condemn ourselves to the same watery fate we manufacture for others. Our fate is in our hands no less that other's fates are in their hands.
But the reality is not that the primary aim for the Christian faith is that there is an abyss between us and God needing to be traversed, and Christianity gives us "the legs" - the means to cross it. The primary aim for the Christian faith has always been for all to realise the prodigalness of God's mercy - that when we get to the other side, it will not just be us and Jesus.
In fact of course there is no abyss for anyone to cross, for the Cross has eliminated any real or imagined gap, for each and for everyone - this is the real scandal of the Cross. There is no *other side* where Jesus is present, in a way that Jesus is absent on *this side*.
It is also interesting to me how frequently Jesus addressed the disciples with the words: "You of little faith" as he speaks to Peter in our gospel for today - a quick search reveals 6 times. And I contrast this with how frequently Jesus attributes the healing that other people receive, not to his own power or expertise, but to their faith. Again, surprising people. I was reading the passage from Luke (on the feast of St Mary Magdalene) before I typed these words. In the end of chapter seven, he dismisses the woman who comes unbidden to Simon the Pharisee's house, kissing and anointing Jesus' feet with her tears, with the words: "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (7.50)
The disciples with their little faith perceive a non-existent abyss and fear the crossing. Outside this *privileged* group, others simply come to Jesus and their offerings are accepted. So it is significant that our passage ends with the crowds coming to Jesus and being healed. The true healing is that they could come - they were accepted whoever they are.
St Paul in our epistle reading for today also speaks about the non-existent abyss, when he says: "'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down)" or 'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." No ... ""The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim) ..." (Romans 10:6-8) It has already been done, it has already been achieved, for one and for all.
We should notice how closely St Paul associates the word of faith and the fact that God has no distinctions - "the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him" he says. We call on the Lord because we know the Lord to be generous to all. If we believe that the Lord is generous to some but less generous to others, we have no good news for anyone else and our feet are somewhat less than attractive :-)
As I've gone through life, I have sometimes observed that clergy are occasionally wont to berate the congregation for not being *evangelical* or whatever, enough and then berate the silent majority who don't come to church for not coming. Why would people come, when they were as likely to be berated even if and when they did? I still recall many years ago an incident when a retired clergy person not having an altar to celebrate at on Christmass Day. He contacted a neighbouring priest who allowed him to preach and celebrate at the early service. Two young people actually walked out during the sermon, vowing never to darken the doors of the Church again.
My faith is that people do not have to put up with this. Jesus says to one and to all: "Come". "Come as you are - weak in faith or strong". "Come - if you stumble, I will lift you up". "Come - there is no need to fear". "Come, you will be accepted for who you are." "Come, I will not shout at you, or berate you because you should have been here earlier". "Come, because you are loved as you are". "Come, you don't have to have a particular set amount of faith, or hold a particular set of doctrines before you come - just come." "Come, because I love you."
Indeed this one word could be the gospel distilled into its simplest form. The word: "Repent" assumes that people are going in the opposite direction to begin with - which is problematical to say the least. In Jesus' time, the ones who needed to repent were in fact those who thought that others shouldn't have been invited. The other great phrase of invitation are those from Luke 15: "rejoice with me - I have found" ... someone precious.
For the reality is that Jesus had largely traversed the distance across the water already before the disciples realised that he was near. Jesus doesn't take his stand by the shore and expect everyone to leave where they are at, stop what their doing and launch out across the water to come to him. No, Jesus came and comes to where we are at, in the midst of the storms of life in which we find ourselves. Jesus does all of the moving necessary. Peter could have waited in the boat and, of course, Jesus would have arrived there soon enough.
Finally we are called to follow Jesus, and as we follow, we will find Jesus striding before us, taking us to where no abyss will deter, to all people. So if we follow Jesus there is never any possibility of ever arriving anywhere to discover that the risen Jesus is yet to arrive. Walking on water is fun!
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