The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s052g08 Sunday 19 10/8/08
'he became frightened' Matthew 14.30
When one looks around at the Anglican Communion at the moment, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Bishops meeting in Lambeth would feel a bit like the storm was raging around them. The issues of human sexuality and the ordination of women seem never to go away. Each side of the debate claims they are being persecuted by the other. I was amused at one Archbishop's assessment of the debate; Australia's primate, Phillip Aspinall, said: "The chances of avoiding conflict when you get 650 bishops together are pretty minimal," .. "The last Lambeth didn't resolve all the differences. The Lambeth before that didn't resolve all the differences and this one won't either," he said. "It's a journey, moving through, searching for truth, growing together. "Once these differences are resolved, God in his generosity will give us new ones to grapple with," .. "That is the human journey." (http://www.marketplaceonline.com.au/?DocPath=news/wish-you-were-here-archbishop-tells-boycotting-bishops&) What a refreshing and remarkable statement! Here is a bishop who certainly isn't frightened!
Other bishops, clergy and laity are angry, angry that the church is going down the wrong path or that it is hanging back from going down the right path. Angry or anxious as the church is departing from the faith once delivered to the saints, or not grasping that acceptance of the other so characteristic of Jesus' own ministry.
Anger, anxiety, fighting for what seems to them to be the cause of truth. I could well imagine the disciples in that boat being angry, anxious, fighting over what best to do, frightened.
I grew up in a church dedicated to St Jude at (the beach-side suburb of) Brighton, South Australia, and the symbol that church used is the boat. For those seeing this on the web page the graphic of that symbol is at the top, courtesy of Lochee Andison's history of the parish 'In the Wake of St Jude' 1984. So I grew up with the symbol of the church as the boat in which the disciples travelled. I can't say I ever remember any sermon about Peter leaving the boat and walking to Jesus! It was assumed that Jesus was in the boat with the disciples and we had to stay in the boat to be with Jesus. Perhaps the opposite was said, but it is too long ago to remember.
But Jesus is not confined to the limits of the boat, nor is Jesus confined to the limits of the church. We may indeed find Jesus travelling quite apart from the vessel where we consider his special presence resides. And St Peter, in his enthusiasm decides that the 'safety' of the boat, with the anger, anxiety, fighting and fear is no substitute for actually being with Jesus, and how true this is. So he gets out of the boat as I say, not something that the everyday run of the mill preacher would suggest. He leaves the 'security' of the church and the other disciples, and launches out into the real world, with all the attendant dangers that might pose. And with Jesus' help he reaches his goal.
And I wonder at the characteristics of our journey in life as 'christians'. Are we angry, anxious, fighting, frightened?
Many people have deserted the boat and found enlightenment and grace in the real world. The church laments that their congregations are declining, and no wonder when all we've got to offer them is disputation, anger or fear. This is not 'life in all it's fullness' that should be part and parcel of our Christian journey.
The people who have deserted the church find fulfilment in helping others - 'you can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea, in church, or in trains or in shops or at tea' as the song by Lesbia Scott (Fresh Sounds #85 Hodder and Stoughton 1976) and AnglicansOnline reminds us. (http://anglicansonline.org/letters/index.html)
Do we dare believe that Jesus is found outside the Church? Do we dare believe that God wants us to bless those outside with the acknowledgement of his presence there by our preparedness to be there too? Perhaps it was not fear of sinking that gripped Peter, but awe at the enormity of God's mercy?
Do we not feel like we are walking on water ever so occasionally? Or are we still busy fighting for supremacy, angry or fearful? It is a much different feeling. Accepting others is awe-inspiring.
Jesus invited Peter to come to join him in his travelling. And we too are called to follow Jesus, and that will be as much outside the boat of the church as it is inside. For the present debates in the Anglican Church are all about communion who is inside the boat and who isn't. But this is all turned upside down and inside out when we hear that invitation to Peter: 'Come'; leave that boat and follow him.
Leaving the boat will find us acknowledging the risen Christ in women, in gay and lesbian people, in all sorts and conditions of people. And curiously, the storms that we fear in the real world are most often much less ferocious than the storms and politicing in the boat the church.
Peter traditionally represents the disciples as a whole, and the church. So it is not just Peter who leaves the boat, but the church leaving itself behind and embracing the Risen Christ in those with whom Jesus always associated others the tax collectors and sinners those in the real world. Do we, as the church, dare to leave the pretended security of our supposed doctrinal and moral superiority and experience the presence of Christ elsewhere? Do we dare being the real Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church - set apart and sent out to embrace all people? Jesus invites us, just as he invited Peter long ago: 'Come'. As I reflected on this sentence I realised that 'catholic' 'embracing all' is just the obverse of 'holy' 'set apart'. In the same way 'transcendence' is just the obverse of 'incarnation'. We are set apart from 'the world' by our embrace of the world. 'The world' that we are bidden to hate is the survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle where we compete with others, not embrace them.
In this one word, 'Come' Jesus invites us to put aside supposed supremacy, the desire to be right, the desire to be saved, disputation, anxiety, fear and join him in the kingdom. It will indeed sometimes feel that we are walking on water, but I reckon that's a far better place to be than in the boat!
In this one word, 'Come' Jesus invites us to put aside considerations of who is in the church and who isn't, for if the church is seen in these terms then Jesus is elsewhere! If we expect God or Jesus to answer our questions based on the false premise of who is in and who is out, no wonder we don't get an answer! Jesus invites us all to leave considerations of who is in the boat and who isn't, as if this determines our security and follow Peter to Jesus and the real Church which is located in the real world amongst real people who have ministries to other people other than on Sunday morning.
I suspect that the disciples in the boat thought Peter was crazy to get out of the boat and I suspect that some will think I am crazy suggesting leaving the boat and the disciples. But as our gospel tells us today, miracles happen when we are a little crazy :-)!
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