Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 13 Aug 2023
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he
dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to
pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was
far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards
them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying,
‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take
heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to
you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and
came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to
sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying
to him, ‘You of little 5 faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ When they had crossed
over, they came to land at Gennesaret. After the people of that place recognized him, they sent
word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, and begged him that they might
touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
In the name of the God of Holy Dreaming, three in one, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.
Our Gospel reading today is one for the sceptics amongst us. It affirms how normal we are.
We often pick on Thomas as the doubting one. Thomas, the disciple who missed out on seeing the risen Jesus in the flesh with the others, who expressed doubt and said, I need to have proof - I need to see the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side to know it is really he who died and rose again. Thomas who was gifted with an encounter with the risen Jesus that answered his requests for proof. Thomas is the one who is known as Doubting Thomas.
But in this passage we get the star disciple, Peter, the one who
Jesus said he’d build the church on, the one who said he’d never deny Jesus, and we get to see his best and worst moments of faith.
Already we’ve got the ups and downs of faith. The joys of a gathering encountering the living word of God. The fear of waiting on a boat in a storm.
Perhaps the disciples felt abandoned. Jesus went on to a quiet place to pray on the mountain, but they were stuck on the boat waiting and the water got choppy. Does that sound like anyone’s life? Doing what you discern God wants you to do, stepping forward in faith, but then feeling pretty alone.
Then we had a spiritual high again - Jesus walked towards them, in majesty and wonder.
Have you had those moments, when you’ve experienced a sense of - there God is, wow!
Awe and wonder!
We see Peter’s high point of faith.
‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’
He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.
I wonder what the high points of faith are for this Cathedral. Surely yesterday was a high point - the gathering of many members of the community of this Cathedral and of Grafton, lay people and clergy from across the diocese, the Deans of a number of Anglican dioceses, civic leaders, and many more. Is our high point of faith when the organ plays and the choir sings and our hearts sing in us and the hymns make us teary
as we pause in the midst of a busy weekend and our soul sings our Saviour God to thee.
In that moment, we are like Peter, and we could step out on the water, we could commit ourselves to living lives where our faith in the living God infuses all our actions and all our decisions and all our conversations. When we see our Cathedral brimming with life, people of all ages and walks of life, a hub of ministry and community activities, the kingdom of heaven on earth. I give thanks for those high points in our faith.
St Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Carmelite mystic, wrote about these moments of really experiencing God’s presence, calling them consolations. It is consoling when we feel God’s presence.
Another way to talk about this is in one of the Montessori methods I have used for many years to teach bible stories, Godly Play, we talk about these moments:
“God comes so close to us, and we to God, that we know what God wants us to do.”
In church speak, we talk about this as discernment, perhaps about a major life decision, perhaps about our vocation. And it is a gift of faith when we have moments of really feeling God’s presence. When we put into words our prayers of hope and faith and start moving towards them.
When, like Peter, we step out in faith, confident and sure that we see Jesus clearly and are following his guidance.
However, I think for many Christians these moments are infrequent, and in between we live the life of faith that we are called to, the building up of God’s kingdom around us. St
Teresa confessed that she had very few of these moments of consolation.
Much of our faith is living our commitment to Christ, to building God’s kingdom, doing the hard yards, the hard work with its ups and downs.
Even the best of us, including even Peter the great Apostle, the rock on whom the church would be built, we all have moments of doubt and perhaps even failure.
when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’
If you have moments when you feel like you’re sinking and doubting, you’re not alone. Peter had Jesus right in front of him and yet he still stopped trusting him for that moment. And yet in that moment of sinking, that’s when Peter most saw Jesus’ divinity, God’s presence with him. The storm was stilled.
There’s more than just one miracle happening here. It’s not just about walking on water, its also about how our faith rises and falls like the water yet the constant one, the God of compassion and all consolation, holds us safe.
Do not be afraid he tells his disciples. Do not be afraid, the angel tells the shepherds, Joseph, Mary. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, are told Don’t be afraid..
And Hagar, powerless in her gender and in her servitude, with much to fear, is told Don’t be afraid. Joseph, caught in family rivalry, life threatened, sold into slavery, Joseph a young man, must have been very afraid. But later, it is he who says to these brothers
Don't be afraid!.. You tried to harm me, but God made it turn out for the best, so that he could save all these people, as he is now doing. Don't be afraid! I will take care of you and your children. (Gen 50:20-21)
As a young person, I heard a song from the Iona community written by John Bell, a repeated chant, a mantra, with the words:
Don’t be afraid. My love is stronger. My love is stronger than your fear. Don’t be afraid. My love is stronger. And I have promised, promised to be always near.
These words still sing in my head and heart, singing me to faith.
Peter shows us how faith and doubts are all mixed up together, stepping forward in faith, then starting to sink.
And so as a Cathedral parish, we step forward in faith, in the midst of our doubts.
And we begin with the foundation of our prayers of gratitude.
A model of a tree has been set up at the West door, picking up on yesterday’s parable of the mustard seed, It has prayers on it. Tiny little words and hopes and gratitudes to our God. This tree will be on display for the next few weeks. A visible display of our prayers of gratitude and hope. Please feel welcome to add to it. Or to read the prayers on display.
As we step forward in faith in this time of new beginning for our Cathedral,
I give thanks for the example of the doubts of the disciples,
the example of Joseph’s persistence in faith and integrity despite the trauma he lived through, I give thanks for the sense of real life and the ups and downs of
faith we find in these precious ancient scriptures.