The Blue Angels are back in town this weekend. Even after all these years it still seems odd to me that they’re part of the U.S. Navy. When I think Navy I don’t think aircraft; I think “ship”! The word “Navy” itself means “ship.”
We use the word to describe our worship space. This is called the “nave”—it, too, means “ship.” Strange, isn’t it? And yet, boats are an important part of our Christian story. A boat is at the center of today’s story.
What was Peter thinking? He was a fisherman. Peter had spent his whole adult life mastering his trade. He knew how to catch fish. He knew all about boats. The boat is a safe place. So—what was an experienced fisherman like Peter doing jumping out of the boat during a storm?
It’s easy to make Peter the bad guy in this story. After all, having pulled him out of the water Jesus says to him, You of little faith; why did you doubt?
But what would you have done in that situation? In a boat, during a storm, scared for your life—would you, for any reason, have jumped out of the boat?
Like a fisherman’s boat, we think of the church as a ship, a safe haven from the chaos and danger of the sea through which it travels.
And yet, in this morning’s story, here is Peter, whom Jesus appointed as the “rock” upon which the Church of Christ would be built—this same Peter jumps out of the boat!
But I wonder—is it possible that Peter’s failure was a faithful example for us all?
Words for “fear” pop up in today’s reading, again and again: 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”…30But when [Peter] noticed the strong wind, he became frightened. Is Peter’s decision to get out of the boat the problem in this story? Or, is it his lack of faith? Or—is it the disciples’ fear?
As I look at my life, taking foolish risks is not usually my problem. Usually my problem is playing it safe; not getting out of the boat. Usually, my problem is fear. Like those eleven disciples, I too easily stay in the boat.
Peter was just like everyone else in the boat. He, too, was afraid. But Peter was different. Peter got out of the boat. Yes, you say, he did. But he failed.
Yes, he did fail! And I wonder if that’s what God desires for each of us—that we worry less about success; that we dare to get out of the boat; that we dare to fail.
Peter was born “Simon.” Jesus gave Simon a new name: Peter. The word “Peter” means “rock.” When I think of a rock I usually think of something strong. But we use a similar word to describe fear: petrified. Peter “The Rock” was “petrified” with fear; and yet, he jumps out of the boat into greater danger.
What do rocks do when you put them in water? They sink! Every kind of rock except volcanic rock—pumice—sinks when it’s put in water. It’s what we expect. So why would we expect anything different from Peter, in the water, in a storm?
Some of you read my weekly e-mail this past week, and my reflections about Jon Nelson, a retired pastor and Lakeridge neighbor who recently died of cancer. Jon was known by many as a man of faith and courage. He was among those years ago who protested the presence of nuclear weapons at our nearby naval bases. He broke the law, trespassing on federal property, and for those actions was put in jail.
Did Jon Nelson succeed? No. Did he bring an end to nuclear weapons in our world? No. But Jon Nelson got out of the boat. And just as surely as Peter failed to walk on water Jon Nelson failed to accomplish his goal. He sank like a rock!
But if we think about it more carefully, Peter’s failure was actually a great triumph. His weakness–his failure–provided an opportunity for the others to be assured of God’s presence. Only when Peter was pulled from the water did the other disciples recognize the presence and the power of God, and offer worship to God. Without Peter’s part, there isn’t much story to tell.
Jon Nelson failed to eradicate nuclear weapons. He was thrown into prison for his actions. But a funny thing happened. While in prison Jon met other prisoners. And out of that experience he heard the stories of these prisoners, and soon Jon found a new calling as a minister to prisoners. For forty years, every Monday night, Jon would drive from the comfort and safety of his home in Lakeridge to the prison at Monroe and spend time with lifers—people who have no hope of ever leaving prison—offering them hope and encouragement. Jon got out of the boat.
And Jon failed. Just as he failed to do away with nuclear weapons he failed to release these “lifers” from prison. And yet, because he was willing to get out of the boat something unexpected happened. Jon discovered a new ministry for himself. In prison ministry, Jon provided an opportunity for others to recognize the presence and power of God, the love of Christ for all people.
You may not be called to civil disobedience. You may not be called to a lifetime of prison ministry. But where in your life have you experienced the power and presence of God through the courage of others who have dared to “get out of the boat?” Or, maybe you can think of times when you yourself have dared to get out of the boat in a way that helped others to see the presence and power of God. How might God right now be inviting you to get out of the boat—to risk failure for the sake of others?
Sometimes maybe I’m too worried about outcomes: “If I risk will I succeed?” “If I risk, what will people think?” Success or failure doesn’t seem to interest God–as much as whether or not we get out of the boat. When we dare to get out of the boat we make room for God’s power to bless the lives of many, often in ways we hadn’t seen or intended.
May God deliver us from being too sensible, too afraid, or too dependent on outcomes. God grant us faith simply…to get out of the boat!