Jesus Walks on Water – Faith in the Midst of Doubt

Guest Sermon
Spring Lake Village Retirement Community Aug 13 and                                                     Northbrae Community Church Sep 17

A reading from Matthew 14:22-33            Jesus 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 toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, 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 toward 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 faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Sermon     I see this not only as a story of Faith and doubt, Trust and Devotion in Jesus and GOD, but also the courage to step into the unknown, and have Faith in our Selves… Let’s look at where Jesus and his disciples have just been, to help us take a deeper, more personal look at what lies beneath the surface of this passage.

Jesus had recently learned of the murder of his beloved mentor, John the Baptist… AND…he and his disciples spent the day putting on a miraculous picnic on the shores of Galilee – feeding 5000 people with a serious food shortage – 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed the multitudes. So at the end of the day… The Gospel says: Jesus 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. I imagine that Jesus is really tired, and sad, and very much needing time to himself …to ground, re-center, recharge, meditate, to pray – to have a conversation with GOD and to re-affirm his own Faith, in GOD, his work, his disciples, himself.

So why did Jesus put his disciples in the boat to go ahead and cross to the other side? What lesson did he want them to learn for themselves while he was alone on the mountain? 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.

Imagine the 12 disciples in the boat and they’re talking about the day, the miracle they witnessed and participated in feeding the masses. At some point someone amongst them is going to question “what just happened back there?” …And by way, why did Jesus send us on without him anyway??… BAM – the winds and waves of doubt rise up. The more they question and doubt the more the waves batter the boat and the wind blows against them. What is this storm really? I think it represents the fear, the doubt, the chaos they have sown in their MINDS!!

I’m struck by Mother Nature’s metaphoric symbolism and lessons in this story.

Mountains – often represent being closer to GOD. Prophets — Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed, all went up the mountain to converse with the Almighty. Mountains imply stillness, steadfastness, unshakable strength, aspiration and inspiration. Jesus goes up the mountain to “be like the mountain,” and to reconnect with GOD.

Waves – obviously represent turbulence, chaos, also cycles, and repetitive patterns. Let’s suppose the waves symbolize the turbulence roiling up in the minds of the disciples. … Waves “rock the boat”… right?

Wind – how often do we hear “change is in the wind?” “May the wind be always at your back.” Or in the wise words of Bob Dylan, “The answer my friends is blowin’ in the wind…” What if we see the wind as GOD in the form of a renewable resource of Faith and Trust? … Here, the disciples’ boat is facing into a “head wind” because their minds are full of doubt, and fear.

And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, 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.” Here the fear and distress of the disciples is palpable “It is a ghost!” they cry. They’ve been in a storm all night and then in the pre-dawn darkness they see a figure coming toward them. Is it not always darkest before the dawn? So they are absolutely terrified at what they’re seeing, and Jesus simply says – “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid…” I think it’s worth noting that Jesus says, “take heart…” perhaps he’s giving his disciples the key to where and how to hold their faith and devotion… in their hearts.

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. I think Peter is saying to Jesus – “I SEE YOU…I see that you are the Son of God, that you are a Divine Being and I want to be like you, I want to come closer to GOD…” So he’s not only testing Jesus he’s testing himself. Peter is the disciple willing to take the first courageous step, a step towards his own Awakening, towards his own Christ Consciousness?

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 faith, why did you doubt?” Because Peter allows the “strong winds” of doubt to enter his mind, he becomes fearful and can’t maintain his Faith, his buoyancy, so he has that “sinking feeling.” Peter doesn’t yet have the level of devotion and trust in Jesus or himself to remain afloat.

This past year I lived at an ashram studying with my Guru, Babaji. He tells a wonderful little story about a Guru – disciple relationship. The word Gu-Ru in Sanskrit means “remover of darkness, or remover of doubt, ” and that removal is meant to happen internally, to remove our egoic ignorance and to connect with our Divinity within. Kind of sounds like what Jesus does, doesn’t it?

Anyway – in this story, there was a great disciple who was completely and utterly devoted to his Guru. He served his Guru in every way. One day his Guru went way out in the river maybe 10-15 yards, and knowing his disciple didn’t swim called for him. He said, “Bring me that towel!” The disciple did not hesitate even for a moment. He took the Guru’s towel, stepped into the river and started walking. As the story goes, wherever his feet landed in the water, lotus leaves supported him. From then on he was called Padmapāda. Padma means ‘lotus’, Pāda means ‘feet’.

Recently when I was experiencing my own doubts, a friend reminded me of a scene in an Indiana Jones movie where Indie is standing on the edge of a precipice that he must cross to save everyone in his party, and all he sees is the abyss below. Does that feel familiar??? He then has a memory flash of his father speaking to him with love and wisdom… and with his hand over his heart, Indie takes a step into thin air …only to have his foot land on an invisible earthen bridge. The precipice… his fear… was an illusion in his mind. The earthen bridge…his salvation… rose forth from the Faith and Love in his heart.

Faith, trust and devotion live in our hearts. Our illusions and fears along with our will and determination live in our minds. Quieting the mind to a single-pointed focus and trusting the Divine with all our heart makes it possible to do miraculous things: like walk on hot coals, break boards with bare hands, recover from immense tragedy and take courageous steps forward into the unknown.

Over the years I’ve taken many first steps, as I’m sure we all have. I moved across country not once, but twice in my life with no job and no home lined up. I survived a near-death episode at the age of 49. Closed my business, sold my home moved to California and went back to school at 59. We keep moving forward and we keep showing up for whatever is next, and we keep working to diminish our doubts and fears and to cultivate a deeper faith and trust in GOD, the Divine, Mystery and our Higher Selves.

Back to Peter walking on water… Water so it symbolizes support. It also symbolizes emotions, like we often get into “deep water” or “hot water” with our emotions. So Peter gets that sinking feeling the moment he loses the calmness in his heart, and the winds of doubt swirl around him in his dis-belief. But Jesus, with steadfast compassion and mercy reaches out and catches him, naming Peter’s lack of faith “You of little faith…” and leaving him to ponder the question, “…why do you doubt?

When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Like most people reading this passage my first thought is that the disciples are directing this worship toward Jesus. And of course they are… but what if they included Peter? Isn’t Peter also a son of GOD? And aren’t you a son, and you a daughter and you… aren’t we ALL children of GOD and aren’t we ALL in the same boat? Once the disciples witness Peter’s walk on water, albeit brief, did they not see that they too have the capacity for the Divine within themselves. I think this is an important lesson for them because they’re being groomed as the healers and miracle workers to go forth into the collective consciousness of doubt and fear and chaos in their stormy world at their time.

I don’t need to go into any detail about the natural or man-made storms swirling about us in our world these days. The daily turbulence and uncertainty in our lives does test our faith. But if we ask ourselves, why do we doubt?? The truth is that every step we take every day is a step into the unknown. At some point we have to learn to trust our Higher Selves, and to be still and know that we are not alone.

In closing I’d like to share a short poem by Catholic Theologian and Mystic Thomas Merton that resonates for me around this question. My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself. And the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

At the beginning of the reading, the disciple’s boat was to “cross to the other side…” Life is a journey of multiple crossings, and like the River Jordon and the Sea of Galilee it can be full of battering waves, it can be chilly, cold, deep and wide… If we can still our minds, open our hearts and cultivate a mountain of Faith we just might be able to quiet the storms that rage… both inside us and in our world.

So let us close our eyes and pray, give our selves a moment to take a few deep breaths…. Let’s give thanks and know that we never face our perils alone… God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit, the Divine in all its forms is with us always. May we find peace in that.  Amen.

Rev. Lisa j Winston   ©2017

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