This is part three of the Be Not Afraid series that will appear here every day leading up to Halloween.
Peter is my favorite character in the Bible—you know, after the Trinitarian crew. I may not have had the face time that Peter had with Christ, but I, too, have walked with Jesus. Like Peter, I have witnessed miracles and felt the power of the Holy Spirit. And like Peter, I have all too often lost faith, denied Christ and just plain missed the point.
Peter is the master of missing the point. Over and over again the Gospels give us examples of times when Peter just doesn’t get it. When Jesus tells of how he must suffer, Peter insists that such a thing can never happen. At the Transfiguration when Jesus’ true nature is revealed, and he is flanked by Moses and Elisha, the first thing Peter wants to do is build some tents so they can all hang out together. He wants Jesus to put a number on the times we should forgive someone. He can’t even stay awake while Jesus is off praying, and when push comes to shove he denies even knowing his Master. Yet Peter is the person whom Jesus called “the rock on which I will build my church.”
But this story (see above scripture) is of one of those rare times when Peter gets it. That may surprise those focused on the part of the story where Peter freaks out and begins to sink and Jesus has to save him. But I think this story is one of Peter’s shining moments. This is when he is on! This is one of those stories that makes you realize why Jesus chose Peter to be the Rock on which the church would be built.
He got out of the boat.
Peter got out of the boat. He left the safety of the buoyant, water resistant vessel and stepped out into uncharted waters. And let’s be clear. Peter didn’t step out into the abyss on a dare. He didn’t do it because some guy in the next boat over had done it. This was not a “hold my beer” moment. Water walking was not the first extreme sport of the ancient world. Peter got out of the boat because Jesus called him to do just that.
I am always struck by Peter’s willingness to get out of the boat. Because I don’t think most of us are. I’ve got my own boat. My place where I feel comfortable, where I fit in, where the people around me generally agree with me and I (usually) understand what’s going on. And if Jesus is going to call me out of my comfortable boat, I sincerely doubt that I’m going to immediately step out into rough waters. I’ll need to check my schedule, talk it over with my family, see if someone can feed the cat.
We are far more often boat sitters than we are water walkers.
Sometimes we know we ought to get our of our boat and venture out into the open sea, but fear stops us. Two of my favorite contemporary theologians—Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, better known as the Indigo Girls, have a phrase in one of their trademark songs that haunts me. “I wrapped my fear around me like a blanket. I sailed my ship of safety ‘til I sank it.”
Sometimes we get so caught up in what we’re doing on our boat that we don’t have time to look and see what’s happening out in the sea. Even when we seek to do the work of Christ, we often do what we’ve always done. It works for us, and we figure it works for everyone else. For almost 60 years, a group of volunteers has had a bandage ministry. These women collect old sheets and rip them into strips and roll the strips up to be used for bandages. The volunteers are dedicated to this ministry and earnest in their desire to help those who had suffered at the hands of nature or waring factions. And since this group has been engaged in this ministry for so many years, it runs like clockwork. From the collection of used sheets to the standardized width of every bandage. But recently after sending a shipment of bandages to a refugee camp in Iraq, they got a thank you note that rocked their boat. It said, “Thank you so much for the bandages you sent us. They are the perfect size to sew together to make the sheets we so desperately need. God bless you.”
We cannot live out our call as Christians by staying in the boat. Being followers of Jesus Christ means constantly hearing the call of Jesus to get out of the boat, to venture into uncharted waters, to go into the unknown, to make leaps of faith. Yikes! Yet so often it is our own discomfort that keeps us from answering the call. We’re too young. We’re too old. We’re too shy. We’re too poor. We’re not ready. We don’t have the right skills. Jesus must get positively warn out from all of our excuses.
Be like Peter. Ready to defy what you know to be possible. And who knows? Maybe you’ll freak out just like Peter and start to sink like a rock. But Jesus didn’t let Peter drown. Be not afraid. Jesus won’t let you drown, either.