Jesus Walking on the Water – A Sermon Sarcastic and Serious

It’s Jesus walking on the water Sunday here at House for All Sinners and Saints and we thought maybe during Open Space we should have a kiddie pool set up in the back so you could all “test your faith”.  You know – go ahead and give it the old Christian try.  That’s how I’ve always heard this story preached:  like it’s the Little Engine Who Could Have.  As a matter of fact,  here’s a 1 minute version of the sermon I just don’t have the stomach to preach to you….it might sound familiar: The disciples are in a little boat battered by waves, they see Jesus walking toward them and for a moment, Peter is a hero.  He steps out of the boat and has sufficient faith to walk on water.  He actually does it.  Peter musters up what it takes to be God-like and what it takes is faith.  Lots and lots of faith.   Because with enough faith you can walk on water all the way to Jesus. If you had enough faith you could do it too.  And maybe even better than Peter. Because Peter’s only mistake was that he took his eyes off Jesus and that’s why he sunk.   So the moral of the story, and of course every Bible story is about how to be moral…so the how to be moral of this story is that if you in your life are not God-like in your ability to financially prosper or overcome all your failings as a human or defy the forces of nature and walk on water then the problem is that you don’t have enough faith and you should really muster up some more because the thing is, it’s all up to you to make your way to Jesus.  So, don’t be afraid.  Get out of the boat but be better at it than St Peter and don’t take your eyes off of Jesus. You can do it if you really try. End of sermon.  And good luck with that.

OK, this is a cynical view even for me, but it’s honest.  Yet I know that having a preacher tell me that the solution to my problems is to just try and have more faith – so I can make my way to Jesus never sounds like good news to me.  It reminds me of The Simpson’s episode where square jawed newscaster Ken Brockman made a set of motivational tapes called “get confident stupid!”.  In the end, I just don’t know how helpful is to say “get faith sinner”.  It doesn’t work.

But the weird thing is, here you all are. Gathered again around this story of the man who walks on water.  Some of you are new to the story of Christ, and for some of you it formed who you are from the cradle. I could be wrong but I think maybe we aren’t all here because some preacher exhorted us to  “have more faith”.  I think we are here because at some point we heard the Story and the story claimed us. At some point, someone told you the story about this God who created the universe, who spoke through prophets, who came to us in Jesus, who ate with sinners and scoffed at the powerful, who suffered and died and rose again and calls us out of our of own graves to new life.   And here’s the thing about stories…  they tell us who we are. Sometimes a story can tell us what to do but when we hear who we are we then know what to do and God’s story found in the Bible does this more than any other story can.

And I guess this particular story of Jesus walking on water can be reduced to a moral about having more faith.  But, like so much of the Bible, it can also be a way to see who we are and see who God is for us.

See if you recognize yourself in this story: Because maybe some of us are like the ones in the boat who are afraid. Maybe you are so caught up in the fear of making the wrong decision that you can’t make any decision at all. Or maybe you are like the one experiencing the thrill of stepping into the unknown -  a new relationship or a new job or you’ve just moved to Denver leaving behind the familiar – and maybe the first few steps are ok but then it gets scary.  Or maybe you or the person next to you is the one who is sinking in debt or depression or maybe you feel like you’re sinking because what you could handle last month you just can’t handle now. Or maybe you’re the one who knows you’re doomed, knows that all your own efforts have failed and you are crying out to God to save you and you’re the ones who Jesus has reached down to catch and you’re clinging on to the sweet hand of Jesus with all you’ve got.  or maybe you’re the one in the boat looking in wonder all you’ve just seen… you’re the one who bears witness to the miracle and danger of it all and how the hand of God reaches down and pulls us up and you see it and can’t help but say “truly this is God.” At some point or other I know I have been all of the above.

Yet, a lot of what I’ve heard in the church both with this story and with so many others is not who I am but who I should be.  I should be the one with enough faith to walk on water.  I should be the one whose eyes are always always on Jesus. I should be the one who makes my way to Jesus.

But all these characters in the walking on water story – the cautious ones in the boat, the brave one who walked for a time on water, the same one who is afraid and sinks and calls for help, and the ones who saw it all and confessed that Jesus is the son of God they are all actually equal in their relationship to God because…all of these and you have one thing in common: they are those whom Jesus draws near saying “it is I, do not be afraid”.  The glamorous part of this story is that Peter walked on water. Which I admit is pretty cool. And maybe he almost had enough faith to make his way to Jesus.  But what happens on either side of his short little water walk?  Jesus comes toward HIM.  In the storm Jesus is walking toward the boat, when Peter sinks Jesus is reaching toward Peter then he comes so much toward them all that finally he just gets in the damn boat.  That’s about as with them as he can be. Yet we seem to always focus on Peter walking toward Jesus when the whole story is about how much jesus walks toward them reaches toward them and then even gets in the boat with them.

We might see the moral of the story as “you should have so much faith that you can walk on water toward Jesus” but the truth of this story is that Jesus walks toward us. The truth of the story is that my abundance of faith or lack of faith does not deter God from drawing close.  That even if you are scared to death you can say Lord Save Me and the hand of God will find you in even the darkest waters.  Because this is a story not of morals but of movement. Not of heros of the faith making their way to Christ but of Christ drawing near to you in the midst of fear.  As our reading from Romans says the Word of God is near to you – on your hearts and in your lips.  And for us for today, I would say the Word of God that was made flash and dwelt among us in Jesus the Christ draws near to you.  He is written on your hearts and is proclaimed from your lips.  He walks toward you saying “It is I, do not be afraid”  and God reaches down when you call his name and as Paul wrote to the Romans Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

14But – he writes – how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

So. There is actually a kiddie pool in back filled with water and scented oil. I invite you during open space or during communion not to try and walk on it, but to dip your feet in as a blessing.  Feel the cool of the calm waters and know that yours are the beautiful feet of they who have been sent to tell the story of who you are and who God is….and  you tell the story of God so that you and others might call out Lord save us as we continually die and rise in the waters of our baptism. Do not be afraid.  For that is your beautiful story.

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

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  • Don Courtney

    I had never heard of Nadia Bolz-Weber till a couple of days ago. I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical. I’ve read quite a bit the last couple of days. I always think these sermons are going to take me where I don’t want to go. But although they take different paths than what I’m used to, they always come right back and smack me right in the spirit.

  • Barbara Heptig

    wonderful food for thought. and so comforting to remember that it is Jesus who comes to us. over and over and over…..

  • rhoda

    You are the bomb dot com! Loved hearing you at the Festival of Preaching Nerds in May in Nashville! Although YOU are far from nerd-dom! You rock! THANKS

  • Christiane Djuric

    I first heard you speak at the ELCA youth gathering in NOLA 2012. I was there with 5 teenagers from Immanuel Lutheran, Evanston, IL. When you spoke of the liturgy connecting believers through the centuries I thought you might be Frank Senn’s twin sister. The teenagers loved that idea! Do you know Frank?
    I finished your book two days ago and have been stalking your sermons on the internet ever since. Thank you for your attitude and ministry.