Stormy baptismal waters

Amaoge Gabriella Okere
Pentecost 8A, Proper 14
Matthew 14:22-33

**reworked from 2008 in Morristown

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We’ve all been there. The storms of our lives blowing around us, everything feels rocky and unstable, we become afraid. We feel so isolated that even the sight of help engenders more fear. We feel so vulnerable that we run away from what shelter we do have. We withdraw from the communities that would have made our perceived solitude untrue.

This is the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water. It’s not the story of a magic trick. It’s not just some story about Jesus going out for a stroll on the lake when he happens to run into his friends. It’s a timeless parable of the human experience.

You can always count on the stories of St. Peter to be that way – to be timeless parables of the human experience. He is impulsive and fallible, but somewhere beneath all of that he is loyal and dependable. He is Peter – the rock – on him the church was built, and whether he is at his worst or his best, he is like us. And like us, even the rock can be shaken by the storms of life.

In the Gospel lesson this morning we were told that the disciples were afraid. They had been sent into the world while Jesus went up alone to pray. But while they were apart, the disciples began to feel battered by the storms around them. In their anxiety, they could not see Christ in their midst, they could only allow themselves to see more cause for fear.

The story does not begin to shift until we hear again that familiar refrain: “Do not be afraid.” So often, when we find ourselves in the explicit presence of the Holy, our first instinct is to fear. When the angels announced the birth of Jesus, they announced themselves with a plea to not fear. When the women discovered the empty tomb, the figure inside implored them, “Do not be afraid.”

Since it seems so often to be the case, it warrants asking: what holy moments in your life have felt like fear? Which fear-filled moments might have been holy?

Even after Jesus announced himself, Peter – the rock – the one on whom the church was built, was not convinced. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He needed proof.

It would be easy to judge Peter. It would be easy to ridicule him for needing that extra nudge. It would be easy to feel superior to him “of little faith.” But I’m afraid it wouldn’t be honest. How often are we, the church of his progeny, unconvinced when we are faced with the presence of Christ? How often are we, when battered by the winds of change, debilitated with fear? And even when we, like Peter, finally take that leap of faith to step out toward Christ, don’t we, too, often begin to sink into the mire of our own self-doubt?

Like Peter, we can be impulsive and fallible, but also like Peter, somewhere beneath that rocky exterior there is something more – something truer to which Christ is calling us to be.

Today isn’t one of the days set aside in the Prayer Book as being “particularly appropriate for baptism”, but it is a good day to be remembering our baptismal covenant. A colleague of mine often talks about ‘stormy’ or ‘polluted’ or ‘swirling’ baptismal waters.

Sure, water is an essential element in the recipe of life, and it can be cleansing and refreshing. But water can also be scary. Depending on what you’re trying to do with it, water can seem perilously unstable.

That’s important to remember on a day of baptism.

Water may seem unstable when we try to walk out across is, but Christ is calling us nonetheless. Christ is calling us walk in those places where we feel unstable and most vulnerable. Christ is calling us to walk in the covenant of our baptism, no matter how scary it might be.

After Peter stepped out of the boat, he paused to notice what he had done. His anxiety churned at his feet and he began to sink back into it. In desperation, he reached out to Jesus crying, “Lord, save me!” and he did.

It’s a timeless parable of the human experience.

When we traverse the seas of life and feel overcome by the often-stormy winds of change, Christ is there. And even when in our fear-filled and desperate search for stability, we remove ourselves from our communities and seek to find the way on our own; even then, Christ is reaching out to draw us back in. When we are at our best and when we are at our worst, Christ is there, holding us up through the storms and luring us on.

Thanks be to God. Amen.