The chosen hymns for this week, Walking on Water and Spirit of God, Unseen as the Wind can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Welcome to our reflection for Sunday 9th of August. Welcome as we gather together in our homes, on our phones, on TVs and PCs, by ourselves or with friends and family. Welcome. Let’s begin in prayer. Let us pray
This voice echoes in an empty church, but sounds out through the technology that’s made our lives so much easier these days. It means we can still join together to praise you, even if we can’t be united as one in this place.
We join together to praise you for your kindness, that no matter who we are no matter what we’ve done or failed to do, that your kindness, with love and understanding, lifts us up, draws us back to you and gives us the opportunity to start again. You’ve never left us alone.
We praise you for your loving care, for staying with us when our lives are in turmoil, when our hearts break and when pain and sadness overwhelm us. You stay with us when all seems dark and we’re afraid, when no-one seems to understand – no-one but you. You’ve never left us alone.
We praise you for the richness that you fill our days and flood our lives with; for the love and the care of those we trust, for friendships, for laughter. You made us to be with other and with you. You’ve never left us alone.
And even though we don’t always pass on the kindness, the care and the richness you give us to those around us, though we take the gifts you’ve given us so much for granted, still you allow for our failings, our shortcomings and you remain by our side. You never leave us alone.
And you made sure we’d never be alone by sending your son Jesus to be our light, our guide, the example for us to follow. And we follow his example now in saying the words he taught to those around him:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Forever.
This week’s reading is Matthew 14: 22-33
Then Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people away. After sending the people away, he went up a hill by himself to pray. When evening came, Jesus was there alone; and by this time the boat was far out in the lake, tossed about by the waves, because the wind was blowing against it. Between three and six o'clock in the morning Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water. When they saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. “It's a ghost!” they said, and screamed with fear.
Jesus spoke to them at once. “Courage!” he said. “It is I. Don't be afraid!”
Then Peter spoke up. “Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you.”
“Come!” answered Jesus.
So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink down in the water. “Save me, Lord!” he cried.
At once Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him and said, “What little faith you have! Why did you doubt?”
They both got into the boat, and the wind died down. Then the disciples in the boat worshiped Jesus. “Truly you are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.
I’m not really the adventurous type. I think some of you might know that I like my walks, I like to get out into the countryside or the hills, but I’m no Munro-bagger, I don’t go hiking off into the wilderness for days at a time. I like to stay in a tent now and again, but only if the campsite has shower facilities and preferably somewhere to buy a cooked breakfast. But I like to read about people who are adventurous, who do the things I can only dream about doing. My latest thing is reading the diaries of people walking the long-distance trails in North America. There’s a website where you can keep up to date with people hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, 2600 miles between Mexico and Canada, or the Appalachian Trail, 2200 miles from Georgia to Maine in the USA. It takes them about 6 months to do it, and I’m full of admiration.
I can’t get enough of books about polar explorers too, like Scott of the Antarctic, Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton. There’s something about people who push the boundaries, who show such huge endurance and courage that fascinates me. It was Shackleton who said, ‘I believe it is in our nature to explore, to reach out into the unknown.’ I’m not sure it’s in everyone’s nature, I don’t necessarily want to do what they do, or what they’ve done, put myself through what they did, it’s enough for me to read about them andI’ve got a warm house and a very comfy chair to sit in when I do.
But I do find myself wondering what’s different between them and us, sometimes. What is it about some people that they have to push themselves to the limit? Is it in their blood, their genes, or what? Why do they take push the boundaries when others among us don’t?
But then I think, well, I think we all have the capacity to do things that we might not normally do or that we think is out of the ordinary. Our ordinary, at least. We might not all strap on our boots and go for a 2600 mile hike, but we all step out of our ‘comfort zones’ at some point, one way or another. Do we do it often enough, or well enough, in our day-to-day lives, or our spiritual lives, though?
The Bible passage I read a moment ago is one that’s familiar to all of us, I’m sure it must be. The miracle of Jesus walking on water. I think it’s right up there with Moses parting the Red Sea, David and Goliath, the stable at Bethlehem, the raising of Lazarus, as one of the most well-known events in scripture. Close your eyes and you’ll see it in your imagination, you’ll have a picture of it in your mind. And it happened – it must have. Well, something went on that night on the lake, the Sea of Galilee, something important. When something is described in at least three of the Gospels – it doesn’t show up in Luke, but it does in Matthew, Mark and John (and John actually features very few miracles) – we can be sure it happened and we can be sure it’s important. There’s something different about this miracle, though, and it’s to do with the people involved – the difference between this miracle and all the others, apart from one, that is, is that it’s the disciples who’re in dire need of Jesus’ help. The other one also involves the disciples and the Sea of Galilee, that was when, earlier in his ministry, Jesus calmed the storm.
So it’s not long after Jesus has fed thousands of people with a few loaves and fish, we heard about that from Jim last week, and Jesus has sent the disciples off on a boat while he goes off for some alone time. A few miles out, a storm kicks up and the disciples are in trouble on the boat. Then Jesus appears, on top of the waves, he tells them not to be scared. Peter, who’s always the one to push himself forward, gets up, says “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you.”
What’s the song from the musical Guys and Dolls? ‘Sit down, you’re rocking the boat.’ I’d sing it but you wouldn’t like that. ‘Sit down, you’re rocking the boat.’ Do you think the disciples were maybe saying that to Peter? Well, the boat was rocking anyway, it was in the middle of a storm and Peter was the only one who stood up and spoke, the others were all cowering in fear.
Jesus says, ‘Come’, he beckons Peter to him and Peter steps out of the boat, walks on the waves towards Jesus. But Peter has a ‘what am I doing’ moment, he takes his eye off Jesus, looks down and realises he’s doing something that’s impossible, he’s walking on water. Peter’s confidence goes, he starts to go under. Jesus pulls him up and both get onto the boat. The storm stills.
Now, I don’t want to get into the practicalities of walking on water – yes, it’s impossible, to you and me. But I’m happy to take the gospels at face value. Matthew, Mark and John said it happened and that’s good enough, as far as I’m concerned. No, I want to think just for a moment about the boat. Because I think the boat and what it represents maybe tells us just a bit about why some of us are content to read about explorers than be one, about why some of us sit back and others spring forward.
The boat…. The boat is what we’re used to. The boat is day-to-day life. The boat is walking to the paper shop every day and buying the same paper, with the same news. The boat is eating the same dinners day after day because we know what we like. The boat is coming to church every Sunday and sitting in the same place and singing the same songs. The boat is security, the boat is familiarity, the boat is safe. And who doesn’t want to be safe?
Because outside the boat is the water. Outside the boat is the unknown, the deep water, there’s sharks, there’s jellyfish, there’s all sorts of danger. Outside the boat is unfamiliar – we don’t know what’s out there, under the waves, we don’t know what problems we might run into if we leave the safety of the boat behind.
But a boat in a storm is another matter altogether. A boat’s not a good place to be in a storm. There’s only one good place to be in a storm and that’s on dry land, preferably indoors! And if you want to get to dry land, you’ve got to walk on water. Not literally. But you’ve got to get there, and the only way to get anywhere is to take that first step. Like Peter did. Only Peter lost his focus, Peter wasn’t committed enough, Peter, once he’d decided to take that first step out of the boat and onto the water, did the one thing he should never have done, and that was to look down at his feet and to the waves lapping around them – because then he felt himself sink, he found himself slipping under.
But then a hand reached out to save him.
If we’re scared of leaving the boat, scared taking a step into the unknown, scared of breaking away from the familiar things that are all around us, scared of slipping under, we can be like the disciples and stay huddled together, just hoping that everything’s going to turn out okay. Or we can be like Peter and take that step forward.
We’re in a time of change, I think we all know that. Maybe this is our storm. And outside our boat there are unsailed waters, there’s uncharted land. A bit like when those explorers went off to the Antarctic, they had a blank continent in front of them and if they’d stayed in their boats, well, the continent would still have been there but it would have stayed blank. Over the next few months, we can stay in the boat – but that’ll mean we won’t have explored all the ways we can make ourselves, and our church, stronger and better. And if we do get out of the boat and, like Peter, lose our focus and find ourselves sinking – well, the consolation is knowing that we’ve a God who’s there to pull us right back up again, he won’t let us go under.
In the midst of every storm, there is a calm centre – a centre where the wind doesn’t blow and where the rain doesn’t fall. In the storm of our lives, you are that centre, you are that calm and together we ask that you would radiate that calm to the places where it’s needed most, to those who are in need of your comfort, our calm and your peace today.
As schools return in the coming week to something like normal, we pray that pupils may resume their education in as safe an environment as possible and that teachers, assistants and administrators may be able to cope and provide the wisdom and care they do so well. And we pray too for those pupils who will have received assessment results this week, that they may have been given the grades they’ve deserved – and if not, well, that they are given all the help they need over what to do next.
An increasing number of people have been returning to work after furlough in recent days and weeks, and we ask that you would be with them and if they have concerns over their situation that they will be eased in some measure. Some won’t return to work, having been laid off or made redundant, and we ask that you would support them, give them options, give them hope.
And as businesses have been opening more and more, so have many churches. We pray for those who which have been able to provide worship services so far, that they can continue to do so safely, and for those for which it’s not practical just yet, give them the patience to know that, in time, they will overcome the issues and be, once again, places of communal worship.
Father , with so much focus having been placed on those suffering through the coronavirus in recent months, we remember those who are beset by – for want of a better word – more conventional but no less serious problems, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and we pray that their treatment, if it has been delayed, can resume and be successful.
On the minds of those watching or listening, Father, there will be relatives, friends or neighbours going through their own private storms right now, with particular needs known only to them and to you and we name them in our hearts.
Only you can provide true calm, true peace, Father. Thank you for being there, thank you for listening when sometimes we think we’re alone with our worries and our concerns. Thank you for being the calm in the storm of our lives. We bring our prayers to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We close with a blessing. Our storms are temporary, but the blessings for God are forever, so may those blessings go with us as we go forward in our lives, may his spirit be with us and protect us. Amen.
If you don’t let God’s seeds of faith and purpose grow then seeds of indifference and self obliteration will just creep in.
God may sow wonderful seeds, but it is our choice which we let grow.
Let’s just make sure we make the right choice.
Let us pray.
And there will be moments of silence in this prayer
We know we want compassion in our hearts, but we need to encourage it.
So we pray for those we know that need your help just now....
If there are things you want us to do to help these people then encourage us and inspire us to put our words into action.
We know that we want more hope in our hearts, but we need to encourage it.
So we pray for areas in our lives where we see things need to change...
If there are things you want us to do to help create this future and make our world better then encourage us and inspire us to put our words into actions.
We know we what more joy in our heart, but we need to encourage it.
So we pray for remembrance of what in the past has brought us true joy...
If there are things we can do to bring joy to others, to give the opportunity of joy within ourselves, then encourage and inspire us to put our words into actions.
May we reflect on how you have been with us in the past, and be assured that you are with us now, walking the journey of faith every step of the way,
wishing us to seek your wisdom,
hoping we will accept your guidance.
These things we ask in Jesus name
Until next time...
May we let God’s hope grow with our hearts.
May we let God’s joy grow within our hearts.
May we let God’s love grow within our hearts. Amen