“When Jesus Reaches Out”
Sermon Series: “If You Want to Walk On Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat”
Grace and peace to you, from God our Creator and from Jesus Christ, who reaches out his hand. Amen.
Have you ever gone skiing in deep powder? I was with a youth group once on our annual ski retreat to Bozeman, Montana. One morning, we were awakened to 16 inches of brand new, white, fluffy powder. Excited, we boarded the bus and headed up to the mountain. Here’s the thing: We’re Minnesotans. So while skiing deep powder sounded really good to us, we weren’t really used to it, and had no real idea of what we were doing. We had visions of flying down the mountain, making deep cuts and sending waves of powder flying. Of course reality is often different. If you haven’t really skied much powder, and are coming from Minnesota, land of packed snow and icy ski areas, it before, well, it can be kind of a shock to your system.
Six of us took the chairlift up, eager to take on the mountain. We got off the lift, and launched off the mountain together. The powder was almost knee deep. It was glorious…it was amazing…for about 20 seconds. Then together, almost in unison, we tried to turn. Focus here on the word tried. We turned our bodies, but something odd happened: our skis kept going the same direction. We all wiped out, and launched ourselves in unison out of our bindings, into the air, and tumbled rolling and cartwheeling. I was told by a witness that it was spectacular. Luckily, powder is soft.
Of course, our skis, under the surface of the snow, all kept going for awhile, so we spent the next 30 minutes groping around under the snow trying to find where they might have wound up.
Finally, we spotted the last ski, belonging to Jeremy, which had shot under the snow and was just hovering over the edge of a ravine. Just the tip was visible. I started climbing down it to retrieve the ski. I reached, reached, reached, and just as I was able to get my fingers on it, the powder gave way and my feet went out from under me. But before I started to tumble down the ravine, a hand grabbed my wrist. I looked up and saw Marty, reaching out, smiling at me. So with one hand on in his, and the other on the ski, I was able to half climb and half be pulled back up to the hillside. And I fell back in the snow and breathed deeply: relief. Safety.
I imagine that’s what the disciple Peter felt like when Jesus reached out and grabbed Peter’s hand, and pulled him up from the water. Relief. Safety.
And from that moment on, I’m guessing that Peter didn’t have any more problems keeping his eyes focused on Jesus. How could he? Jesus had just saved him; literally.
You see, after 5 weeks now of examining the story of Peter stepping out of the boat, I want to make sure that we don’t lose focus on the story. Peter is a major character in this Gospel lesson, along with the other disciples, the boat and even the storm. And we’ve talked a lot about Peter’s step of faith, his step into the stormy water; his step out of the boat.
As we’ve taken apart this story from just about every angle imaginable, my fear is that you might start thinking that this is a story about Peter, and what he did. And don’t get me wrong, that’s really important stuff. We could all stand to be more like Peter in this way.
But here’s the thing I want you to remember. At the end of the day…or in our case, at the end of the six weeks, this is not a story about Peter.
This is a story about Jesus.
This story is about Jesus and what he did. It was a single, simple action. It’s all right in verse 31. When Peter begins to sink after he takes his eyes off of Jesus, scripture tells us that Jesus immediately reached out his hand, and caught Peter.
“Jesus immediately reached out his hand, and caught him.” That’s it. That’s the heartbeat of this whole story. Yes, Peter should have kept his eyes on Jesus…and so should we. But when we don’t, when we falter, or even fail, Jesus will be there to grab us, to catch us, to support us and set us up straight again, ready to give it another go.
We all spend more than our fair share of time in the midst of the storms. There are things we need to deal with. I don’t know what your storms are, but we can all identify from time to time with the idea of being surrounded by the wind and the waves. Problems become worries; worries become anxieties; and anxieties can become crippling.
In those moments, Jesus is there. He reaches out to us and grabs us, and pulls us up. The storms might be so fierce that we might not even be aware of what Jesus is doing. But Jesus is there.
It’s also interesting to me that in our Gospel, Jesus doesn’t calm the storm for Peter. I’ve always wondered why, when Peter, confronted by the wind and the waves, begins to sink, couldn’t Jesus have just calmed the storm? But he doesn’t. In fact the storm doesn’t calm until after they are all safely back in the boat. But isn’t that like life? God doesn’t ever promise that things are going to be easier because of our faith. No, there will continue to be storms. We will always face challenges: Illness…financial… relational…but Jesus will be with us. And Jesus will reach out.
This visual…Jesus standing with us in the midst of the storm, with his hand outstretched, is an image that I love. For me, a visual learner, this is one of the ways that I see grace. It is Jesus’ hand outstretched to us…always there…always available…and I’ve experienced it:
- I experienced Jesus’ hand reaching out to me in my grief after I lost my father, through the love and presence of my family, and my friends.
- I experienced Jesus’ hand reaching out to me in my fear when Samuel, our youngest, was hospitalized with an infection through the doctors, nurses, and all those who were praying for us.
- If I actually stop and look, I can see that I experience Jesus’ hand reaching out to me in some way, every single day.
Jesus hand reaching out…to Peter…to me…to you…it is a constant…it’s always there. It’s something we can count on.
Remember that Jesus isn’t merely a mentor, a guide or a life coach. He didn’t step out onto that sea that night to encourage and be a cheerleader for the disciples. He wasn’t some kind of a spectator, hoping that the disciples would figure it out. Jesus is Savior. He was out there to save the disciples. And he is here to save us.
I think in the culture we live within, the Gospel can sometimes be reduced to just one more spiritual self-help recipe, hardly different from what you might hear on Oprah. But the Lord who walks atop the sea in this story not only directs wind and wave but also death and life. This Jesus wants more than to command our attention; he wants to save our lives. And he has promised to do just that. That is what this Lenten journey to Easter is all about. In Lent, we live in the promise, which is fulfilled at Easter.
One thing I hope we’ve discovered during our congregational study is the many layers of this story. But through the layers, there is a thread that ties it all together. This is the story of a Savior, who has come to challenge the people of God to step beyond themselves…who calls us to step in faith, and when we falter, who reaches out, takes our hand and rescues us.
Look to see Jesus in the storms…look and see his hand reaching out to you, always. And remember, this powerful story…it is a story about Jesus.