By Candace Kostna
Have you ever stood on the beach beside the ocean? As a born and raised prairie girl, I could probably count on one hand how many times I've actually done that. After all, Manitoba doesn’t have a lot of oceans, right? (haha)
At the end of June, Caitlin and I travelled to Nova Scotia for a friend’s high school graduation. We were only visiting for five days and wanted to see as much of Nova Scotia as possible. So…. within hours of landing on the East Coast, we were sightseeing at Burnt coat Head- home of the highest tides in the world - on the shore of the Bay of Fundy in the Annapolis Valley.
We arrived late afternoon to see the tide come in. As we walked down to the ocean floor - yes, we walked on the ocean floor - we were in awe! The scenery was amazing! The rock formation of Flowerpot Island created by the erosion of the daily tides over the years…the tidal pools…the stones and shells at our feet… and looking out at the expanse of the Bay of Fundy…. the ocean. All so amazing!
I wandered a wee bit from the group to have a few moments taking in God’s creation. I breathed in the salty air. I felt the warmth of the sun on my face and the wind blowing through my hair. As I gazed out at the ocean, I was amazed by the vastness and calmness of the water …so peaceful. No question, I felt God’s presence it was a “Wow, God moment”. As we all know, the ocean is not always calm. - the power of wind mixed with the waves can be quite turbulent and scary…even deadly. In fact, any body of water can be turbulent in those conditions. In today’s Gospel, Jesus instructed his disciples to get into the boat and go ahead of Him as He was going to the mountaintop to pray. As faithful followers, the disciples did as Jesus asked. While out on the lake, the wind pushed the boat away from the shore. At dawn, Jesus walked towards them, on the water. The disciples thought they were seeing a ghost and were terrified. Jesus called to them, “Don’t be afraid.” Peter answered, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
Wow! Jesus’ own disciples, his inner circle of 12, needed proof that it was Him and not a ghost and Peter was the one to ask for this proof. The message from the ELCIC’s Sermon Series for this week provides some background information about Peter. Rev. Christie Morrow-Wolfe, Assistant to the Bishop of the Eastern Synod, writes “From very early on, we learn that Peter is all in. In his role as a disciple, Peter continually seems unafraid to ask questions and to try—even when his faith appears to fail him. It’s Peter who asks Jesus to explain things; it is Peter whom Jesus calls both a cornerstone and a stumbling block; it is Peter who promises to keep watch in the Garden of Gethsemane...and then it is Peter who falls asleep. Over and over again, it is Peter who is doing all the things, who is seemingly fearless in taking leaps of faith. It is Peter who questions the shadowy figure making its way on top the tempestuous waters, saying “prove it’s you, Lord, by having me join you out there!”
Rev Morrow-Wolfe continues… “Not only was Peter asking Jesus if he could join him in this miracle, but it also means that Peter was going to encounter the same, unknown forces of the deep which is how the ancient world tended to view the sea...as a wild, untamed place where evil, unpredictable, unknown powers resided. Jesus was able to tame this wild unknown with just the touch of his feet; the stormy, life-threatening waters are no match for the Son of God. But for Peter, venturing out in this storm represented a huge risk ...and you know, for a minute or two, it seemed to work. Peter took a few, tentative steps while the water swirled and the waves were relentless and the wind howled....
It was the wind, however, that finally got him–the howling wind caused him to be afraid and Peter began to drown. In this moment, we are reminded that Peter is very human and is also in need of a Saviour. Just think! If Peter were to hop out of the boat and skip across the water, he’d have no need for Jesus. Instead, it’s in Jesus’ saving touch and in his helping Peter back to the relative safety of the boat, that the disciples are able to recognize Jesus as the I Am, and worship him as a saviour who has dominion over even the waves and the wind...the disciples exclaimed, “truly you are the Son of God!” (14:33). A recognition and a revelation had been made.”
Recognition and revelation. A “Wow, God” moment of sorts for the disciples as they recognized Jesus and realized his presence. As followers of Jesus, we too have these “Wow, God” moments, when we recognize God is with us. Think about when you have experienced or felt God’s presence. (pause) When is it easy? (invite responses) Times like family gatherings or celebrating milestones in your lives? Or how about when we worship together or when you pray? Maybe it’s simply pausing to take in God’s creation, like I did at the beach. All of these moments fill us with peace, don’t they?
When might it be difficult to feel God’s presence? (Invite responses). Dealing with illness or loss…broken relationships…financial unknowns…. unexpected endings or changes…fear in what’s next…or being overwhelmed by issues in your community and the world…All of these moments are quite stormy, aren’t they?
Our lives of faith are filled with ups and downs. We have moments of bold and confident discipleship - when it’s easy to feel God’s presence. Yet, we also have those not-so-bold moments, filled with doubt when facing the unknown and uncertainty.
As I reflected on today’s Gospel and what I was going to write for this message, I kept remembering the time I spent at Burntcoat Head and experienced a “Wow, God” moment. I was filled with peace and awe and my faith felt strong. As I reread today’s scripture, I also thought about the times when I’ve felt I was being tossed about in the waves of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. Like Peter, I called out…and I listened for God’s voice in prayer.
Perhaps living our lives of faith is like being in a boat on the ocean or any body of water. Like the disciples, we climb into our boats to follow Jesus. In the times of calm waves, we are filled with peace and feel God’s presence. Smooth sailing, filled with gratitude, peace, and a sense of direction. Yet, there will be times on our journey, when the wind will pick up and the waves will toss us around as we face uncertainty, unexpected changes and unknowns.
Our path becomes unclear and we experience discombobulating moments, fearful moments and we might even feel like we are going overboard…drowning, just like Peter. And in such stormy times, when our doubts seem to overpower our faith, we can be like Peter and call out “Lord, save me”. And Jesus will come to meet us where we are, even in our fears, in our doubt and uncertainties, just as he did with Peter that night on the Sea of Galilee.
Peter’s faith, though not perfect, was enough for Jesus. Even in the storm of Peter’s doubt, Jesus came to him. Our faith, though not perfect, is enough for Jesus. Jesus comes us in our storms and doubts. Jesus helps us to keep the faith, the faith we are called into as followers of Christ. A powerful “Wow, God…Wow, Jesus” moment, indeed.