Sunday reflection

Today’s reading is from Matthew 14: 22 - 33

A colleague recommended that I read a book called ‘If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat’. It’s a book about changing things in the church and in ourselves, about starting something new, about doing things differently, all within the context of the tale we heard just now of Jesus walking on the water, doing something amazing and unexpected and of Peter wanting to join him in that venture. But it recognises that ministers, as well as many others, often hesitate to do something new or different, for fear of sinking, or getting it wrong, or having people laugh at us and saying ‘I told you so’.

I have to confess I never have read the book, or even bought the book, but I love the title and have spent hours, if not days of my life thinking about it, and understanding it in my own life. If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. There are variations of the same phrase from different cultures. A journey begins with just one step. Perhaps even: you have to learn to walk before you can run. I suppose the crux of all these statements is  that when we have a dream or a goal, we need to start small, to see what we need to do next rather than be overwhelmed or overawed by the final picture. And although being overwhelmed and overawed are quite different emotions, they can both mean that we are frightened or confused about what the first step is, we’re not sure how to proceed and we can feel a failure when we don’t know what to do, or when our plans fall flat and we don’t get it right. But we also have to be brave enough to get out of the boat if we want to walk on the water.

Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and wanted to do the same. Good old Peter, always the first to volunteer, and because of that, the first to make a fool of himself. He was the leader of the pack, or so he thought, and wanted to keep up with his new pal, to match Jesus miracle by miracle, story by story, and yet often went running in to situations without the skills or the understanding to see them through. He is the one who overreacts, who rushes in, who promises the earth only to deny Jesus a few hours later. And for all of those reasons and others besides, I love Peter, because I see a bit of myself in Peter and a bit of Peter in me with his stubbornness and good intentions and fearfulness and bravado. But Peter probably has more courage than me, because he did get out of the boat, he did take the first step, and even though he panicked and began to sink, he was at least bold enough to want to join Jesus in doing the miraculous, and showing to others that if you get it wrong, if you fail, its not always the end of the world.

I wonder if six months ago we had been told by a soothsayer that we’d all be learning to queue to get into the supermarket and wear masks inside shops, and work out whose bubble we are in, to home-school and work from home, and become part of a neighbourhood WhatsApp group, if we’d laugh and say that’s ridiculous, we’ll never manage that? And yet that’s what we’ve done, because we’ve had to do it, for our own safety and wellbeing, and the safety and well being of our neighbours. We might not have got it right all the time, and started down one track before realising there was a better way to do it, but without realising it, we have got out of the boat, the old ways of doing things, the known ways of doing things, because we’ve had to, and those new ways of behaving and living our lives have helped to see us through difficult times.

Now that lockdown restrictions are changing and being lifted, now that schools are returning and those who were shielding are able to get out and about, we carry with us new fears of the unknown, fears that might be stopping us from going outside, or visiting public places, or meeting friends in their homes or in ours, doing the things that until recently we took for granted and thought nothing about. Many people have peeped round the front door and found the world to be a scary place, an unknown place, their legs are wobbly, their confidence has gone, they’ve got used to their own company, and they are tempted to close the front door again.

You are not alone if that is the case. We are planning to reopen the Old Parish for Sunday worship next week on Sunday 16th, and it is a big thought because it comes with new restrictions and expectations – safety procedures and a shorter service and no singing, and social distancing. We can welcome 49 people at most – what if more than that come – what if nobody comes at all? It is an uncharted part of our church journey and it has its scary moments. I’ve got used to filming these reflections in the comfort of my own home, and I’ll carry on doing that even when the church is open so you can choose to come to church, or carry on watching these – or do both if you’re a real glutton for punishment, but going back to something I’ve been doing for years, but with variations and changes, is suddenly quite daunting and the temptation is not to return at all.

But when we do return to church, or meet our friends, or go shopping, or enjoy a walk in the park, despite our fears and our hesitations, what joy and comfort we will find – the company of friends,  stories to tell and worries to share, nods of encouragement and shared laughter. Getting out of the boat reminds us of what is important to us, what we need and what helps us to flourish, it helps us recognise that despite our failings and our fears we are not alone and are in safe hands and good company. When Peter found himself drowning Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him. And for those hands we give thanks.

Let us pray:

Loving God, give us courage and wisdom, to recognise you in our midst,

Walking on water or breaking bread,

Inviting us to walk with you, to share and welcome,

To be quietly bold as we set out on a journey that is both old and new at the same time.

Help us to be charitable to others and ourselves when we make mistakes and flounder,

When we live and learn, when we see where we want to go to,

But don’t quite have the faith to set out.

Wherever we go and whoever we meet, let us seek your company, know your presence and be glad of your guiding arms, catching us when we fall, enfolding us when we need comfort and sending us out in faith. Amen.