Fear and Falling
f the Apostle Peter was the first Pope he didn't know it. It is never any clearer than in his bumbling that he was not a naturally born leader. Everyone recalls how he cut off the ear of the Roman soldier that was in the process of taking Jesus into custody in the Garden of Gethsemane . Later he denied being a follower of Jesus just when Jesus needed a supporter most as he was facing a series of unjust trials. How did Peter rise to become a leader of the early Church?
In our story we see that Peter was a man of impetuous faith . He was quick to believe that if Jesus was walking on water then he could too. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. Jesus said, ‘Come.' “So Peter got out of the boat and started walking, and came toward Jesus.” (28-29, NRSV)
Haven't we all known personality types who react to experiences by jumping in with both feet and arms? We do not know whether the person who reacts with that kind of gusto faith is really just impetuous, or is sincere.
Most of us would feel that Peter was exercising genuine faith based on his earlier commitment to Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. The other Apostles had not made such a prior verbal commitment. Peter led the way in bold professions of faith.
So, with bold faith Peter began to walk on the water too. However, when he noticed how strong the wind was he became fearful. “He became frightened and beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord save me!” (30): And who can blame him? There are dangerous things that we need to be afraid of and one would be drowning in the sea.
As the story goes, Jesus did save him from drowning. “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.” (31) This is the part of the story that is most meaningful for us for most of us can say that Jesus has reached out a hand to save us from that which was threatening to destroy us.
Some months ago I struck up a conversation with a stranger in a hospital emergency room waiting area. This outgoing middle aged man began to share how his life was saved by a prison chaplain who reached out to him. He actually was grateful to have been sent to prison because it forced him to overcome his drug and alcohol addiction. He said to me, “It was like Jesus himself had reached down from heaven to rescue me!” Some of us have been rescued from the miry clay to have our feet set on a sure and certain course.
Peter's response of initial Faith that he could water walk was doused by his Fear of drowning which led to his temporary Falling down into the deep dark sea.
The other Apostles, who were still in the boat, witnessed the entire miraculous episode and they also professed a bold faith to Jesus, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (33)
This may resonate with many of us who have been encouraged to believe in the Son through the influence of another person's positive experience with faith in Christ. We have all had spiritual heroes in our lives.
If we began to tell our stories it would take up the remainder of the day; but, since I have the floor let me tell how much a Methodist preacher form Carrollton became a rock for me. The first time I saw Randall, he did not notice me. I recognized him from Annual Conference and I watched him supervise his church Youth Group at an Atlanta Mall. He seemed to be very interested in every teen and was guarding them carefully. Later I learned that his teenage son had been killed in a tragic automobile accident on a dark wet Saturday night several years before. As things happened we were soon invited to join a clergy couple's supper club. Randall and Jean Williamson became great friends and soon Randall was my District Superintendent. Randall believed in me about as much as I believed in him and he helped get us into a great pastoral appointment. Because of his victory over adversity in Christ, our victory was ennobled. Randall Williamson, of the Carrollton Williamson clan, was my hero. When he died in an accident, a huge Sanctuary was filled to overflowing because Randall had reflected Jesus' well in our lives. Because Randall seemingly walked on water we felt that we could too.
So, when our faith falters because of fear and leads us to a near falling down, we look up and reconnect with the man who stilled the waters.
And look at what great things were done through the lives of the Apostles. They wrote much of the New Testament. These men of faith began to faithfully follow Jesus' Great Commission and carried the preaching of salvation in Christ to all of the nations that they could reach. And the Apostles influenced many young disciples who later carried the Good News of Salvation and New Life throughout the Middle East and into Europe . This same positive and powerful presence of the spirit of the Apostles has led many modern day believers to further establish local churches throughout the world. Our great church was started when a Methodist Circuit Rider first created a preaching station here.
The main thing that we need to focus on is continuing to make disciples of Jesus Christ right here at home. We have the calling and wonderful opportunity to be used by the Holy Spirit to reach many through what God can do here. The greatest days of service for our church are yet to be. Our denominational Mission Statement is, “To Make Disciples of Jesus Christ!” Our purpose as a church is to help precious souls come to life changing faith in Jesus Christ. And perhaps Peter is our greatest role model for fulfilling Jesus' Great Commission to His Church.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor