The Sub-Dean - Rev Canon Michael Rawson
I wonder if you ever open your mouth and put your foot straight in it?
I certainly do and was reminded the other day when clearing out some drawers of a particular incident. Way back in 2010 I was watching people abseiling down the tower of Wakefield Cathedral as a fundraising event. I said to the person next to me that they’d never catch me on the end of a rope. I’d sooner jump out of a plane. The following June I was doing just that. That should have taught me to be more guarded in my comments.
The day arrived and Jane, a colleague, and I turned up at the aerodrome just outside Scunthorpe. We went through the safety briefing and met the people we would do the tandem skydive with. My partner was to be Karen. I love flying but this was a flight with a difference. As we reached 15,000 feet (nearly 3 miles), the aircraft door was opened and we edged to the door. Whilst on the edge of the doorway, Karen asked me to relax (!) and lift up my legs so that she was taking my weight. The video evidence shows me doing this but then hanging on with my hands to the doorway. Karen gently peeled my fingers off the fuselage and away we went into the blue yonder, reaching a freefall speed of 120 miles an hour. Once we were out of the plane it was an exhilarating experience which I won’t be repeating. I was well and truly out of my comfort zone!
Our gospel reading sees Peter doing a similar thing but on water. The disciples are on the lake and the boat is being battered by the waves and the wind is against them. They are beside themselves with fear and then to cap it all they think they’re seeing a ghost moving towards them. Jesus speaks to them and meets them in their need, ‘Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.’ Jesus then invites Peter to ‘Come.’ Out he gets and starts walking towards Jesus but then his nerve fails him. He takes his eyes off Jesus and realises he is surrounded by waves and wind. In his terror he begins to sink and drown. Jesus doesn’t give him a lecture, not for now anyway, but stretches his hands out and enfolds Peter.
This is one of those gospel episodes which I think will probably resonate with so many of us. Here is a message of comfort, encouragement but also one of challenge. Maybe in these past few months we have had to look at life and live our lives in radically different ways. We have had to step out of our comfort zone and not simply rely on our own strength and our own resources. That has been, and continues to be, a scary and risky business.
Jesus shows us by his actions that all he does is founded on prayer, on spending time with God and then acting from this foundation. Peter stepped out of the boat, out of his comfort zone, putting his trust in Jesus and drawing encouragement and peace from Jesus’ presence. We like, Peter, are never called to do anything on our own, or in our own strength. Jesus invites each of us to ‘Come’ and he reaches out to us, beckoning us forward and encouraging us to take the plunge.
What we need to do is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and Jesus alone. Peter began doing this, but then tried to do it in his own strength and he began to sink.
In these strange and challenging times all we can do is to spend time with God in prayer, and focus and to keep God at the centre of our lives. This last week we celebrated the feast day of St John Marie Vianney, often called the Cure D’Ars. He lived a simple and austere life of prayer and service in a French village in the 19th century. He was once asked by a parishioner what he did when he was sitting in front of the altar for so many hours. He pointed up to the crucifix and replied, ‘I look at him, and he looks back at me.’
There are times when we don’t know how to pray or what to say to God. At those times, we simply need to keep our eyes on Jesus.
Being a disciple isn’t easy or comfortable, as Peter and his companions found out first hand; it is risky and yet exciting. If we get out of our boat, out of our comfort zone, then Jesus is there with us, inviting us to ‘Come’, and surrounding us with the arms of Grace.