Sermons from St Faith's

Riding the Waves
Fr Neil Kelley, August 10th, 2008

Some years ago I went on holiday with a friend to Turkey. The coach dropped us off outside our hotel. Major problem. My friend Tom has a fear of water, so much so, that he couldn’t walk over the very small bridge to the hotel as it meant walking over water. I suggested a large gin and tonic first – still he had problems. We were found another hotel!

Some of you may recall that in the centre of London, right in the heart of the City’s financial district, a new bridge for pedestrians was built for the Millennium – to be named appropriately the Millennium Bridge! It looked beautiful and linked St Paul’s Cathedral with the new Tate Gallery of Modern Art. However, when it first opened to the public the bridge wobbled and it was closed for over a year while engineers restructured it so it wouldn’t wobble any more. One reason given by engineers was that people were walking the wrong way!!

Images of boats, water, and rough seas are popular in the Bible!

Today’s Gospel is one of the most graphic stories we have of Jesus’ life. But it is more about Peter walking on the water than about Jesus. What did Peter really think he was doing, climbing out of the boat and walking towards what he at first thought was a ghost?

Some people think that, if you have enough faith, life will be all plain sailing. I don’t know which planet these people live on! But at some time or other we all face difficult and trying circumstances and situations in our lives. Faith does not shield us from the harsh knocks of life. At those times it is as if the Lord is asking us to walk on water, or that’s how it feels. But at the same time he stretches out his hand and holds us up. Elijah in the first reading was a great man of faith. He was being persecuted and threatened with death and he sought refuge and protection in a cave. A beaten and broken man, he just wanted to die. However, in the cave he experienced the presence of God and was strengthened by that experience to carry on. He found God, not in the fire or the earthquake, but in the still small voice – the still small voice of calm.

To live by faith means to trust God and to rely on God’s power. God won’t carry us but he will hold us up if we let go. We have to take the risk, only then can God help us.

Peter knew that whatever Jesus commanded was possible. It was really a way of testing faith. They had all just seen him cure people, teach them, feed 5,000 people) with a little bread and fish. Peter has no doubt that what Jesus commands will happen. But the command needs a response, and we learn that the success of the response depends on his faith. Peter had no choice but to leave the boat and risk his life to learn perhaps the most valuable lesson: the realisation of both his own weakness and the power of Jesus. If Peter stayed in the boat his faith would have been worthless and never tested. We need to take on board that lesson too – our own weakness versus the power of Jesus.

The sea is often used as a metaphor for life. Perhaps the Gospel is saying that no matter how dark life might be, and no matter how high the waves are or how rough the sea, Jesus is still able to reach us and is still able to lift us out of life's trauma, if only we trust him totally and keep our eyes fixed on him. God does not necessarily work by way of miracles in our lives. He probably doesn't want us walking on water. He simply assures us he will be with us always. And when our faith is weak or when it goes completely, we can still be like Peter and still call out: “Lord, save me!”

There is no place and no situation where Jesus is not with us. The presence of Christ in our lives is the assurance our faith gives. The presence of evil and suffering does not mean the absence of God.

For our religion is not about magical powers, magic spells performed Sunday by Sunday, but about a relationship, lived in love, with the Living God.

Some years ago I heard a talk from a priest who explained how he learned to say his prayers on the London Underground. Not the first place you think of to find peace and quiet. No, he said; it is hell sometimes. The silence is within – and you need to dig deep to find it. But it is there. “Lead us heavenly Father, lead us, o’er the world’s tempestuous seas”, we sing. Yes, life feels more stormy than calm for many of us most of the time! We have to find that still small voice of calm within for when we connect with that, we grow in strength. We ignore searching for that still small voice at our peril!

Perhaps these words are appropriate today in conclusion?

The Lord is my Pilot: I shall not drift.
He lighteth me across the dark water,
He steereth me in the dark channels,
He keepeth my log,
He guideth me by the Star of Holiness for his name’s sake;

Yea, though I sail amid the thunder and tempests of life,
I shall dread no danger, for thou art with me;
Thy love and thy care, they shelter me,

Though preparest a harbour before me in the homeland of Eternity:
Thou hast anointed the waves with oil, my ship rideth calmly,

Surely sunlight and starlight shall favour me in the voyage I take,
And I will rest in the Port of my God forever.

Return to sermons index page

Return to St Faith's home page