St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
Midweek Devotion 4th August 2022
Led by Rev Sigrid Marten
“This is what God says who created you:
Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name, you are mine.”
Our lesson today is written in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 14 (verses 22-33).
I sometimes have the impression we can get into a frame of mind where we treat being a Christian as if it were a competitive sport: who can show the most charitable attitude, hold the most offices in our congregations, pray the most beautiful prayers; who will walk through life without ever stumbling or falling; who will never doubt, never question… who will walk on water?
As if we needed to prove to God how great our love is, as if we expected some kind of reward; as if we could be that perfect disciple, just stepping out of the boat and walking towards Jesus. As if it were all up to us… as if we didn’t really need God’s grace, Christ’s love.
But the truth is, no matter how good we think we are at walking on water, one day we will start to sink. No matter how firm or fragile our faith, the waves will soak our legs, the terror will break through our vision of Christ, and we will start to sink. This is not a story about being called to walk on water.
It is also easy to get stuck on what seems to be Jesus telling Peter off. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” scolds our translation. However, there is leeway in the original Greek. Given the intimacy of the moment and the immediacy of Jesus’ help, a more pastoral tone might be more appropriate. “My dear one, you lack confidence in me. Is this what has caused you to waver?” It matches the words of comfort that Jesus has already voiced from the midst of the storm. “Take heart! It is I. Do not be afraid.”
This is not a story about imperfect faith and trying harder.
Sooner or later we all sink like a rock. This is what it is to be human. And yet, Jesus chooses to build the church with waterlogged stones, cracked rocks. Jesus acknowledges the storm, recognises and acknowledges the fear. He first encourages the exuberant Peter, and then stands with Peter in the midst of the storm.
Jesus does not make a moral lesson out of Peter’s weakness to tell us we need to be more committed. Our choices for God are always trumped by God’s choice for us in Jesus Christ.
In a boat, out of the boat, or safely on shore, God’s grace is for us all. It is unearned. This is a story about grace and steadfast loving-kindness. Our faith, our calling, our momentary miracles amidst the chaos of life, flow from just such grace.
Living God, when our faith is strong we feel like we could walk on water. When we put our trust in you, nothing seems impossible. But so often a storm brews on the horizon, so often we are buffeted by life, so often all we can see is the choppy waves, we start sinking, and we are afraid. Like Peter, we cry out, ‘Lord, save me’. Teach us to keep our eyes on you, we pray. Help us to live out of your endless love. In tough times, hold our hands tightly, because we may not be strong enough to hold on to you.
Our prayer is for all who are feeling at sea, for whom life is hard and frightening. We remember those who are grieving a loss, those who are in pain or unwell, those who are lonely. We pray for people who have fled from violence, war, extreme weather and famine, who are risking their lives in fragile, overcrowded boats, looking for safety and a better life. We pray for the people of the Ukraine, and all who long for peace with justice. Redeemer of us all, be near.
All our prayers we sum up in the words that Jesus taught us to pray together:
Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen.
The guarding of the God of life be on you,
The guarding of the loving Christ be on you,
The guarding of the Holy Spirit be on you,
To aid you and enfold you
Each day and night of your lives.
Dieterich Buxtehude Vater unser im Himmelreich