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While Jesus is praying, he sends the disciples ahead in a boat.  While they are out on the sea, the disciples run into winds and rough waters.  It doesn’t appear that the wind and waters bother them too much.  Many of them, are, after all, fishermen. What really bothers them is the figure they see walking on the sea.  They aren’t sure what to make sure of it.  “It is a ghost!” they suggest.  But Jesus speaks to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

This is about Jesus’ identity.  Who is this figure walking on the seas?  The figure is ambiguous.  Perhaps it is ghost.  Who or what else could it be?  The disciples cannot recognize who it is before them until the figure speaks.  It is Jesus who speaks.  “It is I.”  “It is I” is more than just a simple identification.  “It is I” in Greek is “ego ami.”  In the Greek version of the Old Testament “ego ami” is used for I AM, as in the great I AM.

“I AM” is name that God gives to Moses when Moses asks for God’s name.  To say “I AM” is to identify himself with God.   The same God who subdued the waters in the beginning, and the one who now has such power over the waters now that he can walk on them. But this only comes as a result of Jesus’ word.  Before he identifies himself, he is, at best, ambiguous.

Even after Jesus identifies himself, the disciples in the boat still don’t seem sure.  This is especially true for Peter.  He calls out to Jesus.  He even calls Jesus “Lord,” but he doesn’t fully comprehend what he is saying. To call Jesus “Lord” is something that takes a lifetime to learn about.  If the stories are true, Peter’s growing understanding of Jesus as Lord leads Peter to his own cross.

But in what we see this morning, Peter is still not sure.  Jesus has revealed more about who he is on these waters. Peter begins to respond. “Lord,” Peter says, “if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus simply replies, “Come.”  Peter begins to walk on the water, but the wind distracts him.   He plunges into the unsettling waters.  He cries out for help, “Lord, save me!”  Jesus pulls him out of the water.

Like many of the other stories we have heard over the past few weeks, this is a story most of us know pretty well.  Often, when we hear this story, we hear it as a “get out of your comfort zone” story.  Step out on faith!  Get out of the boat!    There is even a book called, If You Want to Walk on Water, Get Out of the Boat!  I have to admit I’ve never read it, so I can’t recommend it one way or another.  However, the reason the image works is that we like to imagine ourselves stepping out onto those waters!  Yet, I have a question.  When you think of yourself in Peter’s sandals, do you ever see yourself falling in the water?  I usually conveniently leave that part out.  We like to think that perhaps we succeed where Peter failed.

But this is Peter.  Peter made a lot of mistakes, but sometimes he also catches on more quickly than some of the other disciples.  Peter is the one in this story who is actually willing to step out of the boat.  Further, from our perspective we know that Peter ends up in many ways as the leader of the apostles.  It is with Peter that Paul consults as he begins his ministry to the gentiles.  So, is it really likely that we will succeed where Peter failed?  To put the question the question differently, is Peter’s plunge a complete sign of failure?

What if we think about Peter’s plunge differently?  Consider this.  Only after Peter’s plunge does worship happen.[1]  They see Jesus on the water, but they aren’t sure.  He identifies himself, but they aren’t sure.  He commands Peter to come to him on the water.  Peter plunges into the water. Jesus pulls him out of the water and helps him into the boat.  Then they worship Jesus.

What are we to make of Peter’s plunge?  When I think of Peter’s plunge, I think of another important plunge that every Christian makes.  It is our plunge into the baptismal waters.  For Peter, his plunge is a dangerous, life-changing event.  Peter is different when he comes out of the waters.  Before his plunge, he is not sure.  When Jesus pulls him out of the waters, something has changed.  Worship happens.

Just as with Peter’s plunge, when we are baptized, we expect a change. When we are baptized, we are made new.  However the question we have to ask ourselves is, “If my life any different because I am baptized?”  Often, our baptisms bear little similarity to Peter’s experience.  Often our baptisms become sentimental affairs in the most controlled of environments.  There is no danger.  No risk.  Sometimes baptism simply becomes one of those things we “just do” when we have a baby.    It’s like baby’s first haircut.  We miss the reality of the death and resurrection that happens.

When we are baptized, we are incorporated into Christ’s death and resurrection.  That is sometimes hard to think about especially when it comes to the baptism of a child.  But death and resurrection is what baptism is all about!  To plunge into the waters is life-altering event that grows throughout our lives.

Baptism is the beginning of a journey of call and response.  We baptize persons of any age because we recognize that it is God who first claims us and calls us. As important as our response is, even our response is possible only through God’s grace.  Take the disciples as an example.  They cannot recognize Jesus on the waters until he speaks to them.  As we respond to the grace of our baptism, as we respond to God’s claim and call, our life begins to have the character of Jesus.  This happens not only because Jesus is a good example, but also because it is through Jesus that our new life is possible.

Does our response bear any resemblance to Peter’s?  Peter steps out into raging waters, where the only thing he can put his trust in is Jesus’ word.  “Come.”  Is that a step we are willing to take?  There is risk in Peter’s steps.  There is risk in his plunge.  Is there risk in our plunge?  If baptism is “just something we do” is there risk?  If we have grown up in a culture where for many being a good citizen is the same thing as being a good Christian, is there risk?

Things don’t get easier for the disciples after Peter’s plunge.  There is more controversy.  There is suffering, and there is death.  Even after Jesus’ resurrection there is risk in being a Christian.  Being a Christian could land you in the coliseum with the lions.  Being a Christian could get you kicked out of your family.  Contrast that with the climate in which we live.  Most of our lives and our families will never be threatened because we are Christians.  Is there any risk in the waters?  Is there any noticeable difference to the ways our lives are lived?

Where is the risk?  One place we can see it is in the way we find ourselves turned towards those who Jesus identifies in Luke 4: the poor, the captives, the disabled, and the oppressed.  There is risk standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.  There is risk in being with people that others would like not to think about.  Such activity may not seem risky.  But there is risk.  For example, if we feed the hungry long enough, we start to wonder about why they are hungry.  The myth that they are just too lazy to work begins to dissipate, and we begin to see the structures in society that keep people in poverty.

When we run up again against those structures, there is risk.  There are a lot of people who are trying to accumulate power and money.  They are even some people who like to make the laws.  There are a lot of people who are fine with accomplishing those tasks on the backs of the poor, the captives, the disabled, and the oppressed.  To stand up to those persons is to take risks.  The powers that be don’t like us identifying that their power is simply another idol.  It is certain to get us in trouble.

Take for example the story I read this week about a new case that has arisen in Alabama.  There is a new strict immigration law that has been passed, and some of the churches, including The United Methodist Church down there are challenging the law.  Now…stop for a second.  I imagine that all of us in here are maybe stepping to the left.  Maybe we are stepping to the right.  Maybe you are considering what you think the solution is to the “problem.”  But put that aside for a second because in this case, we aren’t talking about the grand solution to the “problem.”

There’s no question that there is brokenness in our immigration system.  I will leave your answer to that larger issue to your politics.  But what I want to point to in this potential law is that it may very well criminalize providing basic help to some persons if they can’t prove they are a citizen.  It would criminalize feeding them if they are hungry.  It would criminalize clothing them if they are naked.  There is risk in these murky waters.

Risk.  Risk of being labeled a”liberal” or a “conservative.”  Of not fitting in.  Of looking weird to those around us. But for this law to be enforced would place Christians in that state in the position of having to choose between the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger (e.g., Leviticus 19:34; Matthew 25:35) and the state’s requirement that they only serve citizens.

Regardless of our politics, I believe we can agree a Christians that if someone is hungry, we should feed them, regardless of who they are.  We are called to help everyone.  We are called to share food.  We are called to say there are enough places at our table for everyone.  Jesus did not discriminate.  He didn’t turn people away because they were a tax collector or a prostitute.  Jesus did not place qualifiers on who we are to provide ministry to.  If this law is enforced, those who seek to provide basic assistance to all persons may run the risk of having to break the law in order to follow the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger.  There is risk in the waters.  There is risk of not fitting in to neat categories.

Another place to find risk is even within our own church community.  Indeed, the subject of something like immigration is enough to draw us into an argument with one another.  Yet, when we come into this place, we still take risk.  We risk loving one another.  We risk caring about one another enough that we risk being hurt and let down.  Yet, to be close to each other, to be made into a new family as we are in baptism is to invite conflict.

Even if we find ourselves at odds about our politics or other issues, we still come to this table and pass peace and say, “The Peace of Christ be with you!”  To be baptized is to take the risk of loving one another.  Further, to be in a community together is to be called into the risk of taking on new responsibilities as God to which God calls us.

If you have plunged in the water, where is the risk?  What is Christ calling you going to risk?  Where is the difference?  Is it starting a new Sunday school class?  Working with the children?  Participating in a mission trip? Advocating for the poor?  Working with persons with disabilities?  Where is your risk?  Where is God calling you?

The Good News as we consider this reality can be seen in what happens when Peter plunges into the waters.  What happens when Peter begins to sink?  Christ takes a hold of him and doesn’t let go.  This is what we are assured of, is that when we risk the waters, Christ will grab a hold of us and not let go.  When Jesus grabs a hold of Peter he says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  We often read Jesus’ words here with a scolding tone.  However, as we have seen, Peter is the only one who takes the risk to step out. Not too many verses before, Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven being like a mustard seed (Matthew 13: 31-32). Later he will speak of faith the size of a mustard seed being able to move mountains (Matthew 17:20).Perhaps a little faith is bigger than we thought.  [2]  After all, it is Peter’s little faith to step out, his plunge, his faith that Jesus will save him when he is in the waters, his willingness to risk the waters that ultimately finds him and the other disciples worshiping Jesus.  To what kind of risk is Christ calling you?

[1] Feasting, on the Word, Year A., Vol. 3, p. 336

[2] Feasting, on the Word, Year A., Vol. 3, p. 337.