The theme for this morning from the gospel of Matthew is having the faith to walk over water. Walking over water is not possible, although there appear to be some exceptions.
Two monks, having a day off, go fishing. Being at the side of the pond, having made their fishing-tackle ready, they lower their line and float in the water. They put their fishing-rods in a holder, and begin to watch their float. When one of the monks sees his float going under, he doesn’t take his rod out of the holder, but walks over the water and pulls the fishing-line out of the water.
Another fisher-man opposite the two monks, can’t believe his eyes. He looks with amazement on how the monk walks over the water to lift up the float and fishing hook.
Then the other monk has a bite, and even so he walks over the water and takes up his fishing line. The man opposite them doesn’t know what to believe anymore, but when he sees his own float go under, he says to himself; If they can walk over the water, why can’t I? So, he raises up from his seat and boldly puts his first step on the water. As you can imagine, with a big splash he immediately goes down under.
Then the one monk says to the other; You see, my dear brother, he’s got the faith, unfortunately he doesn’t know where the stepping stones are.
Having the faith, but not knowing where the stepping stones are, is certainly not unfamiliar for the churches today in the midst of a pandemic with many churches under lock down. Even before the lock-down officially begun, the Church closed all its buildings and forbade anyone to enter the church for the fear of the Covid-19 virus.
And here we are today, puzzling about how and where to organise our services. And in order to continue with services, churches embraced the internet to video or live-stream services as we do. And for a venue any place will do, like we saw with our own archbishop holding the Easter service from behind his kitchen sink.
We don’t know what the future holds for our services and we don’t know when we can come back to normal. We don’t know what the new normal will and we don’t know how many will have turned their back to the church. After all a church controlled by fear will not be able to guide others who are fearful or have lost the plot somewhere along the line, like the church has.
Is there a better example of not knowing where the stepping stones are? The stepping stones of how to walk on the rough waters of society in the grip of a minuscule virus they can’t control.
In the middle of a world looking for answers, with strong winds blowing against any form of Christian doctrinal teaching, what should be the voice of the Church? Instead, the world now listens to the scientists and it has turned itself into a chaos of enormous economic proportions and uncertainly about jobs and futures.
The church unfortunately has already lost its power to work miracles a long time ago. It was Augustine it the 5th century who told the anecdote about one of the early Church-fathers. He was shown all the riches of the Vatican and the pope said to him: We don’t have to say anymore; silver and gold we don’t have as Peter said to the lame man in the porch. On which the reply followed: True, but neither can you say any longer; take up your mattress and walk.
Having lost the possibility to work miracles a long time ago, it seems it now also has lost the ability to find the stepping stones. It has lost its way of walking on the waters of turmoil and tribulation and how to guide others through problems and difficulties. It has neglected to stand on Jesus Christ the Rock and to witness to the world of the risen Christ.
When the Church doesn’t stand firm on this fundament of the risen Christ, it has lost the way and has no understanding of what to do next or knowing where to go to. Already Confucius (600 years BC) said that if you don’t know what road to take you will end nowhere.
The 2 monks in our anecdote at least knew where the stepping stones were and when Peter got out of his boat he had Jesus as his stepping stone on His side.
Everything which now happens with the church is like being in a storm, with the winds against. The same type of weather the disciples were facing while being in their fishing boat. And we are now in the same boat, threatened by the storm and winds against us, bereaved by the loss of the many church communities.
In circumstances like these we could also easily loose sight on the real Jesus Christ. We then ask ourselves whether we have the real Christ on our side, or just an image of Him. In such times, we should remember the promises of God we have received through Him that God will never leave or forsake us. It, it are in these moments we hear Christ speaking to us: Take heart it is I, have no fear!
Jesus doesn’t ask from us a great faith in difficult circumstances, but to take heart and stop doubting or fearing. In all such circumstances Jesus says; take heart here am I, to take away your doubts and fears.
When we look to our churches we can’t oversee all the questions and difficult circumstances it is facing. But it are in these moment of uncertainty that Jesus also speaks to us to keep our faith in Him: Take heart it is I, have no fear!
When Peter get out of his boat, it was not because he was a hero of faith, but perhaps only because he wanted to test whether he saw a ghost or the real Christ. Peter resembles us all with his fear and his doubts, but do we dare to test our faith as Peter did by trusting in the Lordship of Jesus Christ?
If we only focus on the circumstances we will all go under like Peter did, but the voice of Christ then also speaks to us: Take heart it is I, have no fear!
Having faith is not a remarkable achievement of a remarkable person in difficult circumstances. Real faith is relying on the God Who stretches His saving hands out to you and me through Christ.
With Christ we can walk over the raging waters and against the storm, if we keep our eyes fixed on Him.