Undoubtedly, there are numerous reasons for our getting out of the boat and walking on water. But the main reason for getting out of the boat and walking on water is that the water is where Jesus is.
Notice that in this biblical story that Jesus is not in the boat. He is in the water in the midst of the storm. The main reason Peter got out of the boat is that he wanted to be where a Jesus was.
The writer of Matthew’s Gospel makes this clear in his reporting of Peter’s words and action. Peter said, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” Jesus said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on water and came toward Jesus (Matthew 14:28,29).
Many of us know how this miracle came out. Peter walked on water, heard the storm, took his eyes off Jesus and would have drowned, except for the mercy of Jesus.
Now, I want to make three important observations here. First, Jesus is in the water in the midst of the storm. Consequently, it is difficult to imagine Jesus the liberator not being at the center of the struggle for African American liberation and justice going on in our country and world today.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1984, stated “Black Theology...is concerned with the liberation of all, black and white, since the liberation of the black man is the other side of the coin of the liberation of the white man. It is a clarion call for man [woman] to align himself [herself] with the God who is the God of the Exodus, God the liberator, who leads his people, all his people out of all kinds of bondage...”
My second observation is that Jesus is challenging all of us to join him in getting out of the boat. Jesus is telling us that there is more to life than just sitting in the comfort and security of the boat while others are suffering and in pain and being denied human dignity and rights.
God is calling all of us — whites and blacks alike — to pray and act together to bring about liberating change.
One of America’s most courageous clergymen was Ernest Fremont Tittle. As pastor of First Methodist Church of Evanston, Ill., in the first half of the 20th century, he faced the hard issues of life head on. He took his stand for peace in a world bent on war; he stood for an absolutely free pulpit and for complete racial justice insisting that blacks be treated fairly. And needless to say, Dr. Tittle ran into all kinds of controversy.
But I want to share with you what the late Bishop James Armstrong said about Dr. Tittle. The bishop said, “Dr. Tittle was a courageous man, not only in facing crucial and divisive issues, but also in facing the limitation of his own selfhood. Real courage addresses the inner world as dramatically and demandingly as it addresses the outer world ... Tittle was willing to change positions, to grow, to be led into ever-larger arenas of commitment and action.”
The point is that Dr. Tittle had the courage to grow, to change positions and to be led. And that’s our hope during these days of COVID-19 and protests that whites and blacks can do whatever is necessary to work together to solve the sin of racism.
My third observation is that this miracle story of Peter walking on water says that we are not in the storm alone. The very God who called this universe into being and keeps it running comes to us in the struggle. And though God doesn’t necessarily still the storm, he does see us through the storm.
Isaiah stressed this well when he said, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:2).
If we want to walk on water, be where Jesus is, and answer God’s call today, we’ll have to get out of the boat.