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Sunday, 10 August 2014

Following in Jesus' footsteps

Immediately before today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 14. 22 - 33) where the disciples are caught up in a storm, we read about the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. The disciples had had a wonderful experience and had grown in their faith. This was immediately followed by their going through a storm. 

This is a common experience in the lives of Christians and in church life. After enjoying positive experiences and developments in our faith, we then go through some kind of trial which tests our faith. It is easy to wonder why that should be so and there are no easy answers.

One of the people I have been reading during my sabbatical has been Julian of Norwich. She doesn’t answer that question but she does say this, God did not say 'You shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work-weary, you shall not be discomforted'. But he did say, 'You shall not be overcome.'

So our Gospel reading this morning has things to teach us about how to respond when storms come in our individual lives and as a church. Jesus comes to the disciples in the storm walking on the water. He doesn’t still the storm on this occasion instead he calls Peter to walk to him on the water. Peter begins to do this but then becomes afraid and begins to sink. At which point, Jesus supports him and they return to the boat and the storm is then stilled.

In the midst of this storm Peter is asked to do something which seems impossible. He is asked to do what Jesus is doing, to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. In his storm Peter was called to walk on water but what is the equivalent for us in our storms?

All Jesus’ disciples are called to follow in his footsteps by doing what Jesus did. Like Peter being called to walk on water, following in Jesus’ footsteps often seems impossible for us because what Jesus did was to give everything he had for the love of others. Out of love for all humanity he left everything he had with God to become a human being, being born as a baby at Bethlehem, and he then gave up his own life on the cross when he was crucified out of love for all people everywhere. When we think through what following in Jesus’ footsteps actually means we quickly find, as individuals and as a church, that there are all sorts of reasons that prevent from fully doing what Jesus did and giving all that we have and are to others out of love for them. As a result, we are like Peter who began to walk on the water but couldn’t keep going. What Jesus calls us to do and to be by following in his footsteps seems impossible for us to achieve.

Yet we know of some, like St Francis of Assisi or MotherTeresa, who have followed in Jesus’ footsteps more fully than any of us have yet managed. So, we know too that it can be done to some extent and, with that in mind, we need to be prepared, like Peter, to make the attempt, even if that means we fail to fully follow through. As he was with Peter, Jesus will be alongside us and will restore us so that we are then able to try again.

The storms we face in life are times of trial, times when life seems at its most difficult or most challenging. The temptation in these times is to lose our focus on Jesus - on who he is, what he did and how he acted – when that happens, like Peter, the worries of life crowd in and distract and we fall. In the storms we face, the more we continue to follow in Jesus’ footsteps by giving all we can to our fellow Christians and in the wider community, the more we will experience the ability to walk on water and come through the storms instead of being overwhelmed by them.

Julian of Norwich reminds us of the importance of prayer in these circumstances when we feel buffeted by the storms of life and don’t feel God’s comforting presence alongside us. She wrote, “Prayer fastens the soul to God, making it one with his will through the deep inward working of the Holy Spirit. So he says this, 'Pray inwardly, even though you feel no joy in it. For it does good, though you feel nothing, see nothing, yes, even though you think you cannot pray. For when you are dry and empty, sick and weak, your prayers please me, though there be little enough to please you. All believing prayer is precious in my sight.' God accepts the good-will and work of his servants, no matter how we feel.”

As she reminds us, “God did not say 'You shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work-weary, you shall not be discomforted'. But he did say, 'You shall not be overcome.'”


Dave Bainbridge - Until The Tide Turns.

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