In Matthew 14:22-33, we find the story of two people walking on water – one successfully and one – not so much. Matthew tells us that immediately after the feeding of the 5000, Jesus sent the disciples off in a boat while he took time to pray. He planned to meet them on the other side. Everything seemed fine. But a storm came up on the water. The disciples’ were afraid. So Jesus walked out on the water to reassure them. When the disciples saw Jesus coming, they thought it was someone else. Maybe even a ghost! They didn’t recognize him. Or, perhaps even more to the point, they weren’t expecting him.
There’s a very good chance one of the reasons Matthew included this story in his gospel was because he knew there would be times when the church felt like Jesus was far away and they were left alone. Like the churches out of which the gospels of Mark, Luke and John sprang – Matthew’s church also struggled with major storms.
In that way, the churches then weren’t much different than churches today. There were growing pains, conflict and distractions within – and sometimes threats and persecution from without. What I think Matthew wants us to know is we are never out there on the high seas alone. In fact, it’s Matthew’s Gospel that ends with the Great Commission. The last verse he leaves us with is Jesus saying, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” We are completely assured of Jesus’ presence with us. The question is not, “Is Jesus with us?” That has already been answered. The big question is, “Are we expecting him?”
If you’ve heard this story from Matthew before, you know that usually what gets focused on is how Peter failed at walking on the water. We assume the moral of the story is, “Have faith! Get out of the boat!” But if you read the text closely, you see the whole idea was Peter’s, not Jesus’. When Peter begins to falter, Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” The assumption we usually make is that Jesus was asking Peter why he doubted his own ability to walk on water. But perhaps Jesus isn’t speaking to Peter alone, but to all the disciples. Perhaps Jesus is asking, “Why did you doubt it was me? Why didn’t you know I would be coming to rescue you? Why weren’t you expecting me?”
In Henry Blackaby’s book, Experiencing God, he writes about how our lack of confidence in the church isn’t so much a lack of faith in each other as it is a lack of faith in God. We consider what kind of church God might be calling us to be – and then we say, “Yeah, all that sounds nice… but that could never happen here.” Blackaby says flat out – when you say something like that it says less about your skills at assessing your fellow members and more about lack of faith in God.
As we experience the same kinds of storms churches in all places and all times have, the big question isn’t – are we up to it? Are we good enough – smart enough – strong enough – rich enough to weather the storm? No, the big question is, “Are we expecting Jesus to show up in this church? Do we really believe he knows about us, cares about us, and is here with us? If we are going to continue this journey in God’s Spirit, we have to find ways to keep expecting Jesus to show up.