4 minutes reading time (888 words)

Sink or swim?

First of all, dear friends, may I - like any high-class political operator - perform a swift u-turn while pretending I've done no such thing (see previous blog entry):

Now that the Government (under pressure from faith groups) has exempted those who lead, read and preach in church from the legal requirement to wear face coverings in places of worship, I am ... removing mine when speaking, provided there is a good distance between me and you. I'm sure my medically qualified colleague will not be happy, but in truth it is extremely difficult to lead worship when you're muffled (and impossible for those who rely on lip-reading to get any benefit whatsoever from all my noise).  

Moving on ... here's the text of my video address from last Sunday, with the Gospel reading from which it springs:

Matthew 14, verses 22 to 33: Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

I remember my Mum teaching me to swim. Although (like me) she wasn't the most patient person, she persevered for weeks on end in the swimming baths at (where else?) Bath, and eventually I became a swimmer. And what I remember from her method of teaching me was the way she would step back, a little bit further each time, until I realised that I could bridge the gap between us - by swimming! In other words, the me that assumed I would sink like a stone unless she was holding me was gradually replaced by a me that could sense, and trust in, my own buoyancy. Fear was overtaken by confidence - and, most important, I was able to stop thinking about the whole unlikely business of swimming, and just do it. And now, while I'm not the greatest swimmer in the world, I can enjoy bobbing about like a cork at high tide on Barricane, or pushing out beyond the breakers on the main beach in Woolacombe. While I have, I hope, a healthy respect for the power of the ocean, I know I can stay afloat.

Of course, Peter wasn't trying to swim. He was trying to walk on the surface of the Sea of Galilee, he was trying to do what Jesus was doing. As a fisherman, Peter may have needed to learn how to swim, and in John 21 he jumps out of the boat while it's still a way off shore, in his eagerness to greet the risen Jesus. But his panic here suggests that he knew he was out of his depth - in more than one way!

What interests me, and perhaps connects Peter with me and my Mum, is the difference between the moment when you just do something, without over-thinking it, and the moment when you become aware of all the consequences and risks and potential problems - and you start to sink. "But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out..." Jesus, of course, grabs him, saves him, as he so often does with us all. But his reproach - "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" - cuts to the heart of the difficulty we over-thinking humans often find ourselves in. When we lose faith, we sink. And I don't just mean faith in Jesus Christ; I mean faith in life, faith in goodness, faith in truth (all of which, for us, have their source in God, but we know others will see it differently). When we lose that deep-down faith, life can become an impossible puzzle or a crushing burden; we can feel that we're sinking - and who will grab our hand and pull us to safety? We've all had times like that - and the answer? God is teaching us - not to walk on water, that would make us unbearably pleased with ourselves - but how to swim, how to stay afloat; and more, how to enjoy, how to delight in, our strange and wonderful buoyancy, that comes with faith. We simply need to trust our swimming teacher...

Meeting as equals
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