(A sermon preached at St. Paul's Church, Kingston, August 8, 1999)
All summer you can see kids walking on water if they have enough power to keep them up. When a motor boat is pulling them they can twist and turn all over the lake. Some of them can do it barefoot.
Jesus did not walk on water by his own power. All the mighty works that he did were by the power of the Holy Spirit. He was even conceived in the womb of Mary by that power. She was told "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Luke 1:35).
For his thirty years of ministry among us Jesus emptied himself of divine power to become man (Philippians 2:6-7). Which means that Jesus had no more resources for miracles than we have. And he told us through his disciples that "the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these" (John 14:12).
Compared with casting out demons, turning water to wine, feeding five thousand, or walking on water, by far the most astonishing work of power was being raised from the dead. "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised the Messiah from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you" (Romans 8:11). That means that as Jesus was dying on the cross his certainty of being raised from the dead was based on no power of his own.
His confidence was based on the Holy Spirit who had empowered him for all he did. And Paul adds that when die we also can look to the Holy Spirit to lift us from death for the fullness of life on the other side.
So the proper answer to "Could you walk on water as Peter did?" should be "That would depend on the power of the Holy Spirit."
But notice what Peter said, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come
to you on the water" (Matthew 14:28). We can only do what we are
commanded. We are not given the power of the Spirit to do parlor tricks.
So don't try walking on the water across to Wolf Island. You can use the
ferry, so God isn't going to command you to walk on water. But if you ever
power of the Spirit to do something God had appointed for you to do, there is all the power of creation and more to spare.
That is why in the temptations Jesus refused to do what Satan suggested.
By the power of the Spirit he could have come down gently in full view of the crowd from the highest point of the temple. By the Spirit he could have turned rocks to bread, as he did in the feeding of the five thousand few hours before he walked on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:21). And of course by the Spirit he could have received the wisdom and power to become the dictator of the whole world. But ruling by force is not God's way of doing things. Jesus' kingship is not of this world, and his servants love him and serve him, not because they are forced, but because they freely choose to do so.
Though we are not to use the power of God to impress others, we can certainly look to the power of the Holy Spirit for anything God has appointed for us to do. And each of us is given tasks which are quite impossible for us to do in our own strength. Martyrs have received power to face torture and death. The Holy Spirit can give the power to love and forgive that person who has wronged you. He can give the power to walk on the waters of despair, bereavement, loneliness, hopelessness. If God appoints a task for us to do, he never expects us to do it by our own will-power or courage.
In Psalm 23 David sang about walking without fear through the valley of the shadow of death.
But we need to look in the right direction. Peter had no problem walking on the water till he turned to look at the white caps on the waves. And when he began sinking Jesus had to catch him and put him back in the boat.
We also do very well walking by the power of God till we look in some other direction. Most of the time driving up Montreal Street to our cottage I can drive fast and safely if I am looking straight ahead. But if I look to the side at a new house being built, or the cows in a field, the car swerves and I am nearly into the ditch. So faith is looking in the right direction.
I like to think of pointing a dish at a satellite in the sky. If you point it at Mars or Venus, you get nothing. So I like to picture God's satellite always there for us if only we will look for the power that we need.
There are three channels each in their own way offering us the particular kind of power that we need. We needn't worry we will be brushed off if we turn to the wrong channel, but it helps to distinguish the three kinds of power.
There is the channel of the Father. When a little boy suddenly sees a big dog bounding towards him, he runs to his dad. And we too can be like little children looking to God as a loving parent who sets up our environment and protects when we are in danger. Even Jesus needed to access the power of the love of God every day. God is love and love is the greatest power in the world.
In our world we know the power of words, and that has been multiplied by the use of computers and the Internet. As opposed to all that is babbled in our world, Jesus is the Word of God. When he speaks there is tremendous power. And all the more so since his resurrection and ascension.
As we have seen, when he lived among us, Jesus looked to the channel of the Holy Spirit for the creative power that he needed. By the Spirit he did all that he needed to do, including walking on the water. And he told his disciples they could access that same power.
So let me ask what stormy dark waters are you facing today? Are you
afraid? Do you feel you are sinking, drowning in despair? You can talk
directly to the Holy Spirit to empower you for walking on the water as
Jesus did. Or like Peter you can cry out "Lord, save me." Jesus might say
"You of little faith, why did you fear?" But even if you have very little
faith at all, he will reach out his hand and catch you. Faith is as simple
as looking in the right direction.