So what is it about water? In 2000, when I was awaiting an important decision and life was certainly ‘stormy’ I spent a lot of time doing an embroidery of Jesus asleep in the boat with the disciples. Now, in negotiating relationships, and in a new phase of life, i.e. retirement, I am again thinking about ‘water.’ A couple of weeks ago I wrote about tom Hanks ‘letting the oars’ of his raft go as he escaped from his island.
Now I am reading Stanley Hauerwas’ commentary on Matthew. He is so uncompromising. Here is what he says about the disciples and Jesus on the lake, when Peter asks Jesus if he can come to him on the water.
“Losing sight of Jesus means that Peter, like all of us, cannot help but become frightened. We are of course, sympathetic with Peter because we too doubt. We doubt because, like Peter, we are frightened. Our fears are not governed by our fear of God, because we fear, like Herod, the opinions of others more than we fear god. As a result, we sink beneath the weight of our desires, hoping others will think us normal. But followers of Jesus, …cannot be normal. We worship, as the disciples did, this Jesus whom they now recognise to be the Son of God.
Later on he says of the Church ‘Those ‘in the boat’ often fail to understand that they are meant to be far from shore and that to be threatened by the storm is not unusual/ If the Church is faithful, she will always be far from the shore. Some, moreover, will be commanded to leave the safety of the boat and walk on water.’
Reading these ideas about Jesus during my prayers in the morning, I am often struck by the difference between worrying about how my life will go, and the ‘simple trust’ that lets the oars go, and just looks to Jesus. “How wonderful’ I think. “How good to be physically grafted into this reality in the sacraments.”
But this is a radical ask too. God is not ‘in our face’ all of the time, so it is hard to live before the face of God most of the time. It is easier to be determined by other realities than that of the reality of God in Jesus.
So I am thankful to Stanley Hauerwas for reminding me each day what it feels like to be grasped by the reality of Jesus, who is Christ.
But then there is another story. Our vicar is beginning his yearly Christian initiation and formation process. I remember Stanley Hauerwas again. “Jesus does not need an explanation, he just needs us to be his witnesses.’ As Bonhoeffer did, again and again Stanley Hauerwas calls us to ‘come and die’ in following Jesus. This is a mighty call.
But looking at the Church ‘from the pew’ as it were, I think “Would anyone want to come if we put such a big challenge? “ “Are we not too frightened to do it, because we ourselves do not want to see ‘true valour’ but want ‘quiet lives’?
There are many who think that Jesus was a ‘good guy’ and leave it at that. Who think that being asked to ‘come and die’ is neither something that the Church looks like doing itself, or that they would think as worthwhile.
Giles Fraser resigned as a Canon of St. Paul’s cathedral because of how the staff of the cathedral did not support the ‘occupy’ movement. He is now vicar of a small parish in South London: a step in the direction of faithfulness to Jesus.
At the moment, there are moves afoot to do something about the 250 people who sleep and live, homeless, in the central business district of Melbourne. Would it not be a good idea if, like St. James’ Picadilly, the Melbourne city Churches offered day time refuge and night time sleeping places to the Melbourne homeless?
Someone once said that no reformation of the Church really happens unless there is a rediscovery of who Jesus is for us. Much of the brave ‘stepping out of the boat’ that the Church did in the 18th and 19th centuries has been seen as ‘normal’ and taken over by the whole of society as ‘part of the package’ and ‘what churches do.’
Like me in my personal journey, we as Church need to be asking always ‘who is Jesus for us’. We (I) need to be living before His face, looking for new ways to be faithful witnesses.