DISCLAIMER: I'm about to make some broad and sweeping generalisations about the institutional church structures ... Most people in the institutional churches do not deserve to be judged as I am about to judge them but there is truth in my challenge to the bureaucracy I've experienced.
It's been a long day for Jesus and the disciples. Early that morning, word came to their camp that John the Baptist, Jesus' best friend and cousin, has been executed by Herod. Jesus and his crew withdraw to a solitary place. A place to mourn, to grieve, to be silent in their pain.
Somehow, the crowds get wind of this and the place that they expect to be empty when they arrive is packed with over 5,000 people. The hurting, the hopeless and those in need of healing have flocked to the heartbroken Messiah. In the midst of his pain, Jesus has compassion on them, heals their sick and feeds them. It's been a long day of pouring out for others. As the crowds disperse, Jesus sends the disciples off in the boat to the other side of the lake while he went up the mountain to pray.
Early the next morning, the disciples see Jesus from their boat ... he's walking towards them ... on the sea. The disciples cry out. I'm sure that in reasonable people's mind, this plays out as gasps and short high-pitched squeaks of fear. In mine, I imagine some of the disciples screaming hysterically in fear while others slap them to calm them down.
Jesus calls out, 'Talk heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.'
Peter responds, 'Lord, if it's you, command me to come to you on the water.'
It's a test and a desire. He's double checking to see if it is Jesus. And it's a desire that, if it is him, to invite Peter to be where Jesus is. Wherever Jesus is doing his thing, Peter wants to be there with him.
As I was preparing to speak about this on Sunday, I wondered what the reaction would have been if some of the institutional church bodies I've encountered had been in the boat that night as Jesus comes strolling across the sea.
I imagine them crying out, 'Peter! Stop! Don't get out of the boat!'
'WE'RE NOT INSURED FOR THAT!!'
Or perhaps a committee would have formed. They would have drawn up a mandate for their meetings and given themselves significant time to discern their answers. Two key questions needed to be resolved:
1. Is this Jesus walking on the water?
2. Is this a positive or negative thing?
Over a period of weeks, or perhaps months, they would come to a decision that would be compiled into a report (obviously with an appendix of the minutes of all the meetings that had taken place). And they would issue a statement.
'We believe that yes it was, in fact, Jesus that we saw walking towards us on the waves.
Having taken time to consider the event and the issues surround us, it is our recommendation that we ask Jesus to cease and desist from all further excursions on the water as if it was land.
As two thirds of the Earth is water, rendering it walkable would increase the potential space upon which people can dwell, thus reducing the value of land, a crucial commodity for our church.
Walking on water, then, significantly threatens the financial future of the church by reducing property values and the pension investments that flow from them.
If Jesus takes seriously the financial future of the church, he will understand the challenges that such actions present.'
If you want to know if it's Jesus on the water, ask him to invite you there. If it's him then he'll want you there with him, following him, even in the most unexpected ways and in bizarre places.
If it isn't then you'll fall into the water and you'll get wet. And that's ok too because we're all trying to figure out where Jesus is moving what he is doing. Sometimes we'll get it wrong and fall into the water. But we can tread water, climb back in and then dry off. That's part of the journey faith.
But let's never get to the point where our checks and balances lead us to recognise him on the water but refuse to join him there. Let's be wherever he is doing his thing ... no matter what it means for the value of our land and pension investments.
Where's your church at? Where are you at with this? Does Jesus walking on water excite you or scare you?