- The Rev. Arianne Rice
A Pattern of Prayer
Whenever I read a scripture story, the first thing I try and notice is how Jesus makes me feel. Does Jesus make me feel comforted? Calm my anxiety? Or, dare I say, do I get ticked off - because I disagree with something Jesus says?
Of course, I also sometimes feel love and acceptance. I feel challenged and scared when I hear Jesus asking or calling me to do something that I really don't want to do. These feelings are clues, I believe, for us listen and get curious about.
And this morning, I feel some envy. I don't mean envy about being able to walk on water. It's envy around something I know I can do but I don't - prioritize and discipline myself the way Jesus does when it comes to prayer. Making prayer a "first order" priority the way I see Jesus consistently do in his life.
This well-known story of Peter and Jesus usually focuses our attention on doubt. We put ourselves in Peter's shoes and relate to not having the faith we believe Jesus knows we can muster. And I'll get to that but I kind of want to focus on what Jesus continuously teaches through what he does - not what he says.
Three times in this chapter Jesus encounters crowds, then disciples, then crowds, then disciples, and again, crowds and disciples. And in-between he does something that I think is really important for us to pay attention to now more than ever.
He disengages he moves away and he takes time for himself in prayer.
At the start of this chapter when the crowds hear that John the Baptist has been killed they immediately go searching for Jesus, looking for his help. What does Jesus do? Jesus immediately goes to the mountain to pray. Not just say a prayer, or pray for something, but to abide in prayer. To be with God the Father for an extended period of time. Alone, in solitude. Then renewed and refreshed and restored he comes back and he sees those crowds not as a big huge host of problems but his individual children of God who need to be fed. He does his work, tends to the sick. And when those crowds stir up the same anxiety that that storm is stirring up for the disciples this morning, when the disciples say hey, Jesus send them away! Jesus says no. There is power in you to handle this problem (they just haven't accessed it).
So he takes blesses breaks and shares the bread and the crowds and the disciples and Jesus are fed. And then we read, "immediately, Jesus put the disciples in a boat and went off by himself to pray."
That word immediately makes it clear just how much Jesus needs to recharge!
Jesus has to prioritize himself. He has to disengage from the disciples and the crowds and be by himself again to abide in God and again he takes a whole night to be in solitude with God the Father to replenish and restore and renew his God-given capacity
to do what God has called him to do.
That's what Peter and the disciples see walking towards them on the water. The embodiment of time spent abiding with God. Peter gives voice to the anxiety they've been feeling all night, displacing it right at Jesus' feet, "If you are the Son of God then command me to do what you're doing!" Peter is scared and probably feeling somewhat abandoned, don't you think? So of course he wants Jesus to prove himself.
I almost hear Jesus chuckle at that, thinking. Ok, Peter, give it a try. I mean you've spent the whole night in a boat fretting and anxious. Whereas I have been alone caring for myself and connecting with God but sure let's see if we can match up here on the water.
Is it any surprise the Peter immediately sinks? Is it any surprise that Jesus immediately gives him a hand?
Jesus always gives a helping hand to save. And we know he'll continue to do so with Peter when he again denies who he is and who Jesus is.
Jesus is able to readily help because Jesus so readily prepares himself to do so. Prepares in prayer. Why focus on Peter in this story? We aren't disciples of Peter! We're followers of Jesus and Jesus is the one who is trying to teach us to put this pattern in our lives.
In these days when there are lots of crowds wanting our attention. These days when we feel there is so much helping we need to do, and, so many ways we need support and help; may we practice patterning our prayer life like Jesus'. Being alone with God, abiding with God, trusting in God to recharge our batteries, renew our compassion, restore us to wholeness, so we can embody that way of being in our world. Amen.