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The Rev. Canon Charles Fulton The Rev. Canon Charles Fulton

The Rev. Canon Charles Fulton is a retired Episcopal priest and the former president of Acts 29 Ministries, based in Atlanta, GA.

Member of:

The Episcopal Church

Representative of:

St. Jude's Episcopal Church, Marietta, GA


Get Out of the Boat

Matt. 14:22-34; Hebrews 11

April 19, 1998

Tell me what do you think of the scripture? What think ye if I were in that King James era of the Word of God? Would you agree with Paul as he writes to Timothy? All scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Oh don't take an exception to it, it means man or woman be equipped for every good work. Or would you say that the Bible is a book of information or simply inspiration? Or is it God's revelation? Well we are working from the idea it is not only the inspiring word of God but it is revelatory. I marvel as I look at the religions of the world. In my experience I have never noticed that a Buddhist is pulling the Pali apart, one of the three canons. Or a Muslim attacking the Koran. But in Christendom, in some corners, people have analyzed the scripture until they become paralyzed.

I'd like to share with you today a very simple passage. You remember it from your childhood possibly. It's that passage in the l4th chapter of Matthew, verse 22, where Jesus was walking on the water. Now let's just talk about the passage before we read it. If you've ever been into the sea of Galilee, you will know that at the point where they're crossing the sea in the little boat, the disciples in the boat. It's about four and a quarter miles across. You will note that in some areas of the sea it's four hundred feet deep, and in other places there is a shallow marsh be it at the mouth of where the Jordan exits or enters the sea of Galilee. If you know the typography to any degree you know that it is a wind tunnel down through the Sea of Galilee blowing on down over and across the sea and on down through that rift. And you will know, or remember if you've ever been there, that the sea can get rough very quickly. Also the people in the boat are not first-time sailors. These are commercial fishermen.

Now let's get to the text and look at it. Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. What crowd was that? He was dismissing the crowd where he had just finished feeding the five thousand. Why was he dismissing the disciples? Well because in fact there was murmuring in the crowd and there was discussion of whether they would elect him king, for it was impressive in a hungry country to be able to feed five thousand at a time. What a welfare program it would have been. He didn't want disciples to get caught up in the political implications and ramifications of the moment. So he sent them on. It says in the text when evening came he was there alone, but the boat was already considerable distance from land buffeted by the waves because the wind was against them. O yes now we have it. It's dark. The disciples are traveling from west to east across the sea. During the fourth watch, let's stop there for a moment because timekeeping at that time started at 6 p.m. in the evening so 6 to 9 was the first watch; 9 to 12 was the second watch; 12 to 3 was the third watch; and 3 to 6 a.m. the fourth watch. So between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. the disciples are running into head wind and a rough sea. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water they were terrified. It's a ghost they said and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them, "Take courage it is I. Don't be afraid." "Lord if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." "Come." he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus, but when he saw the wind he was afraid and began to sink and cried out, "Lord save me."

You know this is no time for a test run of walking on the water, friend. It's between three and six in the morning, the waves are buffeting the boat and yet Peter is getting out of the boat to walk to Jesus; out into a storm. Peter is taking a faith step, if you will. You know and every time you take a faith step, my friend, you run the risk of failing.

Let me ask you, let's just take a little survey about the times we've failed. Have you ever failed a test? Now be honest with me. Have you ever been cut from an athlete team and had the sting of that failure? Oh, you say neither one of those two things apply to me. Then how about this one, have you ever become impatient with a two-year old? You see any of those failures pale in comparison to the greatest failure of having never tried. Have no fear in failure. Fear is only the lack of faith to get out of the boat.

On the other side in looking at it we must realize the situation. There was an element or a possibility of failure. But we have to face failure through the eyes of failure. I'm thinking of the great Dr. Salk. You remember that he discovered the vaccine for infantile paralysis. The vaccine that would prevent it. As a child in Florida I remember very well what infantile paralysis could mean to the child. When Salk was interviewed he was asked about the two hundred attempts he made to develop a vaccine which were all failures. And they said, Dr. Salk you understand you failed two hundred times. Dr. Salk replied, no I just found out two hundred ways not to develop a vaccine.

Or the crusty Sir Winston Churchill, when he was quizzed about his failure, either in the fourth or fifth grade, I can't remember which one it was, he said to the inquiring reporter, who was inquiring about his failure, he said Oh I didn't fail the fourth grade. He said they just gave me a greater opportunity to gain more knowledge about the subject matter during the year.

Oh, I'm not suggesting to you to be a fool for foolishness sake. But I'm suggesting that, in fact, you'll have to step out of the boat in faith to walk to Jesus and to accomplish anything that you've really cared to accomplish. In fact, I'm really suggesting to you that you wear the scriptures. I'm back in the text now at verse 31. Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith" he said, "why do you doubt?" Oh, you can hear it now in the boat. The disciples are trying to say there goes Peter again. Forgive me I have to put it the way it is. He's shooting off his mouth. He stepped out of the boat and now look at him.

I'd like to suggest to you that maybe Peter wasn't the real failure that night. That it was those that sat in the boat and wouldn't step out.

Oh yes, in wearing the scriptures, it's a counter-cultural thing because surveys tell us that 80% of our culture are unwilling to take a faith risk. That means, of course, arithmetically, that only 20% are willing. Our kids put it this way about people that sit and do nothing, they say from time to time, and our 20 year old, says to me, "I just want to veg out for awhile." Well, some people call people that sit in front of a TV couch potatoes. I understand why society feels that many Christians are truly church potatoes. You see the disciples were boat potatoes. Logically we who sit in church and do nothing are pew potatoes.

Let me give you a little theology here to back up and to dovetail with the scripture we read. What you need to do my, dear friend, is read the red and do it. I'm sure you have a Bible or seen a Bible of the words of Jesus that you'll step out and get out of the boat in faith. Read the red and do it. Or maybe just a little nicely theology, just do it.

"Can we trust Jesus?" people ask me. In fact society with a quizzical look on their faces, say I don't know whether we can trust Jesus. Who is he and what is he? And what's he about? I don't think those are the questions at all. I really believe in my heart the question, the real question, is can Jesus really trust us? Get out of the boat. Amen.


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