I wonder when you last did something impulsive? I recently bought the 4 Non Blondes single “What’s Up?” off of 1993. 50p in Oxfam. No regrets.
Impulse is “a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act”. Doesn’t sound very churchy. Impulse is, I think, meant to be one of the hallmarks of faith, and yet when we make a religion out of following Jesus so often we squeeze impulse out of it. Surely we need to form a committee and get a faculty and run it by the Bishop…
Because impulse can get us into trouble. It might be impulse that makes us throw a brick through a neighbours window when they won’t turn their music down. It might be impulse that draws us into a relationship that we know we shouldn’t be in. It might be impulse can mean that makes us do something for Jesus that we wouldn’t normally do. Whether that’s building in Africa, youth mentoring at the skate ramps, telling the story at toddler group, moving a pew 6 inches or jumping out of a boat at an entirely inappropriate moment.
St Peter is a shining example of impulsive action. Time and time again Peter speaks first or acts first and thinks later. Peter’s impulse doesn’t question whether the water will hold him. Or whether he’ll be told off for saying Jesus is the Messiah. Or that Jesus will back him up when he cuts off the soldiers ear. Like I said, impulse can get us into trouble.
Back to the walking on water thing. Peter had been desperate to stay in the boat until he saw Jesus. They were in the middle of the lake, in the night, they were tired and they were in a storm. He probably couldn’t even swim. The best and safest place was in the boat. How often is the safest place the most attractive place.
But when Peter saw Jesus, his impulse was to stuff the safety and leap towards Jesus. And he walked on the water. Because Jesus was walking on the water. And because he lost the double bluff: “If you are Jesus, tell me to join you…” Oops. Don’t bluff Jesus. He went from safe to dangerous, firm footing to faith in one leap. It’s not far between the two. Yet it was no Bruce Almighty “I’ve got the power!” moment.
When Peter sinks, what does Jesus do? Points, stares and says “You stupid impulsive man!”. No. Holds him under for a bit and says “This is what happens when you take risks – now get in the boat and be sensible like the others!” No. Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. And helped him climb in the boat. Why? Because Jesus loved him. And this might be the most important lesson of them all. Whether we are clinging onto the boat or leaping from it, his love is the same and he holds out his hand to us.
Like our parish namesake Peter, we are called to danger, to risk. We are called to a life that is bigger than our families and their needs; called to a life that is more than what happens in the space directly around me. We are called to leap out of the boat when we are in a place of danger and we see the Lord; we are called to lead others there too. In the context of knowing and trusting that we are loved.
In our parish the risks we might take can be very different. For some it might be coming to church at all, because some receive abuse for doing so. For some it might be stepping up to a new responsibility; or stepping up our relationship with God to a new level through prayer; or telling someone at work you believe in Jesus, or committing to a home group; for some it might be taking on a new challenge, a new way of living. All these things are part of us changing St Helier in partnership with Jesus.
Peter shows us that it can be good to act on impulse; but more than, he shows us what it is to trust in Jesus’ love for us. Because to use someone else’s phrase, if you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.
This is an abbreviated (honest!) version of my talk from our parish wide St Peter’s Day service.