The Apostle Peter may seem an odd subject choice for a message about Earth Day, but hear me out on this one.
I always have felt a special affinity with Peter. He is the disciple of Jesus who seemed to have the most character to me. In one moment, Peter would be proclaiming the Christ, and in the next he was denying he knew him. Peter was sometimes brash and fearless, a man of great faith and swift to action; other times he seemed a coward in the making.
I have wondered what Peter said to the risen Lord when they met privately (1 Corinthians 15:5). Given your life circumstances, your faith and your denials, your hopes and your fears, what would you say? Or would you simply fall down and cry at the feet of Jesus? Of course, much of this back-and-forth nature of Peter was before the great time of Pentecost. But still, Peter is someone to whom I can relate.
The story of Jesus and Peter walking on water, found in Matthew 14:22-33, is filled with a multitude of lessons for us, many of which have been preached countless times and are likely familiar to readers. Important key lessons are to keep our eyes on Jesus in the midst of troubles and to have faith to take a leap into the unknown. It can be easy for us to say, “Just trust Jesus!” but as a fisherman by trade, Peter knew the dangers of the waters around him. We don’t know if he could swim or not, but even the best swimmer has respect for bad weather. There is no doubt that stepping out of that boat and toward Jesus took bravery at a level most of us seldom possess.
There are particular parts of the story, however, that I would like to call your attention to. First, none of the other disciples in the boat ventured out onto that lake. Only Peter called out to the Lord, and only Peter walked on water. I wonder what would have happened if any of the other disciples had joined him. Would his strength of faith have been buoyed by them or distracted him from his focus on Jesus?
This is an important discussion for those of us who minister to others or who work in caring for creation. We often feel as if we labor alone when, in fact, if we took a brief moment to look around, we would see others waiting to be asked to join us or even working steadfastly on their own. I like to think that walking in tandem together in stormy seas across the water with Jesus would be a glorious sight to behold.
“One of the deadliest ‘storms’ this planet faces is climate change.”
Another part of the story often mentioned is the struggle of the boat against the wind and waves. Quickly, thoughts of our current struggles, such as COVID, political wars on every front both here and abroad, unemployment, gang violence, racial hatred, refugees, food insecurity, and water shortages all come to mind — the storms are never-ceasing. The disciples could not turn off social media as I sometimes do when I get overwhelmed. The evening news had no feel-good story for them to end their day. The reality of the storm was right there.
One of the deadliest “storms” this planet faces is climate change. People are dying from climate change — right now. Species are disappearing due to climate change — right now. Our planet, created by God as very good, has been suffering greatly for some time, and this storm is not going away any time soon. Neither fear nor denial will help dissipate this storm. Only acts of faith, step by step, will lessen the burden on the poor, the disadvantaged or the marginalized.
Finally, there is one part of this story that seldom gets mentioned: Jesus caught Peter’s hand, then they both climbed back into the boat. From my perspective, this means Peter had to walk on water again, this time with the Lord beside him. I can’t imagine Jesus simply dragging him into the boat.
“Peter had to walk on water again, this time with the Lord beside him.”
Why is this important? The wind and waves did not die down until Jesus was back in the boat. Jesus and Peter faced the last steps of the storm, still in the midst of the wind and waves, and walked on water back to the boat. Just as Jesus was there to give strength and courage to Peter, he is here for us, as well.
Facing our storms can be daunting. They can be exhausting. Keep the faith. Walk with Jesus.
Climate change is real — right now. It is going to be with us for the foreseeable future as there are no instant solutions. We can make it “less bad” for everyone by our actions, however.
Our hope is that more and more Christians will take a leap of faith, jump out of the boat, face the storm, and walk on water — together. Do what you can in your homes, in your churches and in your communities — right now — to prioritize the care of creation. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Enlist partners in the boat to come along. But, more importantly, take that risky leap of faith and get out of your comfort zone even if no one else comes along.
Join me! Let’s walk on water together.
Katherine Smith serves as executive director of Baptist Creation Care Initiative.