I can remember back in those days when we as parents, used to take our children to Fun Fairs or Adventure Parks, how they used to love the rides, especially our daughter, Mary, the higher, more exciting, or downright scary, the better.
Neither Carolyn nor I were great enthusiasts, but as long as I could be safely strapped into the ‘said ride’ I was reasonably happy. It was those ‘white knuckle’ rides that I disliked, where the bar came down, as it does on the big dipper, and you held on for ‘dear life’ with your eyes tightly closed. I simply lacked faith in the fact I would survive the ride.
That is something that as Christians we are also very good at, ‘Lacking faith! It is nothing new as we have just heard from our Gospel reading, in which dear Peter, so certain to begin with, but then…
Another fault that I, and perhaps some of us have, in trying to be good Christians, is that we often try too hard. Perhaps, rather like the Pharisee, who followed the letter of the Law, even doing good deeds, giving away a tenth of his wealth, but showing no humility in the house of God. At times, possibly we try too hard to prove our Christian faith, both to ourselves and to others. God does not keep scores.
Paul, once more in today’s reading in his Letter to the Romans is saying that all who follow Christ will be saved. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him”.
Paul respects, and fully understands Jewish Law and the teachings of the Torah. He himself was trained in that Law as a Pharisee. But he is saying again and again that through Christ’s death and resurrection there is a now a new way, a new beginning. That the Laws relating to Sacrifice, Purification, and Circumcision have now been replaced by Christ’s teaching, his ‘New Commandments’ of Compassion, Gentleness, Understanding, Faithfulness, all under-written by Love.
There is often something very resistant in us about accepting the grace of God. We always seem to return to the idea that it is something to be earned, or achieved, that like the Pharisee in the synagogue, we have to continually prove ourselves worthy of receiving it. God is seen by some, like a schoolroom teacher, whose respect and understanding have to be won by their good works.
Christianity is not a ‘pick-and-mix counter’ from which to choose the parts that we may want, or those things we wish to do. It is a relationship offered by God, opened up to us by Jesus, and constantly available and present through the Holy Spirit.
Peter saw our Lord walking on the water and when called by Him, went towards Him. But then we heard how very hard it was for Peter, like myself on the big dipper, to hold on to that faith in what we know to be safe and true, when we actually come to the test.
Peter, as I am sure the rest of us would do, panics, and in so doing begins to sink. For none of us are perfect, and indeed, our Lord never expects us to be so. It is not by some magic power that we will become good Christians, but by having a simple straightforward faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and a love of God. We too have to stretch out our hand, like Peter, to our Lord, to open our hearts and minds to the ever present, ever-constant love of Jesus Christ.
As Jane Williams writes in her reflection on today’s readings, “Christianity is not a system, which some people can use easily and some can’t, and each person can only reap the rewards accordingly. Christianity is a relationship, offered by God, in which our place is opened up by Jesus, and in which we are constantly tutored and encouraged by the Holy Spirit.”
Faith is an acceptance of what God has done in sending Jesus Christ, His Son to be our salvation, not us gaining salvation by anything that we have done, purely on our own part, but by what God has done through His son Jesus Christ for all of us. Faith is the acceptance of that grace of God, shown to us all through the love of His son, who came to be our Savour.
We just need the belief to hold on to our faith, and like Peter, to reach out ‘our hand’ to Jesus each and everyday, in good times as well as in times of trouble and sorrow.
M J Tonkin