Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




 “Swimming Lessons: Walking on Water”

Sunday, February 24, 2008



Matthew 14: 22-33


Rev. Dean Snyder


A couple of weeks ago I told an Episcopalian priest friend I was thinking of skipping the sermon this morning. Mozart should be enough, I said.


My friend strongly advised against this. “By the third Sunday of Lent,” he said, “there will be people who will have failed at giving up whatever it was they tried to give up for Lent and it is important they hear a word of grace.”


I don’t know how many of us here actually keep a Lenten discipline but, if you do and you were overly idealistic in your goals and have needed to re-evaluate, it’s okay. It is possible to be overly demanding on ourselves spiritually. The first time I tried to give up something for Lent as a young person it was something I loved too much and I failed and I felt guilty about it a long time.


St. Augustine, who lived 1500 years ago, realized we can be too spiritually demanding on ourselves. Augustine advised Christians not to give up sex for Lent, because, he said, it would cause us to long for Easter for the wrong reason.[i]


So this is what I want to say about the Scripture lesson this morning – Jesus never asked or expected his disciples to walk on water. It was Peter who wanted to do it, and Peter wanted to do it because he was neurotic.


Jesus was not surprised when Peter failed. And Jesus was quick to save him.


Matthew tells us the story of Jesus walking on water because he wants us to know that Jesus could do it so that we could understand the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus could walk on water, but chose to go the way of the cross anyway.


If we had enough faith, Matthew suggests, we could walk on water, too. But Jesus doesn’t really expect or ask us to walk on water, and he is willing to save us when we begin to sink…as we probably will.


We don’t need to walk on water. It is enough for us to learn how to swim. Actually it is enough to call out to Jesus when we are sinking in the storms of life.


I say this today because I am aware that life can be hard, and we have such unreasonable expectations of ourselves. We are so hard on ourselves. We have Peter’s neurosis. We think we ought to be able to walk on water.


Mozart had Peter’s neurosis. Already at six years old he was a star, touring Europe playing as a prodigy – Munich, Paris, London, a three-year tour. He wrote his first opera at eight years of age. During his lifetime he wrote 43 symphonies, 46 concertos, 60 sonatas, and maybe a hundred or more other pieces.


Many of his pieces are religious. Some are earthy. A couple are mildly ribald.


The theologian Karl Barth, who listened to Mozart recordings every morning, said the reason Mozart’s music was so special is because it included all of life: “heaven and earth, nature and [humanity], comedy and tragedy…the Virgin Mary and the demons.” Mozart simply contains and includes all this within his music in perfect harmony, Barth said. This harmony is not a matter of “balance” or “indifference” – it is “a glorious upsetting of the balance, a turning in which the light rises and the shadows fall…in which the Yes rings louder than the ever-present No.” (p. 55).[ii]


Mozart walked on water…until he turned 30 years old. Then things changed. He began to lose his popularity and his audience. His had difficulty composing new music. He became depressed. His income dried up. Historians have copies of letters he wrote – many of them – to former admirers begging for loans. He died at 35 years old.


Mozart was sinking. But in the last year of his life he began to compose again. He wrote his two greatest masterpieces – The Magic Flute and the Requiem the choir is singing today. His best work finally came not when he was famous and rich and walking on water but when he was sick and depressed and impoverished and calling out for Jesus to save him.


Mozart didn’t actually complete the Requiem. It was completed by a friend who loved him after Mozart’s death.


His most precious music comes to us as a result of love as much as genius. Jesus doesn’t really expect us to walk on water. He does want us to let him save us.   


Life is hard. Tests come back positive. Organizations downsize. Candidates lose. Partners fall out of love with us. Friends disappoint us. We wear out. Life is hard.


We think we ought to be able to walk on water, and maybe we can for a while – a step or two. But Jesus doesn’t really expect us to walk on water. He expects us to call on him when we are sinking, to let him reach out his hand and save us. He expects us to let him love us. He just wants us to let him love us.