Talking the talk of Christian faith is not enough, San Francisco Theological Seminary President Jim McDonald to the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board at its closing worship service here today (Sept. 27). “We have to walk the walk.”

Preaching from the story in Matthew 14 about Jesus walking on the water to meet the distressed disciples in their storm-tossed boat, McDonald asked: “What does it mean to walk on water? It means to experience faith as power and freedom ― to take risks to accomplish amazing things, things thought impossible. Faith is freedom at work in us and among us – how we witness to the real presence of Christ.”

Most Christians get “hung up” on doctrine and dogma, McDonald said. “Used this way, faith is something to which we give assent … or not.”

But theological exploration is not enough, he insisted.  “We have to walk the walk. That’s what this scripture is about,” adding that the life of faith means taking biblical lessons “seriously, but not literally.”

The story of Jesus walking on the water, for instance, is “a metaphor for what happens to us in life, especially in the church,” McDonald said. “What is going to happen to us? The disciples see what they think is a ghost, heightening their distress, until they see Jesus approaching, his words comforting.”

But Matthew’s story ― and the metaphor ― doesn’t end there, for Peter gets out of the boat to come to Jesus. “Peter has begun to grasp the holiness and power of this Jesus,” McDonald said. “This is the lesson of the story: faith is not faith unless it moves us to risk ourselves for the sake of the Gospel, the world, for justice. Jesus walked on the water to close the gap, to heal, to reconcile, to empower, to make whole.”

This is the dilemma we face as a church, McDonald said. “We’re sinking as a church, as congregations, as a seminary,” he said, “but would rather stay in the boat rather than try something we haven’t tried before, to stay in the boat and talk about our fear while waiting for Jesus to do another miracle rather than get out of the boat and attempt the impossible.

“We know where people are hurting, suffering, hungry, broken-hearted, abused,” McDonald said. “We know where Jesus wants us to walk on the water, to close the gap, but to do so we have to step out of the boat, to live as if something were true even though we’re not sure, we’re scared.”

Faith, he concluded, “means to live as if something were possible that seems impossible.”