10 August 2014 sermon — Matthew 14:22-33

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!

“Stepping Out”

10 August 2014 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost
Click here to read the scripture first: Matthew 14:22-33 (NRS)

I would love to make us all do the Enneagram! It’s an ancient study of the nine basic types of people, which explains why we behave the way we do. It can be really helpful for bringing awareness and growth to how we interact with one another. According to the Enneagram, the nine basic types of people are the perfectionist, the helper, the achiever, the romantic, the observer, the questioner, the adventurer, the asserter, and the peacemaker – who is a combo of a little bit of all the other eight (The Enneagram Made Easy, Renee Baron & Elizabeth Wagele; Harper San Fransico, 1994). The types are driven by different centers: our heart, our head, or our gut. I once served a church where it turned out that the entire worship committee was composed of adventurers. Unfortunately, they were some of the only adventurers in the congregation. Can you guess how that went? The worship committee loved to try new things. Mix it up in worship. Test out new music styles, different ways of praying, even alternative space for worship in the summer. Others didn’t always appreciate so much adventure. Some weeks we had quite a bit of friction on our hands as folks like asserters and perfectionists let us know how much they did not like living on the edge in worship!

Adventurers can be so much fun! These are the kinds of people who joyfully leap out of airplanes, and climb the Himalayas on a whim, and constantly are on the go. They’re great to be around because they expose their loved ones to so much more of life than a lot of us other types tend to undertake. It’s awesome! . . . Until they start to pull you in on their fast and furious addiction to risk. With screeching heels, the rest of us want to slow down. Perfectionists worry it might be wrong. Observers need a lot more time to think it through. Asserters get in your face to make it stop. It’s not that adventurers are the only ones willing to try something new. It’s just that they jump at the opportunity in a way a lot of other people find way too impetuous.

We’ve gotta wonder if the Apostle Peter is such an adventurer. He’s never afraid to speak up first. Take the lead. Try new things. Like the new thing of walking on the water. . . . Many of us are very familiar with this gospel story. It’s even the one we had the chance to meditate on at the Taizé Worship Field Trip some of us took earlier this week. Jesus sends his disciples into the boat ahead of him. We can’t blame him really because all he wanted was a little peace and quiet once he heard of Herod’s beheading of John the Baptist. He was trying to slip away to a deserted place most probably to pray. Grieve John’s loss. Maybe even find a way to ready himself for the continued journey. Instead that massive crowd of 5,000 men, plus women and children, chase him down. According to the gospel of Matthew, after seeing to their nourishment, Jesus immediately sends his disciples out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus lingers a little longer with the crowd, then continues his trek to a quiet place to communion in solitude with God. Evening comes. . . . I remember the night a group from our Holy Land pilgrimage took out a boat on the Sea of Galilee to watch the sun set. I didn’t go. Earlier in the week we had been on the sea when the winds whipped up from the south. Before we knew it, our boat was being tossed to and fro just like it was on that same sea that night with the disciples. The thing that’s fascinating in this story, and was among so many of us on that rocky boat our Sea of Galilee day, was that, according to the text, the disciples in the boat are not afraid. Battered by the waves and far from the land, the majority of those in the boat are fishermen. This phenomena happens all the time on the Sea of Galilee – the wind whips up out of the south and suddenly there’s a storm. For some reason there – able to see all sides of the shore, it’s not that difficult to relax into the waves. Remind yourself that God holds it all. All shall be well. According to the gospel of Matthew, it’s not the storm on the sea that sends shivers of terror down the disciples’ backs. It’s Jesus. Walking towards them on the water. They were convinced he must be a ghost.

That would have been a lot easier, wouldn’t it? If this figure marching on top of the water towards them in the middle of that storm would have been a ghost, they could have just dismissed it. They could have hunkered down deeper into the stern and waited for it all to pass. The problem was: it wasn’t a ghost. It was their master. Their Lord. The one they already had agreed to follow. And he was doing something quite unlike anything they ever before had seen. Storms start and stop. But the leader to which you’ve committed your life walking on the water? Unless you’re an adventurer, you’d probably be terrified too. This is the one who just got done making them do what they didn’t want to do, by bringing the little bit they had in order to feed 5,000 men plus women and children. What’s he going to want next? For them too to get out of the safety of the boat in the midst of that terrible storm? To do a feat as impossible as someone walking on water? . . . Yea, unless we’re all adventurers, we too might be as terrified as them at this one saying, “’Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid’” (Mt. 14:27).

A few years ago a pastor of a prominent Protestant church in New York City was asked to comment upon the state of the Christian church in America. This was one of those guru pastors, who when he spoke, other church leaders really took note. What he said that day was: “The reason that we seem to lack faith in our time is that we are not doing anything that requires it” (Clifton Kirkpatrick quoting Ernest Campbell, Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 3, pp. 334, 336). . . .

It required faith to get out of the boat. It requires faith to try something new. It requires faith – especially for those of us who are not Enneagram adventurers – to trust that as we step out into the storms of this world, all shall be well. God shall hold us through it all. It requires a whole lot of faith in this divisive world today to be those who will proclaim the unconditional love of God which we fully know through Christ Jesus our Lord. It requires a whole lot of faith today to practice mercy and peace and justice in a world that keeps track of who owes who what, and shoots before we see the whites of their eyes, and takes for ourselves first no matter who now and to which future generation will experience the impact of our actions. It requires a whole lot of faith today to heed the call of our Lord. . . . One preacher has said: “I wonder if too many of us are merely splashing about in the safe shallows and therefore have too few opportunities to test and deepen our faith.” It’s not to say that we should throw all caution to the wind – maybe just half of it. . . . About the adventurer Peter heading out onto the water with Jesus, that preacher goes on to say: “The story today implies if you want to be close to Jesus, you have to venture forth out on the sea, you have to prove his promises through trusting his promises, through risk and venture” (Clifton Kirkpatrick quoting William H. Willimon, Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, Vol. 3, p. 336).

That’s faith – not some sort of content about God that we need to hold to in our heads; but deep, deep trust to which we must cling in body, mind, and spirit. Trust – abiding faith in a God like the one this story proclaims: whose hand immediately reaches out to us whenever we start to sink. Then and only then is our fear turned to awe. Then and only then are we moved to joyful worship as we are able to recount the ways God is there with us again and again and again. Doing what we didn’t think possible. Surprising us all along the way. . . . Step out, o church! Step out. In trust of the One who calls: “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid!”
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2014 (All rights reserved.)

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