Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sunday Sermon: X-Treme Discipleship

Matthew 14:22-33

Recently my family got together for dinner.
That evening my brother told us of a plan of his. He’s going to take some time off, a little vacation time, and see some places he’s never seen before.
And while he’s at it, he’s going to do something he’s never done before as well: he’s going to go sky-diving.
Yes, he’s going to jump out of a plane into thin air with a parachute on, pull the cord, and float to the ground. We asked him “why?”
Turns out we never knew this – but it’s something my brother has always been kind of interested in. Who knew?
My brother, the one who won’t go up in roller-coasters at the amusement park – wants to jump out of an airplane.

I have to say that in my life, I have not considered myself to be a big risk-taker –
the exception being the time I packed up many of my belongings and flew to Japan to spend three years or so –
something NO One in my family could understand – any more than they can figure out why my brother wants to sky dive.
I don’t hang-glide either, or skate board.
So my husband and I told him to tell us when he was jumping so that we could pray for him.
My mother, on the other hand, had a totally different reaction.
She said, “Don’t tell me when you are jumping. Tell me when you’re done.”

I can’t help comparing in my imagination the thought of my brother, stepping out of a plane into thin air, and Peter, stepping out of a boat into stormy water – well, any kind of water, actually.
They are both “dare-devil” kinds of actions – both defying the laws of nature – although at least my brother will have a parachute.
If you think about it, what Peter did could be called a kind of “X-treme” sport.
At least, it is “X-treme Discipleship”, don’t you think? Sky-diving. Hang-gliding.
Walking on water. The stakes are high.

The stakes are high.
I really want to emphasize this. This is very scary.
And the mood is set right away in the beginning of the story.
The disciples are out in their boat in the middle of the night, when the wind and the waves come up.
It’s a spooky time of night, the dark dark time just very dawn, and their boat is being battered by the waves.
Then this spooky figure comes along, walking on the water, which doesn’t calm them down – just makes them more anxious.
This is the scene into which we get Peter, calling out to Jesus, “Lord, if it’s you, call me to come to you!” Get that?
Lord, if it’s you... it’s dark, they can hardly see, it’s stormy.... how does he even know it’s Jesus? Except who else would it be???

“X-treme Discipleship” – Peter, without doing any special training, jumps out of the boat and starts walking on water – for a little while anyway.
It’s hard to tell how long he was afloat – a few seconds, a minute, two minutes tops, but it’s pretty clear that his experiment did not last long.
Two minutes of success – then utter, abject failure.
Two minutes of success, and then he’s flailing around, in over his head, going down for the third time. Two minutes of success, and then it’s “Lord, save me!”

Have you ever felt like that? In over your head? How did I get into this mess?
What am I doing here? What was my big mistake? Have you ever felt like that in your life? X-treme discipleship
 it’s sort of like watching the Olympic skaters or gymnasts, and the young woman is going for a most difficult jump – and right in front of the judges and everything – she falls, and not very gracefully.
It’s the first big mistake you make in your new job, it’s becoming a parents and thinking – do I really know what to do next?
I’m in over my head.
Or it’s when a church begins a new project or program, outreach into our community, and suddenly we think, we’re in over our head. There are waves out there! There are storms out there.This is harder than we thought.

If only we had kept our eyes on Jesus.
If only Peter had kept his eyes on Jesus. Right? He would be looking at Jesus and just keep walking, instead of looking at the waves and fallen.
Keeping your eyes on Jesus – that’s the key.
As one well-known author put it, “If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat!”
There will be always be storms in life. There will always circumstances that are unfavorable. But the idea is to step out in faith.
Jesus is calling to us to take a risk, to get out of the water, to do the things that make us afraid.

I have to say, I think I get this. I am by no means a person who is comfortable with risk or with fear.
And I do think that the church is also called to take risks as we follow Jesus.
Loving people is a big risk.
Sharing God’s love is a big risk.
Trusting God is a big risk – for us in our individual lives as Christians – and as a congregation.

However -- not everyone is agreed about what Peter's biggest failure really was.
As you suspect, there are those who consider his biggest mistake was taking his eyes off Jesus.
Peter would still be walking on water, even today, if he hadn’t looked down at those waves.
But other people notice something else about this story.
Just whose idea was it, anyway, to walk on water?
Not something that Jesus suggested to Peter – but something that Peter suggested to Jesus.
It’s as if Peter prayed, “God, I think it would be really cool to walk on water. Can I?”
And Jesus says, “Go ahead, be my guest.” But actually, Peter should have stayed in the boat and left the “walking on water” to Jesus.
Peter should have stayed in the boat, which was headed over to the other side of the lake, to minister to people, to share God’s love, to heal people, to feed people.
Rather than engaging in some sort of death-defying feats, rather than engaging in X-Treme discipleship, Peter should have concentrated on the nitty-gritty of being God’s person in the world, doing the the important things that never get in the newspaper.

What do you think?
What was Peter’s big mistake?
Where we come down might say more about us, than it does about God.

Because, in the end, this story is not so much about Peter’s failure – whatever it might be – as it is about God’s faithfulness.
Whether we fail to keep our eyes on Jesus, whether we fail to take a risk, whether we make a mistake and take the wrong risk, failure is the human condition.
Sometimes we fail to get out of the boat. Sometimes we hear God wrong and end up praying, “Lord save me!” because we have gotten in over our heads, made the wrong decision.

When we follow God, even when we are on the right track, even when jumping out of the plane is the exactly right thing to do
– even then –
we don’t do everything perfectly and we need to be picked up, set right, again and again.

What is constant in this story is the promise the runs through all of Matthew’s gospel
– the promise that “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
What is constant is the hand of Jesus, reaching down to Peter.
What is constant is the voice of Jesus, calling to us, “Fear not, it is I!”
What is constant is the presence of Jesus – in our successes, and in our failures, when we walk on water, when we fall.
What is constant is the body of Jesus, given for you.

We will never hear him perfectly, in this time in our congregation that we are discerning God’s mission for our future.
We will never hear him perfectly, and we will never follow him perfectly – but our failures are not the last word.
Our failures are not the last word. The last word – is the touch of his strong hand.
The last word is the sound of his voice on the waves "It is I."
The last word is his eternal love.

Go ahead, jump.



Rev Nancy Fitz said...

nice job! with our without you on the skateboard. :-)
I once got on my son's skateboard outside church and easily glided down the hill of the church parking lot, then I tried to get off - fancy-like the 'boarders' do by kicking back to scrap the back of the board as a brake - instead my weight shift sent the board flying out from under my feet and me scraping along on the pavement. I had a thigh-long bruise for 2 weeks! At least I wasn't the pastor then.

ramona said...

Exactly where I was trying to go! You nailed it with Peter should have stayed in the boat and gone to minister to others.

Crimson Rambler said...

Diane, thank you, this is very helpful!