Stepping Out of the Boat
Proper 14, Year A, Track 1, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33
Peter goes it alone. He leaves his companions in the boat so that he can be part of a miracle. We know that he and the other disciples didn’t like the wind and the waves while they were in the boat. They spent all night in this boat, far from land, being battered by wind and wave. They couldn’t sleep; for early in the morning they saw Jesus walking toward them on the waters of the tormented sea.
What type of person just steps out into what they fear? Knowing that Jesus wasn’t a ghost, and seeing them walk confidently toward him, gives Peter respite from the fear. It even gives him hope that he could do more than
he has ever done before; walk on water. So Peter steps out of the boat, he doesn’t have the fear that he had just moments earlier; at least not initially.
As we find, Peter doesn’t like the stormy seas any more than he did before he leaves the protection of the boat with his companions at his side. He is walking on the water, stepping toward Jesus, and then he suddenly realizes what gave him concern earlier. This recognition, of the wind and the waves, creates fear and in this fear, he seems to lose the ability to walk on water.
There are times when opportunities present themselves to us and they look relatively easy. We then begin to think about them or over think them and a simple idea becomes impossible. For example, during clergy conference, at Camp Allen, there is time set aside for recreation. Camp Allen opens up many of its activities for the clergy to experience; from horseback riding to skeet shooting, or even a relaxing massage. During one of the days, I decided to try the Adventure Summit.
For those of you who haven’t experienced it, the Adventure Summit is made up of what look like telephone poles. Forty feet up on each these poles, there are platforms. Between these platforms, there are ten different challenges. One challenge is like a tight rope. Another is a log, dangling only by its ends, which sways dramatically when stepped upon. There are wooden stumps suspended by a single cable and of course the classic rickety wooden bridge. By the time you get to the end of the ten obstacles you are rewarded with a quick decent form the tower via a zip line that takes you to the bottom.
Now I’m a person who doesn’t mind a good adventure, I’ve even been skydiving. While I was putting on the harness and preparing to ascend to the starting platform, I was thinking how easy this will be. Why is everyone else so worried? After all, we are strapped into a harness and can’t really hurt ourselves too badly. As I neared the top and was waiting my turn, I observed the people already in progress. One person seemed to have confidence and was moving along at a steady pace. Another was visibly frightened and seeking help and encouragement from her friend. As I was watching a person stepping onto the dangling log, he all of the sudden slipped and was stranded. He was hanging at about eye level with the log and was only held by the wire that connected his harness to the safety cable. He was dangling and unable to get back onto the log.
I watched the employees position themselves for the rescue. They moved around the obstacles, almost like squirrels, leaping from limb to limb. They didn’t seem to need their safety harness; there wasn’t tension on their safety cable. Clearly, they had confidence as they moved with ease as if gravity did not affect them. In just a few minutes these helpers were able to get this man on his feet again and soon everything was moving like before. It was now my turn to step out from the safety of the platform.
You know the old adage when on a tall ladder or another high place “never look down?” Well, I should have followed that advice. After my second or third step onto the tight rope, I look down and felt that sinking feeling that we often get when we are too close to the edge of an overlook. My rational side, that understood that I was safe, quickly dissipated. I wasn’t afraid for my life but I sure didn’t have the confidence that I did earlier. Fear change how I was moving along the course. Fear made me think, or even over think, each foot step and hand hold. In comparison to the workers, who moved about effortlessly, I was much more like the man who slipped, timid and afraid.
Fear has the ability to change the way we think. Sometimes this is a good thing, trying to keep us safe from falling off a steep embankment. Other times it can be a hindrance. We can fear people we do not know or people who are different from us. Fear can even prevent us from helping others such as a stranded motorist. Fear can prevent us from doing God’s work in the community. With regards to the lunch program, the vestry rightfully pointed out concerns and legal questions about preparing and distributing food. These were resolved after looking into the regulations. But then other questions came, not only from the vestry but other parishioners. How will we pay for this? The kids won’t want to eat that! Or as one person put it, when looking at the proposed menu, “I don’t’ think kids have this sophisticated of a pallet.”
I didn’t have satisfying answers to these questions and to be honest I had some of these same concerns. Would kids like a hummus and turkey roll-up with carrots and jicama on the side? Regardless of my personal feelings, I knew this lunch program was a good thing. Feeding people is exactly what Christ did and what he calls us to do. I told people we’re doing this in faith. I knew there was no guarantee of success of any kind. It could fail because we couldn’t reach the people in need, such as the school system ran into a few years back. It could have failed due to a lack of interest from the community; a lack of volunteers, a lack of donations.
When we step out in faith there is no guarantee of success. Peter stepped out in faith and only made it a few steps before he started to sink and cried out for help. Fear could have squashed the summer lunch program before it got started, but this is not what happened. We have had a tremendous outpouring of support from the community; in volunteerism, financially, and through donations of food and supplies. People donated all the weekly food and supplies for the first half of the program, so much so that we projected that we would have a considerable amount of money left over by the time the program ended. To me and to many of the volunteers, this abundance was a sign that we are not doing enough with a single meal a week. We needed to increase what we are doing. So we added a second day. Do we have enough volunteer support? How are we going to store this additional food? Again new questions; but what we find is that everything keeps on moving as if we could have planned new volunteers just showing up.
Questions are good; they keep us safe and help us work out logistics. At the same time, we cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by some unanswered questions. Peter left the comfort of his friends and the safety of his boat. I really don’t’ think Peter did this for personal grandeur. I think he wanted to follow Christ or maybe it’s better to say to emulate Christ. We see that Peter wasn’t exactly successful, yet at the same time, Christ didn’t let Peter parish. The truth is that following Christ is always risky.
There is something to be said about the comfort of our friend and environment. Especially when we feel like we are being tossed about on a stormy sea of life. Life is often throwing different things at us and in these times, friends are good, comforting, and reassuring. We have shared experiences with our friends and loved ones; which allows us to see each other in a very human way. It is through these shared experiences that we help each other cope and that we can empathize with one another. But Christ calls us beyond the known into the unknown. He calls us to form new experiences with new people in new ways, and he says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Our faith is built on unanswered questions. What is heaven like? Am I going to heaven? Is any of this true? Paul says to us in his letter to the Romans, a righteousness that comes from the law lives by the law but righteous ness that comes from faith lives by faith. When we live by faith we live with questions that have unsatisfying answers and our faith carries us beyond the written law into the world of God’s mystery. He does not say that we cannot ask these hard questions; but that we can’t get too hung up on them. We shouldn’t become paralyzed by trying to find the perfect answer or all the answers. Paul says, “Because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This is the answer even though it is an answer that is often unsatisfying. If we have true faith in Christ, we cannot fail in God’s sight.
Through the summer lunch program, our church has grown tremendously. We may not be able to quantify this growth, we may not see a bunch of new faces sitting in the pews, but we have grown. We have stepped out of the boat and experienced something new. We are following Jesus or at least emulating him. We, like the sower, have planted seeds on a vast variety of soils and we have to have faith that they are growing in their own time. This program started with a simple thought. It wasn’t well formed. There were lots of concerns and questions. But this simple thought became a transformative event for hundreds of people. And I can’t wait to hear what we are going to do next. Each of you are members of a wider community. Share your ideas on what is needed to help improve this community. Only then we can discern if we are willing to step out of the boat and follow Jesus once again.