A homily for church council: “Stepping Out on Faith”

July 30, 2014
jesus_walking_on_water

Aivazovsky’s “Jesus Walks on Water” (1888). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

I offered this homily at Hampton UMC’s church council meeting on July 29, 2014.

Homily Text: Matthew 14:22-33

I was ten years old in the summer of 1980. That was the summer I dove off my first high dive. I don’t know how high it was. While it seemed at the time like about a hundred feet off the ground, it was probably more like 25 or 30 feet. I know it seemed terrifyingly high when I was ten. But I conquered my fear, walked across that very narrow diving board and took the plunge. But if you lived through the ’70s, you’ll appreciate that I didn’t just take the plunge, I took the “Nestea plunge,” meaning I landed in the water flat on my back! Sure, it hurt a lot, but did I care? No way! I did it again and again and again.

See, I possessed a kind of fearlessness when I was a kid that I sometimes miss as an adult. For example, I went snow-skiing for the first time when I was ten, and my goal, when going down the mountain, was to go as straight and fast as possible. Forget about the ski instructor who told us that we’re supposed to slalom down the hill. I wanted to fly! So I looked for snow banks to ski over, in order to be lifted off the ground; I wanted to go airborne. And I did. And it was exhilarating

By contrast, on the two occasions when I’ve gone skiing as an adult, my goal was to go as slow as possible—to avoid all potential hazards and dangers. I’m now too busy worrying about merely staying alive, and not breaking my neck, not tearing my ACL, that it’s hard for me to actually enjoy skiing. In fact, the only pleasure I get from skiing is the sense of relief I feel when I’ve reached the bottom of the mountain and realize I’m still in one piece!

So I don’t really go for those kinds of thrills anymore. Besides, just living life offers plenty of excitement, plenty of danger, plenty of risk, without adding to it, thank you very much.

Especially when you’re a Christian. Because our Lord constantly puts us in situations in which we have to take risks, and success seems far from certain, and we take it on faith that everything will turn out all right.

Look at the scripture we just read! Matthew tells us that Jesus “made the disciples get into the boat and go to the other side” of the Sea of Galilee. They didn’t have a choice. If you want to be faithful to me, he said, get into this boat, launch out into the dark unknown, with heavy weather brewing. It’s almost as if Jesus didn’t care about his disciples’ comfort. He willingly sends them into the storm—knowing that their little ship would be battered by wind and waves; that they would be bailing for water, afraid for their lives; that their faith would be severely tested!

I say this half-jokingly, but it’s true: I don’t really like faith. Or I should say, “I like having faith”—but I like having it the same way that my mom liked having Lladro ceramic figurines—as these beautiful little knickknacks that she put on a shelf inside a glass case—in a room with the fancy furniture where we kids were never allowed to play, a room where few people ever ventured, a room where everything collected dust from lack of use.

No, I like having faith—but I don’t like having to do anything with it. Yet Jesus is always forcing us to do something with it—to put it into practice, to exercise it. If we are living the Christian life correctly, we will all find ourselves at times like Peter, summoning the courage to take not only that first fateful step of faith outside of the boat onto the water, but also that second, third, and fourth as well. We will all find ourselves at times having to do something that seems impossible at first. We will all find ourselves praying for and counting on God to do something to rescue us because we are unable to rescue ourselves!

In a way, when it comes to following our Lord Jesus Christ, miracles are not an optional extra feature for those fortunate enough to experience one. No, they’re a requirement for everyone.

Now, don’t get me wrong: most of us may never see those kinds of miracles that break the laws of physics—like walking on water. And it’s not as if Peter himself, or the other disciples, expected to be able to repeat this particular miracle. When Paul’s ship sank off the Mediterranean coast in Acts chapter 27, it’s not as if Paul said to everyone else, “You guys can swim to shore—but I’m going to walk there.” No… While I strongly believe those miracles happen, most of us will likely never see them.

But I believe that all of us… all of us… will face situations in our lives and in the life of our church in which we are forced to trust that somehow God will intervene to make it all work out—that God will intervene to make something happen that otherwise would not happen without our faith—without our hoping, our trusting, our praying. The Lord loves when we trust in him to do what seems impossible. He loved when Peter trusted him to do the impossible—and, look, he made the impossible possible—at least for those few steps that Peter took in faith.

I believe the Lord is asking us—and I know he’s at least asking me—to trust in him more than I have in the past; more than I’m comfortable doing, to be honest. Jesus doesn’t really care about my comfort! Here’s what I need to trust in him about. [I went on to name three specific areas of our church life in which we need to trust that the Lord will enable us to succeed.]

Brothers and sisters, imagine for a moment that our church here in Hampton is that little fishing boat tossed about on the stormy sea. I believe that Lord is standing outside the boat. Beckoning us to stretch our faith, to move forward, to come out to him, to take those risky steps of faith into an uncertain future, to trust that he’s made a way for us, to believe that he’s waiting for us out there…

Will you take those steps? Because I promise you this: Walking on water is a lot more exciting that staying in the boat! Amen?

 

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