August 14, 2014

The Risky Path

This is the sermon I preached last weekend at St. Thomas':
“Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”

Matthew 14:22-33
There are two sides of this story.

There is the perspective of the disciples’ and then there is Jesus’ perspective.

From the disciples’ perspective, it had been a long day.

But an incredible day! If you remember from last week’s Gospel reading, it was the story of Jesus feeding the crowd five thousand with just a few fish and loaves of bread.

Can you imagine what the response was to such a miracle? People had come out to the countryside to hear this rabbi, this teacher share a message of good news for all. Not only did he teach, he healed people. And then he did something even more incredible: he fed thousands of people with virtually nothing.

If he could do this, what else could he do?

If he could provide for the Hebrews in this way, they didn’t need to be subject to a king, to an oppressive empire such as Rome. This man could be their king! This could be the next Moses, a Messiah!

Can you imagine the response of the crowds?!

The kind of kingdom Jesus had in mind wasn’t what the crowds had in mind. It had been a good day but was time for he and his closest friends to step away from this crowd. To let the fervor die down.

He tells the disciples to go ahead of him, get in the boat and head for the other side. He’ll meet up with them later. I’m sure Jesus’ disciples were on cloud nine! As they walked towards the shore, I’m sure one said something such as, “Now I get what you’ve been talking about Jesus!” Another says, “ Oh, man! This is incredible. If we can feed people there’s no telling what we can do!”

Jesus tries to calm them, “Easy fellas. Don’t get ahead of yourselves.” He sees them off and then goes back to tell the crowds that it’s time to go home. Party's over.

As the last of the crowd begins to fade away, he heads up towards a hill top to pray.

Maybe Jesus could see the disciples boat from that hillside. Maybe not.

In any case, a storm hits the boat and they are still far from the shore.

Some of these men were experienced with boats and water ways. They were, after all, fishermen. It was part of their trade. So, the conversation on that boat had to have been pretty engrossing in order for all of them not to notice a storm approaching.

I imagine that it was something like other conversations between these disciples of which the Gospels let us eavesdrop in on. Debates about who would be Jesus right hand man. Who would be chief of staff, secretary of state, secretary of defense and press secretary… or something like that. “I get to be Leo!” “No, I’m Leo. You’re Josh Lyman!” “No way!” “I helped him write that great sermon on the mountainside, so I’m Toby!” … Alright, maybe they didn’t watch The West Wing.

Then there was the debate as to whether it was just Jesus who had used miraculous powers or the disciples as well. “Technically, I handed him the fish.” Peter had to have said, “So, if I touched it first maybe I have some of the mojo, brothers!”

“No, no,” John retorts, “He handed the first piece after blessing it to me! I think it actually multiplied while in my hand!”

Then one of them begins to notice that the weather has a taken a turn. They are not near shore and they are entering a rough storm. “Hey guys! The wind’s getting pretty rough.”

“Oh, no! Who was supposed to guiding the boat!” They start to argue about who was supposed to be manning the sails, when another disciple yells out, “Guys! There’s a ghost out on the water!”

They begin to panic. This is it. The grim reaper has come to escort them to the other side.

But then they hear a familiar voice. “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.”

Which in Hebrew sounds like, “Calm down! It’s just me!”

As always, Peter has to up the ante! He’s got to show the fellas that he’s going to be second in charge when Jesus comes into his kingdom. He yells out over the storm, “Lord, if it is you command me to come out to you on the water.”

Which in Hebrew probably sounds like, “Hey Jesus, dare me to walk out on to the water!” As he looks over at his friends with a sinister grin.

Jesus replies, “Come.”

Which in Hebrew is something like, “Sure! I dare you, Peter.”

Popular telling of the story has led us to believe that Peter took a few steps on top of the water but then began to sink. Maybe he realized he hadn’t put on a life vest. Safety’s no accident. Or maybe he realized that this was not happening because of his own power and realized he couldn’t do this without Jesus after all.

He cries out. Jesus grabs him. Places Peter back in the boat. And the storm stops.

First he feeds more than five thousand people with virtually nothing.

Then, he walks out on to open water.

Then, he stops a storm.

This guy is more than a king!

So, they do the only reasonable thing to do when you’ve seen such things happen in less than 24 hours:

They fall to their knees and acknowledged that they are in the presence of God.

At this moment, they are not so egotistical about the whole scenario. Now they don’t see themselves as high and mighty as they did just a short time ago. But they certainly see Jesus as even greater than they had previously imagined.

This is, in my mind, how the disciples experienced that evening.

For Jesus, it was likely a bit different.

Jesus was tired. Feeding five thousand people is a lot of work. Your average restaurant serves maybe a few hundred in a day? Can you imagine what it would take out of one guy to feed more than 5,000?!

He gets done praying and looks out over the water. He’s got to get over there. It’s going to take him forever to walk around to the other side of this body of water. It’d be much easier if he could just cut across. … Then he thinks, “Oh, yeah! I’m the Son of God! I just fed five thousand people with a few scraps! I got this.” And being the Son of God, even if an exhausted Son of God, Jesus does the expedient, efficient–yet miraculous–thing to do: he walks across the water.

This isn’t the only time Jesus takes the expedient, more efficient, if not riskiest path. Before Jesus ascends into heaven, he gives his best friends–these disciples he’s spent the last three years with–a few last words. He tells them to go and make disciples of all nations, and to baptize them. In Acts 1 it reads that Jesus tells his friends that they will be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jerusalem. Judea. Samaria. Ends of the earth.

For us these geographic locations might not seems like much. But for Jesus’ followers in first century Palestine, it mattered a lot! Samaria was home of the Samaritans–a people group despised by Jews. They were treated as unorthodox, filthy and subhuman. You didn’t go through this marginalized group’s land to get to anywhere! You went around Samaria. Yet Jesus tells his disciples that in order to complete their mission, to participate in this re-imagining of the Abrahamic covenant, they have to first bring this message of good news to “the other.”

Jesus didn’t just tell the disciples to do this. He didn’t himself. Remember the story of the Samaritan woman? I can only imagine the looks on the disciples’ faces when Jesus leads them through Samaria. Then he has the nerve to send them off to look for food while he waits at a water well! It is there that Jesus has one of the most risky conversations in the Gospels. And yet the fruit of the conversation is incredible!

We play it safe. We hedge our bets. We watch out for ourselves. We cover our own butts.

The Gospels portray following Jesus as anything but safe. To follow Jesus is take the adventurous path–to take the risky path.

I don’t think Jesus calls us to be stupid, negligent, or not put to use the wisdom and insight we’ve gained through life’s experiences. But I do think he calls us to use what we’ve gained for the more adventurous path.

Where is your journey leading you in which you’re looking for a detour? What places are you hoping to avoid? What person–or people–are you hoping to avoid? What path requires you to have a little faith?

When Jesus pulls Peter out of the water he says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

I don’t think this is a put down. I don’t think that having a “little faith” is bad. Sometimes that’s all we have. Sometimes we’re as pompous as Peter and have more faith in ourselves than anyone else. Sometimes we’re simply filled with more doubt than faith. In which case, I’m confident that Jesus says, That’s all you need. A little faith. Faith enough to choose the risky path, the adventurous path.

And if you do, I believe you will find Jesus there with you.

No comments :

Post a Comment