Aug 13, 2017Preaching text: Matthew 14:22-33
22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
“Just let go. You just have to let go.”
This is not that “let go and let God” stuff we see on bumperstickers. But I was definitely being told; it was clear I had to let go. Let go and let gravity. You see, one of the many thrilling activities tourists can do in Costa Rica is zip lining. That’s when you pay money to put on a harness, climb up into the trees of the rain or cloud forests, attach yourself to metal wires strung from the top of said trees and then zip – hang and glide from the top of one tree to another. This was one of the adventures that I knew the rest of my family would love to do. So reservations made; we were picked up at our hotel, and delivered to the office in the forest, signed our waiver’s, and looking around I saw pictures on the wall of those who had gone before us; I looked and there in some slightly faded pictures were Jimmy and Rosalynn, as in former president Jimmy Carter and his wife. I pointed these out to my family and quietly noted this in my mind. That if a former president and his wife, who were considerably older than myself, had done this zip lining thing here, It was probably almost safe enough for me.
This is really important, because as I have shared with you my brothers and sisters of the church, I have anxieties. I haven’t been exactly specific with my list, but I can tell you that I am afraid of drowning, therefore I dislike boats. I am generally distrusting of anything I can not control, so I get super anxious flying, or riding in a car. And, I am generally afraid of heights. I can step a few feet up a ladder, but more than that and the stomach gets all tied up in knots. Put it this way, if something can go horribly wrong in any situation, I’ve probably already imagined it. I also have been afraid and anxious of speaking in public. In fact as I am typing this sermon, my palms are sweating and my hands will be cold as a result of fear and anxiety our blood will move to our major organs so that we can fight/flight our way out of the stressful situation. Let’s see if they are when I’m preaching this.
Needless to say, I was anxious about this zip lining thing. But this is what people do. Literally hundreds of thousands of tourists have done this; and as I reasoned in my head it’s not in a zip lining tour company’s best interest to have tourists falling from trees. Besides, I had to show my family that I was strong. I can do this. These are all the thoughts racing through my head, as I declare “I’ll do it!” When the guides asked, “Who’s first?” See, I know I have to just do it, get it over with, the longer I wait the worse it will be, and I know that one way of dealing with fear is to actually jump right in. That’s why when I was learning to be a pastor, as an intern serving in a congregation for the first time, I insisted that I preach every other week.
So the first part of this particular zip line course is what is called a tarzan swing, where you simply climb several flights of wooden stairs to wooden platform. Which I did and then moved to the edge and grabbed hold of the railing while they hooked my harness to the wires, and then all I had to do was let go and move away from the railing to the open space and step over the edge. Except I didn’t. I didn’t let go. I saw the ground and the trees way below, I saw my family and I declared “I don’t want to”, even outloud, and the patient guide behind me said, “let go.” again and again, till somehow I released my death-grip on the wood, and my guide I swear he gave me a gentle push, slight shove and there I was swinging back and forth, nothing beneath my feat. With that first step taken, I then proceeded to make my way along the 14 lines, hugging the tree trunk each time I made it to a platform, till the 2nd to last zip line that was over 800 meters long over a valley. All because I did what I was told and I let go. I did it, and I survived.
If only it were that easy. If only we could just strap into some safety equipment and glide right through life. If only we could just let go of the fears we are holding onto, the fears that grip us. If only we could simply do what Jesus tells us— to take heart and have no fear. That’s what we hear in this story, we hear the story of Peter stepping out of that boat in faith, and even when he starts to sink, Jesus is right there to lift him up. I imagine that’s the point of this miracle story, after all this miracle of walking on water doesn’t do much else, no one is fed, no demons are cast out, no one is healed, no one is saved. Except a guy that shouldn’t have been steppin out of the boat in the first place. Who if you notice, Peter walking on water wasn’t Jesus’ idea. Peter tells Jesus, “call me out there, order me, make me do it”. What was Peter thinking?
What was he thinking? What was she thinking? The clergy that put on stoles and robes, linked arms and walked down the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday morning. The churches that gathered in parks to pray, speak, and witness peace. The non-violent protestors who stood to counter the Unite the Right, white supremacist rally. The people who rushed to help the wounded when that Christian terrorist drove a car into the crowd. The people who witnessed to God’s love and not human hate. And those of us so far away who must and will even if we loose family, loose friends, name this sin of racism, name the sin of our white power and privilege; acknowledge the pain and reality of institutions, systems, laws that benefit white people giving us our wealth, our opportunities for better education, our better relations with law enforcement.
Of course, effective protests, effective actions really do take a lot more thought and planning than what we see with Peter’s seeming impromptu “order me to come out”. But, at the same time, at least Peter does something. He doesn’t call a committee together to discuss and debate. He doesn’t take a poll or a vote. Trust me, Peter is not always a faith hero, some super religious roll-model by any standard. This guy doesn’t walk on water—well except for a moment in this story.
Of course this isn’t Peter’s or the other disciples first encounter with Jesus, with his way of walking the path of God. So it’s not like Peter and the rest had no idea about this Jesus guy. Just like a lot of us, this isn’t our first trip. We are the church we know what Jesus is all about. God isn’t just some distant judge needing to hear our prayers and praise; God isn’t just trying to get us up to some heavenly rest. God walks this earth, ok in this story, walks the waves, honors creation, becomes part of it, breathes it, needs it to sustain life. How can we let fear paralyze us? How can let fear allow us to just let things slide? How can we let fear focus us on us? It’s not that we’re going to miraculously loose our fear; it will not evaporate like a little puddle on a hot day. Our problems, pains, perils run deep. Fear is real. We can’t pray it away, but we sure can work a way through it. Own it; acknowledge it. We’re all in that boat right there with the disciples. This miracle doesn’t have to be just about some superfluous treading on water. This can be a miracle for us that does feed us; feed our imagination about God’s power; it can heal us from our limited and the limitations we put on God and faith. I would even love to be able to say that this story of this miracle can cast out the demons of fear. For some that might happen. For me, the best I can hope for, the best I can pray for, the best I can practice each day is to work a way through fear. We all need to let go, not “let go and let God”. But to let go and let’s go. so that we can step out, with our fear, speak out with a crack in our voice, put our cold and clammy hands to work. So maybe for today for once welcome this miracle, don’t try to explain it away or dismiss it, just let it go, accept a miracle, step over the edge, off the ledge and let go of ourselves. Amen.