“What a Lifeguard”
August 13, 2017 – 10th Sunday after Pentecost – Year A
The sea is rough – the wind is howling – the waves are breaking over the side of the boat – it is early morning and it is difficult to see clearly – someone is coming towards the boat – it looks like the person is walking on top of the water – just a few words were spoken and those in the boat recognized it was Jesus. Oh My God!
Peter is a leery sort and directs Jesus to prove his identity by guiding Peter to come – and also walk on the water. All was going well until Peter lost his focus and fear overtook him. The wind and waves frightened poor Peter and fear replaced faith. “Save me,” he screamed. And like all good lifeguards, Jesus reached out his arm and pulled Peter to the boat. But a word of reprimand came with the rescue. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” With no answer recorded, it took a miracle to truly reveal the glorious nature of Christ. The wind ceased and the disciples in the boat recognized Jesus as the Chosen of God.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “even if you have never tried to walk on water, you know how Peter felt. Maybe you were crossing a stream on a fallen log, inching your way across its rough, rounded surface, doing fine until you looked down – or maybe you were learning to ride a bicycle, and had gained enough speed so that suddenly you stopped wobbling and started flying – when just as suddenly you lost your confidence, dropped one foot to the ground and brought the whole experiment crashing down on top of you. Or maybe you were addressing a crowd, standing up in front of them to say something you believed in, and at first the words just flowed from your mouth, exactly the words you needed at exactly the moment you needed them, and then you looked at all those faces looking back at you, and you lost your nerve, and your brain turned to mush, and you sat down as quickly as you could, your cheeks burning, your ears humming – ‘Lord, save me,‘ Peter cries out, and Jesus does, reaching out his hand and catching him, hauling him out of the cold water like a big, frightened fish.”
The well-known poem, “Footprints,” (which we have printed on the back of our bulletin) describes the experience of not being aware of God’s presence until after the fact. Isn’t this the way it usually is? Only in retrospect are we able to discern God’s “fingerprints.” And then, sometimes, we are never able to see them, or, if so, only faintly. Certainly, that has been my experience. I think of one church I served that was in the midst of extreme conflict when I arrived. Unable to deal with the issues in a straightforward, direct manner, many in the congregation started to criticize and undermine me. It was an awful few years. And, for much of it, it was hard to discern God’s footprints or fingerprints. However, as I look back on that time, I recognize the many ways that God reached out to me and gave me solace and direction. I truly was pulled to safety and cradled in arms of love. I learned much from the years I served that congregation.
There is a story about a man who asked a Mississippi river-boat pilot how long he had been at his trade. The captain replied “26 years.” “Then,” said the man, “I guess you know where all the rocks are, all the shoals and sandbars.” “No,” said the pilot, “I just know where they ain’t.”
After Jesus reached out his hand to Peter to help him back up, they both climbed into the boat. That reminded me of the story of the little rural church that was breaking ground for a new building. Instead of using the traditional spade to turn over the first bit of sod, the minister arranged to get an old- fashioned plow with a rope and said, “Now I am going to break the ground.” Of course, he couldn’t move it. So, he said, “I’m going to get the chair of Council to help me.” The two of them together couldn’t budge it. So, he asked the whole church council to join in. Still they couldn’t move it. And on and on, until the whole congregation got hold of the rope. Finally, they were able to move the plow.
To switch back to the first metaphor, everybody has to be in the boat together, along with God, in order to get the job done. That is the way it is with miracles. God seeks us – but until we quit fighting against, until we stop thinking we can do it alone, until we place our trust in that power that is far greater than ourselves – we are going to keep being stuck. Or as Peter found out, we will sink.
Whether the miracle story happened as it is recorded, really doesn’t matter. There are many lessons for us to learn. The first is that our God is like a well trained and diligent lifeguard. When we put our very being into God’s care and trust, then God reaches out to prevent us from drowning in fear. There is a peace that surrounds us as if we are in a bubble.
The second lesson of the miracle story has to do with faith. Jesus often spoke in parables to explain faith. Using mustard seeds and rocks and light under a bushel basket, Jesus points out that even the tiniest amount of faith is all that is needed to be a follower of the way. This time, it took a miracle to show the disciples what faith is all about.
There’s a story about an acrobat who used to travel with a small circus to the villages and towns throughout the countryside. This guy walked the high wire, and so he would ask, “Do you think I can walk across the wire with a ball on my head?” Everybody says, “Yes, yes” and he does it. “Do you think I can push a wheelbarrow across the high wire?” “Yes, yes!” The cheering is growing louder and louder. So, he says, “Okay, who’s going to get in the wheelbarrow.” Now, that is faith.
Perhaps you are wondering what all this has to do with you and me, and all the many people who are facing the storms of life. Perhaps you are living with cancer or heart disease. Possibly your family is in crisis. It might be that financial worries are keeping you up at night. Perhaps a past trauma is like an anchor around your neck. You might be anxious about more advanced housing needs. Maybe you are living with a mental illness, or poverty, or a history of abuse, or neglect, or …..- and the list goes on. I assure you that the compassionate hand of God is reaching out to all of us, inviting us to hang on – tight. Keep your eyes focused on that which gives you comfort, whether it be the cross, the lakes and hillsides of Penticton, your favourite item of clothing, or whatever else that is the sign of God. Pray diligently. Hold on tight. Talk to your spiritual Director. Go for a walk with Jesus – on the water.
Let’s draw this message to a close with one more story:
The search committee was interviewing a new minister. “What are we going to do?” asked George. “It’s a woman!”
“Let’s take her fishing,” said Pete. “We can figure out if she’s any good.”
Out fishing, Pete cast his line and immediately snagged on a log. The female minister got up, walked across the water and unsnagged the line.
“Just like a woman,” muttered Pete. “Can’t swim.”