Sink or Swim – Still Get Out of the Boat!
Something else you may not know about me is that I love to kayak. It’s something that I never seem to find enough time to do but I’m so glad to be this close to the West River and a convenient place to rent a kayak. I actually use to own my own kayak – a 16 ft. Perception Sea kayak with a sunset finish. She was a beauty! My brother and sister-in-law own a small beach cottage on the upper cape with easy access to an inlet that allowed me to get the boat in the water easily. As you can imagine a 16ft kayak loaded down with gear can get quite heavy. I use to go out on my own all the time. Luckily the local person who rented kayaks at the nearby beach, Tom also was a member of the Coast Guard. This gave me great freedom because I would call him and tell him I was headed out for the day, a rough idea of my plans, where I was headed and when I thought I would be back. He would agree to give my cell phone a call if some weather was happening that I should be aware of or some other potential hazard. It gave me great freedom to feel like I could go out on my own and also feel somewhat safe.
There was one day however that a storm whipped up pretty quick and Tom did call me but the problem was that it was also getting to be low tide. So the problem was that the little inlet that was normally filled with enough water for me to just sail right into the shore line was only filled with sand and silt. However the only way for me to get back to safety was to just go for it! So I headed for the inlet paddling as fast and as hard as I could and the closer I got to the inlet the less water there was to paddle. Eventually I run out of water to paddle and I’m beached! I’m beached in the inlet but not very close to the shore. My brother and sister-in-law were out for the day which wasn’t a problem because I had Tom to call. I did call a few times but he was out most likely taking care of people in more serious need for help. So there I was stuck in the silt and the mud, no one home to help tow me in. I realized the only way to “save” myself was to get out of the boat!
So here we are in the third Sunday of the worship series that the Holy Spirit created. No really. Check this out – two Sundays ago we heard the story of the feeding of the 5000 – summer activity #1 – a picnic or BBQ. I hope someone cooked that fish! Last Sunday, #2 we celebrated t-shirt Sunday – t-shirts, very summery attire. In today’s service we hear about another fun summer activity – boating or being on the water. I bet it you’re wondering what we’re up to next week. Me too!
This feels like a hard scripture passage unpack especially right now so, I am going to do what Jesus has called me to do. I am going to get out of the boat, dive into scripture and see what floats to the top. This week we go back and look at the second half of the story that was actually supposed to be part of the reading we had when we heard about the feeding of the 5000. Much like two weeks ago we have another “miracle” story, a story that we believe illuminates Jesus’ power. This story appears also in the gospels of both Mark and John but with one major difference – in this version we have this exchange with Peter. Jesus, with the help of a generous boy and his disciples have just fed 5000 people. Time for a little rest and likely a lot of prayers of thanksgiving. Jesus sends the disciples off in their boat, a place we would imagine most of them would feel is familiar and comfortable being that many of them were fishermen. Jesus goes to have some time alone to pray.
However, as evening falls a great storm kicks up and they are being tossed about – the boat was “battered by waves.” They were far from land and the wind was working against them. Then in the early morning light they see something, someone walking toward them through the mist, walking toward them on the water. “It is a ghost!” Only it’s not a ghost at all but their fear keeps them from recognizing Jesus even in their midst. This might have been the first time they didn’t recognize Jesus, but it wouldn’t be the last. Jesus appears to them, a bridge over troubled waters. Then he speaks the words they most needed to hear, that we most need to hear right now – “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.” “Don’t be afraid” – is that a reasonable request in the situation the disciples were in, in the situation we’re in? Come on Jesus – don’t you see the troubled waters we are in right now?!
We were just starting to enjoy some smooth sailing – businesses reopening, gatherings with friends and family we haven’t seen in more than a year, live performances and then BAM! – another surge, another wave has begun to hit us. There is so much to fear right now, not only COVID, because remember there are two viruses ravaging our country – the Corona virus and racism. Years of pain, hurt and oppression surfacing rather we are finally seeing it and causing us to look more deeply into the mirror and face our own complacency and yes, fear. And what about the environment – wild weather, increasing temperatures Mother Earth is burning up and it feels like the time to try and heal her is running out faster than we thought it would. There is fear here in this worshipping community, in the wider church. So many questions – Will we ever be able to open again? Will the church, any church survive?
Jesus tells us even in the midst of these storms – “do not be afraid” just like the angels who heralded his birth. Then Peter – oh Peter! Calls Jesus bluff and Jesus calls it right back! Peter does what seems to defy logic and he gets out of the boat. What will that prove, anyway? Maybe Peter hopes that by stepping out on the sea, that will be the act of courage he needs for faith. Maybe Peter wonders if he will be convinced of Jesus’ promises if he thinks big. Maybe Peter will believe in himself if he is able to do what Jesus does. He begins to walk to Jesus but gets distracted by the chaos around him and let’s his fear get the best of him. Then Peter – whose name means “rock” gets that sinking feeling and down he goes. But Jesus is right there reaching out a hand.
The key to faith and fullness of life in Christ is to follow Peter’s example, get out of the boat and be willing to step out of the comfort and security of the boat, be willing to step out of your own comfort zone. Being a true disciple is risky business, but it is exactly what God calls us to do and be. Some might interpret this in a way that suggests we should throw caution to the wind. Jesus will save us after all! Let me just add a theological guard rail here and say that I’m not suggesting that you do something reckless with no care or concern for your safety or the safety of others. I think this is especially important as we talk about this next COVID surge.
Some may say that there is no need to be afraid, especially if you have been vaccinated. It’s true, the miracle of science has given us this lifebuoy. However, this lifebuoy will only take us so far if we don’t think about others before we think of our own selves. Getting out of the boat in Jesus’ upside-down world is about being willing to be seen as fearful instead of respectful, overly cautious as opposed to overly compassionate.
Jesus does save us and one way he saves us is by revealing how connected we are to one another, all of us, by showing us that our relationship to one another is the lifebuoy that will keep us all safer, well and thriving. Jesus was there to reach out a hand to Peter who in that moment was most vulnerable. Likewise, Jesus calls on us to act in solidarity with those who are most vulnerable right now. Remember the other disciples were still in the boat. They were still being battered by the same waves but Jesus went to Peter first.
Jesus came to uplift those who were the most marginalized and to teach us that the way to love our neighbor is to do what’s best for them even if it might mean a sacrifice for us, even if it might not be what we want, even if it might make us uncomfortable or cause us to be ostracized. Jesus calls to us in the midst of the storm, over the tulmult – “come!” Jesus tells us “Do not be afraid” but another way to translate Jesus’ words to the disciples is, “have courage.” Jesus is not saying “buck up, be brave, Peter. Have a backbone for crying out loud!” Do you know what the root word is for the word “courage?” That’s right “heart!” That may explain why some translations of the Bible vary between “take heart” and “take courage.”
What is Jesus saying to Peter, to his disciples? I wonder if Jesus is saying to them, to us, faith means living out of your heart. You are going to have to lead, live, and love with your heart, Peter. You know who I am. Deep down in your heart, you know me and you know I will be there. Trust yourself. Trust your heart. Jesus’ words call Peter back to himself — to his truth, to his heart, to his faith. And no valiant feat is necessary to verify what Jesus wants Peter to see that is already true about who Peter is. At the heart of who you are is the light and salt that God created you to be. Following Jesus asks us to look at things in a new way, in a way that considers other first. Don’t be afraid to enter the troubled waters of the world and be bold enough to be an example of God’s love, grace and justice! And know that might look like something “crazy” like getting out of the boat!
May we all embrace the mission God calls us to even if it calls us to places where it won’t be smooth sailing. And I promise you, if we truly follow the path that Jesus has set before us, it will often be troubled waters that we encounter. But know this – we are never cast into the turbulent seas and abandoned. Jesus is always there reaching out a hand. May we have the faith, hope and courage to get out of the boat and grab hold. Amen.