So there we were, the two of us standing on a tiny platform facing our fear of heights and discerning our willingness to trust a piece of rope no thicker than a clothesline. On the ground her boyfriend made all sorts of promises to coax her and calm her fears. I did my best to help this frightened stranger, but next to pushing her off…I had nothing. Fear had gotten the best of her. And me.
Long story short, she eventually closed her eyes and jumped. She floated gently into her boyfriend’s awaiting arms where she began to sob. It was a beautiful and heartwarming reunion. But here’s the kicker, I was next. And there were no arms waiting for me down there. Instead of gentle coaxing, I had my kids yelling at me to keep moving. I won’t tell you all the mean things they said, or how long I sat there, but I too eventually took that great leap.Just before my feet touched the ground, a great surge of life welled up in me. Which was just what I needed to take on the next set of challenges.
Such is the world of faith. It can either scare you, or fill you with life.
As we continue our sermon series Questioning Jesus, today’s readings give us two perspectives of one story. And in both, Jesus seems to ask the same question two different ways. The first comes from Luke 8:22-25. The second is from Matthew 14:26-33.
Of all the questions Jesus asks, these two, “Where is your faith?” And “Why do you doubt” have had the greatest impact on my life. Because I have lacked faith, and held on to doubt. Instead of debating the subtle differences of the two stories and the two questions…I want to look at the bigger picture and how Jesus’ words might navigate your spiritual journey.
In both stories, the disciples are put into a boat, and pushed out to sea. Once out there they find themselves trapped in a violent storm where Jesus comes to the rescue. Now it’s worth noting that the Hebrew word for water is mayim, which comes from the root word meaning ‘chaos.’
This begs the question, why would Jesus push his disciples out into the chaos? Was it to test their faith? Or to flex on them? Maybe it was to simply remind them that their mission isn’t always going to be smooth sailing?
Wherever you are in your spiritual journey, doubt and faith will inevitably cross paths. Like high pressure and low pressures clashing over the Midwest, when faith and doubt collide, a spiritual storm will brew.
Yet, in both stories, Jesus overpowers the chaos. Therefore our faith, first and foremost, needs to be with him. The one who has been given all authority to calm the storms we face. He helps us overcome our doubts to find our true self in God’s love.
The Hebrew word for faith is emunah, a verb that literally means, “to take firm action.” This is important to remember because Jesus is pushing us out into the chaos to continue his mission, which will require doing things that might seem impossible. To do this, we need to know exactly where our faith is. Is it shivering in the boat - afraid with the disciples? Or is it leaping boldly off the platform into the wild, raging waters?
Peter learned the hard way that God wasn’t testing his faith but pushing it to places where he would didn’t necessarily want to go – like to a rickety platform in the middle of the woods where he would have to face his fears, and trust that when he jumped God was jumping with him.
Still, it shouldn’t surprise us that Peter hesitates and even doubts. It’s a natural response. He even questions Jesus, and that’s ok for us to do too. But when Peter is invited to join Jesus in the chaos, he goes for it. And as a result, he does the impossible. Faith can scare you, or it can transform and empower you.
We all face that moment in life where we find ourselves on the edge. Some of us will jump fearlessly. But most of us will jump reluctantly, and with great doubt. As Peter demonstrated, both ways can lead us into a deeper relationship with God – strengthening our faith in the process.
In their doubt and fear, the disciples were able to see who Jesus truly is. Sometimes it takes a massive storm to see and understand how Jesus calms our fear and the chaos around us. Each time we see who Jesus is and what Jesus can do in our lives, our faith begins to build muscle memory. And God knows we will need that muscle if we are going to live like Christ in the world.
Peter is quick to flex his faith. And despite his inability to do it right…still remained faithful. It’s often implied that Peter took his eye off Jesus and that’s why he failed. But the way I see it, Peter kept his eye on Jesus the whole time.
When the wind slapped him in the face, and raging waters began to knock him down, Peter’s first response isn’t fear, but faith. He instinctively cried out, “Lord save me.” And immediately Jesus is there. Peter knew who Jesus was, and his natural response was to rely on him. This is what we always need to remember. Faith can scare you, but it always saves you.
Jesus isn’t calling us into perfection. He’s just asking for our faithfulness. Like Peter showed us, the more we practice our faith, by stepping out on that ledge of life, the more our faith becomes instinctive – our go to response. God isn’t testing us, but conditioning and strengthening us so we always know who is saving us. And that is Jesus the Christ.
So the key to doubt and faith is to follow Peter’s example. As Ernest Campbell taught, “We must be willing to step out of the security of the boat and head into the troubled waters of the world to proclaim the love, mercy, and justice of God that we find in Jesus Christ.”
To his point, the world doesn’t need any more nominal Christians splashing around in the safe and shallow waters where we miss the opportunities to strengthen our spiritual muscle. What the world needs is more stumbling and bumbling disciples like Peter who saw what Jesus did and did it himself.
By taking this brave first step, we can move from having weak faith to possessing the kind of spiritual strength that Jesus says can move mountains, heal the sick, cast out demons, forgive sins, and to love those who hate us.
By watching and doing what Jesus does, we can calm the storms of life and teach others to live with us in peace. So do not worry if your faith scares you or trips you up from time-to-time. Do not give up. Weather the storm. Keep moving building your spiritual strength. Keep doing the hard work of the Kingdom and bear the good fruit of your faithfulness. Don’t be afraid to call out to Jesus, to be saved and rescued from the chaos you are in. If you do, you too will discover the impossible is, in fact, very much possible. Amen.
Bartlett, David, and ed. Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting On The Word; Year A, vol. 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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