8 Pentecost Yr A

I get to tell one of my favorite jokes when we read this story. A priest, a rabbi and a minister were all in a boat out in the middle of a lake. The Minister says, "I’m thirsty. I’m going to shore and get something to drink." So she gets out of the boat walks across the water to shore, gets a drink, walks back across the water, and gets back in the boat. The minister says, "I’m thirsty also. I’m going to shore and get something to drink." So he gets out of the boat, walks across the water to shore, gets a drink, walks back across the water, and gets back in the boat. The rabbi thinks to himself "pretty cool. I’m trying it." So he says, "I’m thirsty also. I’m going to shore to get something to drink." He gets out of the boat and falls in the water and sputters around. Then the priest said to the minister, "Do you think we should have told him where the rocks were?"

The walking on water story goes like this in Eugene Peterson’s translation in the Message. Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror. But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come ahead.” Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, Master, save me! Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed Peter’s hand. Then Jesus said, “Faint heart, what got into you?”

This story is the story that has given rise to the expression “oh ye of little faith.” But I’m not convinced it’s a story about a lack of faith, as much as it is a story about having a little faith. Peter actually has a little faith in this story, what he needs is courage after he steps out to keep on going. I think Peter is the quintessential human being. Peter is just like me. There are days I have a little faith, and days I need a lot of courage. Peter gives me hope.

Let’s check this out. We heard the mustard seed story just two weeks ago. Jesus says in a version of that story, “if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Now we know that a mustard seed is a mighty tiny seed, so having faith the size of a mustard seed is a little faith. But these are stories not about what faith is lacking, and it is not about not having enough faith, it is about the faith that Peter has that causes him to courageously step out of the boat. And it is about you and me, who, on most days, like Peter, have a little faith.

So how much faith do you need to make a difference, to change the world, to move mountains, and, like the rest of the disciples in the boat that day, to know that Jesus is lord? You need a little faith. Faith is not about having enough, faith is not about knowing for absolute sure, faith is not about clarity or certainty. Faith isn’t about shouting most loudly about knowing exactly what God’s specific plans for everyone are, faith isn’t about knowing the future.

Well then, what is faith about? Faith is a willingness to risk. Faith is about the courage to take that step out of the boat, to respond to Jesus when he says “come ahead,” and to do it whether you think you’ll sink or swim. And faith proceeds from love, the kind of love that makes a person willing to be the first to say “I love you”, not because of a certain expectation of a particular reply, but because of the possibilities that saying “I love you” opens.

Faith doesn’t connote belief in a particular outcome, and it isn’t an intellectual assent to a particular proposition. It does suggest trust in and allegiance to a person. But believing in Jesus does not mean believing that we’ll be successful in a particular enterprise that Jesus is calling us to. Having faith in Jesus means a willingness to follow Jesus, not because we believe that we’ve already got the rest of the story plotted out once we’ve made that decision, but because we take seriously that Jesus is Lord.

So faith is the courage to risk, faith opens up the possibilities, and faith is taking seriously that Jesus is Lord. This faith opens up the possibility that we are fully capable of loving one another, that we are fully capable of respecting the dignity of every person, and the possibility that we must die in order to live again. This kind of faith also opens up the possibility that we may fall, and that we may wallow in the mess. And when that happens, we can look to resurrection and hope, and know that Jesus is right there with us in that mess.

Faith is not certainty and it is not security in a right future. Faith is living each day knowing that Jesus lived each day. Faith is the courage to risk. Jesus loved, Jesus was hurt, Jesus even hurt others, Jesus risked everything, Jesus died and Jesus rose from the dead. Faith is responding to Jesus’ invitation, “come ahead, have courage,” and being transformed by the relationship.

Faith is risking it all and being together in the mess. Peter wasn’t alone in that boat. All the disciples were there with him. Faith is finding love and hope here in the body of Christ. Because this risky business of faith is not to be undertaken by yourself. It is to be undertaken together, it is to be undertaken in the body of Christ. We do this together, no one is out there alone undertaking this risky business of faith, it’s too important, it’s too dangerous, it’s too perilous. Every one of us needs a support team.

The body of Christ, the community of faith, is our support team in this risky venture of faith. I could not be your priest without all of your prayers and words of encouragement. I depend on your prayers, as you depend on my prayers and the prayers of all of us gathered. Not one of us can accomplish the risky work of faith out in the world without the support team that is our community of faith. I go to Sr. Margaret at St. Martin’s monastery once a month for spiritual direction, and I know I am in the daily prayers of the sisters there, they are our support team.

My favorite author, Madeleine L’engle once said during her recovery after a horrible accident she was in, that she could no longer pray, but that she knew that there were people who were praying on her behalf. That is the body of Christ, the community of faith doing its work.

I believe faith is not one sided. Faith is not just about us. I believe that God has faith in me, and in us. Imagine the risk God takes at the creation of each and every child, each and every planet, each and every star. Will it be all that God intends for it to be? Will it be creative, will it be life-giving, will it fulfill all the hope in its creation. God is faithful. God risks everything with each and every one of us. If we have little faith, the size of a mustard seed, God has humungous faith, the size of millions of universes.

It is God’s huge faith in me that enables me to have little faith in Jesus. Little faith is enough to make a difference, little faith is enough to bring Light into the mess, little faith is enough to move mountains, and little faith is enough to find the rocks in the water so that we can make it to the other side.

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