Tenth Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 14 August 9th 2020
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28, Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33
“Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”. I could hear that over and over again, maybe that’s why Jesus says it over and over again. “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”. Because really, what do we have to be afraid of? When we read the newspapers or our news feeds, when we watch the news, it seems that there is much of which to be afraid. Pandemic, disruption in our cities, protest, election. But here, in this story from Matthew, Jesus says, “take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.” And Jesus shows us just what that looks like. Peter wanted desperately to trust Jesus, and Jesus invited him to come. Peter began the walk over the water to Jesus, but became frightened, lost his courage, and began to sink. But Jesus doesn’t let Peter sink in the water. Jesus reached out his hand to Peter to pull him back in.
Sometimes we think of this as a story about not having enough faith. It’s where we get the expression, “oh ye of little faith”. But that’s not right. This is a story first and foremost about Jesus’ assurance of courage. Step out, and Jesus has our back. Do not be afraid.
We have so many examples of courage in Jesus’ name. We just said goodbye to John Lewis, a man of courage, who stepped out of the boat as a young man. Who sat at lunch counters only to be spat upon, who crossed bridges only to be beaten, who as a congressperson spoke truth to power.
Or WEB DuBois (Dewboyss), whose commemoration day was just this past week. Racism was the main target of Du Bois's polemics, and he strongly protested against lynching, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in education and employment. His cause included people of color everywhere, particularly Africans and Asians in colonies. He was a proponent of Pan-Africanism and helped organize several Pan-African Congresses to fight for the independence of African colonies from European powers. Du Bois made several trips to Europe, Africa and Asia. After World War I, he surveyed the experiences of American black soldiers in France and documented widespread prejudice and racism in the United States military. He is most famously known for being one of the founding members of the NAACP.
Or what about Malala Yousafzai (Use-efsai)? The Pakistani schoolgirl who defied threats of the Taliban to campaign for the right to education. She survived being shot in the head by the Taliban and has become a global advocate for human rights, women’s rights and the right to education.
I could go on with the Peter’s of the world who stepped out in courage. It’s not so much about not being afraid, as it is in the midst of the fear knowing that Jesus has our back, that Jesus reaches out and walks with us in the midst of the fear. That is what courage is. That is what faith is.
Jesus doesn’t let us sink.
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 they are stories that include you and me, who, on most days, like Peter, have a little faith. And these people whose stories we know, that probably felt a lot like Peter.
So how much faith do you need to make a difference, to change the world, to move mountains, to be courageous, 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. Faith is not a wish for more money or a better life. Putting our faith in this particular story about death and resurrection, putting our faith 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, whether the team meets in person or online.
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.
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. We pray for others and on behalf of others all the time. That is the body of Christ, the community of faith doing its courageous 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 faith in Jesus. Whatever that faith is, it’s enough to make a difference, it’s enough to bring Light into the mess, it’s enough to move mountains, it’s enough to get through the hard stuff of life. Thank God. Amen.