Sink or swim

Sink or swim; what will you do?  In Peter’s case (of course), both.  In a show of false bravado, he demands that Jesus “command me to come to you…”  And out into the waves he goes – successful at first.

Isn’t it wonderful to think that Jesus’ presence can provoke such acts of faith – such a show of the miraculous…except that all too soon we discover that not even Jesus presence can keep Peter from sinking.  And all Jesus can do (once all are safe and dry) is sadly shake his head; “…why did you doubt?”

And as I told the session (in Thorburn) on Tuesday night, THAT is the question.  Why – with our storied history and rich tradition and our tenacious ability to be the church in this place – why do we doubt?  Because we do; we can’t help it.  We’re full of doubt – overwhelmed by it – up to our necks in it – and for no good reason.

Sure, times are tough for churches,  and all organizations that depend on public generosity.  Yes, it is frightening to read the news of nuclear powered nit-wits…(umm) leaders acting irresponsibly.  It would be the easiest, and most sensible course of action to doubt the presence of a caring, merciful, all knowing/seeing God when things seem to be spiralling out of control, so some personal (and collective) doubt is perhaps predictable (and maybe even understandable).  But current global events continue to demonstrate that the product of our doubt is also predictable…and not understandable in the least.

We sink.  We hide.  We lash out.  We blame.  We rally ‘round old habits, and despicable behaviours.  Some have, in recent days, disguised bigotry as “white advocacy” – in the name of security, safety and self-protection –

with the ridiculously dangerous argument that every group except ‘plain white people’ have demanded some kind of special privilege.

None of these are Christian behaviours.  All of it brings me to the point of despair…except for one thing.  Jesus.

Jesus – calm in the centre of the storm – calls us to remember what is on offer (and what is at stake!).  Jesus defies the odds and meets us in the midst of our terror.  Though he is the embodiment of peace and purpose, his presence first prompts more fear (it is a ghost!).  His response is meant to overturn our objections:“Take heart – it is I; Don’t be afraid.”

That is how it begins.  He names the problem – fear.  Fear of the unknown; fear of the “other”, and ultimately, fear of the remarkable difference that Jesus represents.  Jesus calls us to join him on the water and we may eventually go, but we’re not convinced that we can take him seriously.

But we’re Christians, you say – we’re charged with “making disciples”, “spreading the gospel”; “keeping the faith”.  Except making disciples doesn’t mean getting people to think and act like we do, but to follow (think and act) like Jesus.  We don’t keep the faith; we use faith to keep the world at a safe distance.  Too many have claimed a faith (that they call Christian) that looks only to some heavenly reward, and cares nothing for the troubles of this present world – the world to which Jesus said the kingdom was surely coming.  Faith comes to us as a way to navigate the troubled waters that confront us.  The difference is explored in this morning’s gospel.

What we fail to notice about Jesus is that he too is in the midsts of the mayhem – the storm is no less severe where he is standing.  We imagine that Jesus will ‘fix it for us’, but he doesn’t.  He asks us to join him before it looks safe to do so.

Peter asks Jesus to command him – nothing less than a direct order will get him out of the boat because the situation is unsettled; Peter can’t imagine it ending well.  Likewise, when we wade into any of the current debates on offer in coffee shops or on-line forums, we are right to go cautiously – and to enter into these environments without Jesus is to invite disaster – but we are invited by Jesus to engage these difficult and often dangerous questions.  The light of the world stands steady in the darkness and gives us the courage to speak against the insanity that assaults us from the front pages and the news shows…yet we continue to sink, because our fear continues to master us.

Fear is winning because we have eliminated something crucial to Jesus’ message.  If the sixties era ‘hippie-Christians’ were guilty of ignoring judgement to claim love, there are those in our own time who would go too far in the other direction.  The so-called ‘christian response of those who give assent to the fanatical nationalism that is becoming so common in otherwise ‘civilized countries’ (USA and Canada) profanes the name and cause of Christ.  White supremacists and those who met them in violent opposition in Virginia – each twisting their minds to a different religious rationale – have chosen judgement over love of any kind, and it is fear that throws them together.  We can’t imagine listening in love (or listening at all) because, out of fear, we must not let our minds be changed or our hearts be moved.    The way forward is hurtful and hateful if we forget who (and why) we have been called ‘out of the boat.’

God is at work here – standing in the waves in the person of Jesus – and God will not be fooled, nor will God be faithless.  In Christ, God dares us to imagine something else; something different – something impossible – a storm that cannot overwhelm us; a world that honours love, faith and hope, all three in equal measure.  By his presence in the streets of Charlottesville – speaking peace to those deafened by their fear.   By his presence in the carefully considered conversations around immigration and economics and the global balance of power, Jesus would put our fears to rest – not because the crisis is over, but because his presence, his life, death and resurrection, have changed the terms of engagement.  It means that something new must emerge from the chaos.  You can be sure Peter was never the same after his near drowning, and remember, even his failure did not keep Jesus from trusting Peter with the job of engaging his culture in faith.

So yes, the times are dangerous.  And yes, we are liable to lose our nerve, sinking beneath the waves of worry and fear.  And certainly It is easier to fear than it is to learn; it is easier to sink (then pray for help), than it is to learn to swim, And Jesus shakes his head, wondering why we would continue to doubt. because I think that  Jesus is offering us life, eternal and abundant; gifts for the future and the present.  What could be better in times such as these, with the water already up to our necks, than swimming lessons – on the arm of the one who walks on water!

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