Step Out Of The Boat

Hi friends … I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am humbled by the inadequacy of words right now.  I don’t know how to reflect on what happened in Charlottesville this weekend and yet I know my silence is deafening and part of the problem right now.

I thought about scrapping my sermon and starting over last night, but ultimately I decided to address what happened in Charlottesville at the beginning of the service and in my pastoral prayer.  Next week is Beatles Sunday at church and Jordan and I are planning weaving the theme of Love Wins throughout the service.  It won’t change anything that happened, but maybe it will inspire us all to continue to fight to resist the evil, hatred and racism in the world.

Here’s my sermon – enjoy (and get out of that boat!) …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 13, 2017

Matthew 14:22-33

Step Out Of That Boat

I wrote two sermons this week.

The first sermon was … preachable.  Sort of.  It made a point, and not necessarily a bad one, either. It had a solid illustration, although I think it might have been one I used before.  But as I read through it and tried to give it one final edit, the whole thing just seemed repetitive and bland. Not the message I felt needed to be preached this week.  On Friday night, Bruce texted me to let me know he was on his way home from work and asked me if I needed anything.

“Yeah, a sermon that doesn’t stink,” I replied.

Only I didn’t use the word, “stink.”

The thought of rewriting the whole thing seemed daunting.  A few months ago, I would have just made a huge pot of coffee and locked myself in my office the next day for several hours to get it done.  Now, for obvious (and adorable) reasons, that is no longer an option.

By the time Bruce got home, I had worked myself into something of a tizzy.  It was not just about the sermon at that point, but about my own fears, in general, about how I am going to adjust to being a working mom, especially in a job that does not have normal business hours.  I have never wanted anything more and yet sometimes it feels overwhelming.

So back to my sermon.  I couldn’t preach it.  I may be a sleep deprived new mom, but I still refuse to preach a bad sermon.  However, at that point it was almost midnight and entirely too late to do anything about it, so I crawled into bed, pulled up this morning’s scripture on my phone and re-read it as I fell asleep.

This morning’s story follows the one we heard last week.  After Jesus fed the multitude in the story of the loaves and fishes, he sent the disciples away on his boat, dismissed the crowd and then went up to a mountain alone so that he could pray.  A storm came in overnight and the disciples were stranded far from land.  The next morning Jesus went to them, walking on the water towards the boat.  At first, the disciples did not recognize Jesus; they were scared and thought he was a ghost.  But Jesus said:

Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.[1]

The disciples were not yet convinced that this man was, in fact, Jesus.  Peter called out to him and said that if he truly was Jesus, then he should command Peter to go to him on the water.  So Jesus said, “Come,” and Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards him.

Immediately, however, Peter realized that the storm was still raging around him.  He was frightened and started to sink.  He cried out:

Lord, save me![2]

Jesus reached out and caught Peter and said to him:

You of little faith, why did you doubt?[3]

Jesus and Peter got back into the boat and the storm was calmed.  The disciples believed this man was Jesus, worshipped him and said:

Truly, you are the Son of God.[4]

As I read this text on Friday night, I was drawn to Peter’s narrative.  In a way, I feel like I am stepping out of that boat right now. As a new mom, I am exploring uncharted waters. My life has changed and I have to adjust how I do certain things, including pieces of my job, my ministry. At times, that feels scary and overwhelming.

Sometimes I think Peter gets a bad rap in this story, because when he started to sink in the water and needed Jesus to save him, Jesus told him he had little faith and asked him why he doubted.  But I cannot help but be inspired by Peter for getting out of the boat in the first place; for asking Jesus to call him in the water; for doing something that was new and different for him.

And yes, Peter was scared and started to sink and cried out for Jesus to save him.  But I do not think that meant his faith was weak; I think that meant his faith was very strong.

In her book, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott talked about an old saying that her church ladies used to remind her of, that “when you jump into the darkness of the unknown, faith lets us believe that we will either stand on solid ground or be taught how to fly.”  Peter’s faith was what made him call to Jesus.  Peter stepped out of that boat on faith, I think knowing that Jesus would catch him if he started to sink.  He cried out, “Lord, save me!” not out of desperation, but in confident hope that Jesus would, in fact, save him.  That’s faith!

For Peter, faith was not having the ability to walk on water, but trying anyway and believing that Jesus would be there to catch him if he started to sink.

And on Friday night, as I reflected on this story and the terrible sermon I did not want to preach, I realized that for me, faith might not be mean finding the perfect balance between being a pastor and being a mom, but trying anyway and believing that Jesus will be there to catch me if I need help.

Is there something in your life right now that scares you?  Something new or different that you want to try, but are afraid to?  A new job?  A large project?  A big move or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

Maybe you are walking through a difficult time in your personal life, facing obstacles that seem large and daunting – a scary diagnosis, challenging relationship, sadness or grief.

Or perhaps this is simply a time of transition for your family – end of summer, back to school with new teachers or college move-in.

This story reminds us that it is okay to step out on faith when we are scared.  Like Peter, our faith is strong enough to withstand whatever we might face; even if we sink, even if we fail, even if we throw away an entire sermon and have to start all over again while the baby is napping the next day, Jesus will be there to catch us and carry us to safety.

I always thought the miracle of this story was that Jesus walked on water; but maybe the greater miracle was that Peter stepped out of the boat and walked towards him.

I think we have to believe this miracle can happen in our lives, today.  Maybe, like Peter, we are being called to step out on faith, with confident hope that Jesus will, in fact, save us, as well.

If this story teaches us anything, it is that it is okay to be scared!  The disciples were scared when the first saw Jesus; Peter was scared when he stepped out of the boat and started to sink.  But Jesus said:

Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.

What if listened for Jesus speaking these same words in our lives, today?  What if we acknowledged the presence of fear in our lives, but also believed that Jesus’ presence is stronger than that fear?  What if we stepped out on faith, believing we will either walk on water or that Jesus will catch us and carry us to safety?

It is really hard for me to admit when something scares me, especially in ministry.  It is hard for me to show a more vulnerable side to a community of people who have called me to be their pastor and teacher.  And so I share my struggles with you not because I want sympathy or pity, but because I want you to see my humanity and know that your humanity is okay, too. Like Peter and the rest of the disciples in that boat, we are all just navigating the twists and turns of life as best we know how. Our struggles and our fears strengthen our faith as we cling to Jesus in the confident hope that he will hold us up.

We do not have to be afraid of the unknown.  Remember that after Jesus prayed, he came down off of the mountain and went to the disciples who were in the middle of the stormy seas.  Jesus will always come to us, no matter what we are going through.  Jesus will walk towards us. Jesus will save us when we cry out to him.  As long as we have our faith, we will never fall, sink or fail.

As I re-wrote my sermon yesterday, I don’t think I found any answers to how I might balance being both pastor and mom.  But I was reassured that Jesus would be fully present in my life as I walk this new part of my journey, that I would be shown grace along the way.

And so today I share this same message of encouragement to you all.  Whatever your struggle is right now – whatever you are afraid of, whatever is challenging you, however you feel God is calling you to step out on faith – do not be afraid.

So step out of that boat and believe with all your heart that you will either walk on water or that Jesus will carry you to safety.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Matthew 14:27, NRSV
[2] Matthew 14:30, NRSV
[3] Matthew 14:31, NRSV
[4] Matthew 14:33, NRSV

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