Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Friday, December 06, 2013
Mike Turgeon “Discipleship by the Sea: Trust” February 20, 2011
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.‘ Matthew 14:22-33
I’ve had a rather checkered past as far as boating is concerned. I like to be out on boats, but that experience wasn’t part of my upbringing back in the Midwest. We were land-lubbers, or at least my parents were, so they didn’t take us kids out on the water much.
It was only when I landed in the Bay Area 38 years ago that I started to take an interest in boating. My first apartment was in Alameda right on the water, so I really got into it for a couple of years. I bought a sailboat, a small 14-foot Laser; really a racing vessel, but I bought it because it was manageable and affordable.
I was rather timid with it and I’d rarely venture out into any major waters of the Bay. I preferred the relatively safe confines of the Alameda Naval Station waterways, where you could scoot along on a nice breeze and get right up next to the aircraft carriers parked there. The U.S.S. Enterprise was there and at the time it was the biggest floating structure ever, so big in fact, that you had to keep a certain distance away from it. If you got too close to it, it would block out your wind and you’d end up dead in the water.
Well, one of my neighbors back then was Gifford Hayward IV. He wasn’t what you think, not like the captain from Gilligan’s Island, just a regular guy. And, man, could this guy sail. He did grow up with boats and he had this 16-foot Hobie Cat, which is a catamaran, two hulls, and it could fly; you virtually couldn’t capsize it. Until he and I entered something called the ‘Round Treasure Island Regatta.’
It was all small boats and most were like his—fast. As the name of the race implied, the object was to race from Alameda, around Treasure Island, and back. Now, I’d never been in a boat race before, and so I remember seriously questioning myself as we stepped on to the boat to shove it in the water. I said, “Mike, would this be considered an act of bravery on your part, or trust? Or, stupidity? You see, I’ve never thought to call myself a physically brave person. And maybe if you have to decide whether or not you are brave, you’re really not so brave after all.
In any event, I couldn’t wait for an answer to my question because we shot off from the shore like from a slingshot. And to my total surprise, as we approached the back-side of Treasure Island, we were leading the race.
Now, some of you have probably been out there on Treasure Island. You can drive down to it from the Bay Bridge and get down to sea level there with your car where the view of San Francisco is unsurpassed. But let me tell you what it’s like hanging over the side of a boat traveling at about 20 miles an hour. In-tense, and terrifying. There is but the slightest separation between you and the deep, as you are hovering there, above the waves.
And you can get this kind of boat to take full advantage of a strong wind by letting it come out of the water on one side, and then the sailors hang, or hike-out even further off that side for balance to keep the boat from going over sideways.
The beauty—and danger—of a catamaran is that it sits right up on top of the water for speed--very little of the boat is in the water. And the thrill of racing around Treasure Island is the fact that once you go around it, the wind is at your back the whole way home. It’s clear sailing, as they say. Most of the time. There is, however, a balance point between a stiff wind at the back and a fast boat racing along the surface, and we must have crossed that point.
At our top speed, it only took a thin gust, a mere puff of wind to send both of us flying, and I mean literally flying, into the water, because our boat did a nose-plant right into the waves. That doesn’t happen often. But once it does, the boat very quickly ends up like a turtle, with the mast pointing straight down at the bottom of the sea.
From there, it is an exercise in strength and endurance just to stand the boat back up again so you can continue. Till my dying day, I will remember that 15 minutes of terror out on the water, clawing back onto the boat to get it right side up. And the amazing thing was, that in spite of all that, we still won the race.
There is a fine line between bravery and trust and foolhardiness, and I’m sure from the minute that Giff and I got into his boat that day, we were straddling that thin line ever so precariously.
So it was with these disciples of Jesus.
These guys were experienced fishermen, so getting out on the sea in a boat was not a big deal for them; it was a daily event, but rarely at night. So most likely, the most unsafe part of the story for the disciples was doing what Jesus asked. And really, he did more than ask, it says here he made them get into the boat. Without Jesus’ urging, would they have even been on the water that night?
What was Jesus’ plan here? It says he ‘went up the mountain by himself to pray.’ Maybe he got rid of the crowds and his friends so he could get some down time. Who could not use more down time? More time with God?
Or maybe there was danger lurking. A good bet. Just before this story, we hear that King Herod is starting to get curious about Jesus. Herod had just had John the Baptist killed. Good idea for Jesus to disperse the crowds, don’t you think?
And those crowds, they’re looking for an earthly king, and Jesus wanted no part of that.
So he commands his friends to get into their boat. Let this be a warning. Be careful about this Jesus guy. Think twice before you step into the boat, it may threaten your safety and your comfort.
Any idiot can get out of the boat. Peter certainly proves that. Was Peter being brave? Well, maybe not so much. By testing Jesus like he does, he’s showing not even faith as big as that proverbial mustard seed. His doubt caused him to sink. Maybe some faith, some trust, would have caused him to fly.
Yes, any idiot can get out of the boat. My friend and I sure proved that as we were flying through the air with the greatest of ease. No, I believe that the real moment of truth, or trust, or bravery comes as you ponder the command of Jesus, and whether or not you’ll get into the boat with him in the first place.
If you’re really going to follow Jesus, you’re going to find yourself in some pretty unsafe territory, some pretty choppy waters. Look at Jesus’ words here to his friends. He doesn’t say, “Be safe, you are special, protect yourself at all costs.” He doesn’t say, “Take it easy, you deserve a break today. You are you, after all.”
No. He says, “Take heart! It is I. Do not be afraid.” This isn’t just anybody we follow, this is Jesus, Lord and Ruler of the waves and everything else. His death supports us in our life. His life supports us in our death, our fear, our dark and stormy nights. That’s the beauty of the love of God that Jesus delivers.
This Godly love has many parts, and it will make you brave if you trust it.
We’re used to thinking that God’s love is something that is done to us. But there is more than one way to consider it. Sure, we are eager to ask “what does God’s love do for me;” but how about this, “What can I do with God’s love?”
What does God’s love do for you? Well, it showers upon you, extravagantly, in endless supply. God’s love is so abundant that it is out of all proportion. Our mind will try to portion it, but that’s what our minds do. Our minds need to portion and organize and categorize because they require control. It is only our hearts that are able to receive God’s love fully. And when that love takes hold, you become a force on Jesus’ behalf.
But maybe God’s love for you doesn’t shower down; perhaps it wells up from within, like living water from a spring. What will you do with it?
What would be the measure of God’s love for us if it was up to us to decide how much we should get? How much would you decide that you deserve? An ocean full, or a thimble full? And how often would you get it? On only your good days? How about on your bad days?
Before you answer that, please know that it doesn’t matter what you think. It is not up to you to determine your measure of God’s love. You can’t do a darn thing about it. Give it up! It is out of your hands. If your God needs you to help deal with you, may I say that not only is your God too small, but that it is not God at all. It might just be your mind trying to deceive.
What else does God’s love do for you? It redeems you. It is outrageous that our sins and transgressions are not held against us. And we do some pretty awful stuff, don’t we?
Redemption is a financial term. In ancient times, the redeemer was the designated family member who ‘bought back’ a person who was in jail, or in indentured servitude. So being redeemed begs the question, “What is your enslavement?” God’s love is always available to release you. You don’t have to be alienated from yourself, from your neighbor, from your God.
People, we must celebrate what God’s love does for us. We don’t have to comprehend it fully, but we must celebrate it. The book of Acts, chapter 17 says it all. Celebrate this loving God that “…gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” Acts 17:25. That is what God’s love does for you.
What you do with God’s love is a different matter, the other side of the coin. We have a symbol for this intersection where God’s love poured down meets God’s love poured out, it is called the Cross. The vertical piece of the Cross being the Incarnation; where God became human in the form of Jesus Christ. The horizontal piece is our piece. What we do with our lives by how we live the Gospel in reaching out to God’s people.
God’s extravagant and outrageous love will make you brave. God’s love is a fierce power. It draws you into Christ and adapts you to his purpose. When you open your heart to fully receive the love of God, you will look for ways to share this Good News. This will inevitably lead you into troubled waters. Be intentional when you step into this boat. A world awash in sin and misery will reject God’s love early and often. Be forewarned! But you must, we must, continue to offer it in every way we can.
The first sign of resistance is no time to turn back, it is not the time to leap from the boat, to bemoan your lack of faith or ask Jesus to prove himself to you.
If you wish to be brave, you must trust. Allow God’s love to overwhelm you like the ocean waves. Commit to Christ, you are redeemed!
People, most of our misery is self-imposed, not because we deserve it, but because we seek ‘safe passage.’ But Jesus calls us to live life and live it fully in his service.
If you want to follow Jesus, do as he says, get in the boat. He will meet you where the wind is howling and the darkness is thick. Take heart! And let God’s love in Jesus Christ fill it.