Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Go and Point Out the Fault When the Two of You are Alone...."

Matthew 18:15-20

I think I probably have these words memorized --- I've taught them so many times in various congregational contexts.

What Jesus offers here is an antidote to most any problem in most any congregation, work-place, family, neighborhood.  And while certainly not a 'quick fix,' it all boils to talking to one another instead of about each other.

And yet, we don't seem to get it.  I know I don't.

In fact, I offer a story now which makes me cringe to even remember it, much less put it out there for all the world to hear and judge. I am not proud of it.  And yet, if I'm honest, I know the part that makes it memorable and that stills fills me with such shame is the fact that I got caught.

I spare you the details now --- in part to protect the one who was offended in the story, but also because many of them escape me now.  Time has erased much of it except for the lesson I clearly so needed to learn.

I was at a church gathering.  There were many people present --- some I knew well, some were strangers, some I respected, and some I held at arm's length.

I was walking to the rest room with a friend and we were (or maybe it was just me) complaining about another member of the gathering.  I must have spoken her name out loud. I don't remember what I said, but I can still taste my frustration.  I'm also fairly certain there was a note of ridicule in my voice.

Restroom stalls, of course, have doors on them.  In my thoughtlessness and yes, my unintended cruelty, I did not check to be sure we were alone.  We were not.  My unkind words were overheard by the very one of whom I spoke.

This came to my attention an hour later when in a quiet corner this one confronted me with an eruption of tears and accusations.  All I could do was hang my head in my embarrassment. And say I was sorry.  And I surely was.

We all do it. It seems it is our fallback position to criticize and complain behind one another's' backs instead of to one another's faces. We all do it.  We don't always get caught. But caught or not, it always erodes our relationships --- always it tears at that which makes us one.

Indeed, I can't count the number of times I have stood in congregational circles which have been torn apart by conflict and without exception, this is always happening.  One such time in particular stands out.  There was one leader at the table who had been the 'kind' recipient of the complaining of many people in her congregation. She was a good listener and she loved them all and so she would turn no one away.

By the time I was invited into the conversation she was a huddled mess sitting at the corner of the four tables which had been pulled together for our meeting.  All I could say to her was she was the only one who could make it stop. She had to urge people back into conversation with one another instead of about one another.  She had to refuse to receive their complaints any more and she had to push people to do as Jesus tells us we must today.

Now often when I am among those for whom this has become a real problem, those gathered will say that it will make no difference if they try to do as Jesus says today, for so many others are so much more guilty and they didn't bother to show up for the workshop.  They may be exactly right, of course.  Often those who most need to be there probably are not. And yet.  I still believe that if even a handful of us would begin to do as Jesus did, the culture would begin to shift.  And so I say this to those who have come together. And then we practice it: how to talk to one another when we disagree, or are wounded, or are afraid.

Now I know that one of the things which frightens us about these words of Jesus is there is a progression to the confrontation.  First we are to go alone. Then we take a few others with us as witnesses. Then we take it to the 'church.'  And yes, we get ourselves all hung up on what it would mean to 'tell it to the church.'  And yet, if we were only to do the first one?  If only we were to confront the one who has hurt us when we are alone --- much of the time, we probably will have to go no further. 

A long time ago one did this for me.  She came to me when we were alone and let me know how badly I had hurt her.  She didn't have to do so.  She could have told a hundred other people.  By talking to me and letting me see her pain, she also allowed me the chance to ask her forgiveness so that in some small way we are still in relationship today.  By telling me to my face she served to remind me of who I am and who I am called to me.  And while I hate to remember it even now, I have always been and always will be grateful...
  • These words of Jesus are well known.  How have you seen them lived out --- at home, at work, at school, in your congregation?
  • I have always been comforted by the certainty that Jesus knew that we would have need for words such as these. Even in the church. Indeed, he anticipates that at one time or another we will hurt each other. At the same time, there is great promise and hope in these words.  Our hurting each other does not have to have the last word.  How about you?  Are these words a comfort to you or not?  Why or why not?
  • Most congregational cultures are marked and shaped by the opposite of what is offered here.  What can you do where you are to begin to change that?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Taking Up My Cross and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Matthew 16:21-28

Truthfully, I was not sure at first just how these actually fit together: this business of taking up our cross and going after Jesus and pouring a bucket of ice water on your head. 

What I did recognize in myself is that as more and more people I knew were posting videos on Facebook depicting their own ice water showers, I was finding myself wanting to cyber-duck so as to avoid being called upon to do the same.  For I knew when I was called out, I would have to do it.  There would be no turning it aside.

This is so even though I've pondered all the arguments against it, many of which 'don't hold water.'
Some argue against it saying it's a gimmick and that many who are doing it aren't actually giving to the cause.  The ALSA would counter that, pointing out that donations are up significantly as more and more people publicly speak the name of this dreaded disease out loud.
One Catholic Diocese is forbidding its schools to participate for a small segment of the organization's work goes into embryonic stem cell research.  OK.  I suppose I see their point if that's your position, but would you then just ignore the thousands who are suffering from this disease?  More than that, I'm told that you can designate your gift specifically so that it does not go against your faith values in this way.
And then there is the one where it is asserted that to dump the water over your head is like "sounding the trumpet before you in the synagogue..." reminding us that our 'alms' should be given in secret and God who sees in secret will reward us, quoting Matthew 6:3-4.  This one does raise an important caution, it seems to me, but it also goes to motive.  Something which is especially difficult to judge in another.  More than that, somehow the benefit of raising awareness about this disease outweighs this one, at least in my mind.
One argument which has given me pause is that in a world where people have to walk miles to get clean drinking water, how can we justify just dumping water on the ground? Indeed, this one hits especially close to home for the congregation I serve has worked hard to raise money to purchase water filtration systems for our Companion Synod in Tanzania. (Even so, I know that I've wasted a lot more water than this for reason at all, other than my own thoughtlessness...)
And yet, even with all of this?  If I'm honest, I didn't want to do it because it looked uncomfortable and more than that, undignified. (Not that anyone who knows me would probably use the word 'dignified'  to describe me.)  Either way, I was hoping no one would notice that I had not yet been challenged.  Of course, finally, I was.

Now, I can't say why for sure, but it was only after the challenge was issued to me that I found myself pausing in the memory of the only person I have ever personally known who had ALS.  It was mine to call on her when I was still a young pastor and if I'm honest, it was never an easy visit.

By the time I became her pastor, Shirley's disease was well advanced.  She lived alone with scheduled caregivers who would get her up in the morning, prepare her meals, and get her back into bed at night --- not to mention assisting her in all of her personal needs.  By the time I met her, her ability to communicate was minimal.  I simply could not understand her when she would try to speak.  Even so, whenever I entered her home through her unlocked back door and found her, always in her chair in her living room with the television blaring for noise, companionship, distraction, or perhaps entertainment, Shirley's eyes always smiled at me.  Still, sometimes I would ache for the time to pass so I could get on to the easier parts of my call.  There was only so much I could think of to say to fill the silence.  I had not yet learned that sitting quietly really could be enough.

I have watched dozens of these ice bucket challenges fulfilled over the last couple of weeks. Almost without exception when the cold water hits the one being 'dumped on,' he or she involuntarily jumps up from their sitting position.  The automatic 'flight' system kicks in.  It strikes me that there is a certain kind of fitting irony in this for one in the advanced stages of the ALS would in no way be able to get herself out of the way of an icy shower or anything else that threatens.

Now of course, a moment's discomfort doesn't begin to compare.  And my small donation and the donations of others who may see me do so, may not make nearly enough of a difference to those who suffer from ALS.  At the same time, I can't help but wonder at how many times I have not picked up even the tiny 'crosses' which lay in my path and taken off after Jesus because it didn't seem like enough, it wouldn't make enough of a difference, there were plenty of arguments against it, or it was just plain 'undignified.'  I wonder at that and I wonder if only I would have allowed myself to take just the first step, if I might not then have found myself taking yet another and another one after that, moving more fully into the life that Jesus intended for all who seek to follow him.

So as you can see above, this morning I took the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS Research.  I did so in memory of Shirley who taught me what this disease looks like and in hope for all those who will ever suffer from it, that healing might somehow be theirs.  I did so in front of my congregation after coffee hour on Sunday morning.  (If I'm going to look 'undignified' I might as well have an audience!)  I did so knowing that this very small thing is nowhere near enough, but also experiencing the truth that already it has opened my eyes and heart again to a kind of suffering I hadn't necessarily thought of much lately.  I expect I am changed in that and so then perhaps is my very life and maybe in some small way, so is the life of the world.

Indeed, there are usually countless arguments against taking up our crosses and following Jesus. Many of them good ones and occasionally they are ones which should be heeded.  Indeed, in my experience no earthly path, no human motive is ever entirely 'clean.'  Given this certainty, it is easy to become paralyzed and do nothing.  So maybe it does take something as shocking as a bucket of ice water over my head to get me moving again.  Or its equivalent metaphor in life itself. Maybe the call is to just get up and get moving and trust the rest to God. Or to force myself to stand still and let the ice cold water stream over my senses. What do you think?

  • I'm not challenging you with a bucket if ice water.  Most likely someone else will do that.  However, I would challenge all of us to give, if not to this cause then to another.  If you'd like to give a donation to ALSA, please follow this link: Donate to ALSA
  • I have used this example as a way to consider why it is that sometimes we don't 'pick up our crosses' to follow after Jesus.  Can you think of other excuses we might use?
  • Jesus reminds us that we only live by dying.  Again, a bucket of ice water is a paltry example, but it is something which may get us moving in the right direction.  Indeed, this 'viral experience' has me remembering the suffering of one I had not thought of in years and I find it turns me towards the suffering of others even now.  In a way that does deepen and enrich my living.  When have you also known this to be so?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Rock of Forgiveness: Binding and Loosing

Matthew 16:13-20

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, will be loosed in heaven."
I have always heard this piece of Matthew as being about forgiveness.  Indeed, while a vast majority of those who follow Jesus would say that the 'rock' that Jesus promises to build his church on was actually Peter, or that it is Peter's confession which all the rest is built in, as for me, I can't help but wonder if that foundation is actually forgiveness.

And taken that way, this is a little disconcerting to think about, isn't it?  That you and I who hear these words as also meant for us are given a gift to give away which has such eternal consequences? That our ability or willingness to forgive and yes, perhaps, to be forgiven, so shapes us that this shaping is indefinite in time and scope?  Oh yes, taken this way we understand that as God's people, this forgiveness is central to who we understand ourselves to be.  It holds a power little else does.  And it is ours.  Ours to receive.  Ours to give away. Or not.

Now I have to say that in some ways my sense is that you and I best recognize the power of forgiveness when it is absent.

I think, for instance, of the young woman who recently sat in my office. She and her fiancee look forward to their wedding day in the near future.  They are ready for this next step in their lives.  But the bride-to-be could not stop weeping for her younger sister refuses to forgive her.  She is afraid of how this will play out on her wedding day.  She is more afraid of the consequences for her future relationship with her only sister.
Or I think of the old man who claimed the podium at a funeral I officiated at a few years ago.  I did not know the family and so I did not see it coming.  As soon as I had spoken the final blessing, he stood up and said, 'Pastor, may I have a word.'  It wasn't really a question.  I stepped back.  He stepped forward. Next he demanded that his wife's brother and nephew come and join him before the crowd of those gathered.  He proceeded to announce to the room full of family and friends and neighbors that until her dying day his wife had fervently prayed that the two of them would forgive each other. She died with that yearning unanswered.  Then the old man turned to his brother-in-law and nephew and demanded that they forgive each other then and there.

I don't know if that forgiveness 'took.' I can't imagine it does when we are so publicly shamed into it. And yet I couldn't help but wonder at the parallel.  He was asking them to forgive each other for the sake of his wife who loved them both. We are asked to forgive, if for no other reason than for the sake of Jesus who loves us all.  Who tells us now that this gift we've been given to give and to receive is the foundation for all the rest. 

Or I think of the five year old member of my congregation.  Last spring we were learning the story of Joseph.  We got to the part where Joseph reconciles with his brothers and I asked this group of grade-schoolers why we forgive.  This little one raised his hand high in the air and when I spoke his name he said, "Because if we don't forgive, we will always be alone."

Apparently, he and his dad had shared this conversation just a few days before.  He was angry with a friend who had chosen to sit with someone else on the school bus that morning.  He went home and shared this hurt with his dad who told him, "If we don't forgive, we will always be alone."  Wow.  What a gift to have that understanding so early in life.

In these past years there has been a whole lot of research on the power and the importance of forgiveness.  Or the power of not forgiving. Just take a moment and 'google' forgiveness research: the headings alone will capture the gist of what has been learned.  Those who forgive live longer. They have healthier hearts.  Other ailments heal more quickly.  And these are just the physical effects of forgiving.  We already know our ability to forgive has profound effects on our emotional lives and on our relationships with one another. And this does not begin to address how old wounds un-forgiven play out in communities or between nations.

Now I am no expert at this.  While I do not experience deep ongoing brokenness between and among those most important to me in my life, I certainly have my share of long held resentments which I have never let go.

I think, for instance, of my seventh grade tormentor. Today we are certainly not friends in real life nor are we 'friends' on Facebook. We lost track of each other sometime not long after 8th grade graduation.  However, her name and profile picture will show up from time to time on social media for we have mutual friends.  Once not long ago I went to her page and was able to see there the shape of her life: husband and children and grandchildren.  Her profile picture has her riding a motorcycle.  She likes country music.  From what I can tell she doesn't live too far away, but I haven't laid eyes on her in more than 35 years.  And yet the sound of her name, her smiling for an unseen photographer still stirs me up.  I have not forgiven.

Or I think of a congregational anniversary dinner I attended a while back. The church I grew up in was celebrating 50 years. In my formative years the congregation was rife with conflict.  We left there when I was still young when those resentments and hurts were still raw.  I discovered at this dinner that they still are --- for when the pastor who was at the center of the conflict stood to speak, I found myself tensing up.  I did all I could to avoid bumping into him or his wife in that banquet hall.  I expect they did the same in turn, for it turned out there was no need for an awkward exchange.  I drove home knowing that I have not forgiven.

Now neither of these examples would seem to impact my day to day life.  I could go the rest of my life and not see any of these people ever again. Even so?  The fact that I have not forgiven does not seem to be an issue for them.  It is for me though.  They have not let me go because I have not let go.  And I wonder now if my inability to 'forgive' an old bully shapes how I face bullies still.  If I just avoid them instead of going after them.  And I wonder if my unwillingness to forgive an old pastor shapes how I pastor now.  If those old hurts impact my ministry in ways less than helpful in the congregation I now am called to serve. 

Lately, I can't get this song out of my head.  Titled simply, "Forgive," it is sung by Sara Renner. (You can get it on ITunes.)  I heard it first this last spring at a conference.  The repeating refrain is, "If you wanna live, forgive."  This week I sent a note to Sara telling her I hadn't been able to track down the sheet music online and wondering if it was available.  She immediately sent me the lead sheet.  I wrote back to thank her and to ask about copyright.  She said they were working on that, but in the meantime to use it, sing it, spread the word. The world needs it.

Indeed, the world needs it.  I need it.  You need it.  And according to today's Gospel lesson, my wholeheartedly embracing it and living it has eternal consequences.  Consequences which begin in the very next moment of our life together.

Even as I know and believe this, I am deeply aware of how far I fall short. And so for now I'm hoping that my tendency to not forgive is outmatched by Jesus' willingness to forgive. As I know and trust it certainly is. For as Peter proclaims so clearly in those moments before he is given this awesome gift and responsibility: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God."  This being so, perhaps what I do or do not do is not so central.  And yet even at that, this power of binding and loosing is still given to us. Even at that, this binding and loosing we are given to do has profound consequences. 

And so I am given pause today to realize once more how much it matters now:  this matter of forgiveness.  It is central to all that we are and hope to be.  It is the very foundation on which we are built, the rock on which we stand.  And so this much I know for sure: no matter what happens in heaven, it certainly matters now.
  • What 'camp' do you find yourself in?  Do you hear the 'rock' as being Peter, Peter's Confession, or the Power of Binding and Loosing which has been granted us?
  • What does it mean to you to 'bind or to loose?'  What does it mean that this may have eternal consequences?
  • If to 'bind or to loose' is actually about forgiveness --- as I believe it is --- how have you experienced it in your life and ministry?  How is life itself tied to forgiveness even now?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Mother's Cry

Matthew 15:21-28

"Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David, my daughter is tormented by a demon."

Now I know that you all know this.  Mental illness carries all kinds of stigma today.

I have known this since I was a child and we experienced it in our own family. Back then it was something whose name you whispered.  I'm not sure it is so very different now.  When I was young during that time during the prayers of the church where we stood in silence and remembered people in need, I would close my eyes shut tight and silently plead for Aunt Donna's healing.

It didn't come.

And now we go to visit and we find a woman who has somehow 'survived' but whose life and world is narrow.  Over-medicated when she was younger and suffering who knows what sorts of abuse or neglect in all sorts of ways and places, she can still be delusional.  Indeed, her daily treats of Pepsi and cigarettes may be her only joy.  And yet, she scrawls across the pages of composition books her prayers... raising her own voice in the only way she seems able in behalf of family members and neighbors and friends --- many of whom have long since died.  Along with the occasional prayer for a favorite food --- or beer.  Something she has not enjoyed in a very long time.

It is a terrible thing to witness.  It is all the worse when it is someone you have loved.  Indeed, although it happened half my lifetime ago, I remember like it was yesterday sitting in my folks' living room listening to my own mother's utterly anguished cry as we tried to digest the news of my young cousin's death by his own hand.  He had the same debilitating illness his mother had. We had no words.

It is surely heartbreaking.

And for all the time and effort and resources poured into it, we don't understand it still.  The brain is complex and multi-faceted, and while it can be miraculous in its healing powers, it is also marked by such mystery that healing too often eludes us.

And if we don't understand it now, imagine how it must have been in the time of Jesus.  It made perfect sense to attribute this daughter's torment to a demon.  For this is how it must have seemed --- as though some outside force was taking over and making her life and the lives of all those around her, simply miserable.  And if it's bad today, just imagine what that daughter's prospects were then.  It is unimaginable, really.

So it is no wonder that the Canaanite woman in this story would go to any means necessary to secure her daughter help.  She risked ridicule and rejection --- speaking out in a time and place when women certainly did not do so.  Indeed, she would go anywhere, approach anyone --- even Jesus who was not part of her own tradition or culture -- she raised her voice to high heaven to get the attention of the one who, in 'casting aside a few crumbs,' might fulfill the hope she hardly dared hope.  For her daughter's sake and for the sake of everyone who ever loved her.

Now I know there is a great deal to stand still in as we read the story before us now:

We wonder how Jesus could have ignored her at first.  Even if he had wanted to, it had to be hard to shut her out. For this is the cry of a desperate woman.  In fact, we hear that both the narrator and the disciples described her as 'shouting.'

We wonder at Jesus' initial response --- even while we understand that he had understood his mission differently: that it did not, at first, include such as her.

We wonder at her brilliance.  It is a rare thing to 'win' a theological argument with Jesus and this one: a woman, an outsider, and one whose life was as hard as it could be --- does so.

We wonder at the faith that is already working within her.  Even though she is a Gentile, somehow she sees Jesus as having come for her as well.

And we wonder at her persistence.  And yet, we don't.  For it is surely no surprise to anyone who has ever loved and lived through what she has lived through, that she would dig down deep for what she needed and risk it all for the sake of that love.

I don't know exactly how I will approach this when I preach it.  But this is what keeps coming to mind.  This is one of those remarkable instances where the woman in the story reminds me a lot of God.  And if not actually God, then certainly one created in God's image:  Her willingness to risk it all --- to go to any means necessary for the sake of her suffering child. It does sound an awful lot like what God did for us in Jesus, don't you think?  And I find myself wondering if we all did this, wouldn't the world look a whole lot different than it does?  Even when it comes to the fates of those suffering from mental illness...

I get glimmers of this from time to time:

I listen, for instance, to the woman who lost her son to a heroin overdose. She raised her voice continually while he was still alive. And the day after she found him dead, she was vowing to make his death mean something -- to do what she could to keep another family from suffering as they were. And she has devoted every day since to reaching out to other mothers who find themselves where she was.

I think of another mother who is weeping over her son's battle to another addiction... and her pleading with me to help find him some help.

Oh, yes I find myself thinking now of all those I know who suffer because of this sort of illness of a loved one and who don't speak or only dare to whisper it aloud because of their fear of our misunderstanding, our judgment:  eating disorders and addictions, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, or just a deep, deep sadness that has the world closing in and renders it impossible, even, to get out of bed in the morning.  The stories are countless and from what I can tell, touch most if not all of our families and I find, even now, that I am compelled to raise my own voice of pleading for forgiveness for my own too-long silence and wisdom to find a new way.  Because if this week's Gospel means anything, it tells us that even the 'leftover crumbs' of what Jesus offered would be enough to change everything.  And these are mine to give and to share.  These are ours to share with those who suffer so. 

And it all started with a mother's willingness not only to speak, but to shout.  For the sake of love.  Oh yes, I do wonder what would happen if we all were to do this.  Maybe at least these 'demons' would come out of the shadows and become something we can better address as communities of those who follow Jesus.  And I expect if that were so, almost anything would be possible, don't you? 
  • It is clear that I see this story as being about Jesus' responding to mental illness.  While this may not have been the case, it surely seems to speak today.  What do you think?
  • What is your own experience with mental illness or disorders or addiction?  How is that like being 'tormented by a demon?'  How does this mother's encounter with Jesus speak to your own experience?
  • What do you make of Jesus' initial response to the woman?  How does that square with your understanding of who Jesus was and is?
  • I know I am probably venturing into new territory when I compare this woman to God.  What do you think? Does that comparison work?  Why or why not?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Walking on Water

Matthew 14:22-33

I have survived some storms, of course.

I know you have as well.

I've weathered the sort of storms that inevitably come with living and I've watched the other kinds of storms roll in as well. The sort the disciples find themselves in the midst of in this week's Gospel lesson.

It was August of 1991.  I was on Cape Cod with my sister, Martha, and my folks.  Martha and I had left them with our Aunt Elsie in Sandwich and we had driven to the end of the cape to Provincetown for a couple of days.

This was on the front edge of 24/7 cable news.  We knew nothing of the Weather Channel yet and frankly, even if we had, we weren't paying attention.  I well remember standing at a pay phone talking to a friend back in Illinois who had been watching the news, however.  I remember distinctly the urgency in her voice when she told me a storm was coming.

So we quickly packed our bags and with thousands of other late summer vacationers we headed up
cape.  Even as we attempted to drive out of the way of Hurricane Bob, however, it was evident that others were traveling in the opposite direction.  The next morning's paper showed some of those daredevils who ignored all the warnings and were photographed standing at the end of the pier at the end of the Cape with their arms outstretched, seemingly daring the force of the storm to take them down.

I didn't get it then.  I still don't.  And for that matter, I really don't 'get' Peter in today's Gospel reading.  I mean, who thinks they can walk on water?  We mere mortals are simply not made to walk on water.  We are bound by gravity and weight and natural forces of all sorts.

In fact, I learned this the hard way this summer.

I had climbed a ladder to clear out a clogged gutter.  It had to be done.  There was some urgency to the matter.  I was the only one to do it and so I leaned the extension ladder against the house and climbed up.

I was actually only a few feet off the ground when the ladder gave way.  Apparently it was not securely latched.  It clattered to the ground. So did I.  And I was fortunate to walk away with only some deep bruises. Only nearly two months later?  Those bruises --- the ones you can't see --- are still healing.

This is what it is to be human.  We who are flesh and blood and bone?  We can't fly without jet fuel and we can't float standing up.

So this, perhaps, is why I have struggled so hard with this so very familiar story this week.  For you see, I just can't quite believe that you and I are ever meant to walk on water.  At least not in this way.

And I'm not certain Peter was either.  In fact, notice with me that he seems to almost be testing Jesus when he says, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."  Not unlike those daredevils who were tempting that hurricane so many years ago now.  Indeed, I can't help but wonder if Jesus wasn't smiling to himself as he told Peter to come on ahead.  Jesus had to have known that the storm swirling around Peter would eventually command his attention and that he would succumb to what one would have expected to have happened as soon as Peter's feet hit the waves. It is only normal to be frightened in the face of such a storm.  It's only human.   And human Peter surely was. But even more than that, of course: humans aren't made to walk on water.

Indeed, so far as I can recall, never again in scripture do we hear about the followers of Jesus trying such a stunt.  No, they reserved their 'walking on water' for baptizing the searching and teaching the curious and preaching to the crowds and healing the sick.  Any and all of those would seem to be just as miraculous --- although not in as self serving a way as Peter somehow strikes me today.

Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe we who follow Jesus are meant to walk on water as Jesus did.  Or maybe, at least, it's not a bad thing to try. As long as we remember when we sink to reach out in gratitude and joy to the one who with a hand can lift us up again.  Perhaps attempting to walk on water isn't so bad --- particularly if in doing so we take home the certainty that we, in fact, are not Jesus.

Indeed.  It's not as though we who follow Jesus aren't called to and aren't enabled to do amazing things.  Only never for ourselves alone.  In fact, I can't help but wonder if it wouldn't be a whole lot like 'walking on water' if we simply acknowledged our fears and stepped into them anyway.  As Peter must have. I wonder if it wouldn't be a lot like 'walking on water' if we could just step past our differences and love in spite of all that would separate us.  I wonder if we wouldn't just be 'walking on water' if we gave up even a small part of our lives for another --- then emulating even so briefly --- what Jesus did for us all. 

I don't even do those things so well a whole lot of the time.  Which is why, when I do try and find myself sinking, I am grateful for the gentle scolding voice of Jesus as he grasps my hand and lifts me up and shakes his head at me.  Much as he did with Peter on that stormy sea so long ago.

  • What do you think?  Are we meant to 'walk on water?'  If so, just what does that mean to you?
  • What do you think went through Peter's mind as he took those first steps on water?  What do you think he felt when he sank and was quickly rescued by Jesus' hand?
  • How does this story speak in the world today?  How does it speak to you in your walk of faith?