If You Want to Walk on Water, You Gotta Get Out of the Boat!

Matthew 14:22-33

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you and call us to action, our Creator and Sustainer.

In today’s gospel of Matthew it was pointed out that the wind was very strong and the waves were very high, but Peter did not notice them at first. In his excitement at recognizing his Lord he stepped out of the boat and walked on the water. When he realized what he was actually doing and he instantly sank. Glub! Glub!

Did Peter sink because he didn’t have enough faith as Jesus accused him when he said

‘oh, ye of little faith’? (Matthew 14:31)

I don’t think so.

The first thing I think is important to clear up is that, at least to me, “faith” or “belief” doesn’t mean belief in an expected outcome, but rather trust in another person. Believing in Jesus does not mean believing that we’ll be “successful” (however we define that!) in whatever it is that Jesus is calling us to do. Nor does having faith IN Jesus imply blithely signing off on a list of statements ABOUT Jesus, His teachings, His examples, and His call to us. Having faith in Jesus means a willingness to follow Jesus. To have faith isn’t an activity of the brain so much as a feeling of the heart. In other words, faith is about doing. A faithful person eventually gets to the point where they can say to God, “I don’t know where you’re going, but I know that wherever it is, I’d rather be drowning with you than anywhere else.” In my own life, that kind of trust in Jesus comes from knowing Jesus. The kind of trust I have in Jesus has come as I’ve experienced Jesus’ generosity and mercy. That process of building confidence, of getting to know Jesus so deeply that I can trust Jesus, is part of what I call the “journey of faith”.

When I say that faith is ‘doing’, what I mean is that I believe faith begins with action, with taking a step, with taking a risk. The best intentions in the world don’t do much without action, but taking that step, even with mixed or unclear intentions, or sometimes great fear, just might give you the experience of meeting God on the road, in a dark valley, or at sea.

So, if you want to walk on water, you gotta get out of the boat!.

But there is a lot of risk in doing so.

Water Walkers Will Face Storms
When you are serving God, and trying to be obedient to Christ, you will have to face storms of trials and difficulties. Even as you sit here today, you may be going through a personal storm. And in almost every instance, it is hard to see God’s hand and love as you weather those storms. Maybe it’s financial problems, or problems in a relationship; you might be having family problems, or problems at your job or school. We all have storms in our lives. Anyone who tells you that leading a true Christian life is smooth sailing – that life is easy or your worries disappear – doesn’t understand what the Bible teaches about serving the Lord. 2 Timothy 3:12 says,

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Remember, the disciples were in a storm because they were trying to be obedient to Jesus. Matthew 14:22 says

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side.

And they did, or at least they tried to. And many hours later they hadn’t made much progress. So, remember, obedient water walkers will face storms.

Water Walkers Recognize God’s Presence
Jesus wanted to be alone to pray, so He sent the disciples ahead without him. To them it was no big deal – they used boats for fishing on a daily basis. But this huge storm blew in – bigger than most storms. Matthew says that the boat was battered by the waves (Matthew 14:24). The storm was so violent that the disciples could barely keep the boat upright.

I can imagine that they wished the sides of the boat were a little higher and the wood a little thicker. Deep in the night, the storm was getting really bad. I can imagine that at that point they weren’t worried about making it to the other side – they just wanted to stay alive. The disciples were in great fear and deep distress. It is about this time that Jesus decided to come toward them.

It’s interesting – Jesus wasn’t in a boat and the disciples didn’t recognize him. The disciples were convinced he was a ghost, so they were terrified and cried out in fear. But Matthew wanted us to know that sometimes it is only with the eyes of faith that we can fully recognize when Jesus is present.

Often, our own lives are tormented by waves of disappointment and doubt. And we are usually no better at recognizing His presence than the disciples were.

What was Jesus up to, walking around on the sea in the middle of a stormy night?

He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them. Yet when Jesus came to the disciples on the water, he was not just doing a neat magic trick. He was revealing His divine presence and power.

It is interesting that the disciples took the boat out in the first place at Jesus’ command. They would have to learn, as we all do, that obedience is no guarantee of being spared adversity. But as the storm gained their full attention, Jesus decided that it was time for the disciples to get to know a little bit more about the one who was really piloting this storm.

Basically, Jesus wanted them to be able to also trust Him in the storms. The problem was “they just didn’t get it.

God was visiting them while walking on the water but they didn’t see it; for us, Jesus often comes when least expected – in the middle of a storm. I believe that extreme stress can be a frequent meeting place with God. These are those divinely-appointed defining moments that come into all of our lives. And, if you’re not looking for Him, if you cannot acknowledge that He can be there in the storm, you might just miss Him.

Twelve disciples sat in the boat; we don’t know how the other eleven responded to Jesus’ voice. Were they confused?

Did they respond with wonder?

Disbelief?

Or perhaps a little of each! But one of them, Peter, was about to become a water walker. He recognized that God was present – even in the most unlikely place, and he rushed to meet his Lord, oblivious to the risk – never questioning that Jesus was walking on water, only realizing that He was there.

Water Walkers Know the Difference Between Faith and Foolishness
Peter blurted out to Jesus,

“if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28)

Why doesn’t Peter just plunge into the water? This is not just a story about risk taking; it is also a story about obedience. That means we will have to determine an authentic call from God and what might simply be a foolish impulse on our part. Courage alone is not enough; it must be accompanied by wisdom and discernment. This is not a story about extreme actions; it’s about extreme discipleship! This means that before Peter gets out of the boat – he had better make sure Jesus thinks it’s a good idea. So, he asks for clarity,

“if it is you, command me…” (Matthew 14:28)

Peter had enough faith to believe that he too could share in the eternal mystery and power of the Savior of mankind. That if Jesus commanded him to do something, no matter how difficult or extreme, he could do it.

Water walkers will face storms; water walkers recognize God’s presence; water walkers acknowledge the difference between faith and foolishness.

Water Walkers MUST Get Out of the Boat
Put yourself in this story; picture in your mind how violent the storm must have been. It was strong enough to keep seasoned professional fishermen struggling just to avoid being capsized. Imagine the size of the waves, the strength of the wind, the darkness of this night. These were the conditions under which Peter was going to get out of the boat. It would be tough enough to try to walk on water when the water is calm, the sun is bright, and the air is still. Imagine trying to do it when the waves are crashing, the wind is at gale force, it’s pitch black and you are terrified!

Put yourself in Peter’s place for a moment. You have a sudden insight into what Jesus is doing. Jesus is inviting you to go on the adventure of your life. But at the same time, you’re scared to death. What would you choose – the water or the boat? The boat is safe, more secure, and certainly more comfortable. The water is rough and the waves are high, the wind is strong; there’s a storm out there. And if you get out of the boat – whatever your boat happens to be – there’s a good chance you might sink! But if you don’t get out of the boat there’s a guaranteed certainty that you will never walk on the water. If you want to walk on water – you gotta get out of the boat. I believe there is something – some voice inside us – that assures us there is more to life than sitting in the boat.

You and I were made for something more than merely avoiding failure. There’s something inside us that wants us to walk on the water – to leave the comfort of mere existence and abandon ourselves to the higher adventure of following God. So, let me ask you a very important question:

What is your boat?

  • your boat is whatever represents safety and security to you apart from God himself;
  • your boat is whatever you are tempted to cling to, especially when life gets a little stormy;
  • your boat is whatever keeps you so comfortable that you don’t want to give it up, even if it’s keeping you from joining Jesus in a miraculous and transforming journey;
  • your boat is whatever pulls you away from the high adventure of extreme discipleship.

Do you want to know what your boat is?  

Your fear will tell you. Just ask yourself this: what is it that most produces fear in me?

Fear of failure or loss of dignity?

Fear of judgment or making a mistake?

Fear or being seen as a fool or fanatic?

In what area(s) of your life are you shrinking back from fully and courageously trusting God? Fear will tell you what your boat is. Leaving it may be the hardest thing you will ever do. But if you want to walk on the water, you gotta get out of the boat!

Remember: Water walkers will face storms; water walkers recognize God’s presence; water walkers know the difference between faith and foolishness; water walkers get out of the boat.

Water Walkers Face Their Fears to Grow
So, Peter goes to the side of the boat. The other disciples are watching closely. They wonder how far he will take this thing. One can imagine he put one foot over the side, carefully gripping the edge of the boat. Then he put the other foot over the boat; he’s holding on for dear life.

For a while it’s as if Peter and Jesus are present on the water. Peter is beaming with delight. Jesus is thrilled with his student – like master, like disciple. Then it happens – Peter saw and felt the wind. Reality set in, and Peter surely asked himself, “what was I thinking?” He realized he was standing on the water in the middle of a storm with no boat beneath him – and he was terrified!

Nothing had really changed. The storm shouldn’t have been a surprise – it had been there all along. What really had taken place was that Peter’s focus had shifted from Jesus to the storm.

We are all the same. We start something filled with hope, then reality sets in. Setbacks. . . Opposition. . . . Unexpected obstacles. We see and feel the wind.

It should be expected. The world’s a pretty stormy place. But somehow trouble still has the power to catch us by surprise. Because of the wind.  some people decide to never leave the boat. If you get out of the boat, you will face the wind and the storms out there. But you should know there is no guarantee that life in the boat is going to be any safer, it is just more limited, finite, full of fear and doubt.

Peter faced a choice, as we all do. The choice to follow Jesus – the choice to grow –  the choice to overcome fear. You’ve gotta get out of the boat a little every day! Here’s a deep truth about water walking: the fear never goes away, it is always lurking there.

Why? Because each time you want to grow, it will involve going into new territory, taking on new challenges. And each time you do that, you will experience fear again. As you see in this story… you will always have choices…

risk vs. security

exhilaration vs. comfort.

Yet, every time you get out of the boat, you become a little more likely to get out the next time. It’s not that the fear goes away, but that you get used to dealing with fear. And each time fear loses its power to destroy you. On the other hand, every time you resist that voice, every time you choose to stay in the boat rather than heed its call, the voice gets a little quieter and further away.

Then, at last you may not hear its call at all.

Water Walkers Master Failure
As a result of seeing the wind and giving in to fear, Peter began to sink into the water. So here is the question: Did Peter fail? Before I offer you an answer, let me make an observation about failure.

Failure is not an event, but rather a judgment about an event. Failure is not something that happens to us, or a label we attach to things. It is a way we think about outcomes.

Did you know that:

  • Before Jonas Salk developed a vaccine for polio that finally worked, he tried 200 unsuccessful times.
  • When Thomas Edison was branded a failure in his attempts to create a light bulb he said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Before James Dyson invented the perfect vacuum cleaner he went through 5,127 prototypes.

So… did Peter fail? Probably.

He took his eyes off the Lord and sank. But I think there were eleven greater failures sitting in the boat. At least Peter got out of the boat and into the water and walked toward Jesus – and even for a short time he DID walk on the water.

Peter did not fail because he got out of the boat. The saddest failure is to never get out of the boat! Water walkers see failure as an opportunity to grow. As soon as Peter asks for help, Jesus was there.

“Lord… save me.” (Matthew 14:30)

Jesus helped him physically by pulling him out of the water. But he also helped Peter grow by identifying his problem:

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

I don’t think Jesus was being harsh or critical here. Jesus made this comment to Peter while they were still out on the water alone. Jesus didn’t embarrass him in front of his fellow disciples. The problem was clear: whether Peter sank into or walked on the water depended on whether he focused on the storm or on Jesus. Whether he focused on his own limitations and doubts or believed that Jesus would help him overcome these limitation and doubts.

It was Peter’s willingness to risk failure that helped him to grow. Failure is an indispensable, irreplaceable part of learning and growth. Failure doesn’t shape you; the way you respond to failure shapes you.

Jesus is still looking for people who will get out of the boat.

So, why should you risk it?

  • it is the only way to real growth
  • it is the way true faith develops
  • it is part of discovering your reason for being and answering your own calling.

I believe that there are many good reasons to get out of the boat. But there is one that stands above them all. . .

the water is where Jesus is.

Jesus is not in the boat!

The water may be dark, wet, and dangerous. But remember, Jesus is not in the boat.

Peter’s request was,

“Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you.” Then Peter got out of the boat and came toward Jesus. (Matthew 14:28)

Because Peter did this – got out of the boat – he came to a deeper understanding of His Master than ever before.

So, how about you? When was the last time you got out of the boat?

The call to get out of the boat involves discomfort, often disappointment, perhaps some failure, fear and sometimes suffering. It is always a call for a task too big for us. But there is no other way to grow closer to God!

We saw the underbelly of American the last two days in Charlottesville, Virginia. People who now feel that they have ‘permission’, even support from people in the government, to spew their hatred and bigotry and racism openly and violently. We saw armed militias carrying Confederate flags marching in goosesteps, white supremacists shouting angry slogans, members of the KKK no longer hiding under bedsheets, but openly proclaiming their part in the election of the president and their right to return America to a white, Christian nation. Hatred consumed these people; something that is NOT a Christian value.

And most tragic of all, we saw a young person from Maumee, Ohio, deliberately drove his car into a group of peaceful counter-protestors, killing at least one innocent bystander just trying to cross the street, and injuring scores of others, some who may still succumb to their injuries. This kind of hatred and violence does not only happen ‘somewhere else’, but right here in our state and our communities. We need to stand against this.

But we also saw a group of people of faith joined together (Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists and others) singing This little light of mine in love and fellowship to counter the vitriolic chants of the ultra-conservative Alt-Right, Neo-Nazis, KKK, nationalists, white supremacy, armed militia, and people angry because Charlottesville wants to remove a statue of Robert E Lee from a park called ‘Emancipation Park’.

Most of us cannot make any sense or see any justifiable reason for the actions of those who chose to create discord and spew bigotry and hatred and xenophobia. But, those people of faith chose to take the risk, get out there, arms joined together in solidarity, and do what was right.  They chose to get out of the boat! – to risk life and limb to present to the world what the love and teachings of Jesus really are.

They got out of the boat!

So where are you this morning?

  • Huddled in the boat with a life jacket and your seat belt on?
  • One leg in, one leg out?
  • Out of the boat, but fearful, still clinging to the edge?
  • Or looking with faith into the eyes of Jesus and walking on water?

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, help us to walk with you wherever this life may take us. Help us to recognize whatever it is that:

Helps us to seek you,

Helps us to trust you,

Helps us to obey your teachings.

Help us to face our fears and trust whatever the storms of life may be, You are there, guiding and redeeming us. Be with those who have died and are injured physically and emotionally from this horrid incident in Charlottesville. Wrap your loving arms around them and the rest of the nation, reminding us that

The greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13)

And give us the strength to get out of the boat.

Amen.

 

Delivered at Saint John’s Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 13 August 2017

Listen to Your Mountaintop!

Luke 9:28-36

Even as a child, I loved to watch clouds – as they moved, changed shapes and colors – they fascinated me. If you follow my Facebook page, you know I am frequently posting hundreds or maybe even a thousand pictures of sunrises and sunsets and the formation of clouds that surround them. Some people have even accused me of being obsessed with clouds. When I was a little girl, my friends and I would lie in the grass and analyze cloud shapes – a horse? a boat? a dragon? a face? The interesting thing was that rarely did any two of us see the same thing – different experiences conjured up different impression in our minds.

As in so many passages in the Bible, we read about the Transfiguration of Jesus told in a language we can only accept as a metaphor.

In this modern world, we do not expect, or even look for, a literal appearance of God on mountaintops, . . . in clouds, . . . in mystical or supernatural appearances, . . . or actually talking to us today. But that is exactly what our gospel reading is about

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)

The ancient Biblical writers often used clouds when they depicted important occasions when God was dealing with his people. We can recall:

  • When the Israelites fled from Egypt, a pillar of cloud led them by day.
  • When Moses climbed up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God, a cloud descended upon the mountain, obscuring it. The people looked up, and they could no longer see Moses.
  • When God instructed the Israelites to construct a portable tabernacle, God filled the tent with his Presence in the form of a cloud.
  • And, later, when Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, once again a cloud filled the sanctuary.

So, in our Scripture reading, when the cloud descended over the mountaintop with Jesus, Peter, John and James…

we shouldn’t be surprised.

The scripture writers, once again, were depicting a time when the Presence of God was enveloping them, as the Presence of God has done time and time again to His faithful people.

It is this Biblical account of Jesus’ transfiguration occurring on a mountaintop – as well as the experience of Moses at Mount Sinai in the Hebrew Bible, that has given rise to the commonly used term ‘mountaintop experience’ – a moment of such intense joy and beauty in one’s life that we are somehow changed – and never forget it.

To depict God, appearing as a cloud, says something important about God. Clouds are not crystal clear, but rather dense and opaque. But, also within clouds is brilliant light, reflecting from and off the clouds. That is a great mystery; how can something opaque and dense put forth brilliant light.

So, perhaps then, it is fitting that clouds are used to remind us of the mystery of God – the lack of clarity and precision, the sense of wonder and transformation.

In our world we want to know things. We want Google at our fingertips to tell us everything about anything, and we want Facebook to instantly tell us everything else—like what our friends had for dinner, or how mom’s cruise is going. We humans have a hunger and thirst for knowledge; we have always been curious and wanted answers, the facts. And, as technology has advanced through the millennia, we want more and more knowledge, provable tangible facts within our grasp immediately and at all times.

And, as Christians, we are no different in our quest for answers about our relationship with God. We want to know specifics about God, and our relationship with him. Moreover, we want to know why we are here, what is the meaning of life, where is God, and where will we be after death  –  none of this ‘now we see through a glass darkly’, or in a cloud. We want to know how this story, or that proverb, or this anecdote applies to our life. What it really means. And, we want to know right now, on demand. We don’t want to wait!

So, what really did happen to Jesus and Peter and James and John on that mountaintop? How could we understand what this biblical story means for us? Can we be transfigured on a mountaintop? Or do life-changing moments of mystery and wonder not happen today? Does God no longer ‘speak’ to us?

Life is full of mountaintop experiences. They are the times when we find healing, or unexpected love, when we suddenly have an ‘aha’ moment and clearly know the answer to a problem or important life decision.

Sometimes mountaintop experiences are visions of the intense beauty of nature: the Grand Canyon, the Redwood forests, the Rocky Mountains, a field of sunflowers.

For many mountaintop experiences are inspired by music, art, poetry, . . .or perhaps gathered with others around a campfire, . . .or in an energized and inspiring worship service. Almost always, words cannot express or explain these moments – they are ‘of the spirit’ and involve deep feeling and an ‘inner-knowing’ that is, in fact, more real and true to us than anything we can find on Wikipedia.

It’s tempting to want our life’s journey to be made up of only mountaintop experiences. Then we might bypass the chaos, the challenges, and the struggles. In our mountaintop moments, something inside us cries out, “it is good for us to be here. Let’s just bask in the glory of this place.”

But it’s also true that life – especially if one is a Christian– continually calls us down from those breath-taking moments, down from the mountaintop, and out into the world. We inevitably must descend from our moments of profound glory, celebration, clarity and joy, into the valleys of this world where life is messy, confusing, challenging, and inhospitable.

To follow the teachings of Jesus in a relationship with the Creator isn’t easy. God isn’t composed of a series of facts; the Creator of life is a series of mysteries and questions we can’t easily or quickly understand. God’s Presence is enveloped in mystery. In fact, coming into God’s Presence is like entering a thick cloud where definition is not always precise, but it is there -where answers are not linear and logical, but they are there – and in that cloudy presence, that mountaintop experience we are transfigured – changed for the better, enlightened for a time, aware at the core of our being that there is Order, Reason, Mercy and Love at the heart of everything.

Our encounter with God in mountaintop moments changes our lives. Changes how we look at the world by making us very more aware of how we are to live and what God is calling us to do in the world. It is in these mountaintop experiences that we learn the most, are often brought to uncontrollable tears, inexplicably changed even though there is no way we can explain it to anyone. And in most cases, we don’t totally understand it ourselves.

Encountering God, whether on the mountaintop OR at your kitchen table, leaves you with a sense of awe and joy – often something that you can’t even explain. But you know you have somehow been changed. And you will never the be same ever again. That you have a feeling of being surrounded with love and joy. For at least a time, you suddenly understand what is not understandable.

Moses came down from that clouded mountain with a radiant face—forever changed. Jesus was changed on that mountain – enveloped in the love and light of God, given the highest blessing anyone could ever receive from His Father.

Peter, James, and John were changed on that mountain—forever. And, not because they learned lots of facts. In reality, they probably descended with more questions than answers. But they saw Jesus changed and heard God’s voice. They didn’t know why, but they knew that they would never be the same again.

For like Moses, they met the Presence of the Living God. And, that’s what changed them and what changes us. That’s what alters the course of our lives. And, as Christians, that’s what we’re all about: seeking God’s Presence, experiencing an epiphany, an enlightenment, an awakening.

We try to move too fast in the world today. We want what we want, when we want it. Right now! We want it handed to us on a silver platter, all wrapped up in an explanation. We want no uncertainty; no fogginess; nothing that we have to think about.

But meeting God doesn’t work that way. It is in the time and way of the eternal Creator that we learn and find answers. Our task – our challenge – is to stay open to experiencing the mountaintops, to hearing the voice, to receiving the answers, to following the directions.

It isn’t an accident that Mathew, Mark, and Luke, the three gospel-writers who mention the Transfiguration, infuse the story with foreshadowing of Jesus’ death. In our scripture reading for this morning we are told that Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about “his departure”, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. “Departure” here is another word for death. We are meant to understand that the distance between the mountaintop and the cross is not so great, and that Jesus’ followers should never lose sight of either one of them. In our mountaintop moments we must recognize the sacrifices that we are called to make, just as Jesus did. In our lowly moments of despair we are to remember God’s sovereignty reigns over all things – that indeed “all will be well”, despite the pain and loss and struggle. The mountaintop cannot be separated from the cross. In the struggles also lies the glory.

In the end, the test of any mountaintop experience is what happens back at ground level. Whatever mountaintop experiences we have individually, or as a member of the Body of Christ, what we do with these experiences here on earth in our daily lives is really what matters. Our transfigurations must

change us for the better in the way we live and the work we do. . .

enlighten and sustain us . . .

and motivate us to follow Jesus in every aspect of our lives.

As transfigured children of God, we must heed God’s voice

This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him! (Luke 9:35)

So, in my obsession with clouds, maybe that is my mountaintop experience – seeing and hearing God in the opaqueness and light of those clouds over Columbus.

What and where are your mountaintop experiences?

I only know that we must stay open – through prayer, meditation and calm reflection through shared study and service – to be willing to walk into the cloudy mist and seek the Presence of God. And then go forth to work for the transfiguration of the world into a world of beauty and holiness, of joy, and of love.

Amen.

 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 6 August 2017

 

And It Was Good . . . But Not So Much Any More!

God created the heavens and the earth and everything on it – and it was good (Genesis 1:1-25).

And then God created man and woman (Genesis 1:27) – to either “work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15) or “have dominion over all” (Genesis 1:28).

But, we, the people God created as part of His creation, have made a big mess of it. As world populations have grown, we have not been good stewards of our planet. We have polluted the air, dirtied the water, raped the earth, and removed essential elements without concern for replacement and renewal.

The American Indians and many other people remind us that the earth does not belong to us; we are to preserve it (Genesis 2:15) and pass it on to our children. We have a responsibility to preserve both the Earth and everything in it.

However, we have treated the earth like it belongs only to us; many animals are becoming extinct and whole areas of the earth are no longer suited to grow that food needed to feed the people of the earth. There are millions of people in the world who lack clean drinking water, others are starving to death due to constant war and living habits that strip the earth of its nutrients suitable for growing food. Major corporations are appropriating clean water to bottle and sell at exorbitant prices. Global warming, basically caused by human activity, is destroying the world’s eco-balance and eliminating thousands of miles of shoreline.

We are in the midst of a crisis of our own making. But not is all lost yet! Creation is a process that is still happening. We can choose to repair creation or destroy all that is being created anew.

There are many things that we can do to stop earth decimation:

1. Look at your carbon footprint

  • Use less fuel – walk instead of drive
  • Open the windows instead of turning air conditioning on
  • Choose less gas-guzzler automobiles
  • Support the development of clear alternative fuel sources

2. Go “green”

  • Use renewable/reusable products
  • Participate in your local recycling program
  • Boycott genetically-modified foodstuffs
  • Use cloth shopping bags (or paper, but not plastic)
  • Use locally-grown fruits and vegetables

We are stewards of this world we live in, and it is time for us to take this responsibility seriously. God gave us this earth and we must care it for so that we can pass on to future generations the beauty and bounty that was given to us. It is no longer someone else’s responsibility –

it is ours! and

the time is now!
 
 

Written for Connections, Diocese of Southern Ohio, 1 April 2017

Are We the Wheat . . . or the Weeds?

Today’s Gospel is from Matthew 13:24-30. In it, Jesus tells another parable, one of his many stories that has special meaning. It says:

God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too. The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’ He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’ The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’ He said, ‘No, if you weed the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the weeds and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’ (Matthew 13:24-30)

Now, I come from a long line of Illinois farmers and I know the parable of the wheat and tares (or weeds) very well. Often the bags of wheat seed you buy to plant your wheat crop contain seeds from a type of rye grass, which when it sprouts looks exactly like wheat. In the days before weed killer that could target only weeds, we nieces and nephews were ‘hired’ to pull out the weeds in the wheat fields. Unfortunately, unless you waited until the plants were mature, you often also pulled up the wheat instead of the weeds, which, needless to say, did not make my uncles very happy.

This parable of Jesus’ is also about letting things sprout and grow until they show their true nature before you decide what to keep and let grow, and what to remove.

The farmer in this parable planted good seed; that is certainly what he intended when he bought the seed and carefully prepared the field and planted it. But something went wrong. Weeds suddenly appeared among the wheat stalks – robbing the wheat of rain and sun and nourishment. But the farmer was not surprised – anyone who buys and plants seeds knows that there are all kinds of other things in the seed bag. He also knew what to do to ensure that he had a good harvest.

Jesus’ disciples were troubled by the parable, and asked Jesus to explain it. Jesus told them – and us – that He, himself, was the one who was planting the good seed, and that the field where the seed was being planted was the world — the whole world. The wheat is those of us who follow Jesus’ teachings and try to live decent lives of love, services and justice. Jesus told the disciples that an enemy of goodness – or in reality – evil actions and thoughts that occur in our lives separate us from God. These evil things always get mixed in with the good seed. Jesus advised his followers to wait until the harvest to pull the weeds. That then, God would separate the good from the bad – the wheat from weeds – and the good wheat would be saved for the Kingdom.

Today you and I live in a world where good seed and bad seed co-exist. This world of ours is a great field, a field just waiting for good seed. But just as good seed is sown, so is bad.

When we try to eliminate every weed, we forget that we have weeds within us. Not only do the weeds and the wheat grow together in the same field; they grow together in our own lives.

There are no purely good people or totally bad people. As much as we love the old-time westerns where there were good guys and bad guys, and they were easy to tell apart by their black or white hats, the world just isn’t that way. We often judge others and their shortcomings, but we do not see our own quite so clearly.

We often make judgments about our community and those around us

  • this person is a liar;
  • this person is going to cause trouble;
  • that person is manipulative or bossy.

Sadly, it is human nature to judge and compare, but try to remember that the judgment of people should be left to God. This is what the parable is saying.

Don’t judge too hastily, don’t harm others in your zeal to rip out the weeds; wait until the harvest.

So, how does this parable tell us to live now?

The parable says to let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest. Let them grow; wait until they mature. With the weeds, if you let them grow long enough, they show themselves for what they are. The early sprouts of a weed can look like the beginning sprouts of a wheat plant. It’s only with time that we are able to distinguish one from the other.

In this parable, weeds and wheat are not plants but people. And the good part of that is that as children of God, the weeds can change their nature. Someone who is viewed as a ‘weed’ can repent of those things that make them a weed to society and become a positive member of the Kingdom. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.

There are times when we are all wheat – and then weeds. We change and grow.

Are you following the good parts of yourself or are you settling for the “weeds’ in you?

Don’t pull out the weeds.

Don’t judge others around you.

Instead, build up the community. Make sure you are not becoming a weed yourself! Be alert.

So, what are you?

Are you a

stalk of wheat. . .

or a weed?

As I look around you all, I see only a beautiful field wheat – you are all beautiful children of God.

Amen.
 

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church On Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 23 July 2017

Here We Are, Lord

Today’s scripture continues the great commissioning of the disciples which started with last week’s gospel reading. Jesus had been traveling through the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues, healing the sick and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom. He quickly realized that there was much more work to be done than He could accomplish by himself – that He would need help. So He began to select his apostles. The word ‘apostle’ in Greek may be translated as ‘sent ones’. These apostles He selected followed Him, watched him preach and teach, heard his parables and tried to become prepared to help Jesus with his work – sort of like a ‘disciple school’. [They were now prepared to proclaim and spread the good news, just as Jesus had done.]

It is important to notice that Jesus called all sorts of people – you didn’t have to be as pure as driven snow. None of these men were born leaders, highly schooled, or well-positioned in the synagogue. And although Matthew does not tell us this, we also know from other scriptures that Jesus called women to be disciples. None of his followers had training to heal or preach before they met Jesus; none would have been considered persons headed for sainthood or martyrdom. But they dropped their nets, left their jobs and families and followed Jesus without looking back. What a motley crew they must have been. Scripture tells us that they didn’t even get along with each other; there was all kind of jockeying to be Jesus’ favorite. Some mothers even got into the act.

Let me remind you who they were:

Simon Peter, a fisherman, became the spokesperson for the group, although his impetuousness often got him in trouble. Although his faith always seemed to go from strong to doubt (remember he denied Jesus three times and almost drowned while trying to walk on water), Jesus called him ‘the rock’ on which the church would be founded. He spent his life after Jesus’ death evangelizing and eventually ended up in Rome and was crucified upside down for his faith.

Andrew, also was a fisherman and the brother of Peter, stopped following John the Baptist to join Jesus. Andrew was the one who introduced Peter to Jesus, letting him step into the limelight as the apostles taught and converted people. He spent his life bringing people to Jesus and like so many of Jesus’ followers he was killed because he preached the gospel. History suggests that he was crucified on a cross shaped like an ‘X’.

James was one of the fisherman sons of Zebedee who followed Jesus. He is often called ‘James the Greater’ to distinguish him from the other apostle James. He and his brother John were known as the ‘Sons of Thunder’ because of their loud voices and desire to punish anyone who slighted Jesus. James was the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred, killed with the sword on orders of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea, about 44 A.D.

John, the brother of James and also a fisherman, was called ‘the apostle that Jesus loved’. John obviously was one of Jesus’ favorites because he entrusted his mother, Mary, to him at his crucifixion. John is credited with writing the gospel of John, first, second and third John, and the book of Revelation. John continued to teach and preach against heresy until he died of old age, the only apostle who did not die for his faith.

Philip was one of the first apostles to be called, having left John the Baptist to follow Jesus. And he wasted no time calling others, like Nathanael, to do the same. Although little is known about him after the ascension of Christ, Bible historians believe Philip preached the gospel in Phrygia, in Asia Minor, and died a martyr there at Hierapolis

Nathanael is thought to have been known as Bartholomew, who was introduced to Jesus by Philip and immediately recognized him as the Son of God. Although little is known about Bartholomew, legend has it that he preached in India and was crucified upside down.

Levi, who became the Apostle Matthew, was a customs official in Capernaum who taxed imports and exports based on his own judgment. The Jews hated him because he worked for Rome and betrayed his countrymen. But when Jesus said ‘follow me’, he did and became the author of the Gospel of Matthew. Legend has it that he traveled to Ethiopia and was martyred there.

Thomas, who we all know as ‘Doubting Thomas’ spread the gospel to the east after the death of Jesus and was martyred.

James the Less, son of Alphaeus, was called ‘the less’ to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee. He is the least known of all the apostles – he is only mentioned with all the other apostles in the Upper Room.

Simon the Zealot has almost no mention in scripture except in lists of the apostles. Sometimes he is referred to as ‘Simon the Canaanite’, as we heard in last week’s gospel. His life before following Jesus and after the resurrection is a mystery – the name ‘zealot’ may refer to his religious zeal or that he was a member of the Zealots, an assassin group during that period.

Thaddeus or Jude is another one of the unknown apostles, only referenced in a list of the apostles. Some biblical scholars think Thaddeus wrote the book of Jude. Church tradition says that he founded a church in Edessa and was crucified there.

Judas Iscariot is probably the most infamous apostle, and not for a good reason. We all know the story of his betrayal of Jesus, followed by his suicide. There is some theological thought that Judas’ betrayal was part of God’s plan, but that is for discussion at a later date.

So those were the apostles that Jesus called to follow and help him throughout his short life on earth – rather an ill-assorted crew, people from all walks of life. But what it says is that Jesus can, and does call all kinds of people to follow him – people that would normally never be friends or associates, but were brought together because of their belief in Jesus and his message.

How little did those disciples know what lay ahead for them. Their path would be fraught with discomfort, persecution and often painful death. Yet, so intense and amazing was this man Jesus and their attraction to him that they followed Him anyway.

The apostles were told to gather the ‘lost sheep’ into the fold. Sheep without a shepherd are a foolish lot; they will wander off and not be able to find their way home. There is absolutely nothing more pitiful than a group of sheep with no one to lead them. Jesus commissioned the apostles to bring these sheep back to the fold, and He clearly gave them the power to do so. In Matthew 10:19-20 Jesus told them:

“do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time”

Today, as then, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls all people to know and be part of the Kingdom of God. So throughout the ages He has sent, and today He sends, apostles, prophets, evangelists, priests, deacons and teachers to go forth and preach His word.

And YES, he even sends YOU and ME!!!!

Each and every one of us is called to be disciples for Jesus. The word ‘disciple’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘learner’. We are called to be disciples when those three handfuls of water are poured over our heads in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and we are brought into the family of Christ. We cannot escape – we dare not escape – that calling from the baptismal covenant. As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to proclaim the Gospel.

As Christians, we have a special responsibility to stop the church from becoming complacent and forgetting its commitment to God and God’s purpose in the face of struggles with changing demographics, budgets shortfalls, ecclesiastical protocols and Biblical interpretations. The church is, first and foremost, asked to build a community where one does not exist, or reinforce a community that is fractured. We are challenged to bring calmness and peace to the chaos of individuals’ souls and lives and to reach out and follow Jesus’ command to ‘feed my sheep’.

Just as the apostles were directed, we can learn to reach out to bring lost souls to the grace and salvation of Christ. As members of His body, it is up to us to do His work. And just as the apostles were varied and an unusual lot of people, so are we. Just as Jesus looked into their hearts and knew what they were capable of, so does he look into our hearts and knows us far better than we know ourselves.

Now, I expect some of you think that you can’t be shepherds to lost sheep, that you are not called to do the work of Jesus. We all have many excuses why we can’t be disciples for Christ:

  • We don’t know what to do;
  • There are ‘professionals’ to do this;
  • “It’s not my job”;
  • We don’t know what to say to people;
  • We are not good enough Christians to witness to others;
  • We are afraid.

So I ask you, how did YOU get to know the love and grace and salvation of God through Jesus???????

Didn’t someone gather YOU in like a lost sheep? Didn’t someone show you the grace of God and welcome you into the fold, regardless of who and what you are?

  • Was it a pastor?
  • A friend or family member?
  • A stranger who gave you love or hope?

The love of Jesus comes to us through the eyes, hands and hearts of everyday people, just like you and me. We are all called to be shepherds, to love and guide each other in the path of Jesus.

A visionary from the fourteenth century, Saint Teresa of Avila, reminds us:

God has no hands but our hands, to do his work today;
God has no feet but our feet to lead others in his way;
God has no voice but our voice to tell others how he died;
And, God has no help but our help to lead them to His side.

You say you do not know what to do. God has equipped all with the tools necessary: Prayer!!

  • Pray for open hearts, ready to hear the hope in God’s love
  • Pray for the strength and courage to share that hope with others
  • Pray for the Holy Spirit to work his power in the hearts of others.

The best evangelist is one who reaches those around them. Perhaps first learn to talk about your faith to fellow church members through study groups and witnessing. Through this you may then learn to talk about your faith to the disenfranchised and strangers. Most of all, be an example of the gospel message, then the needs, hurts and fears of the lost sheep will be made known to you.

Remember, God is love in this world!

This love is free and need not be earned and cannot be bought.

This love is complete and total, with no restrictions and no boundaries.

God sent His Son Jesus, to live as a man and die a most painful death as a man to teach us God’s love, to teach us that our ultimate fear – death – does not exist – Is not an end, but a beginning.

What good news indeed!
What great love!

This is the love that we can grow into and learn to give each other freely and without end.
We are reminded that we are all children of God. And no matter what happens to us, we will always be His children and He will always be there for us.

This, then, is our great commission: our great baptismal pledge, to live this love every day, to show it in every choice we make and to everyone we see. This is how we become his true disciples.

God will give us the tools,
God will give us the words,
God will give us the strength,
God will teach us.

A well-beloved mission song says:

(sung) Here I am Lord,
Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, If you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart.

Let us all become true disciples of Jesus, follow him and feed his sheep with love peace, forgiveness and joy!

Let us pray:

(sung) Here I am, Lord,
Here we are Lord,
Send the people of Saint John’s.

To do your work.
Amen.
 
 
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 25 June 2017

You Can Change Your Habits!

I ran across this story as I was working on this homily and want to share it with you:

“A bazaar was held in a village in northern India. Everyone brought his wares to trade and sell. One old farmer brought in a whole covey of quail. He had tied a string around one leg of each bird. The other ends of all the strings were tied to a ring which fit loosely over a central stick. He had taught the quail to walk dolefully in a circle, around and around, like mules at a sugarcane mill. Nobody seemed interested in buying the birds until a devout Brahman came along. He believed in the Hindu idea of respect for all life, so his heart of compassion went out to those poor little creatures walking in their monotonous circles.

“I want to buy them all,” he told the merchant, who was elated. After receiving the money, he was surprised to hear the buyer say, “Now, I want you to set them all free.”

“What’s that, sir?”

“You heard me. Cut the strings from their legs and turn them loose. Set them all free!”

With a shrug, the old farmer bent down and snipped the strings off the quail. They were freed at last. What happened? The birds simply continued marching around and around in a circle. Finally, the man had to shoo them off. But even when they landed some distance away, they resumed their predictable march. Free, unfettered, released . . . yet they kept going around in circles as if still tied.

The moral of the story is:

“Until you give yourself permission to be the unique person God made you to be . . . and to do the unpredictable things grace allows you to do . . . you will be like that covey of quail, marching around in vicious circles of fear, timidity, and boredom.” [1]

Our lives today are essentially the sum of our habits.

  • How in shape or out of shape are we? A result of our habits.
  • How happy or unhappy are we? A result of our habits.

What we repeatedly do (i.e. what we spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person we are, the things we believe, and the personality that we portray.

We all have gotten ourselves into ruts of behavior (or habits) that we don’t even think about . . . we just do. Take a minute and think about something that you do ‘because you have always done it that way’.

We need to look at why we established the habits in the first place. Habits generally get established because we get something in return for the behavior. We need to ask ourselves what kind of reward do we get when from the habit? Is the reward good or bad? Do we really want to keep the habit?

Habits are hard to break. . . anyone who has tried to stop smoking will tell you that. And there are other habits just as destructive to our health and well-being. But deep-seeded, habitual habits are hard to break.

Have you ever thought that you could climb out of that rut and change? It’s easy to get caught up in the desire to make massive changes in our lives. But, we all know that it is not easy to change a habit (ask anyone who has tried to stop smoking). Habits are so ingrained in us that we often don’t even know they are habits. And to change a habit is not easy, and can’t be changed in on fell-swoop. They have to be changed one little piece at a time.

Mark Twain once said:

“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

So how do we break a habit?

First, we have to acknowledge that we have the habit. We can’t change something that we can’t or won’t name. After we admit we have that habit, we need to determine why we started the habit in the first place – did we start biting our nails as a child because we were afraid? Did we start cracking our knuckles to irritate the girls in our schoolroom? Whatever habit we want to change, we must first name it and figure out why we do it.

Secondly, we need to write it down – take a piece of paper and write ‘I will stop. . . . “ whatever the habit is and put it on the refrigerator, or bathroom mirror, or in your wallet, or anywhere you will see it many times during the day. This will remind you the desire to break the habit. Don’t’ say ‘I will try to stop. . .’ – be positive – we can break a habit if we really want to and are willing to expend the energy.

Another trick is to put a rubber band around your wrist, and every time you do the habit, snap the rubber band. Trust me. it won’t take long to remember to stop the habit. Or if you are a smoker, switch to Life Savers or gum when you feel the need to put that cigarette in your mouth. We only have so much room for habits, so replace that destructive habit with a good habit.

The last thing we need to do is forgive ourselves if we fall back into that habit. Habits are not changed overnight; some of them take months, even years to break. Be ready to forgive yourself when you don’t slip back into the old habit – changing is not easy! And EVERYONE has habits they would like to break.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Be kind to yourself. . . remember that God loves each and every one of us and we should love ourselves. Habits are not unsurmountable! We can overcome them!
 
 
[1]      Charles Swindoll, Dallas Seminary Daily Devotional, 2-7-05; http://www.preaching.com/newsletter/
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 25 Jun 2017