Sunday, August 28, 2005

Pentecost 15 - Year A

“Grab your electric chair and follow me.”

How’s that for an invitation?

“Here’s some rope, make a noose out of it, throw it around your neck, and walk behind me.”

Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? It didn’t make sense to the disciples either.

I can sympathize with Jesus’ disciples. Jesus and the disciples were relaxing at Caesarea Philippi – The Romans turned this spot into a sort of resort area, a place where cool breezes from the sea and mountains brush away the desert heat and dust.

Maybe Jesus saw that his team was starting to burn out. They’d been on the road for months, working hard, doing God’s work. Maybe Jesus thought that they should take a few days, kick back with some cold ones, and watch the breeze go by.


It was at this beautiful, relaxing, serene, setting that Jesus drops a bomb. He tells them about the upcoming trip to Jerusalem. He tells them that he won’t get out alive. He tells that that he’ll be arrested, tortured, and executed.

Peter couldn’t believe his ears. “What on earth are you talking about, Jesus? There’s NO WAY I’ll let that happen to you!”

Peter was probably forming a strategy to protect Jesus if the Jerusalem project went badly. Or maybe it was time to re-consider the whole thing. Maybe they should head in the OTHER direction.

It makes sense. They need to protect their leader. To further their cause. To keep the momentum going. If they lose Jesus they lose everything.

But Jesus twists around and the fire in his eyes almost blow them down, he blasts him, “Get thee behind me Satan! This is going to be hard enough without you getting in the way!”

A stunned silence.

Has Jesus lost his mind? He does have options. But he doesn’t seem to see them. Maybe he needs a few more days at the beach. They weren’t doing anything wrong. They were just trying to protect everything they’ve worked for.

If Jesus had listened to them his might have turned out differently. Maybe even settle down and have a family, maybe even make some money; then dying in his bed surrounded by his kids and grandkids.

He would have been remembered as a great teacher, a distinguished thinker, a celebrated philosopher. He would be placed in the annals of those who lived well, leaving behind a legacy of truth that enriched and ennobled humanity. He would have been remembered for how he lived rather than how he died.

But no. Jesus sets his sights on Jerusalem. Knowing that torture and death are waiting for him there.

His disciples desperately want to keep him from the Holy City. They want to keep him as his is – a great teacher, an inspiring preacher, and a renowned healer. They don’t want him to be a martyr. All they have worked for hinges on him.

Think about how crazy this sounds. It would be like if, after a many years of school, your buddy becomes a doctor. The doctor, one day tells you, “It’s time for me to go to the hospital to suffer, bleed, and die for my patients.” What Jesus is saying is just that bizarre.

And I’m sure that some days, the disciples had their fill of Jesus. Sure, he could heal sick folks, stop storms, and walk on water. But he was always telling stories that made no logical sense. He would offer cryptic teachings about how the kingdom of God works. And he would get downright morbid; always bringing up the subject of death. His death. Their death.

“Whoever wants to come after me must first take up their cross and follow me,” Jesus says.

Who wants that? Sometimes it’s hard enough just getting through the day. Life offers enough challenges without going out looking for them.

Some folks believe the cross that Jesus is talking about is any frustrating, annoying, or painful event in one’s life. They point to their back problems as the “cross they must bear” or the boring job that just barely pays the bill, or the teenager next door who blasts her music all night.

Others have abused this message saying that it means that people should accept cruelty with gentle good humour. They’ve told battered women to stay with their husbands because that’s the cross that Jesus gave them. They’ve told people whose children’s bellies are swelling with hunger to accept their lot in this life and they will receive great riches in the next life.

That is NOT what Jesus is talking about. But nor is Jesus talking about a grand adventure.

In seminary, a friend of mine went on an anti-poverty crusade. He used this passage to inspire him and others in their cause. He and his friends were going to end poverty in our community. He would protest and hand out leaflets. He would volunteer at the Soup Kitchen and Food Bank. He would write letters and preach in the streets.

He dreamed about getting arrested. That would be the jewel in his crown. That would show everyone just how committed he was. He was going to sacrifice his freedom for a just cause. He had this romantic notion that if he wound up in jail, just like the disciples, he would be walking the way of Jesus, the way of the cross.

But, later he told me that, if he was honest, dreaming of getting arrested wasn’t as much about walking the way of the cross as much as it was walking the way of glory. He wanted to show the world HIS commitment, not God’s commitment. His life and goal of ending poverty, as laudable as it was, didn’t have as much to do with Jesus as it had to do with presenting himself to the world in a moral crusader. But there is nothing romantic about the cross. The cross is not heroism. There’s nothing sexy about death. The cross is not a thrill ride. The cross is about living a life that matters – a life for Jesus’ sake – and about refusing to put our own comfort and safety ahead of living a life like that.

But Jesus knows the cross is never easy. The cross is making that hard phone call to your brother whom you haven’t talked to since you had that fight so many years ago. The cross is putting down that bottle and helping others to do the same. The cross is finding ways to forgive your spouse, even when forgiveness seems impossible.

The cross is discovering something worth living for, sacrificing for, struggling – even dying - for. The cross is not only a demand placed upon us, but it’s also a gift.

Have you found something in Jesus worth taking up a cross for? Jesus promises that there is something worth everything – even life itself – in following him.

When we take up our cross we discover what life is all about. We discover something worth dying for that is also worth living for. Because the cross it not an end in itself. What Jesus didn’t tell his disciples is that the cross does not end the story. The cross – suffering, even death for the sake of others – leads to new and everlasting life.

So take up your cross – I can’t tell you what shape your cross will be. You have to discover that for yourself. But when you find it you will find that – like Jesus, who gave his life for the life of the world – your cross will show the world God’s love. From the view of the cross, you will see the world as God sees it; bursting with life and joy and freedom.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Pentecost 14 - Year A

When Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI, most Roman Catholics believe he is carrying on the tradition that began in today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel.

“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”

Roman Catholics believe Peter was the first bishop of Rome, which would make him the first pope, they say. Succeeding popes are successors of Peter – the rock, upon whom Christ says he built his church.

That’s quite the declaration. But if we back up a few verses, we find that Jesus wants to know what others are saying about. He puts a poll in the field and gets these answers:

“Can you believe it? Some folks actually think you’re John the Baptist with his head re-attached!”

The group laughs.

“This will blow your mind, Jesus; others are saying you’re Elijah, or Jeremiah, or Isaiah, or Amos or Micah, that you’ve miraculously popped out from the bible.” says someone else says.

They laugh again to each other.

“But who do YOU say I am.”


The disciples weren’t expecting the question to be turned around on them. They shifted their eyes back and forth, each hoping the teacher would call on someone else.

Finally, Simon Peter, of the walking-on-water fame, blurts out:

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

The disciples stare at Peter. Had he gone too far? Such an outburst would be blasphemy if he is wrong. Saying such things out loud is a great way to earn a stone sandwich. They wait for Jesus to erupt.

But Jesus’ eyes dance.

“Well done, Simon! You couldn’t have figured this out on your own – because you’re not that smart - but God has shown you what I’m all about.”

The disciples gasp.

“From now on I’ll call you “Peter” - which means “Rock” – the rock upon which I’ll build my church. And not even all the forces of evil will be able to destroy it.”

“Umm, Jesus, you know that this is Simon Peter you’re talking about, the guy who tried to stroll across the lake and almost drowned?” Satan probably whispered in Jesus’ ear.

“You know, Jesus, what Peter is going to do when you are arrested. You know what’s going to happen. You know that he’ll fail miserably when his loyalty is tested. He’ll run like a coward when you get nailed to that cross. C’mon Jesus, give me challenge. If he’s the poster boy for God’s people, then God’s church will be a sand painting; one gust of wind and it will all disappear. If Peter’s in charge, it will be that easy to destroy.”

“You’re right,” Jesus probably smiled to himself, “Peter is not a rock. But he will be. The same power that showed him who I am is the same power that will transform this small, petty, impulsive nobody, into the servant of God that will turn the world upside down.”

Of course, this didn’t happen over night. It takes time to make a rock. A lot of time. Millions of years. God may have that kind of time lying around but we don’t. So God goes to work on Peter. Just like how God goes to work on us, changing us into people we wouldn’t expect to be.

Last Tuesday evening, Brother Roger, founder of the Taize community in southeastern France, had his throat slit by a mentally ill Romanian woman while saying evening prayers as 2500 pilgrims looked on in horror. A violent end to a peaceful man.

This simple monk, this protestant pastor who built bridges to the Roman Catholic community and the rest of the Christian world, held an influence that was not the product of hard worldly power. His was a power born in prayer, in humility, in service to the world.

He didn’t begin as a great influence. Brother Roger just wanted to find a peaceful place to pray with his friends. Soon, young people from all over Europe came seeking after God among these humble protestant monks. Soon, thousands of young people came from all over the world. He had created the Taize community.

But of course, Brother Roger didn’t mean to begin a worldwide movement of Christians dedicated to breaking down barriers, reconciling historic hurts, and bringing followers of Jesus together from all over the world to a small town to pray, to sing those familiar chants, to read scripture, and to wait on God. God turned a simple stone into a solid rock.

Taize became a worldwide centre for prayer. And no one was more surprised by this than Brother Roger. If you had told him back in 1940, when he first gathered his friends to pray, that in 2005, a Lutheran church in southern Alberta would be singing their songs, I’m sure he would have been mystified by such an idea, if not terrified. But, God the master-builder was hard at work.

Martin Luther talked about oratio, meditatio, tentatio, three disciplines one needed to become a preacher. I would extend his recipe to how one deepens their discipleship of Jesus; he said that it was through oratio (prayer), meditatio (deep study of scripture), tentatio (suffering) - the cross - that people grow in discipleship.

That’s certainly true of Peter and true of Brother Roger, and that’s definitely true of many people I’ve met.

“Pastor, let me buy you a coffee, I want to talk to you,” he said.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked sitting down behind my mug.

“I have cancer and I’m going to die.”

I guess when you’ve given an expiry date, small talk doesn’t seem all that essential.

“How do you integrate all life’s experiences and put them on a trajectory toward one final focal point?” he asked.

“Huh?” I asked.

“What is it all about? What does life mean, anyway?” he bursts.

To be honest, I had no idea to how to answer this fellow. I mean, how do you begin to answer a question of such cosmic proportions with eternal consequences?

So I did what I was trained to do. I shut my mouth and let him talk.

When our coffee was finished we went for a walk. We talked about our favourite books, authors that changed the way we think, and the big names who crossed our paths.

“But y’know,” he said, “The guy who sweeps this sidewalk is just as important as the great writers and other big names we’ve talked about. The kid who stocks the shelves at the Safeway is just as vital to our world as the politicians who make our laws. The crew who collect our trash is just as significant as the doctors who save our lives.”

The cynic might say that my ill friend is compensating for the goals he’s not achieved, justifying the paths not taken, coping with the life he failed to live, now that the end of his road is on this side of the horizon.

Others might say that he’s begun his path toward understanding life and his place in the world. They might say that through his experience of suffering and dying, God is opening his eyes to the way God looks at the world. Where he had been a stone, he is quickly becoming a rock.

Prayer, deep study of scripture, suffering – especially suffering – the cross. That’s how this person is awakening to the world as God sees it. That’s how Peter became the rock Jesus chose him to be. That’s how Brother Roger became the influence God intended for him.

That’s how God grows you into the disciple God wants you to be. That’s how Jesus builds his church. Amen.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Pentecost 13 - Year A

You may remember last November when both Sophie and Naomi went to the emergency within 5 hours of each other. They were both running high fevers and couldn’t keep liquids down.

But with Sophie, a small purplish-red rash appeared on her belly. We called the health hotline and the nurse said to take her in to emergency right away. So, at 11:30 pm, I loaded Sophie into the car with her pajamas on under her warm winter jacket, and she brought Winnie-the-Pooh along for comfort.

A doctor came in and examined Sophie, who was in no mood to be poked.

“Yup, the rash looks raised,” the doctor said. “I’d better get someone else to look at this as well.”

A few minutes later, the doctor appeared at the door accompanied by another doctor. They rubbed Sophie’s rash, muttered doctor-speak back and forth, they sounded so solemn and serious. Finally one of them said, “There’s someone else that should look at this. The fever and the rash could be an indication of serious illness. We’ll need to get some blood from her.”

Words every parent dreads. All at once I had visions of hospital beds, huge needles, and little tiny coffins.

What made matters immediately worse, was that, as a bargaining chip, I foolishly promised Sophie that she wouldn’t be getting any needles if she went to the hospital. These doctors were going to make me out to be a liar to my first born.

After a few more minutes, the two doctors came in accompanied by a third. So the three doctors - and me – were hovering over Sophie, who just wanted to sleep. The doctors continued their poking, their brushing, and their serious doctor-speak. Sophie continued clutching her Pooh-bear.

Then the third doctor dabbed some rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and vigorously rubbed Sophie’s rash. He was lingering over Sophie’s belly so I couldn’t see what was happening.

Then finally he said, “This isn’t a rash. This is grape juice!” Then everyone but Sophie burst out laughing.

A happy ending for sure. Sophie recovered, as did Naomi. But others have not been so lucky. I think of Hannah, the cousin of a seminarian, a few months older than Sophie. Hannah passed away from leukemia this past February. Or we heard in the news about the Lethbridge child who died in Brooks last week. Or the toddler who drowned in the pool in Calgary.

Sadly, children are not except from suffering or death. As parents, we would tear off our limbs to protect our children, and we would run to the ends of the earth to help our children when they get sick.

That’s certainly the case in today’s gospel reading. Jesus had retreated to the gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon, a woman from the despised region of Canaan shouted at him, “Have mercy on me, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”

Jesus and his disciples probably picked up their pace, avoiding eye contact. “Let’s get rid of her, she won’t shut up.”

But the Canaanite woman keeps running after Jesus, dragging her daughter by the arm, “Son of David, help my daughter!”

“What’s with this ‘Son of David’ stuff?” the disciples groused, “Who does she think she is talking like that? Does she think that she can just mouth the God-talk and that will change the fact that she’s filthy gentile female rubblish? Let her and demon-possessed daughter rot.”

Like any good bible-believing Jew of his time, Jesus probably just put up his hand, and without even looking at her said, “I’m a Jew, you’re a gentile. Sorry, can’t help you.”

But her child’s life is at stake. She’s not about to allow her daughter to suffer just because of some silly religious rules. She cuts Jesus off and hurls herself at his feet, “Lord, HELP ME!” she cries in desperation.

“It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus says.

“Did he just call me a dog?” the woman asked herself bewilderedly. But this woman was NOT giving up. She hadn’t come all this way just to be insulted and blown off.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs from their master’s table.”

Jesus stops in his tracks and takes a step back. He lifts her up by her hand. His disciples gasp at his blatant disregard for the law. Jesus looks deeply into this young gentile woman’s eyes.

“Woman, great is your faith!” he says. “Let it be done as you wish.”

The woman turns around, and sees her daughter standing upright, eyes as clear as the desert sky.

I can’t begin to imagine the disciples’ dinner conversation later that evening. Some disciples probably got it. Other’s I’m sure didn’t.

“Gee whiz, what was up with Jesus and that Canaanite woman? I know that Jesus likes to heal folks but the bible is crystal clear – we Jews are not supposed to talk to Canaanite scum. The book of Ezra doesn’t mince words.”

“But maybe,” another suggests, “maybe God is reaching out to everyone now. We Jews were just the beginning. Maybe that’s why Jesus broke that rule in the bible. Maybe God is doing something new.”

“I don’t know,” yet another one said, “It will take a lot of convincing for me to believe that something in the bible changed.”

They probably spent the night trying to fathom just how far God’s hands were reaching; trying to work out where the lines should be drawn, trying to figure out who is in and who is out.

I once met with a fellow who confessed to me that he read the bible, prayed, and considered himself a Christian. I have to admit, I didn’t always like visiting him. His apartment reeked of stale smoke and cheap beer; and this fellow’s personal hygiene needed a thorough review.

“I don’t go to church,” he said, “I went a couple times but never went back. It wasn’t for me.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“I looked around and there wasn’t anyone like me. Everyone was dressed so nicely. It seemed like these people were better than I me, and I guess they are. They don’t drink, do drugs, or curse, or gamble, or any of the stuff that I sometimes get into.”

This fellow had a rough life. Name a vice and he probably did it. He was married a couple times; but his lifestyle couldn’t support a marriage. He hadn’t seen his kids since they were babies.

“As much as I try,” he said, “I always fall back into these bad habits. I can’t seem to get my act together enough to get to church. I look at all those shiny, smiling faces, and I realize, I’ll never be as good as them.”

This fellow’s story just broke my heart. I tried to assure him that the church is a hospital for sinners not a hotel for saints. That if we check under the hood, we’ll find, in each one of us, our dirty little sins, sins that gnaw away, sins that we keep secret.

But he wouldn’t listen. I still don’t know if he’s ever found a church, a family of believers that see him as God sees him – shining like the sun; whole; beloved.

I couldn’t convince this fellow that the Christian life is not a life of moral perfection; it’s about handing over our lives to God, following Jesus in the way of the cross, and finding forgiveness, freedom, and new life along the way. Martin Luther once described the Christian life as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”

I think what Jesus saw in the gentile woman was an image of God. And that surprised him. Jesus saw how God is relentless in wanting God’s children and the world to be healed – healed of its brokenness, healed of its pain, healed of its sin.

So maybe that’s when Jesus saw a broader mission, a mission to go beyond the borders of his own people. That’s when it dawned on him that he was the saviour of the WORLD, not just the messiah for the people of Israel.

Maybe the message for us is that God’s face can turn up anywhere. When we think we have God all figured out, God moves the lines. Maybe God is telling us to step out; take a risk, trespass an old boundary, push a limit; enter into a new relationship. Maybe God is saying that we have nothing to lose but the life the way it’s always been, and there is a lot more where that came from. And if you get scared, which you will, or even mad, just remember today’s story. With Jesus as our model – and our Lord – we are called to step over the lines, not because we have to, not because we ought to, or even because we want to, but because it is God’s own self waiting for us on the other side. (paraphrase of BBT, Crossing the Line)

May this be so among us. Amen.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Children's Message: Pentecost 12 - Year A

“Hey, Max,” Alex shouted from across the river, “Betcha can’t swing across the water without falling in!”

“Betcha I can!” Max shouted back climbing the tree and grabbing the rope that was hanging from a drooping branch over the river.

Max steadied himself on the branch and looked down at the rushing water under his feet.

“Boy, I didn’t realize it was so high up here,” Max thought to himself. He wasn’t sure if he should try to swing across the river. If he landed in the water he’d get his clothes wet.

“What are you waiting for?” Alex shouted.

Max just stood on the branch and looked down at the rushing river. He was afraid he would get hurt if he slipped off the rope. But he also knew that Max would rub his nose in it if he didn’t try.

“What’s the matter Colonel Sanders, Chicken?” Alex shouted again. Then he started making clucking sounds and flapping his arms like wings.

“Be quiet!” Max shouted back. “I need to concentrate” But really, Max was trying to figure out what to do. He looked down at the water. Then he looked across to the other side. He still wasn’t sure if he could swing all the way across the river.

“C’mon, ‘fraidy cat, swing across.” Alex taunted.

With that, Max thrust his feet off the branch, his hands clamped on the rope. But part way across, he looked down, panicked, and his sweaty hands slipped off the rope, and with a huge SPLASH, Max dropped into the river below.

Max hit the water with a loud CRASH, banging his knee on a rock. The rushing water was stronger than it looked, so Max was glad for all those swimming lessons.

Alex doubled over laughing on the riverbank. But Max didn’t think it was very funny. He was wet, cold, and it felt like a knife was jabbed into his knee.

That night, after he came home from the doctor’s with a HUGE cast on his leg, his mom and dad helped him into bed.

“I guess you’ll think twice before trying any more stunts,” said his dad.

Max nodded in agreement. His eyes downcast.

“Maybe we should call you ‘Peter’ from now on,” said his mom.

“What do you mean?” asked Max.

“Remember the story from the bible where Peter tried to walk on the water to greet Jesus?”

Max nodded.

“He got just as wet as you did,” his mom said. “He got half way across the water and realized what he was doing and – plunk – down he went.”

“So I guess Peter was pretty dumb for trying to walk on water,” said Peter.

“No,” said his mom, “I think he meant well. He wanted to be like Jesus. But we need to be able to tell the difference between doing things out of faith and just doing crazy stunts.”

“Peter kind of straddled that line,” said his dad.

“How can you tell the difference between faith and crazy stunts?” asked Max, “It seems like the bible has stories about people doing all sorts of silly things.”

“Just ask yourself the question, Is what I’m doing showing love for God or others, or am I just looking for a thrill or to get attention?” replied his mom.

Peter had to think about that as he looked down at his cast.

Then they said a prayer like this as we do now, “Dear God, help us to know when to do things in faith. Amen.”

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Pentecost 12 - Year A

“If you are only 99% certain of your faith in God then you are 100% uncertain,” I once heard a preacher say.

He must have been thinking of Peter. Some people think God is demanding that way, so Peter steps up to the plate - or should I say, steps off the boat - to prove himself.

“Lord, if it is you, command me to come and join you on that water,” Peter says to Jesus.

That’s an odd request don’t you think?

Why didn’t he say, “If it’s you Jesus, tell us what we had for breakfast this morning. Or, if it’s you Lord, when is my birthday?

No. Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to risk my life, to tempt death, and walk out across 6000 fathoms of dark, threatening sea.”

“Lord if that is you, command me to walk blindfolded into traffic. Lord, if it is you, order me to juggle chainsaws while riding a unicycle.”

Don’t think it strange that and the proof Peter wants from this “ghost” is to risk his life?

So, without thinking, Peter steps out of the boat and, so far so good, he finds himself strolling across the lake. Then he realizes, “Hey, I’m actually DOING it.” That’s when he runs into trouble.

Peter reminds me of Wile E Coyote chasing the Roadrunner off a cliff, and he keeps running forward until he looks down and sees that there is nothing under his feet. And down he goes. As long as Peter keeps his eyes on Jesus he is fine. But when he looks at himself, he loses faith. (Kevin Little, 11 August 2002)

“You of little faith!” Jesus snaps, “Why did you doubt?”

Well, gee, Jesus, where do we begin? Why did he doubt that Jesus could break the laws of gravity? Why did he doubt that Jesus could turn off the tap?

Jesus’ question is always the one we don’t want to answer. And it’s not the first one we ask. Faith is loaded with questions. In fact, faith makes the questions become more intense. Faith is a life marked by humility. There can be no arrogant Christians because faith is not certainty. Certainty is measured, marked, tested, and proven. Faith a fumbling in the dark, stubbing-your-toe-on-the-desk-as-you-blindly-look-for-the-light-switch sort of life. It may not always be pretty, but it is honest.

But more to the point, I think faith is a life lived in holy defiance; defiance of the powers of darkness of this world.

Faith is when the romance has gone out from the marriage but you stay together determined to make the relationship work.

Faith is grieving the loss of a child, yet still finding a way to minister to the world out that pain.

Faith is looking out upon a planet swallowed up in war and greed and chaos, but still saying, I will trust God’s promises for peace. I will live the new creation that God wants for the world.

When doubt enters into the equation it is either something we keep well hidden in the back of our closet for fear that someone more pious might find out and raise their eyebrows in our direction. Or doubt is something that paraded as a public virtue; the sign of an active mind.

I think doubt is neither something to be proud of nor something to be ashamed of. Doubt is part of our human makeup. However, doubt does make faith more compelling. One writer suggests that doubt makes faith “heroic;” the greater the doubt the more heroic the faith. I don’t know if that’s true but it certainly sounds good.

Sometimes we live our faith whether we know it or not. Like Peter running out into the lake without really thinking about what he’s doing, sometimes faith the result of a lack of foresight, or it’s just plain ignorance. We don’t know we’ve stepped out of the boat until our shoes fill up with water.

When I was an intern in Sault Ste Marie, on the occasional Friday night I would pop in at a local pub on that was down the street from where I lived. The bartender was a student I knew from my chaplaincy work at the university. Over time, I became friendly with the owners and staff.

One afternoon, while sitting in my office I received a phone call. It was the Funeral Director. The owner of this pub had a brother whose friend had died; could I do the funeral? I was the only clergy type they knew.

“I’d be glad to,” I said.

Over the next couple of days, I got to know the family quite well. We became good friends. They seemed like kind-hearted people trying to get through a tough time.

The funeral was packed. It looked like everyone in town knew this fellow or the family. I was glad to have been able to shepherd them through their grief and to offer them Jesus’ promise of the resurrection to eternal life.

They seemed like normal, everyday people.

It wasn’t until five years later I learned that their pub was a front for organized crime.

Call it accidental faith. Call it blind ignorance. But that day I shared the gospel with gangsters.

Would I have done the same thing if I knew what I was walking into? I like to think I would have. But the jury is still out. I’m not that brave. I’ve seen the Godfather movies too many times, and have too many visions of Tony Soprano and his patented piano wire, that I might have been a little queasy standing over a coffin, knowing what these people were up to in the back rooms of the pub where I met them. Jesus may have been a friend of sinners but Peter sank when he clued in to what he was doing.

So, that day, unbeknownst to me, St. Peter-of-the-lake became my patron saint.

But what if Peter had not sunk? What if he had jumped out of the boat without a second’s hesitation brimming with perfect confidence, landed feet first in the water and ran to Jesus, smiling with arms wide open? What if the other disciples followed him out of the boat, and ran together while the storm raged and the winds beat against the sails? (BBT Saved by Doubt)

It would be a pretty cool story. But it wouldn’t be our story. Our story is a little more complicated and a lot more human. Our story - and the disciples’ story - is about how we obey and how we fail, how we believe and we how doubt, how we run and how we sink. Our story is a mess of contradictions living snugly together, sharing the same bed.

Internet sage RLP, after a long hard ride through a particularly rough storm, came to this conclusion

“I learned that it doesn't matter in the least that I be convinced of God's existence. Whether or not God exists is none of my business, really. What do I know of existence? I don't even know how the VCR works.

“What does matter is whether or not I am faithful. I think faithful is a [really] good word. It still has some of its original shine. It still calls us to action.

“Once I stumbled upon this very old truth, I prayed the most honest prayer of my life.

God, I don't have great faith, but I can be faithful. My belief in you may be seasonal, but my faithfulness will not. I will follow in the way of Christ. I will act as though my life and the lives of others matter. I will love.”

I have no greater gift to offer than my life. Take it.

That's it. I pushed all my chips across the table. The preacher bet it all. Why? Because the idea that there is a God who cares for us busts my heart wide open. Because I pushed reason as far as it can go but I wanted to go farther still. Because I wanted to, and... well... I just wanted to.”

So, if you are only 99% sure of your faith, you’re in good company. Maybe it’s that one percent that keeps us honest. Maybe it’s the one percent that makes life interesting. Maybe it’s the one percent that makes the other 99 percent look like a walk across the lake.