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.



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