Sunday, August 10, 2008

Pentecost 13 - Year A

What causes you to doubt your faith? What causes you to stop trusting God? What causes you to think that faith is merely as Alice in Wonderland story we tell ourselves when life starts to hurt?

Or DO you doubt? Do you question your faith? Do you question God?

I know that, for many of you, faith comes easy. You see God in action as clearly as you see the shine on my head. God’s handiwork is everywhere your eyes turn. And when you close your eyes, you hear God talking to you. You can’t “prove” its God chatting with you. But you wouldn’t mistake God’s milky voice for anything else.

For others of you, God is a rumour that you hope is true. You’ve caught glimpses of God here and there. Shadows. Memories. Stories half heard, songs less understood. But you’ve heard enough to trust that God is – somehow – doing something in the world. And you figure that, even if there’s a 95 percent chance you’re wrong, you’ll still believe. Because the stories half heard and songs less understood are too beautiful to toss away.

And for others, faith might sound like a cruel joke. A tall tale told by an idiot. Sound and fury signifying nothing. Maybe you’ve seen the world’s ugliness first hand and no amount of worship will scrub your eyes clean. Maybe you’ve felt grief so horrific that your soul has been ripped to shreds. Maybe you’ve prayed until your knees are bloodied and knuckles bruised, and still – nothing – God hasn’t returned the call.

Or maybe you’re back and forth, up and down, between all of this. Maybe some days your faith is as strong as God’s holy mountain, and other days, you can’t see your faith through a microscope. Maybe you’re wishing you could believe like other people.

And if you are, look around. You’re in good company.

Jesus sent the disciples across the lake. Like Environment Canada, they didn’t notice the black clouds gathering just on this side of the horizon. They were fishermen, they knew better than to go into the water and a darkening sky.

Perhaps they were still giddy from the loaves and fishes thing – the miracle that Jesus just performed that evening.

But soon they found their way in the middle of the lake, the waves throwing temper tantrums against their boat. And in out of the darkness comes Jesus walking towards them with. They freak. They think it’s a ghost. And why wouldn’t they? Why WOULD they be expecting Jesus to take a stroll across a storm beaten sea?

Impetuous Peter leaps out of the boat thinking he can do what Jesus did. And of course, he can. He actually takes a couple steps until it dawns on him that he’s actually walking on water. That’s when the trouble starts.

“Help Lord! Save me!” he shouts.

Jesus reaches out his hand and rescues impulsive Peter.

“Why did you doubt?” Jesus reprimands the drowning disciple, “Just believe.”

Wish it were that easy, don’t you? Jesus’ question “Why did you doubt?” is always the one we don’t want to answer. Faith is loaded with questions.

In fact, faith makes the questions become more real. Faith is marked by humility. There can be no arrogant Christians because faith is not certainty.

Certainty is measured and mapped, tested and proven, calculated and quantified. It can be predicted, demonstrated, and replicated.

Faith, conversely, is a fumble in the dark, stubbing-your-toe-on-your-dresser-as-you-blindly-look-for-the-light-switch sort of life. It hears whispers and chases shadows. Faith may not always be pretty, but it is definitely honest.

But more to the point, I think faith is a life lived in holy defiance; reaching out for God’s light in 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. You’ve made a commitment. And you’ll see it through.

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 trusting God’s promises for peace saying, “I will live the New Creation that God wants for the world.”

But doubt is something that either we keep well hidden in the back of our closet for fear that someone more pious might find out and raise an eyebrow in our direction. Or doubt is 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 just part of our human makeup.

Or 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.

A few years ago I told you about the funeral I “accidentally” presided over for a mafia family. I say “accidentally” because, had I known who was lay the casket, images of Tony Soprano’s patented piano wire may have tainted, softened, my message. Jesus may have been a friend of sinners but Peter sank when he clued in to what he was doing. And, that day, I might have gotten wet as well.

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

Your experiences may not involve crime families, but I’m sure you’ve done some things for God that, afterward, you wonder where you got the strength from.

Or if you knew what you have gotten yourself into, if it dawned on you what you were doing, you would have felt water slosh around in your shoes.

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?

It would be a pretty cool story, wouldn’t it? 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 about a family of contradictions living snugly together, sharing the same bed.

So, I ask again, what causes you to doubt? Or better yet, what causes you to BELIEVE? That might be more interesting. That may say more about you, and about God.

After all, given all the evidence to the contrary, given the tragedies most people live with, given the grief in our lives, given our failure rate, I wonder if believing is more of a miracle than we give it credit.

For those of us who have trouble believing, for those of us who sink, for those of us clutching both hands to the side of the boat, we know that this isn’t a story about great, unshakable faith, but a story of failure. It’s a story of disappointment. It’s a deeply human story.

And since it’s a human story it shows us what we don’t often see in ourselves. When Jesus asked, “Why did you doubt? Just believe.” Who was he referring to? Was he referring to himself and how Peter needed to believe in him harder?

Or was Jesus tossing the question back at Peter? Was Jesus saying “Why did you doubt…yourself? Why did you doubt what you’re capable of? Believe in what God has put inside you. Trust that you can do more than you think.

Expect more from yourself. Expect that God has is doing more for you than what your eyeballs can see. Expect that God is doing more in you than your brain can envision. See what you just did; you DID take a few splashy steps onto the lake before you sank.”

So, maybe it wasn’t as much an admonishment as an encouragement. When Jesus asks us not to doubt he’s asking us to believe that there’s more to us and to God than we realize, that there’s more residing in our hearts than we can grasp, that our muscles and brains have more power than we can see.

Jesus didn’t lay a guilt trip on Peter. Jesus just wanted Peter and the disciples to see in themselves what Jesus saw in them.

And Jesus wants us to see in ourselves and each other what God sees in us – the vast power to change and heal the world, the power to do great things for others, power given to us by God.

So believe. Trust. Expect that God will do great things through you. Have faith in Jesus. Jesus has faith in you.

Jesus is just asking for a simple walk across the lake.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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