Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Treading Lightly

John 6:16-21 (The Message)

16-21In the evening his disciples went down to the sea, got in the boat, and headed back across the water to Capernaum. It had grown quite dark and Jesus had not yet returned. A huge wind blew up, churning the sea. They were maybe three or four miles out when they saw Jesus walking on the sea, quite near the boat. They were scared senseless, but he reassured them, "It's me. It's all right. Don't be afraid." So they took him on board. In no time they reached land—the exact spot they were headed to.

What are your comfort foods?

Mine’s macaroni and cheese. We’ve got about five boxes of it at home—we stocked up a few weeks ago. I didn’t eat that much macaroni and cheese as a child, but for some reason when I’m mixing up cheese powder and noodles it matches some rhythm within me and I feel at peace; I’m not wondering why I’m eating cheese in powder form, I’m simply settling in and feeling all the stress disappear.

Think of the safe places in your life—what comes to mind? Is it a certain room in your house? Or maybe a favorite spot in the forest? A treasured memory from the past you conjure up in times of stress? Or a vacation spot you return to time and time again?

What is safety? When we think about life, we aren’t truly ever safe, given the state of the world and our lives. I was saying a prayer at a funeral some time ago and as I was concluding my prayer a man came up and started reminding us all that while we may have all the assurances in the world right now, we could be gone tonight. Sobering, but true. We never know just how safe we are, despite the fact that there are places, people and things that can make us feel safer than others.

So what makes you feel vulnerable? Could be anything—it differs for each of us. For some its public speaking, while for others standing up in front of a room and talking is second nature. For some it might be large crowds, while others may thrive in wild, raucous crowds. Talking to strangers, new cities, new jobs, uncertainty—each event in life stresses us all in different ways. I could ask everyone in this room to stand up and move pews, and while some may thrive on that chance, others may shrink back in terror. Don’t worry, I won’t do it, but you get my point—being vulnerable means something different for each of us.

And yet the feeling is the same. It’s a terrifying feeling, as though someone or something has reached inside us with an icy hand and grasped our very souls to try and squeeze the life out of them. We are afraid and our heads are on a swivel, constantly in search of some way out, some way to escape our vulnerability and flee back towards safety.

We have safety and comfort, and we have vulnerability and fear.

I wonder where the disciples were on this scale on this evening.

They had just seen Jesus feed thousands on the mountain with five loaves of bread and two fish. What they had once thought impossible was now possible in Christ. Their eyes must have been as wide as the dinner plates it would have taken to hold all that extra food as they got into the boat, leaving Jesus up on the mountain alone. Maybe they even took some of those extra baskets of food with them, to provide food for their journey. I doubt they could refrain from speaking about the day’s events.

Many of the disciples were fishermen in their previous life. They doubtless would have felt very comfortable on the water, even at night. Some, perhaps not all, but for many this may have been the safest place in the world. They were away from shore and whatever could trouble them there, sailing across the Sea of Galilee, the wind propelling them forward. Me? When I’m on a boat, I’m constantly wondering how big the fish are that I can’t see underneath the boat. I was the kid who used to peer into the deep end wondering if they got all the sharks out before they let the kids into the pool. Jaws has had a profound impact on my life, not for the better. But for the disciples, they were simply sailing along.

Then things began to change. The wind came along, churning up the sea. They were three or four miles out, a good distance from shore, probably trying to figure out what kind of storm this might be. Were they in danger, or was this simply some passing shower in the night?
Suddenly they see him.

Jesus Christ, walking on water.

Their reaction is included here in the Gospel: They were scared senseless.

Who wouldn’t be? It’s not something we’re used to seeing. It’s not something we’ve ever seen. I’ve never once looked out from a boat and seen someone walking on water. I’ve never even seen someone hesitate before plunging beneath the surface. One simply doesn’t walk on water.

But Jesus did.

And in doing so, he indicated that with him, everything changes.

He does get in the boat, but he’s made his point. He’s done so in the most dramatic way possible. Feeding the masses was one thing; turning the water into wine was another, but this was entirely a new level. He wasn’t converting one thing to another; he wasn’t multiplying anything. He was showing a total mastery over the natural world. He was indicating that there was clearly more to Jesus Christ than these disciples could even begin to understand. He didn’t do this just to show off; he wanted the disciples to begin to take every conception of him they had formed and explode them. Jesus Christ was bigger and wilder than they had even begun to imagine, and they were following him. Choosing to follow him wasn’t about following a guy who knew great party tricks; they were invited into a reality where they were no longer comfortable, where they weren’t necessarily even safe. Jesus Christ was bidding them to come and follow, and in doing so Christ was turning their worlds and their understandings on their heads and showing them that in Christ, everything changes.

I’m not sure we always grasp this. We like our comfort and our comfort food. We like Jesus to be comfortable, too. We like to hear about the grace and mercy and peace of Jesus Christ. We take great comfort in knowing that when we affirm that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior we are saved, we are safe in the arms of Jesus. And we are.

But Jesus invites us into a new understanding of life in this world as a follower of Christ, and it involves far more vulnerability than it does comfort and safety. To be sure, let us not lose sight of the fact that we are safe and secure in the arms of Christ, more safe and secure than we could be in any other place in this world.

Christ does invite us into a deeper world, where we have to be willing to be vulnerable, to take risks, to allow our view of this life and discipleship to be radically changed by the One who has made it all. Christ invites us to throw overboard society’s ideas of success and pick up Christ’s ideas of faithfulness. For when Christ walks on water, he is indicating that he has power we cannot grasp with our normal concepts of society and humanity.

So I want you to take your ideas of safety and vulnerability and drop them over the side. They may make us feel safe, and macaroni and cheese may make me feel comfortable, but Christ is calling us to a far deeper reality than one where safety can be found as easily as a couch in the sunlight. Christ is asking us to abandon all our ideas of safety and throw ourselves completely upon him, for he is truly the Lord of this world; he has made it, and he rules over it.

Christ is calling us into a new kind of vulnerability. Not only are we to let go of our false ideas of security, but also we are to follow a Lord who is going places we are unable to go. What it means to follow this Lord is radically different than we can understand, but we have to begin to dream beyond what we are dreaming now. We have to come up with new ways to serve, with new ways to love, with new ways to reach out and show this love and power of God to others.

The text invites us to think deeper, differently, than we have before. We are called to allow ourselves to be transformed by this radical Savior. This week, think about how we are living, and how we go beyond, how we can go deeper, beginning to dip a toe into the deep waters Christ is walking upon. What are new ways we can live together, serve together, follow Christ together? We are a community committed to following this Lord of heaven and earth—how are we witnessing to that? Are we too comfortable? Or are we willing to be transformed by this Savior?

Christ calls us to be vulnerable, to come to new understandings of what life is like when it is lived in Christ. But we are not doing this on our own. Christ comes to us, even across the water, in the midst of the storms in the middle of the night, and abides with us, taking us to the exact place we are headed to, even if we cannot see it. We are called to be different, to be faithful rather than successful, and in each step of our walk, in each bit of our sailing, Christ is with us, challenging us while loving and redeeming us all the same. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray.

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