Part 1—What to do?
“It is one thing to say that something should be done, but quite a different matter to do it.” Isn’t that the truth!?!
I just heard someone say that it is the great fallacy of our intellectual age that: because you’ve talked about it, you think you’ve done it. Not quite the same.
The text we saw & heard today is a pretty well known text from the gospel according to Matthew. The disciples are caught in a storm at sea when Jesus comes walking across the water toward them. When they saw Jesus walking toward them on the sea, they were more afraid of him than the storm. But Jesus said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water toward Jesus. What Peter did in stepping out of the boat was literally stepping out on faith.
When we celebrate All Saints Day, we celebrate those who have gone before us and stepped out in faith. We expand it here to celebrate and memorialize anyone close to us who has died—but in the larger church the celebration of All Saint’s Day is reserved for the saints. Those who stepped out in faith in such a significant way that the church recognizes them as saints. So there is no more appropriate time to stop and think about how we, ourselves, are stepping out in faith.
We are all called to step out, to risk something for our faith. But I think sometimes it is hard to know what that means for each of us. What does it mean for me, for you, to step out in faith? I’m not called to be a prophet to the people of Israel like Samuel was. I don’t feel called to go to India and work with lepers like Mother Teresa. So what am I supposed to do? What does it mean for me to step out in faith?
Frederick Buechner says “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Where does your passion and the world’s great need meet?
If this is our true calling, it is important that we can name our passions—what brings us joy. And that is hard for some of us. So I invite you to think about it for a minute. [piece of paper] write down 3 passions—things that when you do them time ceases, all of your senses become engaged. What are the things that bring you the greatest joy?
This is the starting place for discovering your calling—for discovering how you are supposed to step out in faith.
Once you have made that list, I invite you to take a look at it and think about the 2nd part of what Buechner said. Where could your passion serve a true need in the world?
Buechner unpacks his statement by saying this: “The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.”
So, I invite you to think seriously about these passions, these things that bring you joy and where they can be used in service to God and others. How might you offer these gifts to Christ? Whatever or passions and joys may be, when we bring them to Christ, they become ignited—given life and purpose. In a minute, we are going to celebrate communion. When we do, I invite you to bring your paper with you and leave it in the basket that will be here in front. Let it be a symbol of offering your gifts to Christ. And then see how Christ takes these gifts of yours and asks you to step out in faith.
Part 2—The courage to do it!
We talked earlier about discovering our passions and thinking about how they can be used in service to Christ. But knowing what you need to do is only part of the equation. Once you know, how do you take that first step?
Do you know what is the most common command in all of Scripture? It is not for us to be more loving (though that may be the core to God’s desire for human life, it is not God’s most frequent instruction.) It is not a command about avoiding pride or gaining humility. The single command in Scripture that occurs more often than any other is this: “Fear not.” “Don’t be afraid.”
Fear is the thing that most often keeps us from doing what God is calling us to do. Fear of losing our comforts, our financial security. Fear of failure. Fear that if we step out, there will be nothing there to hold us up.
In this story from Matthew, fear comes up twice. First when the disciples see Jesus walking on the water and then later, when Peter is walking on the water himself, he remembers the strong wind, becomes frightened—and begins to sink. Each time, Jesus says, “Have faith. Do not be afraid.”
In his book, “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat”, John Ortberg says that he believes our courage or lack of courage is directly related to the size of our God. If we live with a small God then we live in a constant state of fear and anxiety because everything depends on us. We cannot be generous because our financial security depends on us. We cannot take risks because our safety depends on us.
So how do we enlarge our sense of God? And how do we find the wisdom & the courage to step out in faith? We do it by spending time in worship and in faith community—places where we are reminded about the grand story of God through time—the story of which we are a part. Places where we are reminded about God’s steadfast love for God’s people. Places where we hear stories of how God is working in the lives of others we know. We must be reminded of the ways God has acted in the past if we are to have courage & wisdom to step out in the future.
I think it is also important to note that stepping out in faith requires more than courage. It also requires discernment. Stepping out in faith isn’t just about taking risk, it is taking a risk in obedience to God. When Peter & the other disciples see Jesus walking on the water, Peter doesn’t just jump out of the boat and start walking. Instead, he calls out to Jesus: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” This isn’t just a story about risk-taking, it is primarily a story about obedience. You have to discern between an authentic call from God and what might be simply a foolish impulse. Courage alone isn’t enough; it must be accompanied by wisdom and discernment.
We are all called to step out in faith in some way. For some of us it might be something big—a radical change of our life’s direction. For some of us it might be something smaller—like volunteering, using our gifts in service to others. For some of us it might even mean doing less. It might mean working less, so you can be a more faithful parent to your children or partner to your spouse.
It doesn’t matter how big our calling is, it takes courage to make that first step.
[Children’s sermon—jumping off steps from different places, taking different steps.] It took no less courage for the smallest child to jump from the bottom step than it did for the biggest to jump from the highest step.
The same is true for us. It doesn’t matter how big our small our calling may seem, it is very difficult to step off the solid ground we know into the great chasm of the unknown.
Clip from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indiana Jones has to pass three supreme tests to reach the Holy Grail. In this final and most difficult test, this great large chasm is all that stands between him and the holy grail—and yet there is no visible bridge there. The instructions say, “Only in the leap from the lion’s head, will he prove his worth.” But the chasm is clearly too great to jump. And then you hear his father saying, “You must believe, boy! You must believe!” What does it take to take that first step off solid ground? How do you step out into the great chasm of the unknown, trusting you’ll find something solid that will hold you? You must believe! You must believe!