Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 14, Year A
August 13, 2023
This past June many of you know
I served as chaplain at Sawyerville Day Camp.
Chaplains have broad and vague job descriptions at camp.
We Help with program, lead prayers, counsel with kids,
and do lots of little things that look like they need doing.
I was okay with that.
The one thing I knew I needed to do, but wasn’t crazy about doing,
was go to the pool. This kind of reluctance is pretty much heresy at camp.
The POOL is THE main attraction at camp.
And why not? The weather is hot—the pool is cold.
Why wouldn’t you want to go?
It is a happy time, too. The kids are so excited about getting to go swimming.
Rarely, if ever, do any of these kids get the opportunity to swim.
Camp is their chance to splash and play
and jump in delightfully cold water in a very big pool.
But there’s just one thing. Most of the kids cannot swim.
There are no city pools or a lake for them to learn to swim.
This is where the noodles come in handy.
I think I’ve told you before
about all the noodles we have at camp for the swimming pool.
We take tie straps and cinch the noodles into loops,
making them into life preservers that the kids can step into.
Often, the kids put on three or four loops of noodles,
then they get in the pool.
In case you’re wondering, I did go to the pool at camp this summer.
One day when I was there, dressed in my bathing suit
and sitting on the side of the pool, ready to go, but not in yet,
I was watching one of our campers–a nine year old boy,
I’ll call him Jahmir. He was wrapped in three noodles
and hanging on to the side of the pool for dear life.
Jahmir has this great big smile,
and he was smiling even though he was shivering—partly cold and partly because he was very excited to be in the pool,
but so scared to let go of the wall for more than one or two seconds.
He wanted very badly to be braver, to go out there in the middle,
like some of the kids were doing, but it is hard when you are afraid.
My heart melted.
I got in next to him.
This was the shallow end, and the cold water was up to my armpits.
I asked, “Will you hold my hands and come swim with me?”
He did. He let me pull him around, like a motor boat.
Don’t let go. Not too far out there. Not in the deep end.
Eventually he let me talk him into letting go of my hands
push him back toward the side.
And then we’d do it all over again. Each time I’d say let go and come out to me. I’d step out a tiny bit farther. Come closer, he’d say.
As I coaxed him to let go of the wall and reach for my hands.
“I’ll reach out for you.”
The memory of that day at the pool
came flooding back to me this week as I read the gospel for today.
We hear that Peter, fearful of the strong wind, began to sink
as he got out of the boat and started on the water toward Jesus.
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught Peter,
asking him, “why did you doubt?”
I’ve heard this gospel story so many times, as I bet you have.
I’ve also heard it taught by some preachers as a moral lesson.
As if Jesus was testing Peter’s faith.
The preacher might elaborate,
“If only you had enough faith, Peter.”
“If only you kept your eyes on Jesus, you could have done this.”
“If only your faith met up to God’s expectation, then
you would not have sunk.”
Maybe we think this makes sense; after all, Jesus said to Peter,
“You of little faith, why did you doubt?
We wonder if this statement, “You of little faith” is an admonition,
right and good.
The preacher may even say,
“God expects full faith, no doubt, or else you may sink too.”
But here’s the problem with that thinking.
Jesus didn’t ask Peter to jump out of the boat.
He wasn’t testing Peter.
Peter, God Bless him,
Impetuous Peter was so excited to see Jesus,
he asked Jesus to command him to come out of the boat.
Peter loses his footing, he’s afraid, and Jesus didn’t hesitate to come to him.
Matthew writes, “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.”
Jesus went towards Peter, regardless of Peter’s doubt, to raise him up.
This was not a test.
Still, there is a lesson in this story,
but that we must, or could ever have unerring faith, is not the message.
Jesus, holding Peter’s hands, asks him, ‘why did you doubt?’
not to reprimand poor Peter.
Jesus is saying
Why did you doubt, when I am right here with you,
you know that, friend. I am right here with you.
In that moment,
Jesus is recalling Peter’s attention
to the faith that he already has in Jesus.
Jesus’ walking on the water,
is undoubtedly one of the best known gospel stories.
The story captivates us because of its drama!
Yet its message … its message
is even more captivating,
It is about putting our hand into the hands of Jesus,
even in the scariest of times and walking on by faith.
Neither Peter’s nor our own lack of faith stops Jesus
from drawing us close to him.
Saint Paul teaches the Romans this very lesson on faith in his letter to them:
Using the ancient text he quotes the lovely words,
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart.”
Paul says, Because of God’s faithfulness towards us,
We can have faith that God is present to us in every circumstance.
We can align ourselves with divine grace no matter what may happen.
Even on the cross, we see Jesus’ ultimate acceptance of God’s pure undefended love.
The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.
I am with you. Jesus tells Peter, I am here.
I will draw near to you in the midst of your fear, even in the scariest, stormy waters of life, I will find you.
In her book Inspired, Rachel Held Evans rewrites
this wonderful gospel story as a Choose your own Adventure story.
The kind of story where you place yourself
into the characters and decide what would you do?
- Skip to page 12 if you would be like Peter, and step out of the boat? Go to page 14, if you know you’d be like the other disciples, and stay put, saying, I’ll see what happens to Peter first….”
Evan’s book reminds us to also look at this from Jesus’ perspective—
the one who is already on the water, reaching out to help another;
skip to page 15 if that person is a Cute kid like Jahmir.
Skip to page 15 if that person is your least favorite person on the planet? Would you still be eager to reach out your hand?
Choose your path of faith, trust that Jesus will reach out for you no matter what.
We may not always be our best selves, but Jesus reaches out anyway.
We can do the same for others.
We may hate cold water,
we may not be great swimmers,
but we can imagine what it might be like to be afraid to step in.
that is our gift—putting ourselves in another’s shoes.
We can do this because we’ve been given what we need,
a faithful footing from God in Christ.
Resurrection makes all these things possible.
We’re not asked to have it all figured out,
we are asked to let Jesus meet us,
to give us a hand, so we might issue his beloved invitation to others.
Thanks be to God.