The Freedom to Step Out of the Boat / by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

I hope that this week has afforded you many opportunities to enjoy these unexpectedly cool days. I know I've found it much easier to get outside, both for work and for relaxation. On a long summer day with a nose full of cool, clean air there are moments of extreme optimism, like I could tackle any project or navigate any problem, like I could run for miles and not get tired, like I could walk on water. 

This week's gospel passage, Matthew 14:22-33, is also about the weather and how it relates to our faith, but on the other side of the coin; the disciples get caught in heavy wind blowing against their boat as they try to cross the Sea of Galilee. If you've ever been in a small craft in high seas you know that it's very difficult to think straight much less relax when struggling against waves that threaten to dump water into the boat at any moment. In contrast, here comes Jesus, strolling across the waves. The disciples are together, battered, trapped in their boat. Jesus is alone, at peace, and free to walk where he wills.

And when the disciples see someone outside of their boat, the immediate reaction is fear: "It's a ghost!" When we see people outside of our safe, life-preserving structures, when we see people without houses or cars or churches or 40-hour workweeks, we get afraid for them and we get a little afraid of them. 

But Christ reassures the disciples - "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Once we recognize Christ in a person who by some miracle manages to survive out there in the storm, without any of the things we rely on to get by, we have a choice. We can cling to our (very necessary) boat, or we can dare to step out, trusting that the miracle that sustains them will sustain us, too, for a time. 

By faith Peter stepped out, and by fear he began to sink. "Faith" is such a difficult and slippery idea; it seems like everyone has their own definition of what it means. Some say it's about what you believe; others say it's about who you trust. To me this story helps clearly illuminate that faith is about what you do. You can believe all kinds of facts about a bridge, but unless you walk on it you don't have faith in it. If your fear prevents you, all the beliefs in the world can't let you walk in faith.

Then Jesus helps Peter back into the boat, and joins him and the rest of the disciples there. The boat is a good thing, but from then on the disciples know that Jesus isn't trapped in it -- and they get the feeling that with faith, they aren't either. When the wind and waves buffet our boats, let's remember those cool August mornings when we felt like we could do anything, and let's give ourselves the option of stepping out, onto the water, to meet our Lord.

Blessings and peace be with you all,
Andrew

p.s.- This Sunday at 9:30am will be the start of the class in preparation for baptism this September. We'll meet in my office, unless there's too many of us and we need to figure out something else. We're going to have some great conversations, I'm looking forward to it!