This morning we begin with this quote from Max Lucado.
(Slide 1) Whether or not storms come, we cannot choose. But where we stare during a storm, that we can. (Source: Max Lucado via twitter.com/MaxLucado, October 12, 2009)
(I think that he has been reading John Ortberg’s book!)
Look at that statement again and let’s read it together. (Congregation reads along.)
Let’s do that again…
I agree with Lucado. We cannot evade the storms of life and fear that come our way, sometimes very unexpectedly. But we can, choose to direct our focus in the midst of them and that is one of the choices that I hope has come through in this series, “Getting Your Feet Wet,” of which this is the fifth of six sermons in this fall series.
We have been examining Matthew 14:22-33, which is Matthew’s account of the disciples encountering Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee during a storm and Peter’s request, (really a command) of Jesus to tell him to come and walk to Him (that is, Jesus) on the water. Our focus this morning is verses 30 and 31:
“But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Instantly Jesus reached out his hand and grabbed him. “You don’t have much faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” (NLT)
Now, the title of this message is “Progress Not Perfection.” And you might be asking, “Jim, why did you title a message, “Progress Not Perfection,” that deals with a scripture passage in which failure is very evident? How can failure be progress?” I am very glad you asked that question! Hang with me for a few minutes.
(Slide 3) Someone has written, “The will of God will never take you where the Grace of God will not protect you.” The phrase “will never take you” is a statement of the process of journeying. It implies progress on a journey not a full completion of a journey at any given point.
We are on a journey from life to death; from childhood to adulthood; from young to old. But, at a deeper level, we are moving from life to either eternal life or eternal death.
We are also on a journey of faith, from new birth to spiritual maturity; from disbelief to belief; from uncertainty to hope.
We can be on a journey that is regressive as well as progressive… from hope to despair; from lightness to darkness; from faith to disbelief… the choice is ours as to our direction for we never lose that ability to switch directions! (Or switch what we are focused on during the storm)
This tumultuous time in the disciples’ life is a time in which they are experiencing an apparently backward movement. I say apparently, because with a storm and a rocking boat that is taking water, they view the situation as a perilous one. Nothing is going right, right now.
They have witnessed a tremendous miracle in the feeding of the five thousand but they seem, according to Mark’s comments in his gospel account of this situation, to have dismissed it entirely or it has not sunk in yet that Jesus is more than a mesmerizing Rabbi.
But they will…
This episode of their life is just that… an episode. The Encarta Dictionary defines an episode in this way, “an event that is a part of but distinct from a greater whole and that often has specific significance.” These moments of fear are just moments, significant to be sure, but just moments that will form part of their historic memory and vital message of the Christian Gospel in the decades, and for us, centuries ahead.
In other words, this is not going to be the end of the road for the twelve, especially Peter. They are going to survive these moments of fear and uncertainty for it is part of their spiritual journey. Now sometime before they are thrown in to this anxious situation, Jesus makes clear to them something that I think they found hard to swallow and, so do we as well.
(Slide 4) We go to Matthew 5:43 to hear what ‘it’ is:
But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Perfect? Me… to be perfect? You… to be perfect? You have to be kidding!
One of the most interesting things, I recently read about Facebook, one the biggest sites on the Internet, is that when people sign up to become a part of Facebook, they freeze when they get to the box that asks them for their religious views. The article, which appeared in the August 30, 2009 issue of the The Washington Post, contained an interview with 27-year-old Eric Heim that revealed the following about one person’s journey of faith.
“For Heim, who joined Facebook last year, the box posed a question with no easy answer.
With space limited to 100 characters, there was simply no room for Heim to go into his childhood experiences with faith -- growing up with an agnostic father, an evangelical mother and a fundamentalist grandmother. There was no space to describe the terror he felt after learning of heaven and hell. Or how the hell part weighed especially heavily after he was caught breaking into a neighbor's home at age 7.
He couldn't convey the profound faith and forgiveness he found in junior high after hearing the tear-filled sermons of a charismatic Baptist minister. Or the eventual dulling of that faith in college by alcohol. And he couldn't fully explain the slow reformation of that faith, now that he has abandoned the hollowness of his old party life.”
"How the heck do you fit all of that into a box?"
And Jesus calls us to be perfect?
(By the way, I wrote in my box, “an imperfect Christian.”)
Here is a young man who has struggled with faith and fear through much of his life (and Jesus spoke of such people in his day as well.)
(Keep hanging with me, I’m getting there!)
But, cannot we also look back and see the progress that we have made in our own faith journey through what now we see were ‘getting out of the boat’ moments (among other things) when everything went topsy-turvy?
What would you say to Eric Heim? That ignoring the fearful moments, the moments when he had to know that he was going against what he had once believed, is the way to spiritual growth and maturity?
Would we tell Peter the same thing?
Here is my point (finally Pastor!)
(Slide 5) That, while Jesus calls us to be “perfect,” spiritual growth is best measured by progress, not performance, and that while “perfection” is achieved through both peace and success and obedience it is also achieved through fear and failure. (Now here me out!)
Peter grew through this failure of faith on the water. Jesus’ statements to him, are often read, I think, with a voice of scolding. I think they were not heard by the other eleven and were said with a hint of sadness and disappointment in Jesus’ voice. But it was not the end of the line for Peter, Jesus did not leave Him there to drown. He heard his cry for help and rescued him from certain death to live another day.
I know that some of us here can identify with a near death experience and that Jesus rescued us from it! We saw the waves, death, staring us in the face, we were not sure if we would live or die, but God rescued us (perhaps more than once) because He still had other plans for us.
In dealing with our fears we have to, at some point, address what I think is the biggest fear for us in the United States of America – the fear of failure. I believe that it is this fear that holds us back more than any other fear.
A decade ago, I remember hearing a youth minister, Mark DeVries who had developed a family based youth ministry program, tell of this fear at work. After he had persuaded his church to adopt this new ministry model a member of the leadership and, from what I can remember, a youth parent, said to him, “Mark, this cannot fail! This is the church you know!” I cannot fully remember what he said in return but it acknowledged that failure was a distinct possibility and that they needed to acknowledge the fact!
Think about this with me for a moment.
(Slide 6) Those who take bold chances don’t think failure is the opposite of success. They believe complacency is. (Source: Rabbi Shai Specht via twitter.com/RabbiShaiSpecht October 13, 2009)
Peter did, to re-quote Max Lucado, chose ‘where to stare’ during the storm. He took a ‘bold chance,’ to re-quote the rabbi, and not let complacency keep him from getting out of the boat and start walking toward Jesus.
Yes, he did fail, his focused changed, the waves loomed large and he started to sink, he failed. But Jesus did not leave him drowning (literally) in his failure.
He rescued him!
(Slide 7) So what does this mean for us today? How can we begin to embrace the process of progress and reject the demanding performance of perfection when we fail, as we will, in moments of faith during the storms of life?
How can we learn from those painful moments of failure, often deeply debilitating, when the Lord carries us sopping wet back into the boat (a place of safety and rehab) that we will need?
1. Choose to learn from failure. It is not an easy thing to do. To face our own failure, not so-and-so’s failure, my failure requires a strength of character and will that, I truly think, only comes as we surrender our will to God’s and choose to learn.
Let me read a portion of something that some here will probably recognize right away.
(Read several of the opening paragraphs from chapter 5 of the Big Book of AA, How It Works.)
Ask anyone who has taken on the work to ‘work’ the 12 steps how hard it is. It is not easy as I have heard and seen over the years.
This is one way of learning from failure, and because I think it is truly rooted in the Christian faith, it has helped millions of men and women overcome their addiction to many things.
But to overcome; to learn from our failures, requires us to make the choice to learn.
2. Cultivate hope. One of the reasons for this series is to help hope grow in our hearts. As followers of Christ, expressing hope not naïve optimism, is critical these days, through our anxieties and fears loom large.
Over in 1 Corinthians 13:13, we read, “There are three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” Yes, love is the greatest. But, hope stands next to love and without hope, love is weakened.
There is the last half of 1st Peter 3:15 which says, “And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” I wonder if Peter thought about that water walking experience many years later when he wrote those words.
Hope believes that there are greater things ahead in the midst of the storms and fear. And if our hope, as Peter writes is Christian hope, that is hope rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ, then it is a hope based not on stormy circumstances but in the One who comes to us in the midst of those stormy circumstances.
But hope is not a passive thing, it requires action on our part including this one…
3. Get back up. The prodigal son began to turn his life around and face his failures when he finally saw how good the pigs had it! He stopped literally living in the mud and dirt, got back up and started for home.
He did not stay where he was. He took the first step on the road back to his father and the life that he had abandoned.
He could have stayed where he was and felt sorry for himself. He could have focused on what his father did or did not do to/for him. He could have complained about unfair his older brother was.
But he did not. He came to his senses and he got up and realized where hope was! He remembered the safety of his father’s home. And he went home! “… And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger, and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening in the pen. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.”
This is progress not perfection!
What is the Spirit saying to you this morning? Where are you drowning in failure right now? Where has progressed, essential to your life and faith, stop?
Call out to the Lord and let Him help you get up and to a place of safety. There will be more moments in which you are challenged to get out of the boat. But for now, you need to be rescued. God is will to do that, at this very moment.
Let us obey the Spirit this morning in this matter. Amen.