Summary: Even the fundamentals of our faith -- the Bible, prayer, the church, spiritual experience -- can become slippery, unsure. The way to certainty is through obedience.
Although generally I stay away from stories that begin, “There were a Baptist minister, a Catholic priest, and a Jewish rabbi,” today I’ll make an exception. Sometimes you just have to be corny to get your point across.
So, sure enough, there were a Baptist minister, a Catholic priest, and a Jewish rabbi, and they were, of course, involved in a religious debate. They had gone on a picnic together out by the lake, where they started talking about whose faith was best. One of them said, “My faith is so strong and my religion is so solid that, if I wanted to, I could walk on water.” And one of the others said he thought he could too. So the third one said, in a slight paraphrase of a verse in the Book of Acts, “See, here is water, what doth hinder us ..?” The Bible says, “What doth hinder us to be baptized?”, but they meant, “What doth hinder us making fools of ourselves?”
And so it began. The Baptist minister volunteered to go first. After all, he said, I have had a lot more experience with water than you fellows. We do baptisms right, all the way in. None of this sprinkling for us. I know water. And so he charged off the end of the dock and, you guessed it, plunged into water right up to his blessed assurance, and washed ashore embarrassed and spluttering. So much for us Baptists.
The Catholic priest volunteered to go next. I will show both of you whose is the true church, founded on the shoulders of St. Peter, who was among the original walkers on water. Father stepped briskly off the dock. But Father also faltered and fell face full forward into four fathoms of froth. He too had to climb out, his confidence shattered.
The rabbi smiled a knowing smile, walked out to the water’s edge, swung his foot around in the water as if he were testing it, and then, slowly but surely, began to walk right across the lake, all the way to the other side, with his head held high and his prayer shawl dry. When his clergy colleagues had recovered from shock, of course they were most repentant and most anxious to know how such a thing was done. In fact, they were almost ready to sign up to join the synagogue.
The rabbi had an explanation. “Oh, he said, “walking on the water, it’s no big thing. Not if you know where the rocks are.”
Seems like sometimes you and I are called upon to walk on water. Seems like sometimes you and I have to stay steady amid all the challenges of life, and it’s not easy to keep going. We are expected to manage our families, bring home a decent living, take part in community affairs, make a contribution to the church, further our educations, and be there for anybody who needs us. There’s so much to do sometimes we think we will drown in it all. Got to walk on water just to stay up with things.
And then they tell us it’s no big thing if you know where the rocks are. If you just stay focused on the right things, they say, you can do it. You can be superhuman. You can not only walk on water, you can leap tall buildings with a single bound. You can do it all. That’s what they say, if you know where the rocks are.
The only trouble with that is that sometimes the rocks get slippery. Sometimes the very things on which we depend get slippery and uncertain. Slippery rocks; even if you know where they are, have a habit of giving way. They feel more like the shifting sand in Jesus’ parable than the rock on which we can depend.
Let me be specific. If you have been in one of our discipleship groups, you’ve heard it said that the resources for our spiritual stability are four things: the Bible, prayer, our church fellowship, and our personal testimony. Four rocks, if you like, on which Christians stand tall and, somebody says, can help you just about walk on water: God’s word, which instructs us; prayer, which inspires us; a caring fellowship, called the church, to support us; and our witness, the testimony of our own experiences, to give us a means of expression.
Know where these rocks are and use them and you are secure. That’s what we have been taught.
But now, what if these rocks get slippery? Let me point out just how slippery all these rocks can become.
We’ve mentioned the Bible. God’s word. Being instructed in the ways of the Lord. It’s a rock. But have you ever been through periods of doubt? Have you ever just found yourself questioning the Bible? How can this old book, written hundreds of years ago by goodness-knows-who, still teach us today? How can we trust it, how can we make sense of it? Haven’t you ever felt that way?