Summary: PENTECOST 12, YEAR A - True faith comes in the midst of doubt
Many of you know Joni Erickson Tada. She was paralyzed in a swimming accident as a teen. This life-changing accident lead her on a journey of faith. And from her experiences with God, she has become a well known Christian speaker and artist. In a recent devotional she wrote about another moment of importance in her life. She says,
"When I was little and went horseback riding with my sisters, I had a hard time keeping up. My problem was that I was riding a little pony only half the size of their mounts. I had to gallop twice as fast just to keep up. I didn’t mind. I took it as a challenge until we came to the edge of a river. My sisters on their big horses thought it was fun and exciting to cross the river at the deepest part. They never seemed to notice that my little pony sank quite a bit deeper into the swirling waters. It was scary, but I wasn’t about to let them know."
So, Joni rode her mount into the river; she continues,
"One crossing in particular sticks in my memory: the Gorsuch Switch Crossing on the Patapsco River. It had rained earlier that week and the river was brown and swollen
As our horses waded out toward midstream, I became transfixed staring at the swirling waters rushing around the legs of my pony. It made me scared and dizzy. I began to lose my balance in the saddle."
Have you ever crossed a stream on a fallen log? I can tell you, you’re fine until you look down at the rushing water and then suddenly you’re off balance, struggling to keep from falling and you usually wind up scooting across the rest of the way on the seat of your pants. Or you climb up a ladder to get to that high pitch of the roof, to repair a loose shingle. And when you look down, you freeze. That is what it is like when doubt seeps in; we lose our focus, our sense of balance, and our confidence. You know what I mean, you are going along in life and everything is going your way until something happens that makes you doubt and then it seems that everything turns against you. You get a good job and they tell you you are doing great but the company gets bought off and you find yourself unemployed wondering if anyone will ever hire you again. You’re in a good relationship but you’re afraid to trust him and the doubt begins to drive a wedge of suspicion between you. You’ve always wanted to go to college, but you got more than one C in school, so you changed your mind, and took the first job offered to you after you graduated.
Doubt. It is that insidious, spreading fear that makes us take our eyes off the goal and question our abilities and worth. That’s what happened to Peter. For a moment, he was walking on water, literally, then doubt seeped in and he began to sink. I love this biblical story because Peter is so human, he is so like us. He is bold and willing to take risks on the one hand and fearful and full of doubt on the other. He shows us what it means to be a Christian caught midway between faith and doubt. We want to believe but doubt comes so naturally to us. In fact, this very story challenges the faith of many of us. We have a hard time conceiving of anyone walking on water. Our faith sinks as we doubt the validity of a story which violates natural law. But just for now try to put the science aside. This scripture isn’t concerned with science but faith. Focus on what the story says about who Jesus is and what it means to be one of his disciples.
The first thing we should notice is that while Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and sent them across the sea, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. The story gives us
bifocal image - in one scene we see Jesus in prayer on the mountain, which traditionally symbolizes the place where the presence and power of God is found - while at the same time the disciples were being battered by wind and waves in a small boat on the sea. They were rowing for all they were worth but getting nowhere because the wind was against them. Have you ever felt like that? That no matter how hard you tried, you just couldn’t get ahead? You work and work but still can’t get the bills paid up. You’ve been in program after program but you still can’t break the addiction. You try a new diet every month but you still can’t lose the weight the doctor says has to come off. You’ve been to therapist after therapist, but still the pain won’t let you go. Sometimes it seems the wind is against us and our efforts are fruitless. By the time Jesus came walking toward them in the hours just before dawn, the disciples were soaked to the bone, dead-tired and near despair. They’d been rowing for hours but the shore didn’t seem much closer than when they’d started. The wind was against them and they were getting no where on their own. Then they saw Jesus and cried out in fear, "It’s a ghost." But he immediately reassured them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Jesus had been on the way to his disciples for a long time before they noticed him. He was concerned with their needs even when he seemed to be absent from them. The time on the mountain was not time apart from them, but time preparing for the work of saving them.