Sunday, August 10, 2014

"We were born to walk on water ... but we have to step out of the boat" - a sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 10, 2014

Come Holy Spirit, and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Take our minds and think through them.
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our souls, and set them on fire.

Louis Head, stepfather of shooting victim Michael Brown,
sobs at the memorial set up at the site of the shooting.
Photo by Steve Giegerich, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Yesterday afternoon, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson. We don't know all the facts of the case, but witnesses say that he was unarmed and had his hands in the air when he was shot multiple times by a police officer. His grandmother went out looking for him and found his body in the street.

We do not have all the facts of this case, but we do have facts. We have the fact that there are too many guns on our streets and too many mothers and grandmothers mourning their children. We have the fact that there are deep divides of race and class in our city and region and nation and world. And that these divides continue to bring us nothing but misery. We have the fact that for far too many black children and families, the police are not the ones you run to for protection but are ones you flee from in fear.

We do not all have the facts of this case, and it is so important that a thorough investigation be held and that the facts of this case be brought to light, and that justice be served in sunlight and not in secret. But we do know that this is all-too-familiar. We do know that this is not an isolated incident in this city or in this country. We know that Michael Brown now joins the list of our sons cut down that includes D’Andre Berghgardt, Jesus Huerta, Jonathan Ferrell and countless other young men of color who have been, all of them unarmed, killed by police just in the past year.

I stand before you this morning maybe as you do, with a heavy heart and a troubled spirit.

I weep for Michael Brown, for his parents, his grandparents, his community and his friends.

I weep for the police officer, and I wonder what caused him to pull that trigger again and again, I weep for the cost that is exacted on his or her soul for taking another human life.

I weep for my friend, mayor James Knowles of Ferguson, trying to hold his community together in a time of great tragedy.

I weep and I sigh and I shake my head ,and I am tempted to despair.

I'm tempted to despair because this keeps happening, and I don't know how to make it stop.

I'm tempted to despair because the divides among us are so deep and so wide, and they seem impossible to bridge, they seem at times like this like they may swallow us up.

I am tempted to despair because if a whole generation of young black men, part of that generation that is supposed to be our hope and our future, is learning not to trust the people whom we as a community lift up and charge to protect and to serve, is learning not to trust and in fact to fear the ones who are charged with keeping the peace and ensuring justice, what hope do we have?

And as I look around and I see not just that storm clouds are gathering but that this storm is in full force and has been for a long time, in my despair, I am tempted to shout out, "Jesus, where are you! Jesus, why don't you do something?"

And then I hear this morning's Gospel reading. And I see Jesus calmly walking towards us. With the storm whipping all around us and the storm whipping all around him. And I know he is there. And I know he has some words for us.

This morning’s Gospel is one of the most powerful images we have of the life of following Jesus. Of why we gather here every week. Of who we are to be as the church.

It is scary. It is the opposite of safe. It is a morass of courage and hesitation, failure and success. It is our mission if we choose to accept it, it is our only hope in times like these, times of trouble and despair,

…and it will be our salvation.

Jesus has gone off to pray and the disciples are in a boat heading away from him across a stormy sea. The Gospel tells us that “the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.”

Battered, with the wind against them. Sounds familiar.

And early in the morning, Jesus comes walking toward them on the sea. The disciples are terrified, and the first thing they imagine is he is a ghost – because certainly no human being could walk on water. But Jesus says what he always says, “It’s OK. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

But still the disciples aren’t convinced. So Peter speaks up. This person or whatever it is says he is Jesus, but Peter needs more, he needs to see some ID, so Peter answers him:

“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Think about that for a second. The proof Peter needed that this was Jesus wasn’t Jesus doing something but Jesus ordering Peter to do something, something that had never been done before. Something risky and scary and dangerous and to the eyes of anyone watching absolutely insane – stepping out of the boat in the midst of a storm and walking across the water.

But Peter knew. Peter knew Jesus well enough to know that the real Jesus would never just leave them in the boat tossed around by the storm. The real Jesus wouldn’t just make life easier by calming the seas and making everything nice and comfortable. The real Jesus knew that we are born to walk on water. That we can do impossible things.

Peter knew that if this was really Jesus, he would tell him to step out of the boat.

And Jesus says: “Come.” And Peter steps out of the boat.

Far too often we read this as a story of failure. We remember Peter taking his eyes off Jesus and looking at the wind whipping round and becoming frightened and beginning to sink.

We forget this sentence: “So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.”

Peter did it. He risked and he trusted and despite all the evidence from the dawn of humanity to the contrary, he did something absolutely crazy and impossible. He stepped out of a boat in a storm onto the sea and he did what no human being who wasn’t named Jesus had ever done before. Peter walked on water.

Peter proved it can be done.

That we were born to walk on water.

We can do impossible things.

We were born to walk on water but we have to step out of the boat.

And yes, he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink, but look what happened when he did. He cried out to Jesus “Lord, save me!” and that’s exactly what Jesus did. And Jesus chastisement of Peter is not for failing – he didn’t say “Peter, you bonehead, don’t you know how to do this?” No. Jesus gently chastises Peter not for failing but for not trusting that he could succeed.

This Gospel story is one of the most powerful images we have of the life of following Jesus, of who we are to be as the church. Remember, this is the same Peter that Jesus calls “the rock on which I will build my church.” The foundation of the church is not and never has been people who play it safe. The foundation of the church is and always will be people who know that we were born to walk on water, and that we can do impossible things and that Jesus always, always will lead us there and meet us there but we have to step out of the boat.

Because Jesus doesn’t command us to do the easy and the expected. And Jesus certainly doesn’t command us to cling to the sides of our boats, tossed about by the waves and despairing of the storm. Jesus commands us to do what seems impossible. – to walk out on the waters into the very heart of the storm.

He does not promise that it won’t be scary. In fact, we can pretty much guarantee that it will be scary. He does not promise us that we will always succeed. But he does promise us that if we keep our eyes on him we will not perish. He does promise us that in him, nothing is impossible, but we have to step out of the boat.

And stepping out of the boat means doing two things that are hard for us, but which we have done before and we can do again if we do them together and if we do them with our eyes locked on Jesus.

We have to risk and we have to trust.

First, we have to risk.

We have tremendous assets here at Christ Church Cathedral, individually, as a community and as an institution. We have a reputation in the St. Louis community that is nearly two centuries old, beautiful buildings that we cherish and love, we have eight and a half million dollars in endowment and a budget of more than $900,000 a year that it takes to keep this place running even at the most basic level. We have the gifts and talents of every person in this room and others who aren’t here this morning. We have the precious gift, each of us, of our time, our passions and our faith.

Stepping out of the boat means being willing to put it all on the line for the sake of Christ and this world he loves so much. To dedicate all of it not to serving ourselves but in love and service to the world. To not shrink from the storms like we find ourselves in this morning but to claim a vision that is even bigger and bolder than the winds and the waves, a vision that doesn’t cower from the storm but that ventures out into the waves. To claim that vision and put it all on the line for it. It is the only way that great things happen. And great things are what Jesus knows we are born to do.

How do we risk? Where do we get the courage to put it all on the line when the voices in the crowd and the little voices in our head are saying “this is crazy!”

We trust. We trust not that success is guaranteed but that no matter what happens, success or failure, Jesus will be there for us when we cry out and will keep our head above the waves. Trust that all we really need -- God’s love for us and belief in our goodness and worthiness – is never at risk and will never go away.

We trust one another, stepping out of the boat not individually but together, as sisters and brothers in Christ. Trusting that just as Jesus has our hand and has our back, we have each other’s hands and backs, too.

And my sisters and brothers, St. Louis is waiting. St. Louis is waiting for someone to do something extraordinary. Someone who is willing to step out of the boat and show us who we truly can be, who we truly are, show us the greatness of which we are truly capable. Show us that this storm, of whom Michael Brown is only the latest victim, is not more powerful than God and God’s people.

St. Louis is waiting. Waiting for us. Each of us and all of us. To risk and to trust. To show that love is greater than fear. To listen deeply and speak plainly. To demand justice and to build bridges over divides that are deep and wide.

This morning, the storm seems too big and the challenge seems impossible. But we were born to walk on water. We can do impossible things. And this city and region needs us not to fall back into despair or in our privilege turn our gaze to something else but to step up and step out and not be more victims of the storm but instead be walkers on the waves.

It is scary. It is the opposite of safe. But it is our mission if we choose to accept it, it is our only hope in times like these, times of trouble and despair,

…and it will be our salvation.

At 3 pm today, I will be standing on the steps of the Ferguson Police Department as local clergy gather this community in prayer, and I ask you to come there too so we can stand together. We will be praying for peace, for justice, for our children, our communities and our police departments. We will be praying because prayer is the foundation of all that is good and bold and courageous. We will be praying because, in the words of Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman,

“Prayer invites God to let God’s presence suffuse our spirits, to let God’s will prevail in our lives. Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart and rebuild a weakened will.”

I hope we can stand together this afternoon not as a final act that absolves us of further action but as a beginning, a first toe out of the boat onto the water. Asking Jesus to command us to venture out into this storm with him and meet him there. Reminding us that we need to keep our eyes on him lest we sink beneath the waves. Proclaiming that as powerful as this storm of race and class and violence and fear is, it is no match for the power of our God, that we were not created to cower in fear of the stormy sea.

We were born to walk on water.

We can do impossible things.

We were born to walk on water
…and it’s time to step out of the boat. Amen.

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