Lectionary Text: Matthew 14: 22-33
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
One year ago today, I adopted a rescued Labrador retriever. He had been picked up in some place downtown where people throw food for homeless dogs. He landed at B.A.R.C. (For those non-Houstonians, that’s the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Control. I think they used to call it the “city pound”.) and was there, unbelievably, for three months. On the night before he was to be put down, someone at B.A.R.C. called Scout’s Honor Rescue and told them to come get this “wonderful little black lab” before they put him down. He was put into foster care and, unbelievably, I found him on the Internet with his own page asking to be adopted. (Isn’t technology amazing?) Somewhere along the way, someone had named him Vader, which I just thought was odd. So, I changed his name to Maynard. (Which, admittedly, YOU may think is odd!) It means “one who is mighty and brave”. It just seemed to fit for a rescue dog. He had been hungry and homeless and out in the elements. He had been caged and deserted and begging. But when he came home with me, it took a little while. He was enamored with the dog toys. He was amazed that there was dinner every night. He thought the yard and the walks were wonderful. But when I left him, there was a look in his eyes. I think he always wondered if I was really coming back. A year later, that look is not there. He has been swept into my unpredictable life. He has often been the last one picked up from his weekly daycare outing and a couple of weeks ago, he had to be “emergency boarded” because his owner got tied up at a hospital with a pastoral care visit. And yet, he knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I will come and take him home. That is what it means to be one who is mighty and brave—not that fear no longer exists, but that it is no longer the controlling force in one’s life.
Recasting fear is not easy. Sometimes life is just scary. Sometimes life changes in an instant. And sometimes that unknown ending of life as we know it looms larger than we ever thought it would. Yeah, sometimes the winds and the waves pound so loudly that we can’t even hear ourselves think. Sometimes life is just scary. God never calls us to leave our fears behind. They are part of who we are. But faith empowers us to recast them, to reshape and remold them into something different. Think about the “recasting” of a thrown pot. You do not discard the clay; you simply remold it into something that works a little better.
Faith gives us the ability to recast fear into trust. God created all that is from chaos. Imagine what God could do with the chaos in our lives today. God is good at dealing with chaos. God has done this before. Our only job is to get out of the boat and trust that, when it’s all said and done, God will take the chaos of our fears and recreate them into trust in what God can do. “Do not be afraid”, for God has recast your fears into life. It is knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will always bring you home.
You see, faith is not a shield that we create that protects us from harm. It is not something that we accomplish or wear like a badge of honor. I don’t even think it’s something that is measurable. It’s not something that we check off of our “to do” list. Rather, faith makes us realize that we’re not in this alone. Maybe God will pull us out of the storm in the nick of time. Maybe not. I think it’s much more profound to believe in a God who will get in the storm with me, who will hold me, allow me to wrestle, allow me to fight against the waves. I believe in a God who doesn’t demean me or dismiss me for being afraid. Sure, I’m afraid! After all, there’s a big wave coming my way right now! What kind of semi-emotionally-adjusted human WOULDN’T have fears?
You know, Peter had fears. He admitted he had fears—ghosts, storms, death. Jesus never said to him that those were unfounded or baseless or stupid. Jesus just held out his hand and cheered him on. “Peter, you almost have it, hold on, hold on.” It is no different for us. In his 1833 Journals, Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “the wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but for deliverance from fear.” We need to trust our fears. They are part of our very being. They are part of the way God made us to be. But they don’t need to control what we do or who we are. There is a way to recast those fears into something that is life-giving.
Of what are you afraid? No, I mean REALLY afraid–that terrifying, nail-biting, knuckle-whitening feeling that washes over you like waves. Take it. It is your fear. It is real. And then trust, trust that God can create even from this chaos that consumes your life. I think God has done that before. In fact, I think God is REALLY good at it, sort of has it down to an art (or at least a promise we can trust.) And when God asks you to get out of the boat, go ahead. What’s the worst that can happen? Maybe you’ll sink to the depths of your soul, but God will sink right along with you. (Hmmm! God has done that before too!) And maybe, just maybe, if only for a moment, you’ll walk on water. And maybe you won’t. Does it really matter? Faith is not about always coming out on top. I don’t even think it’s about relying on God always pulling us out at the last minute. Maybe that’s not what’s going to happen! I think faith has more to do with knowing that God is there on the mountaintop and there in the depths of our existence. And THAT will make us one who is mighty and brave!
Happy “Adoption” Day Maynard!
Grace and Peace,