What in the world were those boys thinking? They’d already enjoyed one stormy day with Jesus on the sea. That time they had to wake him so he wouldn’t miss the fun. Today he sends them on without him. He’ll catch up with them later. Night falls and a storm bears down on them – wind, waves. For hours they search for land. About 3am someone spots a figure walking across the stormy waves toward them. Like silly children these grown men shriek: “It’s a ghost.” “It is I – be not afraid.” It’s Jesus. And Peter, doubting and scared, maybe relieved and hoping, challenges: “If that’s really you, invite me to walk to you.” Why does Peter not ask for some other proof, like: “If it’s you, stop the storm.” Or, “How many did you serve dinner to last evening?” “Come right ahead, Rock,” says Jesus. And Peter hops out, walks a few steps until a gust of wind gets his attention. He looks down. I’ll bet his wonderment smacks him like a wave, “What the heck am I doing out here?” He starts to sink. Moral of the story – “Keep your eyes on Jesus and you can walk on water.” Simple enough – not really. The point is – we can try, but we can’t save ourselves. External circumstances often are beyond our control. Jesus lets Peter fail and falter. Jesus doesn’t say, “Nice try – too bad you lack enough faith.” He saves him, doubts and failure, and a mouth of sea water. I hear a twinge of humor in Jesus’ voice – “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And that’s the point of the story to me. Jesus is there, because that’s who he is, and we need saving. He saves us, not as we want, but as we need.
The church today is in a raging storm. Some churches are sinking quickly. One observer laments that 80% of mainline churches are dying, and don’t know it. Could that be us? It could be – if we grow complacent, or lapse into thinking, “We’re okay – we’ll be all right. Jesus won’t let us sink.” I don’t think it’s that simple. Some churches fight the storms with glitzy marketing campaigns – or get a superstar pastor. We have glitzy marketing – you. If you believe what God is doing here – then talk about it. And for a pastor – well, sorry, you’re stuck with me.
I have been doing some research as we are in this strategic planning process. Growing and effective churches care for children and youth; have a high level of member participation; and excel in welcoming new people. They are doing more than praying Jesus will send them more members, money, or vitality. They bear the fruit of God’s reign in their lives and their church.
I have confidence that in this storm the modern church sails in – we will realize we may be sinking, even dying, if we grow too comfortable and complacent. Like Peter, we need saving. That’s what Jesus does best – not life coaching, or moral counseling. How did you get to St. Paul’s – why did you join and continue to be here? In the next few months, we’re going to share and tell our stories. What do you dream we could be doing better to help us be more faithful Christians, and deepen our relationships with God and others? God has already given us what we need to flourish and bear fruit – that’s the good news. We’re baptized and equipped, and Jesus invites us onto the playing field – where storms can scare us – that’s the hard work ahead. It takes courage, and a measure of foolishness to trust someone who invites us into the storms.
Together – all who care about and value God’s life experienced in St. Paul’s, shall pray, listen to one another, share our stories, our hopes for the future – and what we shall offer to God of ourselves to make that happen. Underneath our stories and dreams, God has called us here, and keeps us here. Through the unique gifts and ways we love God and each other, serve Christ in the world, embrace whoever comes here, learn from and welcome our diversity as we value Christ in others, and share the beauty of our worship space through music and arts with the larger community – our values and strengths, we shall set our goals to grow and bear more fruit for God’s kingdom.
If you remember one thing from my ramblings today – remember this: God is at work among us. Celebrate the fruit we bear – the difference we do make and can make because of our experience of God. This past week I have watched as our people assisted and supported families and guests here, with three burials. I have watched people willingly come to move furniture, paint walls, meet and plan, take meals to families, hold people with prayers and love. The vestry is growing spiritually in this process of planning and dreaming. We’ve had a baby born in our church this week – the Schutz’s and more to come. We baptize Mariah Mae today. We promise to help these families raise their children in God’s love. We need to keep our part of the deal, as I hope they will theirs. We can’t raise up and grow Christians from a distance. We need to be here for them, and for the sake of God in their children’s lives. God is working in and among us in many ways. God gives us all we need to be effective and fruitful for his kingdom.
Peter gets is right. He and Jesus finally get into the boat. The storm stops. The disciples see, and worship Jesus. Jesus says to us, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid. Step out here – test and deepen your faith. If you feel you’re sinking, you’ve got my number. Call me. I won’t let you fail.” I think Jesus appreciates the worship; yet, even more, he loves when we follow him. As we do, he grants us the inward peace to deal with the storms of life.