St. Paul’s Church, Delray Beach
August 10, 2014
Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
Very few things in my childhood were predictable. A father who traveled continually and wanted his family with him at all times meant that different homes, different schools, and different people popped up in my life every four to five months. We were never quite sure where we would be next, or when we would be there. But, we did know that moving on was just around the bend.
New people and new places were the norm.
However, there was one thing in that remained the same year after year. One event that could be counted on, planned for, anticipated, and attended with joy and excitement.
That one stable, you can count on it, event was the Circus. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Each spring we would pile in the car and make the journey to Madison Square Garden in New York City where we would watch spellbound as clowns, animals, jugglers, midgets, and all sorts of entertainment whizzed around, and in, the three magical rings. The music, the incredible array of people and costumes; the lions, the tigers, the horses, and the elephants – They all came together in a spectacle that was truly amazing.
Mandatory circus refreshments were coca cola, popcorn and cotton candy. The of course you can get one purchase was a miniature turtle. We would each get our own turtle, and if we were lucky, one or two other trinkets that were being sold by the many vendors hawking their wares throughout the two-hour extravaganza.
It was all wonderful, and we were incredibly sad when it ended thinking “It will be a long wait for this time next year to arrive” as we drove home to care for our turtles, and recount stories of all the wondrous things that we had seen.
Amid all the glamour, laughter and excitement of the circus, however, the one act that always took my breath away, indeed seemed almost unbelievable to me, was the flying trapeze. As the bedazzled trapeze artists entered the center ring I would watch them climb high up above the audience. My head would be bent way back, my eyes glued to the trapeze artists as they arranged themselves on their two platforms, powdered their hands, looked down to check the net below, swung the trapezes back and forth testing their integrity, and finally conferred with one another as they prepared to take off – to fly through the air – with complete faith that their partner on the opposite trapeze would be there for them.
These astounding performers had complete confidence that as they let go of one trapeze and flew through the air with arms outstretched, their hands would connect with their partner on the opposing trapeze. They had complete confidence that they would be caught – that they would be saved from the possibility of falling to a net far below them – the possibility of severe injury – the possibility of death. Complete confidence.
Today we hear about another leap of faith. Peter’s attempt to walk on water as he reaches out to Jesus for safety from the confines of a wildly rocking boat caught at sea in heavy winds and rolling waves.
Earlier, just after the feeding of the 5000, the disciples had been left to fend for themselves as Jesus went up the mountain to pray. Jesus had instructed them to go on ahead - to get in their boat and cross the sea of Galilee where they would prepare for the next step in the good news journey.
Dutifully, the disciples climbed aboard their little vessel and set off only to be caught in an evening storm that tossed the boat to and fro as if it were simply a cork in a vast sea. The disciples were terrified. Where was Jesus? What was happening? They looked at each other and asked, “What is happening. Where is our teacher? Have we been sent out to drown?”
Towards morning, Jesus came back down the mountain to join his followers. Seeing their panicked struggle from the shore, he walked out into the sea to be with them. It was dark and foggy. The disciples saw not Jesus but a thinly veiled, shadowy figure. Now the disciples were even more terrified. Who was this - a ghost?
Truly, it was not a good night for the disciples.
Jesus kept looking right at them as he crossed the sea. He saw that they were terrified. He called out to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
In joy and relief Peter recognized Jesus. He leapt out of the boat. He wanted to get to Jesus, to safety, as quickly as possible. Just like the trapeze artists, Peter leapt off the boat, into what could have been a deadly situation. In trust, he stretched out his hands. He wanted to catch onto the hands of Jesus. He wanted to be grabbed and brought to safety.
But wait, you can’t just leap out of a boat in the middle of a stormy sea and walk away, with no trapeze, no net — not unless you intend to walk on water with the wind lashing and the waves engulfing you.
All of a sudden Peter realized that he had taken a leap based not on reason, but on faith - now he was really terrified. He yelled out, “Lord, save me.”
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught Peter. And then, Jesus chastised Peter saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt.”
Paul urges us to see reaching out and catching from a very different point of view. For Paul it is we who need to do the catching, not the opposing trapeze artist - not Jesus. It is we who are commissioned by Christ to “go forth and make disciples of all nations.”
Paul in his zealous wisdom is teaching us that we have a mandate to proclaim - to teach - to help the world to see that there is indeed an opposing trapeze to catch them. That opposing trapeze is, of course, Jesus Christ. Our mission is to help those who cannot see - help them to see that safety is just an arm’s length away - that reaching out to Jesus is the first step to salvation from falling into an abyss in which there is no net to catch us.
Paul tells those who are gathered around him, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?”
Christ is there to catch us - but, and it is a big but - but we have to reach out and grab his hand. And we can’t grab a hand that we do not know is there.
Bringing Jesus to those who do not know him - healing the blind by helping them to see the power and love of Christ. Encouraging the lost and lonely to have courage - go out on the platform and take the leap of faith with arms outstretched - Yes, folks that is is our job as Christians whose personal world is so privileged and so safe that we are, perhaps, blind ourselves to the stunning darkness in which most of today’s world lives.
In just the past several weeks thousands of Christians have been displaced, brutally driven from their homes in Mosul - hundreds were executed as they fled.
Throughout the world thousands of children flee each day to escape violence and probable death. Many die in flight, stumbling blindly from one bad situation to another.
In America another sort of fleeing - escape from darkness and pain - is taking place. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24. Each day in our nation there are an average of over 5,400 suicide attempts by youth in grades 7-12.
These are but a few of the many issues that cry out to us each day - headlines in the paper that describe natural and man-made disasters that take our breath away; family and friends affected by one tragedy or another; our own lives suddenly off track, careening down a slope into an unknown and frightening abyss.
So many people - so many men, women and children - caught in the storm - terrified, lonely, and lost as their boat rocks wildly in the sea of a chaotic life that surrounds them.
So many people who need someone to proclaim to them so that they can hear, so that they, in faith, can reach out to God, so that they can be saved.
As Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori reminds us, "The voices of the people of faith must be a prophetic impetus for lasting change, toward healing the whole body of God.”
The voices that the Presiding Bishop is referring to - those are our voices. All of us who sit here, and in other places of similar comfort and safety. We are the opposing trapeze. We are the ones who have the ability, and the mandate, to reach out and touch those who need to hear Jesus say to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”