There is a short story by Arthur C. Clarke about a group of Tibetan monks who hire an inventor to create a machine that will be able to list and print all the nine billion names of God in a special alphabet they have devised over the last 3 centuries. They believe that when they have managed to name all the names of God, then God’s purpose will be complete, the human race will have fulfilled all it was created to do, and the world can come to an end, although the engineers don’t find this out until the computer has almost finished listing the 9 billion names of God. As the computer has nears the end of cranking out the names, the two engineers, who have been staying at the monastery for three months to watch over their invention, decide to plan their escape in case the monks are mad at them for the world not ending, and, in the middle of the night, take two ponies and begin the long, arduous journey down the steep mountain path to where their plane is sitting in the valley. They breathe a sigh of relief as they catch a glimpse of their plane in the distance, excited to head for home, safe from the wrath of the monks, and laughing to themselves about the foolish men who think the world is about to end. The last lines of the story are, “Wonder if the computer’s finished its run. It was due about now.” Chuck didn’t reply, so George swung round in his saddle. He could just see Chuck’s face, a white oval turned toward the sky.
“Look,” whispered Chuck, and George lifted his eyes to heaven.
Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.”
While this is a story of fiction, I do love the idea that there are about 9 billion names of God…. Although in the Bible itself it’s closer to 900 names and attributes given to God. I think, though, that the more names we have for God, the more chances we have of encountering God in every day life, the more likely we are to see God’s hand in our lives.
Moses struggles with this in todays scripture …. Who is God? How do I address God? Who do I call God? He has just encountered God as a burning bush, and God tells him, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham and Jacob and Isaac, he has received the command from God to bring the Israelites out of Egypt to a land of milk and honey. Moses tries to resist, but God continues to ask him until Moses agrees. But then his main concern is what to call God when the people ask him who has sent him. God replies in this beautiful riddle, “I am who I am.” Say to the Israelites, I AM sent me.” This is my name forever.”
Since this time, people have been trying to name who, exactly, God is. For if we can name something, it gives us power over it and helps us to understand it….
For a moment I want you to think back to the first image or memory you have of God. Was it something you were told, someone who embodied God, a feeling you had, an experience. Who was the God you first met in you life?
From this, what names do you give God? What images of God do you hold dear?
HAVE PEOPLE RESPOND>>>>>>>>>>>
Many of us have been taught that God is like a father figure, an old white haired, long bearded man who hangs out in the clouds. Or a stern God who punishes those he is upset with.
But God is always bigger than any box we try to fit God into! Maybe even bigger than the 9 billion names those Tibetan monks were printing out on their new computer! God is Father, Mother, Creator, The All Sufficient One, The Beginning and The End, The Buckler and Shield, the Eagle’s Wings, A Consuming Fire, The Fountain of the Living Waters…. The list goes on an on. And the very name “I am who I am” in Hebrew is Yahweh, a remarkable combination of both female and male grammatical endings. The first part of God’s name in Hebrew, “Yah,” is feminine, and the last part, “weh,” is masculine. So even in this simple I am who I am statement, God embodies more then we realize.
My earliest memory is a memory of God. When I was a baby, less than nine months old as we were still in the apartments where we lived when I was born, I was left outside in my pram to take a nap. We lived up on the second or third floor, and it was common for me to be put outside to nap, strapped in the pram and placed under a tree, the traffic going by on the road as a lullaby. When I woke up, I began to cry, but no one was there to hear me. My nappy was wet, I was hungry and I was asking for help, crying and crying, for I don’t know how long. Then I saw, up in the tree, the light filtering through and angels dancing in the light, and heard a voice saying to me, “it’s ok. I’ve got you.” And this voice began to sing to me, soothing me until I just lay there looking up at the angels dancing in the leaves until my mum finally came to get me.
So, if you ask me who God is I am likely to give a different answer to many of you. I am more likely to say God is Soother, Protector, Loving Mother, Light Dancer.
And I’m not alone in my ways of thinking of God. Many mystics throughout the ages have felt and seen God, and, in trying to describe these knowings of who God is through poetry and writing and art. And each manages to, at most, get just a few of those names of God, those ways of describing the Great I Am. And this goes for each of the three religions that are born from the Abrahamic tradition: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The poet Hafiz, who is a Sufi… the mystical branch of Islam, wrote,
Has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don'ts,
Not the God who ever does
But the God who only knows four words
And keeps repeating them, saying:
"Come dance with Me."
When we grow up, we seem to forget this dance, these names of God that go beyond words and incorporate feelings and experiences, and fall back into our heads, using names like Father, Lord, God, Creator to name the unnamable. And this is fine. For we feel we must be able to call God something, either as a sign of reverence or as a claiming to know who God is. Moses, who was told “I am who I am,” maybe got the closest answer to the truth. I am who I am feels like it is a continuous, growth allowing name, one that can change with the circumstances, one that can adapt to the situation. If someone asks who you are, it probably depends on what you are doing and who you are with on what your answer is. If someone I meet casually asks me who I am, I will most likely say, “Alison,” but I have also been known as mom, aunty, pastor, daughter, child, teacher, Miss Hendley, Mother Earth, an Elder, a feeder, a nature lover…. The list does not have 9 billion names, but still, quite a few! And they change, depending on the circumstances. I am what I am in that moment. So this name God gives, I am who I am, is an on going, ever changing, never changing, adaptive, growth permitting, soul feeding name. One that can be used in any circumstance with any person. One that can include all of creation, all of the emotions that may be felt, all of the roles that ‘I am’ needs to play to us where we are, all of the love that can ever be imagined. It is like a continual dance that we are invited to join in with.
So this week I want to challenge you to think of a new way of naming God, of being with God. If you always call God Father, try Mother instead. If you see God as a distance deity in the sky, imagine God holding you or walking with you or doing dishes with you. If you think of God as a person, imagine seeing God in the flowers and trees, in the birds and foxes. Whatever you choose, try to expand on the image of God you hold most closely, for the great I Am longs to be with us in 9 billion different ways, each of them based in love, and this So come! Put on your dancing shoes. Remember that call from eons ago. Come, dance with God!
As I read through this story of the Pharaoh’s daughter finding a baby in a basket, I am struck by the strong females in this story. It’s not often in the Old Testament that we meet such women, as usually the stories revolve around the men and their roles in the lives of the Israelites, but here we have five women who are going against those in power and the unconscionable acts of their time. The most powerful man at this time in the region was the Pharaoh, or the king…. Two titles for the same man. He had seen the Israelite people growing in number and was scared, so he tried to destroy the most vulnerable, the lifeline of this group of peoples, by ordering the death of the boy babies. Some strong females, however, had other plans.
First, the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who are told to kill all the male babies born to Jewish women at birth. But putting their lives at risk they decide not to do this, and when the pharaoh demands to know why they have failed to carry out his orders, they use their wits and tell him that the Jewish women are not like the Egyptian women, and they give birth before they, the midwives, arrive. The pharaoh does not question this further, probably embarrassed to find out why this might be, or if there is truth to this as it would mean asking questions about the functions of a woman’s body during birth, and the midwives are free from his command to kill the babies. I appreciate both their strength to go against the pharaoh’s command in the first place, and their wisdom in spinning a story that he won’t question. As he already thought the Jewish and Egyptian women to be different, he just took Shiphrah and Puah’s word for it that their women were quicker at giving birth, like the animals he believed them to be!
And then we meet the mother of the baby who would later be named Moses. We don’t know much about her, but she had at least one other child at this time, a girl Miriam, who was at least old enough to negotiate with the Pharaoh’s daughter. At some point she also had another son, Aaron, who comes into the story later. Scholars say Miriam was at least seven years older than Moses, maybe more. Their mother, Jochebed, gives birth to a boy and hides him from Pharaoh’s men for three months. I imagine her trying to hush this baby as he cried, fearful for his life as the men tried to find all the baby boys to drown them. When the child was three months, already bonded with Jochebed, she realizes she can no longer keep him safe, and so she weaves a basket for him, takes him to where she knows he will be found, and hides him in the reeds.
The next woman we meet is Pharaoh’s daughter. I cannot decide if she has her dad wrapped around her little finger so tightly that she knows he won’t turn away a baby she brings from the river, or if the palace is so large and her father so distant, emotionally as well as physically, that she knows she won’t be found out. Whatever the situation, when Pharaoh’s daughter comes across this Hebrew baby she does not hesitate. She knows the danger, she knows her father has ordered all these babies to be killed, she knows exactly what she is doing,…. and she has empathy and does it anyway. She stands up to power, to what she knows is wrong, and takes the baby in. And I think she must have known when Miriam pops up out of her hiding place and offers to find a wet nurse for the baby, that it would be the baby’s own mother who would get to stay with him until he was weaned, so for at least the next three years!
While none of these women (and I’m including Miriam in this) held any power in the big structure of things, each was able to use the power they did have to make a difference against injustice. None could change Pharaoh’s mind to kill the baby boys born to the Jewish women, but each could save the lives they could by doing what was right in the moment that was before them. Each one saw the impossibility and insanity of the situation, and each one did something to bring about one little spark of hope, even as they grieved the losses they were surrounded by, the grief of the other mothers, the senseless killing of so many babies. Each one drew on some inner strength to take a stand for what they knew to be a step towards justice and hope.
I heard another strong woman speak these words this week:
Over the past years, a lot of people have asked me, “does going high still really work?” My answer: going high is the only thing that works, because when we go low, ……. We degrade ourselves. We degrade the very causes for which we fight.
But let’s be clear: going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty. Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping and clawing our way to that mountain top. Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one …. under God, and if we want to survive, we’ve got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences.”
I think this is what these women from today’s scripture did. The found a way to live together, even under the oppressive rule of the Pharaoh. They found a way to go high and work across their differences, with Moses’ mother keeping the baby fed and healthy even when she had given him up to the Pharaoh’s daughter. And the Pharaoh’s daughter trusted this, knowing that his birth mom was going to teach him the ways of his people, the ways of God, trusting that difference would be ok. Then, when Moses was old enough, he was taught in the ways of the Egyptians, and his birth mom had to trust that that, too, was going to be ok. Even the name, Moses, given to him by the Pharaoh’s daughter, was one that translated into both Egyptian (as rescued from the water) and Hebrew (as brought forth). Again, a coming together of the differences to allow a people to survive.
If, however, you had asked any of these women who they were, I doubt they would have said they were powerful, brave, or even change makers. I imagine they were humble and wanted to not even answer such a question. I wonder, if others had been asked, what they would have said. For all these 5 women were trying to do was to go high and save a life, to follow their compassion and passion and save one life at a time. They were not going up against the Pharaoh and forcing him to change, they were doing what they could do and change one life’s trajectory…. Not knowing that this would, indeed, change the whole nation.
Last week we met another strong woman who changed who we are today…. The Canaanite woman who asked Jesus for healing for her daughter. If she had not challenged Jesus, I wonder who we would be today, would be have a separate religion called Christianity? Would we be a group still only looking out for our own? Who would we be?
Jesus asked such a question in the Gospel reading this week. After this meeting with the Canaanite women things shift for Jesus, as he begins to turn to Jerusalem and his ultimate death by people in power who were afraid of him….. notice the returning theme! People in power wanting to destroy the life that might bring about their downfall, the voices that speak the truth, the ones who God has placed in a time and place to change nations. Jesus, in his turning to the acceptance of his looming death, asks, “Who do people say I am? Have people begun to notice who I am and what I am doing yet? Have those in power begun to recognize that I may be someone to fear? Have you grasped the enormity of what it means to follow me yet? Will you go to the cross with me, defeating the human made powers once and for all?”
The disciples try to worm away from the answer, except Simon Peter, now to be known as Peter, the Rock, the one on whom the future church will be built. He can see and name Jesus, saying, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
As Christians we are not taught to shy away from speaking the truth, even speaking the truth to power. And we have many examples of how to do this in ways that are subtle, ways that changes nations, ways that go high, even when going “high means taking the harder path, means scraping and clawing our way to that mountain top, means standing fierce against hatred.
Jesus went high, and it cost him his life. It’s a hard path to follow, but one that we must choose in order to bring life to things that need to change, to save lives no matter how inconsequential that act of one life may seem, to bridge differences and find ways to work together to enact courage and love. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” And we see this, over and over, in today’s story of Moses’ early years. For if Shiphrah and Puah had carried out the orders to kill all Israelite boys at birth, if Moses’ mother had not decided to risk everything she could to save him, if Miriam had not stood by the river bank to make sure all was well, if Pharaoh’s daughter had not taken him in, if Mary, mother of Jesus had not said Yes, if Jesus, himself had turned away, then our world would have been very different.
Let us follow their examples and go high. Find ways to unite, to preserve life, to turn away from power that is undeserving of following. Go high, saying yes to the small steps that make a difference. Go high, even when it is hard. Go high, and proclaim that Jesus is, indeed, the Messiah, the son of the Living God, the God who calls us always to love and justice and life. Go high and find empathy and compassion for even just one other life, and God will use this to change the world!
 Michelle Obama
Behold, how very good and pleasant it is when we live together in unity! It is like the precious oil running down upon Aaron’s beard.
This is one of my favorite lines from the Psalms, this promise that it is very good and pleasant to live together in unity. For, as human beings, we are built for community, to be communal beings, to live together in harmony, no matter how hard that may be.
Today we cannot appreciate fully the significance of the anointing of the priests and kings of the Old Testament, or of the unity that came as God’s people gathered together from their scattered regions to observe the feasts. We tend to see something unpleasant about the idea of oil running down us, but in reality, the occasion spoke of something fantastically beautiful in the sight of God and of something that spoke volumes of truth to the people.
The oil used in anointing not only provided a sight to behold, but it also had many wonderful, fragrant ingredients. Exodus 30 tells us the oil included myrrh, cinnamon, sweet calamus, and cassia, in an olive oil base. These ingredients were considered extremely precious. Exodus continues to reveal that Aaron and all the high priests were anointed with this oil. At his consecration the high priest symbolized unity—he bore on his breastplate the names of all twelve tribes, so when the oil depicting the grace of God was poured on him, it “flowed on” all the tribes. The time for unity had come.
When David wrote this Psalm, it was not a time when unity was taken for granted. Wars and killings were taking place and there was great division over the land. People were trying to dethrone David, and unease was in every breath taken. So he may have been writing it as a wish, a plea to the people about how good things could be, if only they would live in unity, or a prayer to God… oh God, help us, let your Kin-dom come on earth as it is in heaven, co-existing in unity with each one, Your grace flowing down upon us all.
But those of us who have ever lived with someone else know how very challenging it can be. How many of you have struggled in the last months living with someone, spending more with them than you thought you would have to as we have been staying close to home (please don’t raise your hands though, as they may be sitting next to you!). I know, in my life, times when I have had housemates or lived with others, there have always been times that are really hard. Someone else’s habits begin to get on my nerves, their insensitivity to my needs wear me down, their messiness is left for me to clean……. And all these things as my habits and messes and insensitivity do the same to them!
When I was in seminary I lived in the intentional community on campus, a beautiful old eight bedroom house. We covenanted to live together, to take turns with the chores, to come together for worship twice a week, to eat together when time allowed, and to be a support of one another and to pray for each other. And mostly, it worked well! There were times though that someone would push one too many buttons…. Chores undone for days, too much noise late at night, inviting friends over several evenings in a row, money not paid into the grocery kitty on time, the heat turned up too high for too long while windows were left open. As these things happened you could feel the energy in the house shift, the tensions begin to run high, the passive aggressive notes left or snide comments made. With our schedules, we often passed by one another quickly, maybe bumping into someone to eat breakfast at the dining room table before heading off to class, or crossing on the steep steps up the hill to get to class, but not really to check in. But when we gathered together to worship, we always caught up with one another, a how is it with your soul type question, and 9 times out of 10, the ‘culprit’ would apologize for what they had done or left undone, and, often, explain what their struggle had been…. A sister feeling suicidal so spending time and energy on the phone with them, a paper due that was causing a lot of stress, a work schedule that had changed last minute to include more shifts to cover for a sick colleague, an unexpected car expense. And with this vulnerability and apology and a time to pray with and for one another, the balance was nearly always restored and the tensions evaporated.
I am a monk with a Benedictine Methodist monastery. We live dispersed, scattered across the country with people from coast to coast, and have opportunities to gather by phone to pray 4 or 5 times a day. Once a year we come together physically for a retreat, and each time we do this there a conversation about how beautiful and good it would be to have a physical home where some of us could actually live together… and this may be a possibility in the future. We are mentored by a sister from Saint Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joe, and often have speakers from there at our retreat. And one thing we hear over and over when we ask about the joys and challenges of monastic life is how beautiful and how hard it is to live together! It is always lifted up as a highlight of their life and the hardest thing they ever have to do. Just to live under the same roof in community. And this is so true. For how very good and pleasant it is when we live together in unity!
I think what can make community harder, whether we live together or just come together on a Sunday morning, is the fact that we don’t always get to choose who belongs and who doesn’t. As Christians we are told to love our neighbors, love our enemies, pray for those who have done us wrong, to welcome the least of these. What a challenge! One that even Jesus needed to learn and practice. For in the Gospel reading today we are told of an outsider who came to him asking for help. Both a woman…. And therefore considered less than, and a Canaanite woman at that, who dared to come before Jesus asking for help for her daughter. Up until this point in his ministry, Jesus had been almost exclusively with the Jewish community, at least as far as we know. There may have been others in the crowd as he fed the five thousand, but the only individual story dealing with an outsider was this passage from Matthew 8 when a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.” In this instance Jesus did not hesitate to offer healing, but now he is faced again with a similar situation.
The Canaanite’s daughter is at home as the woman comes before Jesus, begging for help. The Canaanites have long been seen as idol worshipers, enemies of the Jews, a peoples to be fearful of as they set snares to trap the good Israelites. And she has the audacity to approach Jesus and ask him to heal her daughter. His disciples tell him to send her away, and, after Jesus tries to ignore her, in her persistence she keeps asking. Then Jesus tries to dismiss her, saying, I am only here for the House of Israel. But she stays and answers him. Even the dogs beneath the table get the crumbs, she says. I know I am not worthy, but give me the smallest part of your ministry, a tiny crumb of your healing.
Something shifts in Jesus in that moment as he begins to see his calling crack wide open. He is, indeed, there for the House of Israel. But that’s not all. He has been sent to help all. No exceptions. Each human is worthy of his attention, love, teachings, healings. Jews and Gentiles alike. Even the Canaanites. For how very good and pleasant it is when we live together in unity! Not easy, as we are always changed by community, but good and pleasant as we allow that change and growth to shape us!
Later in the Gospel of Matthew, this is reinforced with these words, Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my the human race you did it to me.’
When we see all others, but especially those that the world see as the least of these, as worthy of our friendship is when we are called most to radically hospitality and inclusivity. The least of these in our world may speak with a different accent, come from a lower social economic class, arrive from another country, have a history of drug use or violence, be from a different generation, have a different sexual orientation. However we define the other. When we see the these others and welcome them into our midst, when we can truly live together in unity, when we allow ourselves to be changed by encounters with the other, then it will truly be good and pleasant, then we will feel God’s grace flowing over us like the oil on Aaron’s head, then the hard work of living together will come to fruition. And it’s work that is ongoing, allowing the differences and annoyances to be brought before God to transform them, to pray with one another, to serve with one another, to share with vulnerability and to build trust. It is both the best thing about coming together and the most challenging!
So as we look around this sanctuary and see others who are kind of like us, let us not fall into the trap of thinking this is enough. Let us open our hearts to practice real community, welcome all, to reach out to others, to seek out the least of these and find ways to see them, to hear them, to stop calling them ‘them’ and, instead, be in unity, calling us ‘us’. This might look like the Somali woman in the store, the Black kid playing basketball, the Latinos hanging out in the park, the Trump or Biden neighbor, the homeless superman in St. Cloud or the deaf neighbor. Offer a kind word to them, a smile in your eyes, a quarter for their parking meter or a pair of clean, dry socks for their feet. See if you can begin to be in relationship with our neighbors who may be different from you, remembering that everyone is our neighbor and all we share this planet with are those we live with. And watch how it changes you! It is the greatest blessing and the hardest thing we are called to do… but how very good and pleasant it is when we live together in unity! And we know that the grace of God’s blessing will flow over us all as we learn to do this.
Imagine this scene with me once again…. The disciples are on the boat after having just fed the 5,000. Jesus has been going throughout the country teaching, and everywhere they go, people follow them. So Jesus, who needs a break, tells the disciples to get into the boat and go ahead, partly so they can get away from the crowds and so that he can have some quiet time to pray. The disciples are filled with the teachings they have just heard and the miracles they have seen over the last few days, and I imagine them settling down to rest as they head to the other side, contemplating all they have witnessed and heard. But as evening comes, the disciples are no longer resting as the wind has risen and the boat is being battered by the waves. This doesn’t really disturb them too much, as they are fishers, used to the waters changing, but it has stopped them reaching their destination.
Just as the dawn was breaking the next morning, after a night of being tossed about on the waves, they see something walking toward them over the waves. At first they are scared, thinking it’s a ghost, but Jesus speaks and tells them “do not be afraid.” As their hearts begin to settle, Peter wants to make sure it really is Jesus, and challenges Jesus to invite him to walk on the water. I imagine Jesus smiling at this as he says, “Come on then, step out, come my friend.”
So Peter took a deep breath and walked on water! He did it!
And until he thought about what he was doing, until he remembered the waves that surrounded him, until he allowed his head to take over, he was walking on water!
But then, as so often happens, he looked around the miracle, saw the waves, felt the wind blowing, and began to sink. So Jesus reached out a hand and caught him, cheering him on by saying, “Oh yes! Ye of little faith! Why did you doubt it was me? Why did you doubt you could do this? Come, walk with me back to the boat…. Ye of little faith!!!.”
For I think that Jesus was not condemning Peter with those words, but praising him.
If we look back in the Gospel of Matthew, it was just before the feeding of the five thousand that led up to this story that Jesus had been sharing parables about the kin-dom of heaven and about faith, including these two:
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
In both of these he is speaking about the small amount of faith that is needed…. The tiny seed that grows into a tree, the small amount of yeast that leavens a whole batch of dough. It only takes a little faith.
And that is exactly what Peter had. A little faith. The faith that helped him step out of that boat into the stormy water and begin walking. For a few steps that little faith worked. And so when Jesus catches him when Peter’s faith fails, it is with praise…. Oh, ye of little faith! You walked on water!”
It seems that this is a story for our times. It feels like we are in a boat that is being battered by the waves of the world around us right now, with CoVid, isolation, shared grief over lives lost, with the many areas where we are encouraged to dislike another person or group of people, often with no logical reason, with fear storming through the hallways of the powerful, and misinformation spread daily by news sources, with uncertainty about schools reopening and economic stress for so many, with the waiting and waiting for this to be over. We feel like all we can do is sit in that boat and try to ride out the storm. Our attention can turn inwards and we become fearful…. How can I keep myself safe? How can I feel in control? How can I try to show the world I am not afraid, even when I am quaking inside. It makes it easy to miss Jesus heading toward the boat, or to mistake him for a ghost, something made up, because why would he be here in the midst of this storm?
This story challenges us to look with Peter’s eyes and see. See not the storm and the waves, but Jesus, and to be so focused on him that all we want to do is to move closer to his presence. So we throw out a challenge to Jesus…. “If it is you tell me what to do. Tell how to be. Tell me who to trust.” To which Jesus simply responds, “Come.”
And this is where our small portions of faith come into play. Do we have faith enough to stand up? Do we have faith enough to trust? Do we have faith enough to lift our leg over the edge of the boat? Do we have faith enough to begin to walk on water? It only takes faith the size of a mustard seed, of a few grains of yeast. But do we have enough? The simple invitation, “Come,” can be so hard to hear, to act upon, to believe. Does Jesus really want me to come? Is he speaking to the person standing behind me. No, I think it’s me. And he’s telling ME to come? He trusts me to do this? And we step out.
But that’s not the end of the story.
For as we find that faith, are we able to keep focus on Jesus, looking deep into his eyes as we walk toward him, or are we distracted by the noise and shakiness of the world? I often wonder if Peter would have made it all the way to Jesus if he had just kept Jesus as his focus. But Peter is human like the rest of us, and the fear crept in, the realization of the miracle he was living came upon him, the belief that he could not possibly do what he WAS doing overtook the fact that he was walking on water, and he began to sink. Even then though, Peter had faith, but no longer faith in himself, but faith in Jesus. He called out knowing Jesus would save him, that Jesus would take him by the hand and lead him to safety. And that faith is as important as the first act of faith of stepping out in the first place!
As a congregation and as individuals, Peter’s little bit of faith is challenging us to ask where we are being invited to step out into the storm. It can be hard to imagine right now, as we are encouraged to stay close to home and told to practice social distancing, and while these are acts of love to the world around us, ways of showing we care about the other and want to minimize harm to all we meet, it can feel constricting. But it does not stop us from asking the question… how is God inviting us to step out? To walk toward the Love of Jesus in this world. How are we being asked to sow our seeds of faith?
For each of us, individually, this answer will be different…. Turning deeper into prayer, making masks to give away, sharing food with those less fortunate, donating to cultural and environmental places that are financially struggling, sitting with a friend in a time of grief, reaching out to the school district to offer warm winter items of clothing, praying for teachers and students about to embark on a school year like no other. The list goes on. And in the coming weeks and months we are called to listen as a congregation to how we are being asked to step out in faith to share God’s love, to share hope, to share resources and joy. Beginning worship again is one way…. And, for as long as we can safely do this in a physical place, we can share faith with those we invite to worship with us. But if we cannot meet together, we can still worship as a congregation through written words, through recorded sermons, through prayers… we will continue to connect in ways that work for us, and we can invite others into that too.
We have been asked to step out in faith to be in relationship with one another…. Both you and I have said yes to this (thank you!!!), and I am delighted to begin this time together. It is certainly an act of faith to begin to build trust and to open to one another so we can listen together for places that need healing, for relationships that need strengthening, for new ways of praying and being with God during these times, to God’s call for this community. In the midst of a pandemic this may feel dangerous, but I have just enough faith, so I trust that this can happen, and I know you have just enough faith, so I’m eager to see what unfolds!
And this faith that is enough is enough to carry us close enough to Jesus so that if we do begin to fall, he will be there to reach out a hand, to catch us, to lead us back to safety. This beautiful knowing is that even if our attention is drawn to the waves and fear rises and we feel like we are sinking, Jesus is right there with us, holding us. Even if our eyes wander from his, Jesus always keeps us in his focus, ready to catch us, ready to help us. So what do we have to loose?
Let us put our bit of enough faith out there for the world to see, let us step out on the waves of the world, of trust of hope of security based on the One who gives us life. And, when we fall, let us hold out a hand to the One who always knows what we need!
As the Psalmist said,
O give thanks to God, call on God’s name,
make known God’s deeds among the peoples.
Sing to God, sing praises to God;
tell of all the wonderful works.
seek God’s presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works God has done,
Let us do likewise!