“Step Out of the Boat” August 9, 2020

“Step Out of the Boat”

A sermon based upon

Matthew 14:22-33

Let me tell you about Clarence Palin. As far as I know, Clarence had worked in the woods of W. Montana all his life since he was just a kid. There wasn’t a piece of equipment that he couldn’t run and run well. To us youngsters that didn’t have 20 years’ experience under our belt, Clancy was considered an old timer – and I mean that in a good way. The thing is, if you do anything long enough then sooner or later something will occur that defines you in the eyes of the world. Some goofy or scary happenstance that folks end up talking about for years whenever your name comes up. For Clancy, it was the day that he showed fear.

Now, the way it was told to me was that Clancy was padding a 78 Link Belt crane down a logging road on his way from somewhere to someplace else. By way of explanation, a 78 Link Belt was basically an 80,000 pound construction crane that had been converted to use skidding logs up the hill. Also, by way of explanation, these cranes were usually machines that construction companies had sold off because they were getting too old and worn out. Add to that the constant beating these cranes took and the sometimes sketchy maintenance, and you can guess where I’m going with this story.

Anyway, Clancy was negotiating this mammoth piece of equipment around a tight corner when he lost his steering. The brakes were never that good in the first place, so over the bank he went. Thankfully, it was a crash that could be heard a long way off and when some other members of the crew showed up, they found the crane laying on its side about 100 feet below the road. All thoughts went to the same thing: “Is Clancy all right?” They hollered and screamed as they made their way over the bank and down through the busted trees and smashed brush. By the time they made it to the machine, however, it was quiet – too quiet. “Clancy,” somebody yelled, “You all right?” Nothing. They hollered again and again until they noticed the bent up door on the side of the cab trying to come open. Everybody pitched in and soon they had Clarence out and standing on solid ground.

“You OK?” they asked. “O, yea,” he said casually.

“Are you sure,” they asked again. “Yeah….yeah, I’m good.” And it was at this point that the amazement started to happen. There was no heavy breathing, no skin drained of its color, no fast beating heart. After this terrifying, mortifying, and death-defying crash Clarence Palin stood there as calm as a cucumber. It was unbelievable. Unbelievable, that is, until he reached into his pocket for a cigarette. He put it in his mouth like he had done a thousand times before and lit a match. But when he tried to hold the match up to his smoke, he started to shake. The match went out, so he lit another match – still no good – and by the time he was trying to light the thing with both hands, one of the crew decided they would step in to help out.

Fear is a funny thing. Just when you think you have it mastered, it comes around and shakes your whole world.

I have to say that I was sorely tempted to skip over our Gospel text from Matthew today. For as many times that I have preached it and as many times I have heard it preached, it seems the message is always the same: “Peter stepped out of the boat in faith, but then he got scared and started to drown which indicates that his faith wasn’t good enough or strong enough or big enough,” and blah, blah, blah. It’s a difficult text to speak on. It’s a great story – one we never get tired of. But here’s the thing: the Gospels are far more than a collection of great stories. I’m reminded again of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3: Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for showing character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good. Our gospel lesson today is a prime example. Anyone who lives along the Sea of Galilee knows that it’s dangerous to go out on the water in the evening. This lake is notorious for howling winds and 5 foot waves once the sun goes down. Yet Jesus sent them – and he sent them without him.

You know, I have to wonder. I have to wonder if one of the lessons Jesus meant to teach these disciples – and to teach us – is the value of facing our fears. Of being honest about what makes us uncomfortable, of what causes us to dread or to hesitate. I have to wonder if Jesus is teaching us that they don’t magically disappear in his presence. We carry them always; but we don’t have to carry them alone.

It’s probably safe to say that a lot of us here grew up with a type of “Fear not!” Christianity, which is no surprise. The words “fear not” or “don’t be afraid” are found in scripture more often than any other phrase, hands down. But it seems to me that this sort of “fear not” Christianity has taken some wrong turns over the years. When “Don’t be afraid” becomes a commandment, for example, our faith journey is taking a wrong turn. Jesus never meant for our fear to be considered a sin. And when we hear the Apostle John tell us that “perfect love casts out fear,” we might jump to conclusions and blame our fears on the fact that we don’t love God enough. There are even those who will tell you that you can’t be fearful and faithful at the same time, as if fear is a sure sign that you lack faith. To this, I say horse-pucky. As Christians, our fears do not define us. They still exist – they are real – but when our trust is betrayed over and over by the ways of this world, we can rest assured that our God  is faithful. We have a God who is trustworthy. We have a God who doesn’t mean to shame us when he tells us to not be afraid. No, these are the loving words of the creator reminding us again and again, “Don’t be afraid. It’s all right. Take my hand, I’m with you on this.” He always has been and he always will.

Amen & Shalom

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