Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 8/10

          A common symbol found in many churches is that of a boat or a ship.  There’s one on the communion rail up here, there’s one on the lectern parament over there.  Dan Argall has incorporated a boat into one of the stained glass panels that now grace the front entrance.  It is a common Christian symbol and in addition to that you also perhaps know that the part of the church where you sit is not the sanctuary as it is familiarly called, but the nave, from the Latin navis, meaning ship. (The sanctuary is actually just the area immediately around the altar.)

          A ship or boat has been used as a symbol and metaphor for the church since ancient times and it is symbolism that stems from stories like today’s gospel with the disciples out there, far from shore in the boat as it is being battered by the wind and the waves. Likewise the church is seen as being out there, in the midst of the fray, tossed on the sea of disbelief and worldliness, sometimes persecution.

          At least that’s one way to think about it; the church being tossed about by the rough waters of the world.  Maybe though, that’s not the kind of church you’re up for, not the kind of trip you’re up for.  Maybe that’s not how you want to think about the church.  In fact, maybe you come to church for exactly the opposite reason and you want the boat to stay close to shore, sheltered in a safe harbor perhaps, where you can escape the turbulent sea of life and find some respite, some calm.

          There’s something to say for that.  Some of you know that I enjoy kayaking and when I kayak, what I like to do is stay close to shore in calm water.  I often tell people I’m not in it for adventure; I’m in it for the quiet, the solitude, the calm.  So I know and respect the fact that for many people, probably everybody at least some of the time, that is how they want church to be.  Life already has enough tosses and turns in it and it’s nice to have at least one place where you can get away from it all and find a degree of familiarity and peace and order.  You want something that is a contradiction to the nastier, more unpredictable world of everyday life. 

          A place apart has always been one of the ways that church has been understood; in fact the idea precedes the church with the Temple of the Old Testament which was also seen as a place apart from the world, a place of care rather than abandonment, purity rather than pollution, justice rather than victimization, security rather than threat; in other words, escape from the mundane, sometimes harsh ways of the world.  The church similarly becomes a place that is more than a building.  It is a place to experience another way, a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.  The familiar repetition of liturgical worship is designed at least in part to assist one in moving into a different realm.

          All of that is well and good and necessary.  It does represent one important dimension of what church and faith and worship are about.  But it’s not the only dimension.  If church is only seen as a place apart the picture is incomplete because another dimension of the church involves not escape, but encounter; encountering the world in those places where faith intersects with life.  That encounter involves moving the boat away from the security that’s found close to shore out into water that might be a little rougher.  To be the church means that “out there” is a place we have to be sometimes, a place we are meant to be, a place where things may not be totally comfortable, maybe not even totally safe.  It’s not where we want to be all the time, but to be the church means we have to be there sometimes, wrestling with the issues of the day, fighting against the wind and the waves.

          I’m not dumb enough to go out in my kayak on Lake Superior when it’s too rough, but I can stand a little bit of chop without feeling like I’m in too much danger.  What’s different is that on a calm day I can just kind of get lost in the beauty; the rocky cliffs and water and trees and flowers and sky and wildlife.  On a choppy day I have to be much more attentive to the water and I have to be much more attentive to me, to what I am doing to keep the kayak situated properly to avoid getting swamped. As a result, there really isn’t much chance to take in the rest.  The same things that are there to see on a calm day are still there, but on a rough day they become distractions; if I don’t pay attention to the water, if I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing, I’m going to wind up in the water instead of on it.

          In the church as in a kayak there are times it is nice not to have to pay close attention, times when we can just get lost in the beauty and majesty and difference and comfort that are available, the sense of God’s presence that being here provides.  But a life of faith also needs those times when we have to pay closer attention in the rough waters of life.  For the church in our time, that rough water is most likely going to be experienced as we struggle with the issues of the day, those places where faith does intersect with life, issues like militarism, consumerism, racism, patriotism, the environment, social and economic justice and all matters of sexuality.  They are all topics that some would just as soon have the church stay out of, because when you travel in that direction, the water gets rough. 

The water gets rough because well meaning people disagree on what constitutes a proper Christian response to these things.  The water gets rough because we can wind up placed between what we know are the teachings of Jesus and the ways of the world which we’re pretty comfortable with.  The water gets rough because we’re challenged to think differently about our views and ideas rather than expecting the church be a rubber stamp of them and we really would like the confirmation of that rubber stamp.  The water gets rough because of the resulting tension.  But to be the church, we sometimes need to be out there, away from the shore, in the rough water…and we do need to pay attention.

What we pay attention to is, first of all, Jesus; we pay attention to Christ crucified and raised and the gift of salvation and forgiveness that he represents.   We pay attention to the gift of grace we have received in Jesus. 
That’s the starting point and paying attention to that we ought to be humbled and a little bit in awe; a lot of the time we take the gift for granted, but paying attention we’re in awe similar to the way the disciples were in awe at those times they were confronted with the majesty and power and love of God found in Jesus.  Then, still attentive to Jesus and his teachings, we pay attention to ourselves, to how we respond to this gift in the midst of the issues that make the water rough.    

Paying attention to Jesus though, we can walk on water.  Trusting in the gift and paying attention we can accomplish things that the prevailing ways of the world would say that we can’t possibly do.  We can be a community that stands for the alternative of Jesus as crazy as it sounds to lots of people.  Jesus gives us a vision of a way that is possible, not impossible, and we can do it. 

But then come the distractions.  We get distracted by the voices inside us and outside us that say it’s not possible, that Jesus’ teaching sounds good but it can’t really work in the rough water.  We get distracted by our own bias and prejudice, our own comfort and complacency that tells us that we don’t really want to walk on water.  We’re OK with the way things are.  Let’s just forget about these rough water issues, get back in the boat and head for a more peaceful harbor. 

In today’s gospel, Peter was doing good, he was walking on water until he got distracted.   The text says he was distracted by the wind and I’m sure he was; but I’ll bet that even more he was distracted by himself, no longer paying attention to Jesus, forgetting for the moment that Jesus was right there, instead getting that sinking feeling that he was all alone and that what he was doing was impossible.  Jesus took him by the hand and brought him back into the boat and the wind ceased. 

It’s OK to want the wind to cease.  It’s OK to want to go back to calmer water where we don’t have to think about all the controversial issues of the day and how we as followers of Jesus ought to respond to them.  It’s OK, it really is.  We all need those times of still waters and there’s room in the boat for everyone even though we haven’t settled it all and don’t agree on the issues that make the water rough.  It’s OK to rest in the calm water, but to follow Jesus, we can’t stay there forever. 

Remember how this Gospel lesson started.  Jesus made them get into the boat.  He made them get into the boat despite the wind and waves, despite the rough water because it was time to pay attention.  But he also made them get into the boat because he was already out there, walking on the water.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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