Exploration - Fear, Adventure & Jesus

February 10, 2019

 

We’re entering week three of our series on the mission statement: Welcoming everyone to explore the living God in our neighborhoods. Chris started us at the center of our mission: the living God. Then last week we talked about extravagant and relational welcome and hospitality. This week we’re looking at the posture of faith that our mission statement talks about: the posture of exploration. Curiosity. Active searching. What does it mean to explore the living God?

 

So we’re going to read our scripture a little bit differently this week--we’re going to be explorers. The scripture for today is the story of Jesus walking on the water. Jonathan and Gabriela have volunteered to read our passage, Matthew 14:22-33, twice. 

 

What I want you to do on the first reading is to close your eyes and listen with your senses. What do you see? What do you smell in this story? What do you feel? Taste? What do you hear? 

 

The second reading I would like for you to pretend you are Peter while you listen to the story. What is this story like from his point of view? What is he experiencing? What is he feeling? 

 

The readers will give you a reminder, don’t worry. Got it? Join us now as we explore this scripture. 

 

Reader 1: Please join me in this reading by engaging all your senses. Listen now for a Word from God.

 

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. 

 

When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 

 

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

 

When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

 

Reader 2: Please join me in this reading by considering this story from Peter’s point of view. Listen now for a Word from God.

 

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. 

 

When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 

 

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

 

When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

 

...

 

When I was in my early 20s I worked at a summer camp on a peninsula in the southern Puget Sound of Washington State. My friends and I, many of us from the suburbs, loved to explore every inch of the wild terrain, both land and the water all around. 

 

Two of my friends especially loved sailing. They grew up sailing with their families, and the camp had two very small sailboats. During one of our elusive afternoons off, four of us, two experienced, two not, decided to sail across one of the chanels on the Puget Sound to visit an island we’d all stared at for years but never set foot on. It wasn’t a huge chanel and it had limited traffic, mostly just family boats and occasionally barges for local construction projects. But it was big enough that we’d never tried it in our kayaks.

 

We got into the sailboats and headed out. We made it across the chanel with no issue, explored the island a bit, and then got ready to head back. At this point the wind picked up. As we hit the middle of the chanel the tide started pulling hard. These very small sailboats were no match for the Puget Sound. Both boats started taking on water. Then our friends’ boat capsized. 

 

What I need you to understand is the average air temperature in the Puget Sound in the summer is in the 70s. Not hot but not cold. But the average water temperature in the summer is a not-so-balmy 56 degrees. This is not the Gulf of Mexico or Saint Simon’s Island. These are northern, cold waters. 

 

I will assure that the story ends well enough. Two gorgeous yachts on their way back from a party found us within about 10 minutes, both boats had capsized at this point. They wrapped us in blankets and towed our boats to the camp pier, which by this point was a good distance south of us. We lived. It took us days to thaw out, but we lived. We were very sober explorers after that, with a healthy dose of fear in all our endeavors.

 

So when I read this story this week, over and over with my five senses, and putting myself in the different character’s shoes, I felt Peter’s experience in my body. I felt the wind and its menace and noise. I felt the water and its cold hands pulling down. I tasted salt in the splashing when you’re trying to swim in swells and getting nowhere. 

 

What did you all feel? I’m thinking I’m not the only one who felt a little bit of fear. You don’t have to be in a boating mishap to understand the trepidation in this story. The boat was being battered by the waves--probably making it tip up and down, up and down. The wind was against them, probably limiting any control they had for steering. Then they think they see a ghost! After recovering a bit, a bold Peter decides to explore the open water with Jesus. For a few steps he’s got it. But then, the wind pushes against Peter, causes him to lose his hard won courage, and he needs to be rescued out of this choppy, noisy water. 

 

This story holds both the spirit of exploration, but also the fear that most certainly accompanies any unfamiliar territory. Exploration always houses some fear. It’s going beyond the familiar, journeying to uncharted territory, at least for you. It’s trying, seeing, and experiencing new things. What we know from our own adventures and from this story is that the bedfellow of exploration is fear. Fear of what is not familiar, fear of uncharted territory, a fear of what may be hiding there, fear of experiencing new things and not being able to control them, like you can the familiar. Choppy water, loud wind, drifting boats. Exploration shares a bed with fear.

 

And yet we have this very VERB in our mission statement! Even with the fear and risk associated with adventure and exploration we still have it in our mission statement! Welcoming everyone to explore! Welcoming everyone to get in that boat! Welcoming everyone to enter into unfamiliar spaces, ideas, and adventures. We ask questions here. We welcome complicated emotions and life stories. We try new things, almost weekly, in our worship life. We go out into our weeks committed to loving the people and places God has sent across our paths. We welcome everyone to have a faith life that explores God’s big world, which means we are essentially asking people to take some risk. I know for some of you, our small group time that is just around the corner is a risk you take every week. We are a welcoming community, but we are not always a “safe” bunch because we believe our faith is not static, but alive, and it is this way because we are living a faith that is following a living God. 

 

Welcoming everyone to explore the living God requires a curious and active faith. And sometimes that can be a little unnerving.

 

But all exploration is a calculated risk, yes? I mean, most people don’t start off on adventures without knowing there is some hope of success. If we make exploration a math problem (and stay with me because you know that math is uncharted territory for me), if we calculate the risk we’re taking through our explorations, I think we’re going to be OK. 

 

Think back to our story, it’s one part adventure, one part fear, and one part Jesus. Really, if we read this story one more time, from the perspective of Jesus instead of Peter, the risk drops almost entirely out of the story. From Jesus’ perspective, Jesus starts this story with rest, up on a mountain. He protects the disciples from the crowds by sending them out on a boat. Yes the weather picks up and Jesus has to walk a bit further to reach them in the middle of the night, but Jesus doesn't seem to mind. When I read this story from the perspective of Jesus, he is walking on the water with his eyes on the disciples, wondering what they’re talking about. Wondering if they’ve gotten some rest. Wondering if they’ll freak out when they see him. Which they do. 

 

And Jesus’ is watching while his friend and disciple Peter gets up the nerve to join him on this adventure--even with the wind and waves. As I put myself in Jesus’ shoes, I get the feeling that he is excited that Peter wants to join him. And for a little bit, Peter does it! Peter actually tries something new, and dangerous. Then Jesus watches while his friend falters. I hear Jesus’ voice say, “Ahhhhh, but Peter, why so little faith. Why the doubt? Let’s get back in the boat together.” Jesus’ experience of this story, at least for me, is quite different from Peter’s--mostly because it doesn’t house fear.

 

Having a faith and a community that is defined by exploration is the best kind of adventure because Jesus is the one who is leading it, in this story in Matthew and in the larger story of our own faith community. Yes to be explorers means personal risk, communal risk, it means going into uncharted territory in our worshiping life, our neighborhoods, even our theologies and thoughts about who God is and who God made us to be, but it is NEVER an adventure without God. It is never an expedition on open waters without Jesus standing by to grab us when we lose our way or get overwhelmed. When our questions become too big or the quest of faith gets exhausting. A faith life open to exploring the Living God’s and God’s world is equal parts fear, adventure, and Jesus, AND THAT math is in our favor. 

 

So as we gather in our small groups today, I want you to name a place where your faith seems risky. Where God is pushing you into new territory. Where in your faith or in your life right now is God asking you to branch out or try new things. Where are you exploring a living and active God?

 

 

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