Sermon: Hard Hat Zone
Scripture: Matthew 14: 22-33
Date: September 2, 2018
I love the quote that Mike Powers ended his message with last week. If you remember it was from Annie Dillard. In her book, Teaching A Stone To Talk, she says this about the church: Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we invoke? We should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake and may draw us out to where we can never return.” I’ve been thinking about that in light of this story of Peter stepping out of the boat in response to Christ’s call and wanted to reflect on the church as a hard hat danger one this morning as we prepare for Holy Communion.
Several years ago, a writer by the name of John Ortberg, wrote a book entitled If You Want To Walk On Water, You’ve Got To Get Out Of The Boat which focused on this story about Peter. And Ortberg wrote:
It’s thrilling beyond belief. It’s everything you’d expect of someone worthy to be called Lord. The choice is yours to know him as only a water-walker can, aligning yourself with God’s purpose for your life in the process. There’s just one requirement: If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. (Because it is) Out on the risky waters of faith, Jesus is waiting to meet you in ways that will change your life forever
You see both Annie Dillard and John Ortberg know a truth that many of us in the church don’t want to admit and that is that faith in God and serving Him is all about taking risks. And so we sing about “a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God” and find great comfort in that, but the truth is that when Jesus calls us, it is not to a place of comfort and rest. He himself said that His call on our life will cause us to leave behind our worldly things, even family and friends if need be, in order to follow Him. Pretty harsh words. Not exactly that place of quiet rest that the hymn writer talks about. And that’s certainly not the place that Jesus was calling Peter to in that tiny boat in the midst of that violent storm. No, I think, if this were a contemporary service, then we would most likely replace Near To The Heart Of God with a Christainized version of the group ABBA’s song “Take A Chance On Me” which has experienced a revival with these Momma Mia movies
If you need me, let me know, I’ll be around If you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down If you’re all alone, take a chance on me
Because when God calls us He is really saying “Come, leave behind your life and take a chance on me.” The great theologian of the Second World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, put it this way in his great book, “The Cost Of Discipleship”: When Christ calls a man He calls him to come and die. The point is that whether we like to admit it or not, scripture is clear that faith in God is all about risk. And when He calls us to follow, He is calling us to step out of our comfort zones and take a chance on Him.
That was his call to Abraham out of a life of wealth and comfort to follow an unknown God, to an unknown land, and become the father of His people. And Abraham said, “You must have called the wrong person because I’m way too old to completely change my life like that.” God said “come on Abraham, take a chance on me.” Or consider Moses living a comfortable even decadent life in the Pharaoh’s court, when God called him to be a champion to the enslaved Jews and lead them to Freedom in a promised land far from Egypt. And when Moses hesitated, “I can’t do that.” God said, “Come on Moses, take a chance on me.” David, living comfortably in his father’s house – nothing to do but tend some sheep – and then he heard God’s call to confront the Philistine giants And God handed him a sling shot and few stones and said, “Come on David, take a chance on me.”
You see, when Jesus called Peter, He called on him to leave everything, his fishing business and even his family behind. “Come on Peter, leave the life you know behind” says this stranger who just showed up on the shore, “and take a chance on me.” And Peter did. And now it’s some time later, and Peter finds himself on the sea in the middle of a storm with the other Disciples, in a tiny boat being tossed and nearly capsized by the giant waves, and through the driving rain and lightning flashes they see a figure walking on the water towards the boat. At first they think it’s a ghost because you see, the Jews were terrified of the deep water. Even when they fished, they stuck close to the shore because they believed that monsters lived in the depths of the sea and that it was the abode of the dead. And so it would be more likely that they would see a ghost walking on water, than Jesus. And so they cry out in fear. And Jesus says, “Take courage! It’s me.” But they can’t clearly see Jesus through the rain or hear Him over the roar of the wind and waves. Only Peter calls back, “if you really are who you say you are, call me to come” The other disciples probably thought Peter was crazy to do what he was about to do. Better to take their chances in the boat but when Jesus calls out: “Come Peter and take a chance on me” Peter put on his hard hat faith and slung his feet over the edge of the boat and stepped out on the water. And at first things were good, but then he started to think about what he was doing. Sometimes I find that my head is the biggest hindrance to me taking a chance on Jesus. Think about everything that could go wrong Peter -the waves, the wind, the lightning, the natural law – and so he started to sink. But you know, I think it wasn’t until he started to sink that Peter really recognized who Jesus was. Look how Matthew, who was one of those huddling on the boat in fear, describes it, he says Peter took the word IF out of his response. He doesn’t say “Lord IF it is really you, save me.” No, as the water started to engulf him, Peter’s uncertainty washed away. And he cries out, “Lord, SAVE ME.” It was no longer for Peter IF you are the Lord, but rather BECAUSE you are the Lord, “save me.” In my own faith experience I have discovered that it is in moments of greatest peril, when all seems to be lost, when I most often recognize Jesus for who He is. Peter’s faith often found him nearly overwhelmed – covered over by stormy waters. But it’s in those times that Peter finds himself closer to Jesus then ever. Because Peter is willing to take a chance on Jesus. He’s a risk taker. A hard hat disciple whose faith was all about taking risks. Disciples are those who put on their hard hats and go about the risky work of building God’s church.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Peter in recent days as I have thought about the changes that are coming because I believe that this is one of those times when Christ is calling us all to get out of the boat and walk with Him on the water. There were 12 disciples on the boat that night. They all knew the peril they faced. And 11 decided that the best course of action was no course at all. Ride it out. Stay the course. Only Peter was willing to take a risk and step out of the boat in faith. So what did Peter risk by stepping out of the boat that night.
First, Peter risked a changed life. The fear of change, even when we know that change needs to come, can often have a paralyzing effect. There are several examples of that in Jesus’ ministry. One was the paralyzed man who for many years had his friends carry him every day to lay beside the Pool of Siloam because the belief was that several times during the day, Angels came and stirred the water and if you entered the pool while it was being stirred you would be healed. But the man went every day for many years and apparently never even got wet. And when Jesus encountered him one day laying by the pool He could see that the man’s paralysis was in part the result of fear. The man knew he needed to change or he would have not had his friends take him there every day. But laying by the pool was the only life he knew. And even though this was not the life that God intended, he feared change more than he desired it. And so Jesus asks him, “What do you really want from me? Do you really want to change? Because if you do, you’re going to have to take a chance on me. Risk getting in the healing water that I offer.” Sometimes like the paralyzed man, when the hard times come, when the storms threaten, we choose to ride them out rather than risk change. We fear change more than we fear the storms. Twelve disciples in the boat, huddling in fear of imminent death, and they spot Jesus on the water, but assume that He is somehow a part of the storm rather than the salvation from it. All except Peter. And when Jesus calls to him to take a chance on Him, Peter puts on his hard hat and steps out of the boat. He risks everything to take a chance on Jesus.
And then secondly, Peter was willing to risk failure that night. Oh, that’s a hard one isn’t it. None of us like to fail, do we. But sometimes failure is such a close cousin of change. Thomas Edison had a lot of inventions that changed the world including the light bulb, but did you know that Edison failed 1000 times before he made a light bulb that worked. Babe Ruth hit more than 700 home runs but he struck out twice as many times, 1440 to be exact. Peter knew a lot about failure. But his willingness to risk failure is always rewarded by Jesus. The mark of Discipleship is not that we will always be successful in responding to Jesus’ call, but that we will always be faithful, and sometimes that means risking failure in the eyes of the world in order that Jesus can turn our failures into a great witness of God’s faithfulness to us, no matter how many times we may start to sink. In all of the storms of this life, all the painful times, all the perilous times, God comes to us no matter where we are and calls on us to take a chance on Him. Now watch this: When Peter is willing to risk stepping out of the boat, even though he starts to sink, Jesus is there to turn his failure into success. And in his story we find the assurance that if we sometimes risk and fail, Jesus will be there to reach out His hand, and turn our failures into success. It’s upon that faith, Christ will build His church.
And then finally, Peter was willing to risk the first step. Most often in our journey of faith, it’s the first step that is the hardest one to take. But without risking the first step, we will go nowhere in our faith journey. Think about Nicodemus. He wanted faith without risk. He came to Jesus in the dead of night so that his colleagues in the Sanhedrin, and his family and even the disciples would not see him. How can I believe in you Jesus? And Jesus says you must be willing to risk the first step. Step out of the darkness of your life. You must be reborn in the light. Now contrast Nicodemus with the rich young ruler. Two men from a similar back ground with very different lives because when the rich young ruler heard Jesus’ call to give up his life and take a chance on Him, he wasn’t willing to risk it. And he turned away. You see, the sad truth is that so many in our world never reach their desired destination because they are afraid to take that first step. And sometimes that’s true in the church.
Our dog is celebrating her 12th birthday this month which is a long life for a dog. She has many things that she fears in her old age. And one of her greatest fears is going down the stairs. But yet she can’t stand the thought of being downstairs when we are upstairs. And so several times a day, she has to face her fear of the stairs. And it is both pitiful and humorous at the same time. First she stands at the very top and looks down for several seconds. And then she will sigh as if to say, “here we go again.” And then she waits while one of us comes along side. She will not go down by herself. We must tackle her fear together. And when she actually comes to the first step, she makes several stabs at it. She’ll stick her paw out and touch the stair and then she’ll pull it back. And I try to encourage her and remind her about the things that wait at the bottom of the stairs. Food, water, going outside. And finally she summons all of her courage, and commits to that first step. And once she takes the first step, she doesn’t stop. She keeps going until she reaches the bottom. A few times she has misstepped and ended up sliding down the stairs on her belly, but most of the time – if she successfully navigates that first step, she is fine the rest of the way. She just has to be willing to take the risk. I admire her courage in being willing to face her fear like that several times a day.
To follow Christ as individuals and a church body, we must be willing to risk taking the first step. Face our fears. If Peter had not been willing to risk the first step out of the boat he could not have responded to Christ’s call on his life. His salvation begins with that first step. My faith journey has presented me with many opportunities for first steps, and when I have been willing to take the first step, Christ has always come along side and even reached out and grabbed me when I have had a misstep and taken a fall. He is there to save me when I was willing to take a chance on him. You see the true measure of faith is not how many times we fall, but rather how many times Jesus helps us back up after we fall. When we risk the first step, Jesus comes along side and we walk on the water together. So the question is when we come up against the hard times- are we willing to risk taking the first step? Are we willing to take a chance on Jesus? Because to walk on water, we’ve got to take that first step out of the boat. And risk a changed life. And risk falling, sinking, failing. Faith is all about taking a chance on Jesus.
You know, I think that coming to the altar and receiving this sacrament is the riskiest thing we can do as church people. Because when we come and receive the body and blood of Christ, we are taking on His life, His heart, which he risked every day for you and for me. An earthly life that led not to a place of quiet rest, but instead to a cross. And he was willing to take a chance on us, if we are willing to take a chance on Him. He is calling you and me, to take the first step. To get up out of our comfort zones and put on our hard hats and step out of the boat and into the storms of life, assured that if we start to sink, and we often will, He will reach out with strong and loving hands, and save us. This altar is a hard hat zone because this is the place where Jesus is building lives of Discipleship. It is here that Jesus is building His church. Are you willing as a life under construction, are we willing as a church under construction, to get out of the boat, put on our hard hats and take a chance on Him?