“Get out of the Boat”
A sermon by
The Rev. Keely Franke
August 7, 2011
You gotta love Peter! Out of all the clumsy, dense but faithful disciples Peter takes the cake. Peter, the disciple who is continually jumping out of boats in pursuit of Jesus.
You might recall in John, Jesus has just died and three days later appears on the shore early in the morning. The disciples are in a boat off the shore fishing. It is the beloved disciple who sees Jesus first, but it is Peter who jumps out of the boat to go see Jesus. Peter throws on his clothes (for he was naked). He jumps out of the boat, plunges into the water, and swims ashore to see Jesus. What a guy this Peter. He’s like a giddy child who just doesn’t know any better.
And now this morning we have the famous scene of Peter commanding Jesus to command him to walk on water. In Matthew the disciples are sent off for the first time without Jesus when they encounter a huge storm one evening. In the morning, after the storm has subsided, they look out and see Jesus walking on water. Most cower back in terror thinking they have really lost it now. Except for Peter. Peter has the audacity to challenge Jesus and off he goes, out of the boat, and onto the water.
A few years ago the popular book “The Shack” came out. As with many popular books, like the Harry Potter series, I refused to read this at first. But with time the pressure gave way and I ended up reading it. “The Shack” tells the story of Mack who’s daughter, Missy, has been abducted. Three years after this event he is still grieving heavily and receives an invitation to meet God at the shack. When he shows up he finds the trinity – God is a large African American woman, Jesus, a small Middle-Eastern carpenter, and the Holy Spirit, an Asian woman. Why not?
“The Shack” is a metaphor for those places or temples we build when we get stuck in life and bogged down by pain. Through encounters with each of the members of the trinity Mack is encouraged to look at his pain and his fears. When it comes time to spend time with Jesus they of course head out to the lake. Mack expects to walk around the lake or to get in a boat to cross the lake. But Jesus walks right out on it and expects Mack to follow suit. A serious conversation ensues about how Jesus could possibly expect Mack to just step off the dock into the deep, cold water. And Jesus replies, “Peter had the same problem: How to get out of the boat.”
Ever summer I’m reminded of a scar I have running up and down my left arm. I don’t think about this scar much anymore except in the summer when I wear tshirts. I catch people catching glances at it and then just as quickly looking back away hoping I didn’t see them. It is the rare person who comes right out and asks “what happened?” Sometimes I reply shark bite but then the following, actual story ensues.
I grew up going to the lake every weekend in the summers. One of these weekends on a Sunday when I was thirteen I fell water skiing on the lake. All I know is that I was skiing behind a jet ski on a new ski with a wicked fin. I cut out to the right of the wake to wave at the recent boy I had a crush on and looked back to see quite a bit of slack in the rope. The next thing I remember is I was sitting on the jet ski holding my badly cut arm, my friend looking at me in horror, and her dad swimming back with my ski he had gone to fetch and asking me if I was ok just before he saw my arm.
A friend of ours was a plastic surgeon in Little Rock and he came out to get me. After 6 hours or more of surgery on his kitchen table I was sewn up and sent home to start the slow process of recovery. Which would end in the scar I have now. If
you look at it closely, the lower set of scars look like the letters “G”, “I”, and “N”. So being the good southern, Christian children we were, my friends labeled it my “God is Neat” scar. Usually after telling this story the first question will be “did you get back up and ski again?” And my answer is of course I did.
As Matthew says, sometimes the winds are against us. We get beat up and battered and are far away from land. There is indeed a time in these situations when fear serves us well. Protects our bodies. And we should hunker down. But the wisdom comes in knowing when it is time to stand up and get out of the boat. The disciples were frightened and cried out in fear and Jesus said “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
It might be said that the first step out of the boat is always the hardest but as Peter shows us the second is even harder. What do you do when you’re out of the boat? Learning to walk on water when the water has just been against you is no easy thing. Skiing is probably the closest I’ll ever come to walking on water after a stormy night. Getting out of the boat and skiing after that is easy. Getting out of the boat and skiing without any fear of falling, with a sense of trust and freedom is the hard part.
Another book I read more willingly was “Little Bee”. Little Bee is a young, Nigerian woman seeking asylum in Britain. As she begins to unravel her story for us in a detention center filled with young women such as herself, who are covered in scars, she makes this pact with her readers. She says this, “…I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”
In many ways we are all seeking asylum carrying some of our worst scars well below the surface of our skin. Emotional scars from broken relationships. A parent we haven’t spoken to in a while, a brother we are angry with, or a friend who has done something seemingly unforgivable. Or even worse, scars from someone who has left us never to return again. But Little Bee reminds us – “a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, we survived.” We only have to get out of the boat now if we are to really live again.
This past year at St. John’s we certainly have weathered some storms or at least a little choppy water. But now that Jered is here and summer will soon be over it’s time for us to step out of the boat and back into the water. When Mack finally musters the courage to step off into the water he looks at Jesus and says, “This is utterly ridiculous and impossible, you know…Off course, assented Jesus, grinning back at him.”
This is our faith. It is utterly ridiculous and impossible. And yet, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” Jesus says. With the little faith of the disciples and the audacity of Peter we have only to get out of the boat. Then maybe we will find with the touch of Jesus’ hand even we can walk on water.