Sunday, March 29, 2009

Faith Focus -- Unbinding Your Heart

Matthew 14:22-33

When I was a kid, I went on a boat ride around Klamath Lake, which is probably the size of the Sea of Galilee. On the way home a storm kicked up and it bounced that boat around pretty good. Now, it wouldn’t compare to one of those big Great Lakes storms, the kind that would sink the Edmund Fitzgerald, but for a kid it was a bit unnerving. Back in the 1st century, storms, even on relatively small lakes, could be terrifying. Water was symbolic of life, but it was also symbolic of chaos. Remember those opening lines of Genesis, where the Spirit of God hovers over the “face of the waters,” and ultimately brings order out of chaos (Gen.1: 1-2).

This morning’s text raises the question of faith – how much faith do I have, do we have, as we set out on an adventure with God? Sometimes our faith journeys are a bit like a boat tossed about on a stormy lake. We’re not sure where and how things will end, and our faith in God gets tested. This six-week adventure centered around the Unbinding Your Heart book is designed to help us prepare for a new adventure.

1. What’s Next?

By the end of this week we will have finished this “E-Vent.” Our last group meets Thursday evening, and as Felicia’s group already knows, we’ve prepared a survey to get your feedback. And later in this sermon you’ll hear from a couple of participants in this “E-Vent,” so you can hear how their hearts have been unbound. One of the questions that is already emerging from our Lenten emphasis is: “What’s Next?” That is the question we will be wrestling with as a congregation, and as individuals, as we sit listening together for God’s voice.

In this morning’s text, Matthew invites us to consider what it means to walk by faith. This is an important question for us as Disciples, because we’re a fairly rational people. We like to know where we’re going before we head out. We like our maps and our blue prints, but as Matthew reminds us, it’s quite possible that we’ll set out on a nice calm evening only to run into a storm. As Michiganders we understand that weather is unpredictable, so sometimes you have to roll with the punches. And so as we look to the future, my hope and my prayer is that our time together these past six weeks has prepared us for the journey ahead, which could run into dangerous waters on occasion.

2. Growing Pains, Conflict, and Distractions.

One of the reasons why we took on this venture is because we need to prepare for growth, and growth can bring with it growing pains, conflict, and distractions, three important items that Gay Reese discusses in the final chapter of Unbinding Your Heart. Gay describes “growing pains” as those outer waves that are challenging, but manageable. It’s a bit like a child growing up – you know they’re going to out grow those clothes sooner than later. Because we expect these challenges, we’re able to adapt to them.

I know that some of you have gotten used to our smaller size. You’ve let go of the past, when we were a big church, which is important if we’re going to walk faithfully into the future. But letting go of that past doesn’t mean that we should be content with our current lot. If we’re hearing God’s call to be a missional congregation that is witnessing and accepting, then I expect that this calling to go into our community will lead to growth, and growth will lead to growing pains. That’s because growth leads to change and even inconvenience!

While we can expect to experience growing pains, sometimes we experience conflict. These are the “inner waves,” those bigger waves that hit closer in and test our faith, and tempt us to let go of our vision. In response, to the inner waves of conflict, we must be both flexible and resilient, so that we may stay on target even as we navigate dangerous waters.

As for those distractions, a strong wind can terrify even a veteran fisherman, especially when he finds himself trying to walk on water. Peter decided to step out on faith and take a walk to Jesus – who was himself, taking a stroll across the stormy sea, early the next morning. I’m not sure why Peter would want to leave the relative safety of the boat to walk on the water, but before too long he got distracted, lost his faith, and began to sink.

As we head out from here, we will face distractions. There will be stormy seas. It could be the pace of change or the cost of supporting our ministries. It could be theological or political. I don’t know what they might be, but they have a tendency of cropping up when least expected, causing us to lose focus on our mission.

3. Finding Hope in Jesus

As Peter sinks into the waves, he cries out to Jesus: Save me! At that, Jesus pulls Peter up and into the boat, and then upbraids him: “Where’s your faith? Why the doubt?” That sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it? As we hear this word of Jesus, perhaps this response by Ron Allen and Clark Williamson would be helpful.

“We are the disciples in the boat – of ‘little faith,’ but some faith – and it will suffice.”
Even a bit of faith, in the midst of great doubt, is sufficient, because our relationship with God and the effectiveness of our service is rooted not in our faith, but in God’s grace. Allen and Williamson add:
“That we have our weaknesses, in no way cancels the unconditional, unfathomable character of God’s gracious love.”
Or, as Paul puts it:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
In the months and years to come, as we follow Jesus into the world, we will fall short in our efforts. But even when we sail into dangerous waters, not even knowing at times that storms are brewing, we can take comfort knowing that the one who walked on the waters, walks with us in our seasons of change. When we know that God, and not our habits, is the source of our safety, then we can embrace the changes that come our way. As Gay Reese points out, God, not the church is our polar start, our fixed point that gives us hope.

As we begin to ponder where God will lead us next, perhaps it is wise to stop and consider where we’ve been these past several weeks. Considering that we’ve been hearing testimonies of faith during this “event,” I’ve asked a couple of people from the church to share in a few sentences what this journey has meant to them. So, I invite Kathy Potter and Gabe Fournier to come up and share their stories of transformation. [testimonies]

As Kathy reminded us, prayer is at the heart of our journey, and Jesus offers us a good example. Having just finished feeding the 5000, after he sends off the twelve in the boat and dismisses the crowd, he goes up to the mountain and prays. On that mountain, in conversation with God, Jesus experienced God’s restorative love and grace, which prepared him to take that next step in his ministry. May we do the same as we embrace God’s call to be ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20).

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