Listen!

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About nine years ago, we were in the midst of one of those bitterly cold Januarys… not unlike the one we have experienced here!
The snow was falling and the temperature was below zero, but I bundled up that afternoon and went to the local nursing home where I held a monthly worship service.
I really enjoyed this time of worship there. While I rotated with other community pastors for this afternoon time of singing and preaching, I was one of the only pastors who also celebrated communion with these folks. Other denominations were more exclusive about who is welcome at the table. So it was always a joy to walk around the room and share the bread of life and cup of salvation with those dear folk.
On this particular cold day, we shared the same text that we are focusing on this morning. As we heard about how Jesus entered those waters of the Jordan, we remembered our own baptisms.
I carried around the circle a basin of water and invited each one to dip their fingers in and remember that God has loved them and called them each by name.
As I came to one woman, she had fallen asleep, as often happens with that group, and she was gently nudged awake by her neighbor.
Hopefully, you won’t have to nudge your neighbor awake this morning!
I kept working my way around the room and came to another woman who proclaimed with joy, “I was baptized in the Iowa River!”

There was another woman whose name was Grace and all throughout the service, she would interrupt to ask who was going to take her home.
At the end of worship, I had the chance to sit with her and chat and with the bitter cold outside, she kept asking who was going to come and get her and take her home.
She openly began to weep because she had been forgotten and no one was coming to take her home.
I reminded her gently that this was her home now…
this was where she belonged…
But more importantly… I reminded her that she was not alone.
In fact, she was loved.
She was a child of God, blessed by the Lord, and touching those waters a voice from heaven was pouring out upon her, reminding her that she was beloved.

As I listened to Grace’s insistence that she go home, I knew that dementia was speaking loud and clear… but there was something of all of us in her words, too.
Don’t we all want to go home?
Don’t we all want to experience the kind of belonging where we are called beloved?

I said earlier that I really enjoyed worshipping there at Rose Haven in Marengo… but there is another part of me that found those times and moments extraordinarily sad.
Some of the residents were vibrant and full of life, but others were barely functional in mind, body or spirit.
Many had been forgotten by their families.
This was not the highest quality facility in the county… and there were many things that made me pause when I thought about the care that I would desire for my own loved ones.

In that moment of worship, I had a chance to name each and every single one of those residents as beloved…
but I also found wondering how my own community of faith was living out our baptisms…
How did the call of God that poured out in our baptisms invite us to be present in the lives of these people in a different way?

You see, on the one hand, our baptism is an echo of the one Jesus experienced… so we proclaim that each and every single one of us is also called beloved by our God.
You are beloved.
You are beloved.
You are beloved.

But so often, we hear those words falling upon our own heads in our baptism and then we stop listening.
I am a beloved child of God, we hear in our hearts. Period. End of story.

But that is not how Mark tells this story.
No, his version of this tale is urgent and messy.
He starts with John the Baptist at the Jordan River, inviting people to come and be baptized as a sign that they were changing their lives.
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell reminds us that, “the Jordan river was where people went to wash their dishes and their laundry. It’s where they went to bathe. In other words, the river flowed with [the] filth and muck of human life… this wasn’t water that washed clean, but rather water that acknowledges the muckiness of our communal lives.”
John knew that his baptisms were not the end of the story, but that someone was coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit.
And then Jesus shows up.
This guy from the dump of a town, Nazareth…
A nobody from nowhere…
And yet, the very presence of God in the world.
And as God-with-us, Immanuel, Jesus Christ, waded into those filthy waters of the Jordan River, the very heavens split open.
And in that moment, the ministry of Jesus begins.
The Spirit flows upon him like a dove, names him beloved, and then forces him into the wilderness.

“What are our baptisms for?” Ted Smith asks in his lectionary reflection (Feasting on the Word).
Baptism is not simply something that makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside.
It is also the reminder that God’s power, God’s spirit, God’s life has poured out upon us… the very heavens were torn open and now YOU are sent out, like Jesus, into the wilderness of this life.
Because not only are you beloved… but so is every other child of creation.
No matter where they have come from or what their life has been, they, too, are beloved by God.
Whether they are from a place that is beloved or a place that has been condemned by others, they, too, are beloved by God.
Whether they are surrounded by love or whether they are forgotten and alone, they, too, are beloved by God.
And in our baptisms, the power of heaven itself pours out on us and calls us into the world to act on the behalf of our brothers and sisters.
To create opportunities.
To open doors.
To work for justice.
To call one another to reconciliation and repentance.
To make God’s love real in this world through our worship, through our work, through our play.
It is the call that drove Martin Luther King, Jr. to proclaim the dream that one day the children of slaves and slave holders would be able to sit down and share a meal together.
The dream that children would not be judged by color of their skin or where they were born, but by the content of their character.
That little children of different races and abilities and backgrounds would be able to join hands with one another.
That we can work together, pray together, struggle together, stand up for freedom together.

Our baptism is the foundation of every single thing we do as a church. Because this is not my place of ministry, but ours.
You are a beloved child of God.
The heavens were tore open as you were baptized and the Holy Spirit sends you out into the world to share the life you have found here with others.
On this day, let us shout with joy for the presence of God is in this place, leading us, calling us, shoving us out into world and reminding us with gentle words that every person we meet is a beloved child of God.
Amen.

Rising Strong: Failing and Falling

In this “Rising Strong” series, we have remembered a few things so far about what it means to live as children of the resurrection.

First – we have to be ourselves.  God has uniquely created us with gifts and skills and has put us in this place for this time.  We shouldn’t spend our days trying to be someone we are not.  We need to learn to love and embrace who God has made us to be. 

Second – we should wholeheartedly put ourselves to work for the Kingdom of God.  If you are a fisherman – go out there and fish for people.  If you are an accountant, go out and count people for Christ.  If you are a mom or a dad or a grandparent, love every person you meet as a child of God.  Take the life God has given you and use every minute of it to serve the Lord. 

We are called to take both of those things and put them into practice.  So, if you haven’t already filled out or turned in the “Gifts and Talents” booklet that we handed out last week – this is your opportunity.  It is one way you can let us know here at the church what are some of the ways you are willing to be yourself and go all in for God.    There is a box at the back of the sanctuary to turn them in, or you can drop them off in the office.  There are also some blanks there, as well. 

 Today, we are going to ask what happens next…

What happens when you figure out who you are and you give it all to God? 

 

Let’s pray:

 

In the past six weeks, I joined a gym… a “transformation center”… and spent some intentional time focusing on my own health and well-being.   I’m now twenty pounds lighter and trying to figure out how to keep up the effort without the strict diet and accountability of the group I worked out with.

One of the things that we talked a lot about during those six weeks was failure.

Every week, there would be at least one exercise where our goal was to do as many as possible.  Whether it was sit ups or planks, a dead lift or overhead press, the goal was to increase either the weight or the duration of the exercise so that you physically could not do one more rep. 

Now, this was not how we were supposed to exercise every muscle every time.  But the general idea was that if you weren’t pushing yourself and trying to really grow, you wouldn’t.

Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “the last 3 or 4 reps is what makes the muscle grow.  This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion.  That’s what most people lack: having the guts to go on and say they’ll go through the pain, no matter what happens.”

What most people lack is the guts to go on.

We lack the drive to be willing to push ourselves to failure.

 

In our gospel reading this morning, the disciples of Jesus Christ are in a boat.  They have been sent by Jesus to head off and get ready for a new ministry adventure, but they have been kept up by everything that is going on outside of the boat.  The wind is blowing, the waves are strong, and they are a bit fearful of what lies ahead.  They really don’t know if Jesus will be on the other side of the lake in the morning. 

We are a lot like those disciples.  We are all here, because at some point we responded to the call of Jesus Christ in our lives and we showed up.  We heard the call and got into the boat, even if we didn’t quite know where this boat was headed. 

But, like the disciples, we also really want Jesus to come with us, to be with us, and we are afraid to push off from the shore out into the world. 

In some ways, I think that is where our church is right now. We are hanging out in this boat that has kept us safe. You’ve been kept your heads above the waters and have navigated lots of storms. But the winds of the spirit have been blowing and have been moving among us, and I think that in many ways, we are now finding ourselves in uncharted waters – we are just a little ways from the shoreline that we are used to.

Right out there with the disciples.  They found themselves in stormy waters, in unfamiliar territory, in a place they thought Jesus couldn’t possibly be.  So much so, that they didn’t recognize Jesus when he showed up in the middle of the night. 

 

Only Peter was brave enough, courageous enough, only Peter had the guts to go on and seek Jesus out there on the water. 

He remembered who he was and who God was.

He remembered the ways that Jesus had called him to follow and the amazing things that could be accomplished in God’s name.

And he took the risk to step out of the boat… to be foolish and daring and to trust where the Spirit is leading.

He didn’t let his head tell him “no” when his heart was screaming “yes”. 

And he walked on water.

 

Well, for a minute.

He got scared. He stumbled.  He started to fall.

 

By all accounts, Peter failed.

But the thing is, he took the chance where no one else had. 

He pushed himself far enough that he could fail, that he might fail, and while he did – it also meant that he was the only one who was in a place to grow from that experience. 

 

In his book, Failure: Why Science Is So Successful, neuroscientist Stuart Firestein points out all the ways the scientific process guarantees failures and flops.

There are very few eureka moments or big discoveries compared with the thousands of failures and flops that happen along the way. 

But every one of those failures is an opportunity to learn, tweak, grow, and do something different.

Every one of those failures allows you to learn a new limit or boundary and to push past it. 

 

As a church, maybe we should embrace not only the art of ministry, but also the science of ministry. 

We should take big enough risks and have the guts to try new things if the Spirit is leading us.

And we should not be afraid to fail and to fall flat on our face.

Because every time we do, we have the chanced to process, evaluate, and make adjustments.

When you turn in your Gifts and Talents booklet, here is the thing I want you to remember.  You don’t have to be perfect in order to offer your gifts to God.  None of us are.  You will make mistakes.  You will need others to help you and teach you.  And you might even discover that something really isn’t for you.  But you will never know what your limits are and how God might stretch you unless you offer yourself!

As a community, that also means that we need to be open and ready to surround people with love when they offer themselves and work for God’s kingdom, fully expecting that there will be mistakes along the way.

Innovation and discover take time, patience, grace, and a familiarity with failure.  Holy failure.  The kind of failure that means you are constantly moving on towards perfection – without judgment for where you have been.

 

God isn’t done with us yet… so may we have the courage to be ourselves, go all in, and make a whole lot of holy failures… knowing that Jesus (and this community of faith) is right here, ready to catch us.   

Amen. 

Sabbath

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Still and quiet in the cove.
Every now and then a sprinkle.
Lazy breezes blow by and the birds talk to each other.
They catch up as we catch up. Goldfinch and cardinals, sparrows and blue jays.
Dancing and playing in the trees.
They feast on the gnats until the gnats feast on us.
So we leave the cove and return to the river.
Kick it into gear and the wind whips by.
Hands in the air, catching the currents.
Fragments of conversation drifting past.
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when the storms of life are raging #gc2012

Our General Conference has been full of metaphors of water.  Storms, wind, rain, water, shoreline, sails, rope, salt, you name it – we’ve shared the image.  And it has been extraordinarily powerful when those symbols have captured the moments we have experienced:  healing, encouragement, etc.

But that metaphor is also difficult when you feel like the waves are going up and down and up and down and a storm is brewing and the waves get higher and higher.  General Conference is like that.  Highs and lows.  It is an emotional roller coaster of worshipful moments that help you soar in praise of God and then lead you into deep lament and repentance.  It is the political thrill of watching legislation you deeply care about get discussed and perfected and pass… and then the heartbreaking disappointment when the church fails to act, or muddles the process, or goes in a direction that you feel is not God’s will. 

Someone described it as inducing its own special kind of PTSD.  And perhaps I didn’t quite realize what they meant until I found myself literally holding my breath, arms out in prayer over the whole delegation, waiting for the seconds to count down as the vote was cast for the church restructuring.  The plan was not, and is not, perfect.  We tried to work on some amendments and managed to increase representation from the central conferences, but did not pass what I believed was an important amendment to retain the independence of GCORR and GCSRW.  Those two agencies are now subsumed into a “committee on inclusiveness,” and the failure of the amendment was devastating for me.

What troubled me the most is that there were still so many perfections and corrections that needed to be made to the plan but we didn’t take the time to make them.  The UMW board was changed without us realizing it.  The numbers don’t quite add up right on other boards.  There are errata everywhere. But lunch was coming up, and we went to the vote… with 20+ white cards waving in the air (the symbol for a question, amendment, point of order, etc.)

I’m not sure what the implications of our restructure will be yet.  I fear that we have pushed our monitoring agencies to the side and they will not have the voice they need to have to keep us from letting racism, tribalism, or sexism exclude people from the table.  In the conversations about the loss of guaranteed appointment, I have heard from so many who fear that because they are a woman or black or don’t speak with english as a first language, that they are now in danger… not because they are ineffective, but because they do not feel like they have respect or are seen with dignity as a person who truly has a calling and gifts and graces.  I have been blessed in my personal experience not to have to carry that kind of fear, but I have heard their pain and it made me remember how truly these (former) commissions have been… not only in the U.S. but also across the globe… and how much work there still is to do.

Last night, we refused to deal with an amendment to the constitution that would add “gender” and “age” to the list of things we are to be inclusive around.  But we couldn’t imagine the future with kingdom eyes and for the third general conference in a row, we did not pass the amendment.  We actually referred it back to the commission that brought it to the body. It made my heart hurt. I wanted us to stand up and take that simple stand and we refused to do it. And then we worshipped and were invited into a liturgy that spoke of welcoming woman and man and all different kinds of people and it just about broke me. 

Someone posted on twitter today: At least in worship I feel like a United Methodist.  And yet, in that service, I felt like we couldn’t truly speak those words.  We as a body had failed to live into those words only an hour before.  The only thing that saved me was the jazzy blues lament… Lord, have mercy.  It was only because we lamented and cried out and (at least for me) begged for forgiveness that I could ride the wave to the next high point and look out over all that we are and all we try to do and get some perspective. 

I was reminded this afternoon that although the waves are tumultuous this week and what we do may or may not have far reaching implications… on Sunday, I will be back in my local church.  And I’ll be in the water again… only this time the waters of baptism as I bless, anoint, and name the grace of God that is already pouring into the life of little Joselin.  And right there is where I belong.  Speaking love and grace.  Nurturing life and discipleship. Refusing to give in to the waves of doubt and fear and confusion.  Holding steady, knowing Jesus is at my side. 

walking on sunshine #reverb10

This prompt is HARD!!!  First of all, I took a lot of pictures this year, so that was problem number one  not a lot with me in them!  Second, there are so many different “mes” I have tried to be this year. But In answer to the prompt:


December 25 – Photo – Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you. (Author: Tracey Clark)
It is not a flattering picture of myself… but it is me and my husband out on the water, enjoying the sun. I’m sure it is one that we took ourselves by holding out the camera.  The sunglasses are on, the tongues are out – a sure sign of a good time and silliness, the air is warm, and we are with family enjoying ourselves.
What I see in this picture is life, energy, and fun.
This is the source of the passion I can bring to my ministry.  It is what allows me to recharge my batteries.  Whether it is Hawaii with my mom’s family or out on the river or the lake with my husband’s family, disc golfing in the summer… just being outside, enjoying the creation, letting other people take care of you and taking care of others is important.
What I want is for 2011 to have just as many of these kinds of moments, if not more.  Times to truly relax and to be myself.  Moments to let go and be silly.  Days when I am not on call and don’t have to be anywhere… because they make those days when I do have to be there for others so much easier.

 

My first choice would have to be:

Come Away With Me

(Adapted from an article written in the Christian Century, 1996, “Watching from the boat,” by Martin B. Copenhaver)

I read this week in an article by Martin Copenhaver, about a pastor who resigned from a suburban church where relentless demands on his time and energy were beginning to wear him down. Instead of leaving the ministry all together, he became a missionary on the coast of Maine. In this new calling, he visits small Christian communities in isolated and remote places. Most of the things that he does there are the same as what he was doing in his church near the city – he preaches, teaches, and visits the sick. But there is a huge difference in doing these things in the hustles and bustle of the city and on the coast of Maine. “Between ports of call he travels long distances by boat. Between sermons he can listen to the wind. Before teaching another class he can study the horizon. After visiting the sick he is anointed with sea spray. Interspersed with his demanding pastoral duties he takes a watery road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

When I read the story of that pastor, I realized how much I cherish the time I have away from this church. And I know that comes off the wrong way – but I, too, need time away from this building and this work, so that I can come back refreshed and replenished… re-created by God. Any afternoon I can get away to play a round of disc golf, or during the summer to sit by the water with family, is a moment that replenishes my body and soul in the same way.

There is a reason that our word for play time – recreation – can also be said re-creation… in our play, in our rest, in our time apart, we find the strength we need to begin anew.

So much emphasis in our world today is placed on productivity – on the hours we spend working and what we make out of that time. What we never stop and recognize is that constant productivity without rest, without renewal, only leads to failure.
This is the lesson that my dad has taught me many times in small ways throughout my lifetime. He has worked with his hands repairing equipment for as long as I can remember. And the rule he tries to live by on the farm is that it is better to fix a piece of equipment once and do it right, rather than patch it up quickly and get back out in the field. In the long run – that equipment will last longer and run better when you take the time out to repair it properly.

Unfortunately, that is a lesson my dad has also taught me through bad examples. While he takes care of his equipment, he doesn’t take very good care of his own body. He doesn’t stop for as long as he needs to in order to rest and replenish his most important tool. He pushes ahead, fitting as much into his day as possible, stopping here and there for a nap before heading out into the fields once more, or before working the night shift at Quaker. And now his body is wearing out faster than it needs to. Like that pastor from the suburbs – something needs to change, or someday he will have to quit the things that he loves all together.

In our gospel lesson from Mark this morning, Jesus has something to teach us about rest – about Sabbath – about re-creation. As Copenhaver points out, “Jesus and his disciples cross the Sea of Galilee so many times that it is hard to” figure out what they are doing and why they are doing it. “Until the sixth chapter, that is, when the reason for the crossings is clear: the disciples need a break.

“The Twelve had just returned from their first mission. On that mission they discovered, perhaps to their surprise, that they could do much of what they had observed Jesus do. They were empowered to teach, preach and heal. They left on the mission as disciples, but when they returned, flushed with success, Mark refers to them as apostles for the first time. It was a new title signifying a new relationship with Jesus. No longer were they disciples with mere “learner’s permits,” unable to do anything on their own. They had been sent forth with the authority of a commission. They were apostles. When the apostles returned to Jesus they had stories to tell and victories to savor.”

I can picture a scene in which twelve children return home from the first day of school and crowd around their mother or father anxious to share all of the exciting and amazing things that had happened that day. All twelve voices are trying to speak at the same time, outdoing one another with stories, trying to worm their way into the conversation. In my house, there were just three of us children, and even our three little voices could exhaust my mother in about five minutes!

And that was only when we had Mom’s undivided attention! Other days, the phone was ringing off the hook, usually she had just gotten home from work herself and was trying to unload from her day, dinner was waiting to be made… you get the picture.
I remember a little sign that my mom had hanging up in the kitchen when we were kids, that said “take a number.” I’m not sure that we ever used the cute little numbers painted onto die-cut apples, but I remember thinking as I got older that perhaps she didn’t need to be overwhelmed by all of us at once.

The apostles return from their first missionary experience, but they too, had to take a number. Jesus was surrounded by people who needed healing, guidance, who were seeking peace, and there just wasn’t the time or space they needed to stop and debrief.

Those disciples wanted to tell him everything, but they were hot and tired and hungry and exhausted, so Jesus found a small window of opportunity and suggested that they get in a boat and seek a deserted place.

“Come away with me by yourselves… come and get some rest.”

That boat ride to the other shore was a moment of fresh air. It was the sea breeze blowing over the missionary pastor on the coast of Maine. It was the gentle wind that blows through the trees on hole 3 at the Sugar Bottom disc golf course. The apostles relaxed in the boat, took turns telling their stories, took turns listening, dug into their sacks for a piece of bread, and replenished their souls.

“When they reached the shore, however, they discovered that a crowd had followed them… The sick had run, hobbled, or been carried to meet Jesus… The people waiting for them looked like a huge gathering of baby birds, their hunger so constant that their mouths were always opened wide. It was enough to overwhelm a mere apostle. But Jesus had compassion on the crowd and began once again to feed them with his words.”

Can you imagine being in the middle of your rest and renewal, your vacation, your one day off and getting a call from the office? Having a family emergency that pulls you away? Even though it is your work, or your family, or even something that you might love… because your time of re-creation is interrupted, you get a little irritated.

If we were to continue on with our reading in the gospel of Mark this morning, the apostles did just that. As Jesus stood on the shore teaching and healing, his disciples called out from the boat – “Hey Jesus… it’s getting late! We’re in the middle of nowhere. Tell everyone to go home, get something to eat, and come back tomorrow!”

Here’s the part of the story where Jesus gets the disciples to pull a few loaves of bread and two fish out of their bags and he feeds the entire crowd with their meager offering. And it’s a wonderful story – but one we’ll save for another day.

Sensing the apostles’ fatigue, Jesus basically told them to wait for him in the boat, much as a parent might tell tired children to wait in the car while she does one more errand. All they had to do was reach into their sacks and hand over some bread – Jesus did all the rest. He realized that they just couldn’t do any more… at least not tonight.

“The sociologists call it compassion fatigue. All of us are capable of compassion on occasion. But when we’ve seen too many emotional television appeals for hunger relief or walked down too many streets crowded with human sorrow, we discover that our compassion is limited… Only God can extend constant compassion. God is the only one who never suffers from “compassion fatigue.” In the constancy of Jesus’ compassion, his kinship with this God is revealed.”

Wayne Mueller in his book, “Sabbath” puts it another way. He writes that too often, we do good badly. Sure, the disciples could have gotten out of the boat, and lent a hand. They were empowered to teach, preach and heal as Jesus did, but ministry in the name of Christ is exhausting business. They were tired and worn out, and if they had decided to help out, they could have done more harm than good.

Mueller shares a story of an experience where exactly that happened. He had been working as a part of the deinstitutionalization movement in the 1970’s. They were trying to release young people from juvenille centers and institutions and help them return to their homes. The idea was that they would be better rehabilitated living amongst their own families, rather than being locked up. It was a great idea, only very little time was taken to think about the consequences of their actions. No time was taken to listen to the families of these young people, or the communities they would return to. No teaching was done before they were sent home. Mueller writes that they didn’t even take a Sabbath day of rest to consider the implications of what they would be doing.

“Now”, he writes, “the nation is awash in lost children, some violent, many in pain… We, for our part, now rush to blame them for threatening the safety of our society, and we cannot build prisons fast enough to hold them… We were in a terrible hurry to do good, and there was no rest in our decisions. And just as speech without silence creates noise, charity without rest creates suffering.”

“John Westerhoff has remarked that atheism in the modern world is characterized by this affirmation: ‘If I don’t do it, it won’t happen.’ The apostles–even after their newfound success as teachers, preachers and healers–knew better. They waited in the boat.”

All of us who are called by the gospel and by God’s spirit need that reminder too. We need to remember that the power of God chooses to work through us, but that God also can work without us. That sometimes another person is called to respond. That sometimes we have to stand still before we can move forward. When the compassion of the apostles was spent and their ability to respond exhausted, people were fed anyway, as if with manna from heaven, and they could only watch from the boat.

And when the meal was finished, Jesus sent the disciples back onto the lake in the boat… told them to cross over to the other side, and he climbed a mountain to pray.

Even Jesus needed rest. Even Jesus needed to be replenished. Even Jesus let prayer re-create his soul.

Sabbath time is a time of blessing. We pray for strength and courage and happiness. We rest, eat, play, walk, and listen. That is the spirit of the Sabbath prayer that we heard in response to our Psalter this morning.

So today, stop. Take a deep breath. And come away with Jesus.

(I then played the music video from Norah Jones “Come Away With Me

Getting out of the Boat

Sermon Text: Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33
Hymns for the Day: Many Gifts, One Spirit; You Are Mine; Here I am, Lord

Some mornings I feel very inadequate standing up here. It’s not that I’m unprepared, or unqualified in the worldly sense… it’s that I’m unprepared and unqualified in the godly sense. Who really is ready for the awesome feat of proclaiming the word of God? Most Sunday mornings I have reached a place where I’m able to focus not on my words that I have printed before me, but I can just let it go and let the Spirit take those words and do whatever God wants to with them.

This was a busy week for me and so for many reasons, I feel more inadequate than ever. I got up at 5 am this morning to go back over what I had written, to read some of my colleagues sermons and thoughts, and to clear my head and let some things go.

But then I remembered that it was precisely in that dark hour – during the fourth watch of the night, or sometime between 3 and 6 in the morning, that Jesus came walking on the water towards Peter.

I’ve shared with many of you my morning routine – how I like to get up and sit in the early morning sunrise with a cup of tea. Well, there was no sunrise this morning – only dark. I had to turn the lights on to see. I practically stumbled into the kitchen and with my eyes half shut began to make a pot of tea.

This morning, I felt like a disciple in a boat. Sent by Jesus to head off and get ready for some new ministry venture, but kept awake by all the stuff going on outside of the boat and just wishing that Jesus was there. Hoping and praying that by some miracle, Jesus shows up sometime before worship this morning.

The truth of the matter is, we are all disciples in that boat. We are all here because at some point in our lives we responded to the call of Jesus Christ on our lives and so we showed up. And we got into the boat, knowing who was steering the ship, but not knowing where we would end up.

You may think I’m talking about some symbolic and imaginary boat. You might picture yourselves floating down the Iowa River or in a little john boat on Lake Iowa. I’m not talking about something imaginary here. We have all – literally – gotten into the boat this morning!

In Nashville, I worked at a church who liked to use the fancy names for all of the parts of the sanctuary. For example: This place where I am standing is called the chancel area. It’s called the “chancel” because it describes the screen that used to separate the rest of the church from the altar area. Especially in older Catholic or Anglican churches, you can still see the dividing screen or intricate ornamentation that used to hide the altar and sacraments from the people. The communion rail here is the closest we have to that sort of a dividing line today.

This place out here is called the “nave” – and it’s why all of you have gotten into the boat. You see, the word comes from the Latin navis which means a boat or a ship. There are many churches that you can visit today in which the architecture actually makes that apparaent. In some of these places, the entire nave area is built to look like an upside down boat. Look up the next time you are visiting another church and see if there are rafters are curved to resemble the frame of a boat. The chapel at Simpson College is one of those churches.

So we are all in the boat this morning. We are all in this boat called the church doing our best to be faithful and to follow Jesus. The problem is, as we hear from this morning’s scripture: Jesus isn’t always in the boat!

Today, Matthew tells us about how Jesus sent his disciples out by boat to go to the other side of the lake. He does so because he needs some quiet time to pray and to think after all that miracle working (after all, he has just healed and fed 5000+ people!) and so he sends the disciples out with a task. Head out, and meet me on the other side.

And so the disciples get in the boat. But you know what… I think that the disciples, like most of us in the church, really wanted Jesus to come with them, to be with them, so they tried as hard as they could to stay near the shore and to wait for Jesus to return. They didn’t really want to venture out into the world without Jesus by their side, so they tried to wait. They tried to hold on.

Oh, how many churches in the world today are treading water, anchored in one place, doing their best to just stay afloat and waiting for Jesus to come back. It’s easy to do. It’s what happens when we don’t trust that God has sent us out and given us gifts and expects us to do something with them!

I truly think that if the disciples had had it their way, they would have been sitting in that boat, right by the shoreline, all night long, waiting for Jesus. But, as the scriptures tell us, the wind was against them and the waves were against them and try as they might, the boat kept drifting farther and farther from where they wanted to be – from where it was safe and comfortable.

In some ways, I think that is where our church is right now. We are still in the boat that has kept us safe and we have stayed afloat after many years of struggle. You’ve been trying your best to keep your head above water and you have succeeded. But the winds of the spirit have been blowing and have been moving among us, and I think that in many ways, we are now finding ourselves in uncharted waters – we are just a little ways from the shoreline that we are used to.

And trust me, I understand that feeling. It can be scary and disorienting to be led by the Spirit of God. I remember the this sense of absolute terror I had when Jim Hanke called me up when I was still in Nashville and told me that he had a church in mind. I had no idea what the future would bring, what you all would be like, whether or not it would be a good fit… all I could do was hope and pray that the Spirit truly was working through the process. And I had to trust that no matter where the Spirit of God took me, Jesus would be there

I think that is the mistake that boatful of disciples made. You see, they tried so hard to stay by the shoreline and wait for Jesus, that finally being driven out to the middle of the lake they got to a place where they thought Jesus couldn’t possibly be. On those stormy waters, in that unfamiliar territory, they felt overwhelmed by the chaos of it all.

Those overwhelmed disciples were so terrified of the wind and the waves around them that they didn’t even recognize Christ when he came to them. At least not at first. They were so surprised that they could possibly be met out there by Jesus that they thought of all things that he was a ghost – some apparition – and not their Lord and Savior.

Why on earth would Jesus be out there? Outside of the boat? Out in those scary unfamiliar waters? Because that is precisely where Jesus is needed.

In college, I was one of the student leaders for the Religious Life Council at Simpson, and there I stumbled upon some poetry and reflections by the late Eddie Askew. I can’t remember today which book this is from or even what the title is, but it makes me think about what the disciples must have been thinking to themselves when they saw Jesus standing out there.

He writes:

And, suddenly, I notice with unease, you standing with them, outside the boundary wire of my concern. Not asking that they be admitted to my world, but offering me the chance to leave my warm cocoon, thermostatically controlled by selfishness, and take my place with them, and you. At risk in real relationships, where love not law, defines what I should do.

Ever since I read that poem, I have been looking for Jesus. It’s not that I don’t believe Christ comes into our midst each week in worship. It’s not that I don’t believe that where two or three are gathered, Christ is there. But it’s that I also know Christ shows up where I least expect him, in the lives of people I’m not paying attention to, in the words of a stranger.

So as we find ourselves moving and growing and changing as a church – as we find ourselves in this boat of faith being led by the Spirit – we need to keep our eyes open for Jesus to show up in unlikely places.

Last week, the Ministry Action Team for Iowa County met and we talked about ministry to young adults in our communities. Eric Guy, the Leadership Development Minister for Young Adult and Generational Ministry shared with us a few stories from scripture and how they represent different ways of reaching out to young people. In the first story – that well known story of the prodigal son – Eric said that often the church thinks of itself as home, as the place that the younger brother gave up and left when he fell away to big city living…. And the church is therefore the place that the younger brother has to come back to in order to be whole.

If we translate into boat language this morning – the church as the boat is the only safe place to be. It is the only “good” place to be. And so our goal as disciples is to float around and get other people into the boat. We sit there in the boat, high and dry, and send out invitations and put ads in the newspaper and say to the world – COME! Come to us, get in, and we’ll have a nice drive.

And we thought that sounded okay… Until Eric shared with us another story. Another story of someone who left home – Jacob. You see, Jacob also had a brother and he also left to start a new life, but the thing about the Jacob story, is that he found God out there. God came to him in visions and in dreams, God was with him as he worked for nearly a decade in order to marry the love of his life, and God was with him on his journey back to home.

Eric challenged us to think about ministry to young people in this way, and I think this can translate to all people who are outside of the church today. Instead of seeing them as fallen away and in need of saving, we instead should think of them on their own journey. Out there, they are experiencing God, have questions of faith, and are looking for answers. But they might not be ready to come back to the church… at least not yet.

Translated into boat language. The church is a boat in the midst of stormy waters and the people we are called to be in ministry to are out there. Just like in Eddie Askew’s poem, Jesus is standing in the waters with them.

The question is, do we see Jesus out there? And do we have the courage to step outside of these four walls and go to them?

Out of all the disciples in that boat, Peter is the one who speaks up. He shouts out into the wind at the dark figure… Lord – if that is really you – tell me to come to you!

And Jesus says, “Come.” Come out into the waters. Come out into the lives of these people. Love them. Care for them. Share your story with them. Don’t be afraid to leave that boat, because I am with you!