Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Walk on Water #1: Life in the boat 2/21/2010

Walk on water#1
Life in the boat
After the resurrection Jesus and Moses wanted  to take in some fishing. So he gets his friend Moses and they head up to Minnesota to fish. They are about to rent a canoe when Moses says:"Jesus, can't you still walk on water? Why not just walk out there?"
So Jesus takes his reel and tackle and steps onto the lake....and falls knee deep in water.
Moses says, "Well....maybe you need a head start or something, why not go to the end of the dock and try."
So Jesus takes his reel and tackle and steps off the end of the dock and falls up to his waist.
Moses says, " Well why not rent the boat, go out to the center of the lake and try there."
So they rent the boat and go to the middle of the lake, Jesus is about to step off and try again when...
Moses says, "Wait. Just to be safe, why not get yourself into the state of mind you were in the first time you did it."
So Jesus sets down, meditates for a few minutes, and finally he's all psyched up, and steps out of the canoe.... ..and proceeds to drown. So Moses does the water parting thing, and pulls Jesus up into the boat. Jesus is just beating himself up over this. He just doesn't see what's going wrong here. Moses just stares down at the bottom of the boat. Suddenly, Moses says, "I got it! I know what's wrong! Did you have those holes in your feet last time?!?!"

I have been waiting for a month to tell that story. I started with it because I want to say that I really want this “Walk on Water” series to be fun!  Sure we are talking about serious issues of faith and faithfulness, but we have a great story, a great God and a great opportunity to grow closer to God this lent.  So let’s have fun.
Let’s start by turning the church upside down.  If you have to stand on your head to imagine this, go ahead.  But imagine we take the roof of the church and turn it upside down.  What do we have?--- Besides a great skylight in the sanctuary-- what do we have? 
OK, I’ll give you a hint.  Take the roof off, turn it upside-down and put it in a lake.  Now what do you have?  A boat! Right?  Well kind of.  The technical word for the part of the church in which you are sitting is the NAVE.  That is the part from the entry doors to the chancel which starts with the steps here.  The word NAVE comes from the Latin word NAVIS of NAVY meaning ship.  It was given that name because it looked  like an upside-down ship. One of the perhaps not so historical stories about this type of church architecture, is that it was intended to resemble a boat, or ark.
I can think of several boats in scripture. 
The first was Noah’s ark.  The ark was a place of safety; a place of salvation if you will.  A place that saved all the animals and Noah’s family from the great flood.  Like the church there were probably days when it smelled pretty bad in there.  With all those animals there had to be  days when Noah was up to his eyeballs in really bad stuff, but it was better than the alternative.  As imperfect as the church is, it is for many of us better than the alternative.  It is a place of safety and security.  We talk about family and support, and this is an important part of what the church is.  In some respects the church is an ARK of salvation.

There are also times when the church is more like the boat on which Jonah sailed.  Remember God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell the people to repent.  Jonah thought it would be better to let God destroy the Ninevites so he found a boat going the other direction.  Did he get away with it?  No.  Because the sailors held him accountable.  When the storm came up they decided someone must be responsible.   Since Jonah was fleeing from God they tried to help straighten him out by throwing him overboard.  That’s when he became whale food.
Sometimes the church is a place to be held accountable. The church accepts us the way we are, but then we try to help each other to be better than we ever thought we could be.  One of the things I always say when I am faced with people who say “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.”  I tell them you may be right, but I know I am a better Christian, a more faithful person, a more obedient person in the church than I could ever be by myself outside the church.  That’s because have the support, the encouragement, the teaching, and --hopefully you don’t throw me overboard to the whales--but I know that I have someone to kick me in the rear end when I need it.  So the church is like Jonah’s boat of ACCOUNTABILITY.

Third I think of Paul’s boats on which he sailed to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the gentile world.  Sure, he got shipwrecked a couple of times, but it was because of the boats that he was able to get the word to those who needed to hear it.  A third way in which the church is like a boat is that it makes it possible for us to get places we otherwise could not go.  If it was up to me alone I don’t know what I could do for those poor people in Haiti right now.  But I know that together  as a church we have been able to collect a significant amount of money to be sent off to help them.  And even more, being part of the greater UM church we have people on the ground cleaning up, caring for the injured and grieving, and beginning to help them put their lives back together.  Do any of you think you could do that by yourself?  I know I couldn’t.  Thank God for the powerfully loving arms of the church reaching out to the world for us.  The church is a ship of outreach.

You know, life in the boat of the church is a safe place, a place of accountability and a place of reaching out,--- but  our story of water walking puts one more twist on how the church is like a boat. The church should be a risk taking place.
Yes, the church is a safe place in a storm, but that safety and security is for the purpose of enabling us to step out of the boat.
Yes, the church is a place of accountability and training, but that accountability includes not letting us just flip and flop around in the bottom of the boat like a big old fish.  It includes challenging us to step over the edge and dip our toes in the water of extreme faith.
Yes, the church is a place where together we can reach places we could never reach alone, but that reaching is not only to poor countries in faraway places.  It also helps us to reach into the poverty of our own hearts in order to reach those dark internal places we would never go by ourselves.
In other words like the boat in Matthew’s story on which we are focusing,  the church should be a place where we are challenged to see Jesus and risk reaching for his outstretched hand and his command to “come.’
Far from being the stubborn preserver of all that is ancient and outdated (which is how the church has acted for centuries) Far from being the defender of all that is obsolete and old fashioned.  Far from being the institution of “we have never done it that way before.”  Far from standing in the back of the boat gazing wishfully at the wake we leave behind-- the church should be the navigator with binoculars scanning the horizon for ways we can be ready to speak to people when they catch up with us.
The First time I met bishop Trimble he said that “if we wake up tomorrow morning and it is miraculously the year 1950 the church is ready.”  That’s not the church I want to lead, though. I want to be part of a church that wakes our neighbors up to tell them that there is more to this life than selfishness, materialism, and security.  I want to lead a church that gathers all our neighbors in the boat and then points to Jesus, with his hand outstretched  calling come.  I want to be the first one to abandon security, and material ism and selfishness---and get out of the boat.  I want to be the first one to get my shoes wet answering Jesus’ call. I want to be the first one to not only walk with Jesus on the water, but skip and run with him as well. 
And I want you all to be fighting me for the privilege of being second.

Yes I want life in the boat of the church to be safe.  Yes, I want it to be a place to learn and be held accountable. Yes I want it to be a place that extends our ministry.  But more than anything else I want life in this NAVE- life in this boat to be focused seeing Jesus and responding to his invitation  to come.  I want this church to be a church where people are lined up for the opportunity to walk on the water.  I want this church to be filled with disciples of extreme faith.
·         For some of you that might be the first invitation that we call salvation.  Come and receive forgiveness of sins.  If that’s you that’s great, get out of the boat and on to the water.
·         For some of you that might be a response to publicly profess your salvation and your love for Jesus in Baptism and church membership.  If that’s you that’s great, get out of the boat and on to the water.
·         For some of you who might be sitting comfortably in the same spiritual pew you sat in 20 years ago, it might be a call to get uncomfortable and try something new- risk going to a walk on water study session, a Bible study, a mission trip, inviting a friend to join you in your pew next Sunday, volunteering to serve in some way on a committee, or as liturgist. If that’s you that’s great, get out of the boat and on to the water.
·         For some of you who have seen sporadic growth and have maybe fallen away from the closeness to Jesus you once knew. It may be a call to re-devote yourself to spiritual growth, prayer and scripture. If that’s you that’s great, get out of the boat and on to the water.
·         To some of you who have been growing and stretching your spiritual legs- but have hesitated to take that leap to doing something different.  This may be the opportunity to step out of the boat  and go for it. If that’s you that’s great, get out of the boat and on to the water.

Wherever you are. Walking on water means taking one step closer to Jesus.  Making one decision to trust Jesus more.  Making one decision to act in faith.
I want everyone to stand up, please.  Now everyone move up one pew.  Just one.  I know I may be  risking my life here.<><><><><><>  It is probably safer for the preacher to try to walk on the water than to ask people to move one pew closer.   <><><><> but we all survived.  Now sit down.  Look around.  How’s that.  Not so bad?  That’s what we are talking about in this series. 
One pew-- One step--- one  decision--- one act of faith at a time.  Jesus says come. 

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