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Faith. It Is What It Is

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You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Faith: It Is What It Is, HERE.

A Bible Story Mystery Box*. Coming into worship this morning, I knew I was taking a risk, and I did not know how it would turn out. Over the course of the week I had read and reread the Bible story from Matthew. So, I had the story etched on my heart. I also knew I would be riffing on the something unknown about faith, trust, and questioning

And of course, I had set the stage for something unexpected. What could go wrong challenging the youth in our congregation to stump the pastor

I had offered a dare.

Wesley and Quincy responded, tossing the challenge right back at me.

Thus, I couldn’t help but smile as I read the dare and double-dare in this wild water story in Matthew. If you remember the reading from last week, this is a point in the story immersed in uncertainty and despair. Jesus’ teacher…or mentor, or wilderness guru… his cousin John had just been killed by a decree from Herod. It is in this state of potential fear that further violence might erupt a crowd gathers. Thousands of people. The author writes Jesus spent a long day healing children, women, and men. A day which ended with an outdoor community meal. No doubt satisfying day, but at the end I imagine everyone… Jesus, the disciples… was tired. Drained.

So now… we are at the end of that day. Night has fallen. People are heading home and Jesus heads off to pray by himself. A little down time. Maybe to reflect on how the day’s ministry had gone. And Jesus sends his friends, his followers, off across the lake in a boat.

I am guessing everyone who boarded the boat was exhausted, but also elated by the events of the past 12 hours. They had felt the energy of the crowd. The overwhelming needs of the people they encountered. The broken. The sick. The outpouring of hope that healed. And then the coming together of the community as food was gathered, and blessed, and shared.

I envision the disciples sprawled out across the boat as the rhythm of the lake began to change. From being relaxed to tossed about on rough waves, these fishermen… who must have encountered other storms in the past… were scared to death.

My question for you is: If you were emotionally worn out, terrified by wind battering your boat about in the middle of the night, what would you say if you were Peter? 

If you were panicking in the middle of a storm, and then this person, this thing, this aberration walking out on the water… which has just talked to you (“Take heart…”)—what would you say?

You might say:

  • “Jesus, if it is you, calm this storm.”
  • Or maybe “Hurry! Get in the boat– the wind is wild!”

I don’t know about you, but it would not occur to me to say, “Hey Jesus if that’s you command me to get out of this safe(ish) place, this boat, and I’ll walk on the water.” WHAT??? Has Peter forgotten IT IS STORMING OUT???

And so, the faith gamble begins. Not unlike a pastor daring the kids to stump her during the Time with Children.

I mean… hey Jesus, if it is REALLY you, call me out of this boat and I will walk on water.

What could possibly go wrong challenging Jesus to call you to walk on water?

What did Peter hope Jesus would say back to him?

Did he take any time to think it through?

And there, in the roughest of waters when Jesus says, “Come,” did Peter respond with an enthusiastic “Woo Hoo”?

Again… WHAT??? Really?

Get out of the boat? Why would anyone actually get out of a familiar, if even-not-all-that-perfect place?

Yet… it is there Jesus says to us, “Come.”

How would you respond? How would I respond? Would we take a risk to step out of the boat, onto stormy seas?

I think the answer to that question for each of us, in our own way, has to be “yes.” Maybe not because we wanted to, but because we are living in a pandemic. We have all been tossed out of our comfort zone and into stormy seas.

How do we… will we… respond?

Since the onset of the pandemic, I have been channeling my own inner Peter: Confident, bold, and jumping into new things one moment… and then… suddenly realizing the turbulent winds around me and beginning to panic the next. I look at the reality of the global catastrophe and suddenly I get a sinking feeling. There I need to metaphorically grab back onto Jesus in my life and climb back into the boat. I pray. I take tech sabbaths. I reach out to you. I talk to clergy peers. I go for a bike ride. I write. I do some advocacy work.

Faith is like that. Trusting. Questioning. Sinking. Renewing. Rising. Responding.

I will admit focusing on this sermon was difficult this week. The words from an interview the President had with a reporter from Axios[1] kept echoing in my mind. With over 160,000 deaths from the coronavirus in the United States since February the coldness of the words, “It is what it is” was numbing. And personally, terrifying.

Then I came across Diana Butler Bass’ blog post in response to the phrase and its intersection with faith. She writes, “’It is what it is’ is actually a powerful spiritual principle, a call to look at reality, to understand the world as it exists, and to see the human situation clearly. Every great religious tradition insists on this—that we look at our sin, know that life involves suffering, and be aware of how there are things well beyond our control. The rain falls on the just and unjust; good people get sick and die; the wicked prosper we grow old’ we do the very things we hate. All of this is what it is. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism—all the prophets and teachers and saints and gurus of each—taught this very thing. Acceptance of what is—it is what it is—is the beginning of true freedom, the source of spiritual wisdom, and the springboard to justice.”

She goes on to note, “There is a difference between “it is what it is” as an excuse to do nothing and “it is what it is” as the doorway to a mature spiritual life committed to love of neighbor… In an odd way, Trump was sort of right. It is true that people have died; that is part of the human condition. But—and this is the most important thing—even accepting what is true, we do not stop there. No great faith says: it is what it is and now you are off the hook; there’s not much anyone can do about pain and injustice.”[2]

Faith—it is what it is. Faith is active. It is not stagnant. It involves trusting, and questioning. Sometimes faith is even sinking for a moment, followed by renewal, rising, and responding. In the “it is what it is” injustices of the world, God calls us to step into the churning waters.

Now that we are out of the boat, what will we do next in the immediate future? What steps will we take?

Whatever we take the risk to do, know that God is there to reach out and catch us.

So come.

Our time to Be the Church is now.

~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Matthew 14:22-33 offered August 9, 2020

* What is the Bible Story Mystery Box? Pastor Kris did the Time with Children during worship… with the help of the youth! Prior to Sunday morning, a round empty box was dropped off at the home of a family who had volunteered to participate. The youth was asked to put ONE thing in the box. After the Bible story is read in worship on Sunday morning, Pastor Kris introduced the challenge. From his home, the youth opened the Bible Story Mystery Box to reveal he had placed a large, stuffed dragon into the container. Pastor Kris’ task was to retell the Bible story using the item he had hidden in the box. You can watch the story unfold HERE.

[1] Axios, “Watch the Full ‘Axios on HBO’ Interview with President Trump,” Axios, August 4, 2020, https://www.axios.com/full-axios-hbo-interview-donald-trump-cd5a67e1-6ba1-46c8-bb3d-8717ab9f3cc5.html.

[2] https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/it-is-what-it-is?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email&utm_source=copy