Lord, as we hesitate to surrender ourselves to you, to the challenge before us that would bring us closer to you and to doing your will, let us hear in your Word encouragement to do what you ask or what we feel called to do. Amen.
SCRIPTURE LESSONS 2 Kings 5:1,9-14, NLT
The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.
9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”
11 But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! 12 Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.
13 But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” 14 So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!
Matthew 14:22-33, NLT
22 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. 23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.
24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”
27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”
28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”
29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.
So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.
31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”
32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.
SERMON Wet Feet
Peter made a decision about getting out of the boat. We know from other Bible stories that Peter could be impulsive and impetuous. But God asks us to be faithful not foolish. Over the centuries there has been some debate which was true of Peter as he stepped out of the boat. If we took a straw poll of your opinions right now, there might be some disagreement. Calvin thought it was “over-much rashness.” (Quoted by Ortberg in If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, p. 53) Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers, saw it as pure devotion.
Ortberg highlights a significant point from Matthew 14:28. On this occasion Peter didn’t just jump over the edge of the boat, he asked permission. “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” Peter seems to know, and gospel writer Matthew is clear that “Peter is not in charge of water walking – Jesus is.” (Ortberg, p, 54)
Perhaps you’ve heard of a Type T personality as researched by psychologists and scientists. It’s a personality type that seeks thrills in extreme behavior whether that’s extreme sports or dare devil stunts, but might also be flirting with danger or with getting caught in a crime. This comes in varying degrees, but gene D4DR has been identified in connection with such risk-taking behavior. Ortberg suggests that a Type T thrill seeker isn’t necessarily what Jesus saw in Peter or wants from us, but instead he suggests a Type W, a water walker who displays a “desire for adventure with God” as part of their “spiritual DNA.” This “requires both the courage to take risks and [the] wisdom to know which risks to take.” (see pages 55-56)
Part of this discernment process between faithful or foolish, between thrill seeking or water walking with God is to understand our calling. We said last week that the Master chooses what gifts we will receive from the Holy Spirit. We don’t get to choose our own gifts. In the same way we don’t choose our calling; God does.
It makes sense that God chooses gifts that will work with our calling; they go hand in hand though the same gift may not always be used for the same calling. For example, many in our congregation have a gift for teaching, and among most of you it has been used to teach various subjects or grade levels in public schools. I also have a gift for teaching, but like Patty or Judy mine has mostly been used by God in church ministries though the age level and setting has varied over the past 50 years.
There is also a difference between a calling and a career though they may go well together. Generally a career is something we might choose for ourselves, to earn a living and for other reasons. It ends when we retire. Our calling, as I said, comes from God. It may or may not relate to our career. We may resist our calling choosing not to cooperate, but if it is a true calling, it will keep calling, and it remains our calling until we die. In one way or another I will always approach life as a teacher. It’s in the fabric of who I am, and how God created me to be.
Your calling and shaping and gifting are part of God’s ongoing creativity and work in the world. It says in Ephesians 2:10, “ For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” John Ortberg expands on this, “As a crucial part of your calling, you were given certain gifts, talents, longings, and desires. To identify these with clarity, to develop them with skill, and to use them joyfully and humbly to serve God and his creation is central to why you were created.” (p. 58)
It’s like the Blues Brothers slogan, “We’re on a mission from God.” (also quoted by Ortberg, p. 59) But this is not always easy. Ortberg honestly tells us “discerning a calling requires one of the greatest challenges of self-exploration and judgement a human being can undertake.” (p. 59) It is a process of self-discovery plus the courage to trust what you recognize of how God created and gifted and calls you with “some assembly required.” (p. 59) We don’t come fully prepared for our life’s work any more than a baby is born ready to walk, talk, and care for itself. We grow into our calling through many life experiences, and just as a baby is going to fall down sometimes, so will we. That’s how we learn.
We will also bump up against our limitations. It has been a lie when we tell young people they can be anything they want to be. We are not all wired the same way with the same gifts and physical abilities; we were each created best suited for a certain range of pursuits according to the calling God has chosen specifically for each one of us. We are neither clones nor carbon copies; God is very intentional about diversity. So part of the process of discerning our call is recognizing our limitations as well as our gifts. Parker Palmer writes that “Everything in the universe has a nature, which means limitations as well as potential.” (quoted by Ortberg, p. 60)
Another piece of discerning our call is discovering the needs around us. Frederick Buechner understands calling as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” (also quoted pp. 60-61) While pursuing a call you will experience challenge, frustration, and weariness as you put forth great effort, but you will also find satisfaction and joy.
Parker Palmer was a Quaker educator. He tells his own story of being offered a position as president of an educational institution. In true Quaker fashion he entered a discernment process gathering certain Friends to form a “clearness committee.” It was their job to ask him questions that would help him decide whether or not to accept the position. It went well until he was asked what he would enjoy about being President of this school. All he could answer were the things he would NOT like about it from politics to fund raising. When he was honest with himself and these Friends, it became clear this position was not his calling. (Ortberg, p, 61-62)
Ortberg puts emphasis on listening to and honoring our raw material. How did God wire you? If you go against your raw material to follow someone else’s dream for you or social expectations, you may manage to be successful by the world’s standards, but you will never experience true fulfillment in your calling. To get out of the boat and walk with Jesus may mean going against those norms and expectations. What is true for humans as individuals is also true for us as a church. Adventuring with God will sometimes mean thinking outside the box and getting out of the boat. But it also means listening to the Holy Spirit and honoring the raw material of how God uniquely created us.
I wrote in my notes that God doesn’t violate our raw materials since God created them, but God does want to develop them. The Bible uses the image of a potter working with clay. God doesn’t just leave us on the wheel as a lump of clay, but he spins the wheel and applies pressure at the right points and speed to form us into useful vessels for the work of God’s kingdom. The process won’t be pain free, but it will be worthwhile. I like the way Ortberg puts it, “I will need ideas, strength, and creativity beyond my own resources to do what God asks of me. It will have to be God and me doing it together. We are not called just to work for God. We are called to work with God.” (p. 70)
God can’t work in us, with us, or through us unless we are willing to be available to God, cooperate with God, or in the imagery of water walking, be willing to get our feet wet. In a show Jessika and I watched the other day, there was a group on an island adventure who needed to cross a stream. They were trying to use stepping-stones, but even these were slippery. At one point the leader said, “You’re going to have to get your feet wet.” I immediately thought of this week’s lesson. Taking that step out of the boat means risking getting your feet wet. Yes, the disciples who remained in the boat might have kept their feet dry, except for the rain, except for the waves splashing over the side, and only if the boat didn’t capsize. Peter got his feet wet, but Peter also had an incredible experience with Jesus that the others would never quite understand, and it was part of developing Peter’s character and level of trust that helped shape Peter into the leader Jesus needed for the Church.
There are some other wet feet first step stories in the Old Testament. When the Hebrews were ready to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land after Moses’ death, the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant had to physically step into the Jordan getting their feet wet before God parted the waters for them to cross. God’ action waited for them to take the first step of faith.
In our Old Testament reading earlier we have the story of Namaan. He was seeking healing from the Hebrew prophet Elisha as recommended by his wife’s servant girl. Namaan, a military commander from the country of Aram even had a letter of introduction and request from his king. Elisha, the prophet of God didn’t come out to meet Namaan, but just told him to go wash in the Jordan River seven times. In spite of taking offense at that, Namaan had to take the first step and literally get his feet wet in the Jordan before God brought the healing he needed.
Sometimes God is waiting on our first step of obedience before God will initiate the next phase of God’s plan. But with each step we take, our faith grows, our abilities and character develop, we grow into our calling as we faithfully serve God.
Ortberg points out that faith doesn’t grow by trying harder; it grows by getting to know God better. How much faith do we need? Enough to take one step out of the boat beyond our spiritual comfort zone, trusting that God will be with us if God is calling us to take that risk.
How do we know when God is calling? That is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Ortberg’s first answer is that “often God will ask us to step out of the boat at the point of our fears—precisely because [God] wants us to overcome them.” (p. 84) One common fear is talking to people outside the church about our faith in God. But it doesn’t have to be a big scary deal, if we listen to God’s nudge and trust God for the words. You hear me talk about my faith here all the time. That doesn’t mean it is any easier for me than for you in other settings. I remember one night on the side of I-80 just the other side of Iowa City with car problems. A storm was coming. The officer who decided to sit behind me and do paperwork to be sure I was safe knew that getting AAA to come was going to be difficult that night. We did have one cancellation. At one point as he expressed his doubts, and I simply said something like, “I choose to trust that God will send someone.” I don’t know what the officer thought; I left it at that. It was my little step of faith in spite of fear. The driver who did come from Kolona later was one of my top three AAA tow truck experiences ever, and I have had a LOT of tow truck experiences.
Sometimes God uses our frustration to motivate us toward a step of faith. Ortberg tells the story of Henrietta Mears who taught the single young adult class at Hollywood Presbyterian for decades. She was frustrated that she couldn’t find quality curriculum, so she started her own publishing company now known as Gospel Light. I know their VBS curriculum is still popular. She was frustrated that Christians crowded in LA didn’t have a quiet space for meditation or retreat, so she convinced a property owner in the San Gabriel mountains to sell his land, and it became Forest Home, a spiritual conference center. She was frustrated that there wasn’t a good single volume introduction to the Bible for laity, so she wrote one. Ortberg says it still sells well. (p. 88 for her story)
God may be calling you at the point where you feel compassion for a particular need. Toby went on a mission trip to Ethiopia with World Vision, and as they were leaving a young boy asked for his t-shirt. Toby didn’t give it away, because the rest of his clothes weren’t with him at the time, but it haunted him for a long time after that. Back home he started a t-shirt drive and was overwhelmed by collecting 10,000 shirts. UPS estimated $65,000 to ship them to Africa. Toby didn’t give up; he had finally taken his step of faith, so he basically said, “Ok God, you collected the shirts, now tell me how we are getting them to Africa.” A group was found who were sending supplies to the sub-Sahara; they’d be willing to take the shirts. Was it okay if they went to Ethiopia? Toby stepped out of his comfort zone, and God completed the mission with him. (Toby’s story is on pp. 89-90)
God also works in us, with us, and through us when we pray. A man named Bob decided to test the biblical promise that God answers prayer. As he discussed it with a spiritual friend, Bob decided to pray for Africa, specifically Kenya. He had no special reason for his choice, but he agreed to pray for Kenya for six months. His friend Doug offered to pay Bob $500 if nothing in particular came of those prayers. A long while later, at a dinner in Washington DC, Bob met a woman who worked at an orphanage in Kenya. Bob asked her a lot of questions, and she invited him to come to Kenya and see the orphanage. He did. He was appalled by the needs. When he came home, he started writing pharmaceutical companies asking for unsold medical supplies they would otherwise have thrown out to be sent to Kenya. They did. Bob was invited back to Kenya to celebrate. The President met him there and gave him a tour of Nairobi. The tour included a prison where some political prisoners were being held. Bob said they should be sent home. Back in the USA, Bob received a call one day from the State Department asking if he had recently met the President of Kenya and what exactly had he said. The prisoners had been set free. A few months later Bob was called by the President of Kenya who was rearranging his cabinet. Would Bob come for three days a pray with him? All of this amazing story came about, because Bob stepped out of the boat to take a challenge and pray. He continued to take further steps as God called him forward. What God accomplished through Bob’s willingness and obedience was, in my opinion, miraculous. (Bob’s story is pp. 93)
I hope these stories encourage you. I hope you will take a risk, not in foolishness but in faithfulness, to step out of your comfort zones and take one step toward where you believe God is calling you. I hope we will also continue to do this as a congregation. I know that God can do amazing things when we take even small steps in God’s direction, because my own life has proven it over and over and over again. May you find God’s courage to take your next step of faith.
Our current series for Jan. 12 - Feb. 23, 2020 is based on Rev. John Ortberg's book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get out of the Boat. This is a great book if you are stuck in a rut and wondering about the possibilities of a new adventure OR if you are facing some stormy challenges in your life and need to move forward. You'll find the gist of it here in these messages.