When losing the way is the way


St Andrew’s Parish of Indooroopilly  

 Genesis 37.1-4, 37.12-28  

Psalm 105.1-6, 105.16-22  

Romans 10.4-15  

Matthew 14.22-36  

Sunday 9 August 2020  

When losing the way is the way ©Suzanne Grimmett 

T.E Lawrence, better known by many as Laurence of Arabia, wrote in Seven Pillars  of Wisdom about his state of mind the night before heading into the desert. He said  that ‘as you look ahead, you envision everything that could go wrong and wonder  why you ever decided to do this. But the next day when you are in the desert, two  things usually happen to your expectations. First, it is not as bad as you imagined and  you are doing fine. Second, it is as bad as you imagined, maybe even worse, but you  find you develop the skills and recruit the resources you need to deal with it. ’ 1 

To be able to step confidently into our future does require courage even though we  know that worrying, as Jesus says, cannot add a single hour to our life. As Christians  we are called to live by faith…and yet I wonder what that really means? When Peter  steps out of the boat he seems to be full of faith, responding quickly to Jesus’  invitation to come out on those stormy seas. Surely that is the definition of faith, isn’t  it? To not be afraid and follow Jesus’ call, come what may, trusting in God to lead us  safely through? As soon as Peter becomes frightened, Jesus catches him but says he  has “little faith”. Now if we read this story literally this seems unfair- hadn’t Peter responded straight away to Jesus’ invitation, even though the wind was howling and  the waves crashing? Of course we are not meant to read this story literally- this  hugely symbolic story of deathly waters, a ghostly figure of their fears and a very  alive presence of the Christ who is with them and saves them. But we are meant to  reflect on what a life of faith entails, and what we can expect when we follow Jesus.  

Generally when we study the Bible we are seeking to understand more of the  mystery that is God, or who we conceive God to be. Today I would like to shift the  focus to what it means to be human. What does faith look like in a human life? Peter  apparently had little of it in this moment of falling down into the heaving sea; a story  unique to all the Gospels. It is also Matthew’s Gospel which exclusively records  Jesus affirmation of Peter as the rock on whom “I will build my church and the gates  of Hades will not overcome it”. The writer is apparently keen to communicate that someone with little faith is still able to be that firm foundation.  Matthew’s Gospel also records the vehemence of Peter promising Jesus, “Though all  become deserters because of you, I will never desert you” and when Jesus predicts his  betrayal, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” Peter at least seems  to think there is some standard of faithfulness, and he needs to prove himself. How  often do we feel the same thing? How often do we presume that the faith of another is  stronger than our own?  

If we could let go of our need to make this into some kind of best believer  competition, I have a hunch we would inch closer to what faith really means. I think it is important to recognise that that person next to – sitting a couple of metres away  from us!- on the pews is probably not the spiritual superstar we think they are, and  neither is the person behind the altar. What would it mean to us if we realise that God  isn’t expecting us to be summoning up the will power to believe we can walk on  water, but rather is inviting us into a sacred relationship where we will lose our  footing again and again?  

If we consider the tenacity of our own faith, we might become discouraged. In the narratives of all the Gospels the disciples too seem to be often  wandering clueless after Jesus and their words and actions appear generally as a  spectacular witness in missing the point. We have to ask ourselves, “If the disciples  who lived and travelled and worked alongside Jesus every day of his ministry life  didn’t get it, what hope have we?”  

I think we have to recognise that Jesus came to witness to the character of God and to  pass on a way of thinking and acting and being in the world that leads to life. I think  we need to be aware that to receive this way, and to live that life of faith, is not easy not for the disciples, and not for us. Our days are full of both light and dark and we are both full of dark and light. When we notice this in ourselves, we are more likely  to hear Jesus words to Peter as a word of rebuke to ourselves, “You of little faith!”  I think, we need to hear instead, “Take heart, do not be afraid.” 

So as we survey our own lives, in all their mess and complexity, and the seed of faith  which sometimes flourishes and at other times languishes, we need to discover the  comfort of persistent courage. The call to be a disciple of Jesus is a daily one which  returns as an invitation, regardless of the storms or sufferings or struggles of our  lives. Sometimes we can be in the midst of trouble, dealing with painful situations or  emotions, and yet still be right where the Spirit would have us be. The storm may  seem to last forever, and yet the call remains, despite our own imperfections and the  difficulty of the task.  

But how do we go about living a life of faith today, trusting Jesus way when we have  two millennia separating us from his earthly life? John Shea describes what this task  might look like. He says;  

We have to go through community beliefs about Jesus and become  personally familiar with the Gospel stories. We have to study and meditate  on these stories in such a way that our consciousness and behaviour is  shaped by them. We have to engage in self-reflection to uncover both the  thrill of following Jesus and our resistance to his instructions….Also there  will be a need for the support of a community of serious followers and the  guidance of someone “who has been there for a while” and knows the twists  and turns of the less travelled road.2 

We don’t always specifically state what following Jesus’ way might look like in daily  practical terms, so I think John Shea’s “how to” list is helpful. I think we need to take  care though, to hear the communal emphasis in his words and not think this is a  project that we have to self-manage. For many at present, anxiety is growing over  time and we have lost some of our traditional sources of social and emotional  comfort. Any stormy crisis has the potential to reveal truth, and the problem is that coming to terms with these truths can be disconcerting as we are forced to rethink  things we thought would never change. What we can do is remember that discipleship  is a shared journey and we don’t need to work things out on our own. Julia Baird  reminded us in an article published this weekend that resilience- something we will  all need in the weeks and months to come- is a social characteristic and not an  individual one. Now is not the time to be aiming for the super stoic award, but a time  for remembering that we carry one another’s burdens.  

I do not believe in an exacting God who sets us an impossible task. Like the disciples,  our faith will fail us again and again. But, also like the first disciples, we will  discover that losing our path is the way– a way where the return is marked by  repentance, forgiveness and a renewed self-understanding of what it means to walk  this narrow road.  

So as we step into the future, daunted by the unknowable possibilities, we should  remember the approach of Laurence of Arabia- even if the worst happens, once we  arrive at that moment we will have the resources we need to survive the storm. Christ  is always with us, and we do not need to be afraid. To be a disciple is to follow a way  where there will be pain and struggle, but where we will find courage because  courage is always born out of love; a love that will never leave us or forsake us.  +Amen 

1 John Shea, Following Jesus, (Orbis Books, NY: 2010) p.36

2 John Shea, Following Jesus, (Orbis Books, NY: 2010) p.36