It’s far better to be a faithful sinner than a faithless saint.
Two weeks ago, we were called to be the hands of Jesus, to bear the fruit of our faith. Last week, we discovered that God pushes our faith to the edge to prepare us to do the things we never imagined doing. Today we discover if we trust God and take him at his word, then we will be able to handle even the most difficult of journeys.
As we see in this morning’s reading, Peter doesn’t have the luxury of time travel or the time to reflect back on the purpose of of his call. Instead, he is put into a boat with the other disciples, and pushed out to sea to carry on Jesus’ mission. There’s no time for rest. There’s work to be done. In fact, they move at such a fast pace that it often causes them to stumble, both physically and spiritually.
The Bible is quick to point out that it’s Peter who messes up the most. He frequently trips over his own feet, that is to say when they are not in his mouth. More than once, Jesus reprimands him for his lack of faith, yet he doesn’t abandon his call. Three times he denies his relationship with Jesus, but still continues to follow him. Through hell and high water, Peter keeps plodding along, carrying his cross and doing the work.
By Pentecost, he becomes a faithful, spiritual giant; the rock upon which the Christian Church would be built. All his flailing, kicking, and fretting, all his fears, faults, and struggles, are the very things that make up the church’s DNA. His rocky start, his imperfect-ness, his doubts and misunderstandings made his faith all the more remarkable, which is why he is the example that continues to shape the Body of Christ today.
I hate to be the one to say this, but this house is not filled with perfect people. Lucky for us, Jesus isn’t calling us into perfection. He is simply asking for our faithfulness. As Peter seems to illustrate, it’s far better to be a faithful sinner than a faithless saint.
We have a big job to do, or as I am constantly reminded…we have big shoes to fill. It takes real faith to step into Jesus’ shoes, muchless take the journey to get the job done. Yet the more we practice our faithfulness, the stronger it becomes.
You will need that strength on those days when you feel like you are drowning under the pressures of life, (and we all have those days). It might be the earth rattling pain of losing someone we love; the tornado-like anger of a bitter relationship; the physical or mental abuse that comes at you with the rage of a hurricane; the cold dark nights of depression that isolate you, and the flood of helplessness that cuts you off from others; the downpour of work or the avalanche of anxiety we try to outrun but can’t. But Jesus is always ready to come to our rescue, always offering up a helping hand.
The furious waves of life hit the church too. It seems like every time we try to do right by God, the world comes crashing against us, hitting us from every side, flooding us with fear and doubt. We can either bail out at the first sign of trouble. Or weather the storm holding tightly to the power of God’s helping hand.
Now it’s worth noting that the seas have always held a negative connotation for Jews. In fact, the Hebrew word for water, mayim, comes from the root word meaning ‘chaos,’ which makes sense when you consider they grew up hearing that a flood wiped out the earth. So why do Jesus push his disciples out to sea in this chaos?
Now being a skilled fisherman and witness to countless miracles, I am surprised that Peter and the disciples are frightened by the turbulent seas, and by this figure walking towards them. You can almost hear Jesus say, “Seriously? This is what you are afraid of? What did you expect? The Spanish Inquisition?” Instead, Jesus says, “Do Not Fear. It is I.” They do not yet know that Jesus was sent to show the world that he is in control of ALL chaos.
Even after this reassurance, Peter questions and doubts God’s power. Like me, he wants proof. In fact he demands it on his terms, saying, “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.” When Jesus says, “Come,” Peter cannot ignore the invitation. He pulls his foot out of his mouth, and steps out of the boat in faith and faithfulness. As a result, he does something the world would tell us is not possible.
On his journey across the sea of faith, he naturally becomes frightened and begins to flail in the wild currents. Yet, he remains faithful. The second he realizes the danger he is in, Peter’s first response is to cry out, “Lord save me.” Immediately Jesus is there.
We are called out to the rough seas of life, where there is work to be done. This is scary and rightfully so. Our natural response is to fear, panic, or run away. But God constantly pushes us out of comfort zones so that our natural response will be to rely on his saving grace. This is the faith muscle we need to always build up.
Even though our faith is not always perfect, we must never lose sight that Paul declared, “The righteousness of God is revealed through faith in faith” (Rom. 1:16). God is faithful to us, so we can be faithful to God. By this we can step into the boat and sail to whatever storm Jesus calls into. And we can step out of the boat to do whatever Jesus wants us to do.
So what’s stopping us? What’s keeping us from moving forward? Is it the stormy seas that await us? Is it fear? Uncertainty? Or are we simply unwilling to do it? Ernest Campbell, former minister of the famed Riverside Church in New York, believes “the reason that we seem to lack faith in our time is that we are not doing anything that requires it.”
He’s right. Today the church doesn’t expect much from her members. We are afraid that if we push you to do what Jesus has called you to, then you might not show up the next week. I get it. It’s hard to change who you are and how you do things. It’s even harder to change a worldly system that supports an economy where greed causes great poverty; violence begets retaliation and more violence; and skin color, nationality, or sexual preference are acceptable targets for abuse.
But there’s work to be done, sins to forgive, injustices to redeem, people to feed. We cannot ignore the hard work of faith… but instead must hold fast to the words of Jesus who
says, “Come. Take my hand. And do not be afraid.”
Campbell says the key to faith, and finding our fullness of life in Christ, is to follow Peter’s example. We must “be willing to step out of the security of the boat and head into the troubled waters of the world to proclaim the love, mercy, and justice of God that we find in Jesus Christ.”
The world doesn’t need any more nominal Christians splashing around in the safe shallow waters where we miss the opportunities to push and deepen our faith. What the world needs is more stumbling and bumbling disciples like Peter. If we want to be close to Jesus, then we have to prove his promise by trusting his promises, through risk and venture, doing what he has called us to.
By taking this brave step, we begin to move from having little faith to possessing the kind of faith that Jesus says can move mountains, heal the sick, cast out demons, forgive sins, love one another and live in peace. Heaven knows, the world needs more peace.
If you leave here today remembering anything, it should be this: Do not worry if your faith scares you or trips you up from time-to-time. Do not give up. Weather the storm. Keep moving forward. Keep doing the hard work of the Kingdom and bear the good fruit of your faithfulness. And by the power of Jesus Christ our Lord you too will discover the impossible is, in fact, very much possible. Amen.
Works Cited(NRSV), Bible. Romans 1:11-17; Matthew 14:22-33.
Bartlett, David, and ed. Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting On The Word; Year A, vol. 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”