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At St. Paul’s: “Our primary mission is to relate to, and minister to people who are living on the edge, who seek God’s will for their lives, struggling to find direction and purpose in a society that can be violent, insensitive and money-grabbing.”
Faith to Walk on Water
Walking in my house with a freshly toasted and buttered piece of bread, a person cannot help but
drop a few crumbs; our dogs are constantly on the alert for crumbs. Contrast with a Story about
Haitian people so poor that they mix corn meal with mud to stop the growls and hunger pain in their
stomachs. Also, even our bright and enthusiastic young interpreter eats every 3 days or so when
we are not in town. What would it be like for us; if we had to fight for scraps of food, and even a
crumb is nourishing?
I was watching an old MASH rerun with my mother. We love to laugh, and boy, those shows
are hilarious. And relevant. You may recall that these are doctors drafted into
a mobile hospital during the Korean War. Anyway, this episode came out in 1972. And
the theme focused on an injured young man, a courageous and skilled soldier, wounded
four times; and each time he got patched up he returned to the front lines to fight
again. Apparently one night, a couple of the other soldiers in his unit found out he was
gay. And so they beat the crap out of him. Not only did Hawkeye treat his shrapnel
wounds but also his contusions from the quote=unquote men in his company. Long
story-short, this crazy MASH show dealt with the justice issue of the young courageous
gay man in a very humane, humorous and gallant way. And sent him back to his unit so
that he could finish his tour of duty and keep his pride, to show others his unique moral
high ground . . . and in 1972, this was quite a meaningful episode. Quite a wonderful
perspective, looking back 40 years; we have a lot to be thankful for . . .
How this relates to our Gospel message today: Hawkeye, in his uniquely frank and
humorous way, obviously and courageously supported this young man, struggling in his
own life’s storm. There is one poignant moment when we, the audience, see Hawkeye
pull him up, out of his turmoil, his fear, and, with Christlike compassion, honor his
courage and faith; and honor his personhood. Hawkeye gave him the confidence to face
his peers. And, at least for a moment, made him feel like there is justice, mercy & grace
in a world that is dizzy with the chaos of war, violence & suffering. A great moment.
In this crazy, cruel beautiful world, like Peter, we cry out: Jesus, we beg you, save
us from ourselves!! Don’t let us doubt. . . grab us when we turn our eyes from you.
Hold us up when life threatens to drown us. Pull us out of the mire and clay. Save
us when we judge others and hurt others and harden our hearts against our fellow
human beings. But, we are all doubting Thomases; we need to see your scars, feel your
wounds---- we need to feel His wounds, and sometimes feel our own wounds to keep
us focused. And yet, our relationship to Jesus must grow, or there is a risk that we can
grow so used to our own wounds; our own traumas; our own troubles that we become
numbed by them; that they comfort us; or worse, they are often ignored. Our doubts
are ignored. And yet; and yet, we are reminded that doubt is normal.
Doubt is a part of faith. And that is why church is so relevant. Church is the one place
where we can come and find unconditional love and we can express our failings and our
doubts . . . without judgment. We are in a process of journeying together, towards our
center, without judgment, we can turn the doubt into faith. Have faith . . . but don’t be
ashamed to express doubt. Don’t be afraid to be honest; to be real; to tell us who you
are. No matter what, You are loved. Believe that.
What is faith, then? The presence of any faith, however small, is the opposite
of unbelief or faithlessness. If the mustard seed represents the smallest amount
of faith one could possess, then Jesus was saying that unbelief can move
nothing, while the “smallest” of faith can move gigantic things. Even a little faith
is capable of great things. The size of faith is not the issue. The presence of faith
is the issue!
I think there is a false notion that faith is like a bank account. That is, the more
you have, the better off you are; as in the more faith you have the more good
thoughts/good feelings/more joy; as if you can actually purchase these things
with faith. Or at times there seems to be a perception that there are degrees or
a sliding scale, say 1-10. How are you feeling, faith-wise, on a scale of 1-10, 10
being the best and 1 being totally full of fear and disbelief. Part of the problem
comes from misunderstanding the gospel passages that speak of “little faith” and
“great faith”. Let me explain.
There are five such occurrences of “little faith”, if you search the King James
version. 4 separate accounts as recorded by Matthew and one in Luke:
Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is
thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose
and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. [Matthew 8:26]
And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him,
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” [Matthew 14:31]
But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you
reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? [Matt 16:8]
The 5th result is in Luke, but is just a retelling of Matthew 6:30.
However, Jesus did not use the English expression “you of little faith”. What he
said in each of these passages was recorded in Greek: oligopistos. Literally:
small faith one. Oligopistos has 2 definitions: incredulous, and lacking
Let’s examine each of those separately. Definitions for incredulous:
1. not credulous; disinclined or indisposed to believe; skeptical.
2. unwilling or unable to believe something. "an incredulous gasp"
disbelieving, skeptical, unbelieving, distrustful, mistrustful, suspicious,
doubtful, dubious, unconvinced; you get the picture
This is not what Jesus was talking about in his term: “small faith one.” The
phrase “little faith” carries with it the implication that you just need another
helping of something you already have, or perhaps a larger dose of it. Just give
me a little more faith God, like a pill and I will make it through this storm. That’s
the first definition. So then we move to the better definition of oligopistos which
is: lacking confidence.
Let’s say you have $90 and want to buy something that costs $100. Guess what?
You are lacking money. Ten dollars to be exact. So, we can properly say you are
lacking money. But even though you lack money, it can be said that you still have
money at the same time. Money is like that. Confidence, however, is not like
that! If you are lacking confidence, guess what - you don’t have it! That’s right;
the most accurate definition of oligopistos: “you who don’t have confidence.”
Definitions for confidence: full trust; self-confidence; self-reliance; certitude;
assurance. So, lacking confidence is lacking full trust, lacking assurance. It is
This nuance may seem trivial, but I see 2 reasons to celebrate the separation
of these definitions. First the good news is, Jesus is ready to calm the waves
anyway, even without big faith. The other good news is: we already have what
we need. According to ourselves, we often want more faith than we have. But,
according to Jesus, how much faith we really need is somewhere around the
size of a mustard seed. He tells us in Matt.17:20, “If you have faith the size of a
mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will
move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
I’m not sure how much faith a “mustard seed” is, but I do know it helps to
have just barely enough faith to keep showing up. In prayer, in worship, and
in Christian community, keep showing up to see what Jesus is going to say and
do — especially when you’re worried, swamped, scared, or confused. And don’t
worry if your faith feels small or practically nonexistent. God does amazing things
with very, very little.
We need just enough faith to move when Jesus says move. God calls us into
this boat in this rocky sea called life. And he may, in fact, call us to walk on
water. Holy Toledo, if that algae bloom does not stop growing we may all be
able to walk out into Lake Eric anyway. But there is a more important and deeper
reality here, one that supports the faith of the community, the church that Jesus loves
so well. Faith is the ability to believe in the saving power of Jesus and then to take a risk
– to jump out of the boat when he calls -- Faith is not something we can possess, it is an
activity – like supporting the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21
or supporting the Gay Games. We may be called to jump out of the boat; to go back to
the Israelites and face execution like Elijah did; to go into lion’s den like Daniel; to suffer
heartache and heartbreak like Job. Faith may call us to maybe forgive the abuser but not
the abuse; faith may call us to get arrested for a cause like ending the strangle hold that
big Agriculture has on our country. What this story today tells me, and I guess you are
hearing it too, is that if Jesus calls us to jump, we better be prepared.
Let’s not put our small mustard seed faith in Jesus and then, when we see out of the
corner of our eye the huge waves threatening us, creating moments of doubt, looming
monumental tasks ahead of us, we take the trust back. We take the faith back. Try to
do it ourselves. Let us not be hypocrites, as if we want Jesus to call us to him and we
will walk to him, and stay on the surface of the water, but we have attention deficit and
falter. We are scatterbrained enough to keep trying to juggle our own lives and at the
same time try to be good disciples. And we think we are sooooo good at multi-tasking.
We are experts at keeping balls on the air, or the plates on the sticks but eventually, our
will power fails us and we falter, we fall into the water.
I have a friend who is staying in a transitional housing program. He tried most of life
to stay on the right side of the law, and never could do it. He never really gave his life
to God, never really trusted God to help him work things out, never really jumped in
to walk on the water with Jesus -- until recently. I talked with him on the phone the
other day. And he said that he is listening to instructions; and for the first time in his
life he sounded relieved. It was like a huge burden lifted from his shoulders, mind and
heart. He joined something bigger than himself. He said “yes” to community, a recovery
community, where they tell the truth and he is learning to tell the truth, to himself, to a
sponsor, to share his isolation and depression.
We must rely on the community that Jesus calls to sustain us; we commit to helping
each other walk across the stormy sea; I agree to prop you up when you start to fall; I
agree to be the best spiritual friend I can; and I will forgive you when you fail me and I
ask that your forgive me when I fail you.
Are we ready to walk? are we ready to even try? even if that means fail; even it that
means getting soaking wet sometimes; to what extent are we willing to go to follow?
And so to return full circle, we ask the bigger question. . .
Are you ready and willing to support people who want to talk about their own gay-ness,
even if it means people you imagine to be your friends and acquaintances might shun
you? Are you gay friendly? Or are you quiet about it . . . one last story:
A guy I knew in college was most likely gay. We had a couple of classes together. He
hung around with our speech team. We liked him well enough. We thought he was
somewhat odd; but at least he told great jokes. I never considered the fact that he
really wanted to tell someone his story; to come out of hiding; and I heard that he died
about 5 years ago -- he committed suicide. And I wonder if he died keeping his gay-
ness a secret for fear of treatment by others. I wonder if he killed himself because he
could not share his lifestyle choices because of the fears of the judgment of others. and
I made an oath to myself that I would make this world easier for folks like my friend Tim
to talk about his orientation, to pull him up, so to speak, and offer him a place to stand
next to me, here in the beloved community, here in this cruel crazy beautiful world,
this sinning, saintly body of humanity. Everyone has a place in the beloved community.
Blessed are those who have the faith to include everyone at God’s table. Amen.