Sink or Swim?

Passage: Matthew 14:22-33
Date: August 06, 2005
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Vischer
Guest Preacher:

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Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid! Have courage! It is I!


That sums up memories of my first months of the freshman year of college-I felt overwhelmed! I'd moved 2000 miles from home and begun sharing a dorm room with another freshman. I had enrolled in 18 hours of classes for the semester; set up my schedule for voice lessons and piano lessons and practice times in the music building; landed a part-time work-study job-cleaning offices in the college's administration building. I ‘d worked out a schedule to read my homework assignments and began that with zest.

The only thing was-I had no time to do my laundry! I can remember running out of shirts and underwear. Suddenly, having no clean clothes seemed an insurmountable problem-and I realized-I was in over my head-totally overwhelmed!

During the past couple of weeks, after reading this passage from Matthew, I ‘ve been thinking about the many ways people get overwhelmed in life-all the ways in which we feel "in over our head." A sudden fall and broken limb, the death of a loved one; hoping for a baby, having a baby, divorce, loss of job, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, war. . . How many times in this life, have we felt, like Peter, crying out, "Lord! Save us! Lord, Save me!"?

Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid! Have courage! It is I!

The good news is that no matter how overwhelmed we may feel, we can trust God to keep us afloat. No matter how overwhelmed we are by life-God is there for us. God will hold us up.

I was speaking with a man whose 25 year old son had died in an accident. He told me, "I know what you're going to say. . .God won't give me more than I can bear. . .but I don't know if I can bear this." When I asked him what was keeping him afloat, he said, without hesitation, "friends who care-friends who understand-friends who have been through this." Is there a connection between those friends who keep us grounded and God, who keeps us afloat-I think there is. . .

Maybe, like me, you've read this story about Peter many times. But have you noticed the storm before? The strong wind, the battering waves, the disciples in the boat, being overwhelmed by the waves? This story is about fear, and risking, and about Jesus' caring for his disciples. . . When Jesus saw that the disciples were afraid, he responded with care-he began walking toward them, across the water. Let's not get side-tracked on the physics of the matter. Let's understand the heart of what this passage is saying: Jesus went to care for his friends. When he did that, Peter responded with trust and enthusiasm, until he started noticing dangerous, battering waves around him. He lost his focus on Jesus, and started to sink.

Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid! Have courage! It is I!

We read this same passage at the Courtyard Jazz service last Wednesday evening, and invited congregants to share their insight about the scripture. We speculated that Jesus might have said to Peter, at some point, "It's time you learned to swim. . ." Someone noted that learning to swim is easy to say-and hard to do!

Have you ever watched children learning to swim? Some kids are relaxed and comfortable in the water, but there are many who just do not like to get their faces wet. Despite wonderful, patient, strong swimming teachers, you can see how tense the children's bodies are, as they are being held up in a back-float, necks stiff, not quite ready to relax and lay their heads back on the water. How strange and how foreign to relax into that cold water that could just overwhelm you, swallow you up!

Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid! Have courage! It is I!

In life, when the water's expansive and cold-how do we learn to lean back and float, trusting that God will hold us up?

There was a woman who had been raised on the hymns of our faith, and who taught Sunday School for many years. One of her good friends, a woman who had been one of her Sunday school students years ago, recounts her teacher's last days. The teacher died after living a long time with Alzheimer's. When she had lost her memory of almost everything-she could still sing those hymns with an operatic, devoted voice. She said, "Those songs, that faith-it's in my heart."

I heard a similar story about an Episcopal priest. For him, the words of liturgy were so deeply ingrained, that even when he lost his memory to Alzheimer's, he could still say the words of the Eucharistic service. For him, despite the failing of his mind and body, he was kept afloat by his faith, and by the way his heart and mind had been shaped in that faith.

You may remember the Rev. Ben Weir. He was held hostage by terrorists back in the ‘80s. He was one of my seminary professors, just a year after he was released. I remember his amazing story- how he was imprisoned, alone, in a tiny room, with nothing but a mattress in the room. What kept him from despair and hatred was this: he sang every hymn and song he could remember. He recited Bible verses. It kept him healthy. It kept him alive.

Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid! Have courage! It is I!

Today, around this Lord's Table, we encounter the great mystery, that in the depth of suffering, in the midst of loneliness, in the center of brokenness, God gives God's-self to us. . .to sustain us, to mend the brokenness, to keep us afloat.

If you need some motivation to get out of bed to church on Sunday mornings-this is it!
If you need some extra encouragement to deal with the stress of getting your family ready on a Sunday morning for education and worship, here it is:

It's through spiritual nurture of our hearts and minds; through intentional, regular, devotion and community, that we live out that promise that keeps up afloat, despite the great turbulence of life! It's through our life together, as the body of Christ, that we support and help each other in difficult times. . .And it's often through the outstretched hand and loving arms of others, that we experience Emmanuel , God-with-us.

One of my earliest memories is of my mother washing my hair. I did not like getting the shampoo in my eyes or ears. I can remember my mother urging me to look up at her eyes, while she rinsed my hair. She knew that if I were looking up at her, the water would run down my neck and back, and miss my eyes altogether. But there would come a point when my fear of the water overtook my trust, and I'd quit looking at Mom and bow my head, wiping my eyes.

What if that's how it is with God? We know God loves us, but in a panicky situation, it's easy to look away. What would the world be like. . . if in the big waves, and the small waves, we were able to trust that God is with us. What would our lives be like, then?

Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid! Have courage. It is I!