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He To Rescue Me From Danger

 2B Lent

25 Feb 2024

Based on Luke 14:22-33

 




What made you hold back and doubt me?  A question most of us have, could, or should ask ourselves. 

When I was young, perhaps 10, Dad would take the family ice fishing.  I recall going to Lake Aquabi and Lake Red Haw.  Winters were colder then, the ice thicker, and the clothes we had not nearly as warm as we have now.  We would take several 5-gallon buckets, small ice-fishing rods and lines, wax worms, and an manual auger.  I remember having rubber boots, which I realize now had zero insulation, along with as many socks as I could wear.  We would arrive at the lake and grab the gear and head out, but I always stopped, afraid that the ice was too thin.  Now my father, who had been doing this since he was a kid, knew how to judge the ice and never took any chances.  But that was not good enough for me; I knew I would fall in and drown or die of hypothermia.  Eventually he would soothe me and reassure me and I would venture out.  I was still cold all the time, but when we started catching fish, as we almost always did, I forgot all about my fear of thin ice.

When I was much older, I participated in a winter Outward Bound in the north of Minnesota.  We would be skiing and dogsledding over the lakes of the Boundary Waters.  Ice is thick in Northern Minnesota, but there are always treacherous places and so a group needs to know how to practice a rescue when someone falls through the ice. I was selected to play the victim, which meant dressing in old woolens and sitting in a sauna until I was roasting and then being lowered down through the hole in the ice in the river, and then “rescued”.   It went flawlessly, but I was chilled to the bone.  It only takes minutes to succumb to hypothermia in those foreboding waters.

So what was Peter thinking?  He wasn’t dealing with ice and hypothermia, I suspect he knew how to swim given his profession, but something happened.  He was out of the boat, walking on the water, in the dark. But he felt the wind and it became too much. Fear seized him. And he called out to Jesus.

Isn’t life like this for all of us? We all come to the place where we doubt.  In this case I wonder if Peter was doubting Jesus or doubting himself and I suspect it was the latter.  I have heard this story interpreted as humans being so sinful, we cannot survive unless we grab on to Jesus.  I just don’t think that is right.  I think that God is there for us all the time and that we constantly start to walk on water and then doubt not God but our selves. Without this doubt, we will not grow in our faith. Let me repeat: without doubt we will not grow but become stale. Jesus invites us to take risks.  The amazing thing is that God is there, Jesus is there, when we take those risks.  He never abandons us.

Did Peter think he needed to do something God like, say walk on water amid a raging storm, to prove his faith?  Maybe he realized he was not God and therefore could not walk on water.  But in his sinking, he called out to Jesus.

I have been re-reading Steven Charleston’s The Four Vision Quests of Jesus and I am struck with the parallels between a vision quest and Peter’s, and our own, journey of faith. A vision quest is a journey where one prepares oneself, enlists friends and family to help (it is never done alone), Then one endures a challenge and, as a result of what happens during that period, one returns to the community and brings knowledge and lamentation.  What Peter did as he followed Jesus was to embark on a journey.  So often we think once we find Jesus, we become spiritually complete beings.  As long as we follow the rules and have faith, all will be well.  Or we seek an experience that will be definitive; if we just know certain things or experience certain things, we will have it “made” spiritually.  Did Peter think if he did this thing Jesus was doing he would be spiritually complete?  In the time in which he lived, so called mystery religions abounded where one learned secret and special knowledge that led someone to become one with the divine. 

Jesus wasn’t offering that.  He wasn’t offering a once and done, or even a sure road, to salvation (and by salvation, I mean wholeness).  There was no formula for Peter or any of the disciples and there is no formula for us.

Peter was not, of course, setting out on a vision quest, but he was trying to understand something of God, something of Jesus.  This was faith seeking understanding, which is the definition of theology.  Peter would not have thought of it as the process of becoming a theologian any more than we are likely to do so.  What we have is faith and what we seek is understanding.  With that understanding comes our own growth as followers of Jesus; what we called faith when we were ten years old is not what we call faith at 20, or 30, or 50, or 70.  It changes, and that change reflects our growth.   There is never an endpoint, for no one can ever know God, only something of God.   

I would like to think that Peter understood that Jesus was someone holy, he was the Messiah.  But he had yet to learn what that meant, for himself and for humanity.  I do not think Peter’s failed attempt was a failure of faith.  If his faith had failed, I am not even sure he would have been in that boat on the lake in the first place.  No, he had faith.  But he was struggling with doubt.  We all do and if there is a lack of doubt there will be a lack of growth in our faith. That doubt, however, is not about the existence of God or of Jesus, but of what our own response should be.   Jesus pointed out his doubt and did not condemn him for it but asked him why he held back. 

Maybe Peter expected certainty from the very beginning and Jesus never offered certainty.  There was a time when I wanted certainty in my faith; I wanted directions that if followed led to a certain outcome.  Experience told me that outcomes were not certain and hard and fast rules did not work in life.  I went from a right or wrong mentality to believing in the value of everyone’s experience to finally believing in inclusion and transcendence. 

Peter is struggling with his belief system.  His worldview has been torn apart and he will need to put it back together in an entirely new and different way time after time.

We can choose to try to put a square peg in a round hole to make it fit our own worldview, or we can decide to change our worldview. Faith seeking understanding.  Peter knew all about that. Sometimes you just have to get out of the boat and try to walk on water.   

 

 

 

 

McLaren's book was used to discuss stages of faith. Note that his "stages" are a tool and not some sort of rigid system. Migliore's book is a nice introduction to the nature of Christian theology.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McLaren, B. (2021). Faith After Doubt. St. Martin's Essentials.

Migliore, D. (2004). Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology 2nd edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.

 

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