Text: Psalm 27: 1, 4-9
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Should I fear anyone?
The Lord is a fortress protecting my life.
Should I be frightened of anything?
4 I have asked one thing from the Lord—
it’s all I seek:
to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life,
seeing the Lord’s beauty
and constantly adoring his temple.
5 Because he will shelter me in his own dwelling
during troubling times;
he will hide me in a secret place in his own tent;
he will set me up high, safe on a rock.
6 Now my head is higher than the enemies surrounding me,
and I will offer sacrifices in God’s tent—
sacrifices with shouts of joy!
I will sing and praise the Lord.
7 Lord, listen to my voice when I cry out—
have mercy on me and answer me!
8 Come, my heart says, seek God’s face.
Lord, I do seek your face!
9 Please don’t hide it from me!
Don’t push your servant aside angrily—
you have been my help!
God who saves me,
don’t neglect me!
Don’t leave me all alone!
I cannot help but be struck by the power in the words we read for our Opening Prayer this morning: “Break through the clouds that separate us from one another, that we may worship you as one body.” While today’s message has nothing to do with the separation that is currently dividing our country, and it is indeed divided, it is still poignant for any occasion. Change creates tension and division, but it is how we respond that matters. Division is expected, so compromise is key. Simply silencing the other does no good.
When God calls people to act in their community, differing opinions often are one of the greatest hindrances to mission. I have seen it a number of times: a church or group will pick a cause to promote after discernment, others will try to upend or undermine that cause by saying something akin to, “well, they don’t deserve it as much as these people or this cause.” That is human nature to feel our opinion is the best one. In a later sermon, I will discuss conflict and how that affects creating a vision and discerning a mission from that vision, but for now, I will leave you with this message: When you disagree with someone, instead of finding fault in them and casting judgment, redirect those energies to pray for them and for God to help you empathize with the issues of those who disagree with you. The Bible never tells us, “when someone disagrees with you, call them a whiner.”
As I said earlier, though, today’s message is, I think, a timely one for our church. We have named so many ideas and hopes and dreams for our church and community, and so few ever really take traction. I have witness many ideas die with a whimper before they ever leave the committee, often with a “we will look at this later” and never come back to it.
Other times, we will commit to an idea, plan it, and do our best to get the word out, and few people come to support it. Sadly, I experienced that feeling yesterday with our Youth Vision meeting. This same tendency to say we have to do something and not support it is also pretty prevalent in our other, regular events.
We have had issues fielding Sunday School teachers, folks willing to help with Children’s Church, and other things we take for granted. Even our fundraisers have had less attendance from both church members and our community. Can we really blame our busy schedules?
None of this is to say we shouldn’t celebrate those who do attend, but so often, it is easy to get discouraged when we are not sure who supports the cause.
When we talk about what we claim is important, why is it that we so often give up? The short answer is fear. Fear of putting ourselves out there. Fear of wasting our time. Fear of wasting our money. It’s fear of failure. Failure finds its way into the anxiety sector of our mind and is a very powerful motivator to put in little effort into things we care about.
At a recent conference, I listened to a leadership consultant talk about the health of an organization and leadership. His number one piece of advice: fail. We all laughed. No one wants to be encouraged to fail. Then he said something that struck me. In his leadership role, he always asks interviewees how they’ve failed recently. When they try to skirt the question, or turn it into a humble-brag, he claimed it shows a lack of humility and honesty. Good leaders don’t mind failing, because they had the courage to try. We should be willing to try things even after we have failed at other things. Failure only tells us our strengths and weaknesses – not our worth.
God tells us that we are worth something. We should not be afraid. In today’s psalm, God is the one who lifts us up and gives us value. We are of great worth to God, so what have we to fear? Our self-image? Our respectability?
Courage, especially in the midst of uncertainty and threat of failure, may be the greatest tenant of Christianity outside of love. Making disciples takes courage. It takes a willingness to speak to people about intimate things and open ourselves up to rejection in hopes that it actually promotes relationship. It also means going to places where we think we are already at a disadvantage.
The good news is: Jesus is willing to talk us through it. One example of this is found in the Gospel of Matthew
22 Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. 23 When he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone. 24 Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. 25 Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed. 27 Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” 28 Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.” 29 And Jesus said, “Come.” Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind settled down.
Peter actually did better than many of us would have. When faced with what seems like an impossible task, many of us would look at Jesus and say that doesn’t make sense. Or we weren’t made to walk on water before, so we can’t now. Or we are just too busy to get out of the boat.
Our love for God and other people should, at the very least, propel us to step out of the boat and see what happens next. When we name our failure, and claim that we are doomed from the start, we are openly disobeying God’s call to make disciples. We are telling Jesus he isn’t powerful enough. Whenever I see people who are so unwilling to try something new, I pity them. Their faith has been made weak by fear.
Peter tried, and he lost his resolve in the middle. That also happens when we take on mission. We set up everything, and when it gets tough and our faith gets tested, we panic. We panic and flounder and give up. The problem was Peter, when walking toward Jesus, hesitated. He thought he did the right thing by stepping out of the boat, but then he stopped. He felt like doing the right thing meant Jesus took care of the rest. That’s the second part of this: when we say we trust Jesus, we have to actually trust him.
Part of Vision 2017 means we have to overcome the constant hurdles of thinking we know what’s best, or stopping before we start, or waiting around for God to do our work for us once we make a plan. In the words of John Wesley, “Best of all, God is with us.” If we can simply hold onto that and not anything else, our love and passion towards being the body of Christ will guide our feet to whatever God places on our hearts.
That is why, before we do anything, before we start naming our mission, we have to ask who we are and what is important to us. Then we have to figure out how our values and our hopes can help others. To be real goals, they have to serve more than just our desires. Once we do that, we will see what we can accomplish through mission. Vision is seeing where we are going to go. Mission is what we do along the way. We have to decide that together, and we have to be willing to follow it through even when times get tough.
Let’s stop waiting around for Christ to come to us. Let us chase after him, wherever we find ourselves. No wind or waves can stop those who pursue God. If you are too busy to step out of the boat, don’t complain you missed the miracle.