Sunday, August 7, 2011

8th Sunday after Pentecost - August 7, 2011

Michael Jordan was the best basketball player of his era, perhaps of all time.  He led his Chicago Bulls to three straight NBA titles.  After taking two years off to play minor league baseball he came back and won three more NBA titles in succession.  He was an amazing player.  Aside from his on court talents, he was also did very well with endorsements.  Perhaps his most famous ad campaign was for Gatorade.  “Be like Mike” was the slogan.  The idea was to emulate Michael Jordan.  The idea was to be the best.

I want to be like Peter.  Peter is a faith giant.  Peter is the leader of the disciples.  Peter is Jesus’ right hand man, or it certainly can seem like that.  Nobody ever talks about Simon the Zealot, or James the Lesser.  We hardly know anything about them.  But Peter is always right at the center of the action.

Now fame is no reason to admire someone; I realize this.  But that’s not really what I’m talking about.  Let’s take today’s gospel lesson, for example.  Peter believed that Jesus was able to pull off the impossible.  He believed that Jesus could make him walk on the water.  I love that.  I wish I was more like that.  Instead, I find myself thinking about what is “realistic.”  I'm often more inclined to think that Jesus will work through more normal means.  If I were more like Peter, then I would expect bigger things.

Peter’s faith is impressive.  Climbing out of a boat in the middle of the lake, during a storm, in the middle of the night takes faith.  I wish I was more like that.  Instead, I find myself doing what is safe, what is comfortable.  I know what I want to believe, but do I really have the courage of my convictions?  Do I believe these things enough to step out of the boat and risk everything for them?  If I were more like Peter, then I would have the faith to get further out of my comfort zone; I would have the faith to take more risks.

Now all of what I’ve been talking about is how I’ve felt about Peter over the course of many years.  I’ve looked at Peter as an example, as someone to aspire to, as a spiritual Michael Jordan.  But the more I study the Bible, the more I begin to see that this isn’t such a great idea.

Take our gospel lesson for example.  Here’s the situation.  The disciples are in the boat in the middle of a storm.  And here comes a figure walking towards them on the water.  They freak out.  They think it’s a ghost – and that’s at least as reasonable as any other explanation.  After all, human beings do not walk across lakes (unless it’s Winter in Minnesota.)  So they freak out and they are afraid.

But then Jesus speaks to them, “Take heart.  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”  We have talked before about the power of words.  We have talked about how promises create faith in those who hear.  Well, these words of Jesus are powerful indeed.  They calm the disciples.  Except for Peter.  Instead of calming down, instead of receiving these words of peace, he flies off the handle and does something that is ridiculous and lacking in faith.  “Lord, IF it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  IF.  Give me a sign because quite frankly I don’t believe it.  Give me a sign because I don’t trust the word that you have just spoken to us.  Give me a sign to prove yourself in a way that won’t require a lick of faith on my part.”

Peter’s example here really isn’t so good.  He doesn’t believe the word that is given to him and he demands a sign.  And remember, this is after Jesus has just fed the 5,000.  It’s not as if Jesus hasn’t proven himself already.  Why doesn’t Peter have faith?    

Well, Peter is like the rest of us.  He is a sinner who has been chosen by God.  As one who is chosen, he is a mighty man of faith – and God works through Peter to accomplish many amazing things.  And as one who is a sinner, Peter is an absolute knucklehead.  Sin clings to him like white on rice. 

The interesting thing is that we can see both sides of Peter when he steps out of the boat.  When Jesus tells him, “Come” he somehow believes and Peter, the man of faith, begins to do the impossible.  But Peter, the old sinner, is right there too.  And before long, Peter begins to sink.  And he is left to simply cry out, “Lord, save me!”  And Jesus reaches out and catches him and saves him from himself.

So is Peter an example?  Well, in a way he is, I suppose.  He is an example of what a Christian is like.  He is an example of how our sin and doubt cling to us, even when we have heard Jesus give us a word of peace.  And he is also an example of what happens to one whom Jesus has chosen.  Peter can be the biggest fool in the boat; he can be a dead man walking, but Jesus his Lord has decided to save him.  And so he is saved.  And not only is he saved, but God does work through Peter for many years to come.  He makes him into a mighty man of faith.

Back to that Gatorade ad with Michael Jordan, “Be Like Mike.”  It was a tremendously successful campaign.  But I can guarantee you that none of the folks who bought the drink ever ended up like Mike; Gatorade doesn’t have the power to do that. 

We, on the other hand, are already like Peter.  Warts and all, we are the ones whom Jesus saves.  And for many years to come, God will accomplish his work through us.  And God DOES have the power to make us mighty men and women of faith.

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