Actually, when I wrote this sermon (for tomorrow) I titled it “Jesus Walks on the Water.”  but my sermon writing is somewhat stream of consciousness (often) and I ended up somewhere unexpected.  Reflecting on what I had written, I found myself thinking about how we, like Peter, walk on (or at least in) the waters of faith.  So here it is:

Be honest now.  What would you do – how would you react – if you were in the middle of a stormy lake, in a small boat, and you saw Jesus walking on the water towards you?

Or is this so common an occurrence that you don’t have to think about it?

I’ve gotta tell you, I believe Jesus is God, part of the one Trinity in three persons …

I believe that we’ve had amazing and powerful answers to our prayers offered here in this congregation …

And I would be utterly dumbfounded.

This, really, is outside of my experience.  I’m willing to bet that my jaw would be hanging open and I’d be doubting my eyes.  I think I’d be terrified.  And not just by the storm.

In other words, I think I’d behave a lot like Jesus’ disciples did in our gospel reading this morning.

After all, they were ordinary people, just like you and me, until Jesus got hold of their lives.  In fact, even after that.

My best guess is that you don’t believe me when I say this.  I remember talking to a family member, who will remain nameless, about how we should be treating people with AIDS – back when a lot of people were treating people with AIDS as though they were figurative lepers, sinners facing the consequences of their sins, not people coping with a terrible disease.  When he told me how he thought we should treat AIDS victims, I shot back that I couldn’t imagine Mother Theresa behaving that way.  To which he replied, but she’s a Saint (with a capital “S”), not an ordinary person like you or me.

But I think that’s the point.  A saint (with or without the capital “S”) always starts out as an ordinary person like you or me.  But somehow, in their life, they develop a relationship with Jesus.  And that relationship begins to change their lives – in the same way that we also have somehow developed a relationship with Jesus, and that relationship has begun to change our lives.

It has, you know.

It’s really just a matter of how far we’ve taken our relationship with Jesus.

There is a common thought that the most spiritual people (in any religion) are solitary ascetics who undergo harsh discipline somewhere away from other people and emerge somehow holy and changed.  And, in truth, this kind of change can and does happen – though usually to people who have already spent a great deal of time in their faith community, learning from the heritage of their faith and that community.

But Benedict (the one who wrote the Benedictine Rule, not the Pope who’s named after him) argues that the best place for spiritual formation is in a faith community – whether that might be a monastic community or a church community or your family.  There we become so well known that we really cannot hide who we are.  And there, if anywhere, in the daily nuts and bolts of living, we face our faults and deal with them.  And there, if anywhere, we recognize our true yearnings and needs and we live into them.  And we can do this because of the loving support of our community.

And it really isn’t sexy.

It’s ordinary, everyday living.

It’s learning to be honest with ourselves and others about who we really are and what we’ve really done.  It’s learning to forgive the wrongs that have been done us, to recognize the wrongs we’ve done, and the ways we can make life better for those around us and ourselves.

It’s walking in Jesus’ Way.

It’s living the gospel, as best we can.

It’s spending time with Jesus and our community in prayer and reading and silence.  It’s doing for others as we would want them to do for us.  It’s facing the reality of life around us and dealing with it.

With no expectation of perfection.

In fact, with a guarantee that we will often fall short.

But also with a commitment to learn from our failures and move on into the fulness of life into which Jesus calls us.

Peter stepped out in faith, walking on the water, when he recognized Jesus.  My suspicion is that he was about 15 at the time, and that may have had something to do with the enthusiasm of his response.

But he couldn’t sustain it.  That may have been partly an age thing too.

He realized the precariousness of his position, and he let his fear take over, and Jesus had to reach out and save him – so small was his faith.  And Peter is the one who tried to talk Jesus out of the way of the cross – only to be told he was thinking in human terms, not in the ways of God.  And Peter denied him in the end and left him to die alone.

But failure was never the final word for Peter.

Our failure is never the final word for Jesus.

We move forward.

Our lives change.

Our relationship deepens.

I’ve heard Benedict’s Rule talked about, by his Benedictine followers, as a plumb line, a measure that can tell us when we’re veering off and keep us on track – not a set of rules to follow.  And, in fact, one of the marks of Benedict’s Rule is that he’s always making exceptions to just about every guideline he lays down, to accommodate the realities of human life.  But he also tries to keep the accommodations within bounds, so that they do not defeat the purpose of the community’s life together.

Hospitality, for example, is a real priority in Benedictine life.  The stranger who comes to you is received as Christ and given food and lodging and comfort with that understanding.  But, traditionally, there is a separate kitchen and dining room for the Prior and Abbot and guest – so that hospitality can be provided at need to the guest, but the life of the community as a whole is not disrupted.  And monastics who encounter a guest are to listen courteously and see that their needs are met, but they are to tell the guests that they cannot talk to them (unless they have been specifically delegated this task), so that their work and prayer and study continue, and the purpose of living in community continues to be fulfilled.

Anyway.

I offer these thoughts, as we prepare, as a congregation, to create our own congregational rule of life (on the final Saturday of this month).  It’s meant to highlight for us what we see as our purpose, as God’s people, in this place, at this time.  It’s meant as a measure, to help us keep ourselves on track.

And I offer these thoughts as we are renewed together in prayer and fellowship, to return to our every day communities, where we will live out our real spiritual lives, as our relationships with Jesus and the people around us develop and evolve and bring us, we hope, ever closer into the loving presence of our God.

I say this to you in the Name of God:  Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen.

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