What is truth? Part 3: In the doing

Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). He answers his own question moments earlier by pointing to the power of action; Pilate asks Jesus, “What have you done?” (John 18:35).

If Pilate wondered what the truth about Jesus was, he nailed it — perhaps instinctively — by laying this abstract question about truth firmly in the realm of behavior and action.

“They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love” goes the popular song. They will know who we are by what we do. The truth will be told more as a reflection of what is done than by what is believed or thought of.

Jesus healed the sick. Jesus spent time with the outcasts. Jesus crossed the boundaries of social norms to speak with women and touch lepers. Jesus broke laws which were stupid. Jesus spoke of God’s truth and love.

Truth is something we do. While intellectual truth can be stimulating, it does not fulfill all of our needs. God calls us beyond mere understanding and words and translate those thoughts into concrete action in the world. Meaningful engagement with the world is a prescription for truth-discovery.

What action stands foremost in Jesus’ encounter with Pilate? And how does this action reflect the truth about God? In this scene between Pilate and Jesus, Jesus invites Pilate to belong by listening to Jesus’ voice (John 18:37). We’ve heard that before, haven’t we? — Listening to Jesus’ voice …

Read John 10:1-16. There, Jesus describes himself as the loving shepherd who takes care of his sheep. He calls them by name, and they know his voice. Jesus is the good shepherd who wants his followers to have life, and have it abundantly.

Even to Pilate, Jesus gives himself to be his good shepherd. Even to the man who has power to condemn him to death. Even to those who hate and kill and are so lost in sin, Jesus offers himself in love, grace, mercy and forgiveness.

This is always Jesus’ invitation to us, and to all people. Jesus invites us to belong to his community. Jesus invites us to the truth which we will know in his love, compassion and grace.

We will know that truth in the loving actions of those around us, belonging in community. And we will receive that truth when we come home to ourselves and face the truth about our lives. And we are called to live as active witnesses to the action of God in the world.

What do you see God doing in the world around you and in the lives of people you encounter today? And what does this action reveal about God’s truth?

What is truth? Part 2: Belonging to community

I remember when I was ten years old I wanted to run away from home. My brother and I fought with my Mom over watching a TV show. Our disagreement led to this radical solution.

My brother and I packed our little red wagon with pillows, blankets, some twinkies, and a bottle of milk. I informed my Mom, and we were on our way.

We pulled our wagon down the sidewalk in silence. When we reached the first cross street a block away from home, we stopped. Without saying a word, both of us turned around and headed back with heads hung low.

In discovering the truth, not only must you come home to yourself and articulate your own desires, motivations and unique identity, you need to land in a community. This is the important second movement in answering: “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

At some point in the process of discovering the truth, we need to acknowledge the communal nature of truth-telling. It’s one thing to say discovering the truth is a personal journey; but it’s also a path that takes you beyond pure individualism. In other words, you can’t celebrate the truth of anything by yourself. In community we are greater than the sum of our individual parts. The truth can only be ascertained and arrived-at in the midst of others.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus relates the truth with “belonging” (18:37) — belonging to a community. Whether that community is a family, a church, a nation, God, our belonging is often tested. When things don’t go our way. When we don’t get want we want in that community. When others disappoint us. When there is disagreement. When we suffer. There are a host of circumstances that may lead us to question our belonging.

And when that happens, what do we do? Do we leave? Do we, as I tried to do with my red wagon and twin brother in tow, run away? Do we isolate ourselves behind fortress walls of fear and intransigence? What do we do when our belonging is severely tested?

Jesus hints that the kingdom of which he speaks transcends the self. When Jesus says that he was born for the purpose of testifying to the reign of God (John 18:37), Jesus is pointing to that which is larger than any individual, including himself.

We don’t exist unto ourselves. The sun doesn’t orbit around our individual planet; rather, we orbit around the sun! Our lives are meant for more than mere self-indulgence, self-acquisition, self-amelioration, self-justification.

When we discover the truth together, we’re not denying our individual, unique perspectives. We are not hiding our true colours from one another. We are simply affirming that if we are to find the truth, we will only do so together.

Belonging is not so much about individual decisions as it is about collective participation in community. That is why we make major decisions as the church, or as a nation, or even in families together. We share our differing thoughts and opinions with the awareness of our belonging to one another and to God, whether or not that unity is challenged or visibly shaken.

The movement towards community in discerning the truth calls for humility and attentiveness to those around us.

Where do you belong? Give God thanks for your belonging.

My 1st youth group: A critical invitation

Our ‘Back to Church 2013’ preparatory group got to work right away. Each of us were assigned homework to complete before our next meeting a week later.

In 250 words we were to journal an answer to the following question: Describe a time when you responded positively to an invitation from the church. So, here is mine ….

I could remember when as a thirteen year old I was very much aware the church had a youth group. But I was the pastor’s kid and, well, I was in worship every week. I had the impression that church leaders sort of expected me to go or at least not give the excuse that “I didn’t know”. I suppose that throughout my childhood and youth my relationship with the church was wrapped up in the enigma of assumptions and presumptions. And it may very well still be!

Frankly, I didn’t know what to do about the start of another year of youth group, meeting every Tuesday night at the church. I remember feeling a little anxious, socially. My father, the pastor, quietly indicated to me that youth group might be a good idea.

But I wasn’t in a space to act on his recommendation alone, although people presumed it would be the most natural line of communication. Their presumption may have given them permission not to bother taking any responsibility in the matter. (Perhaps I’m presuming now, too!)

I observe to this day parents who are down on themselves on account of what they see as their failure not to get their teenage (and older) kids to church. This, even though they would be the first to admit that parents aren’t always the best people positioned for the critical invite.

Everything changed for me after the youth group leader came up to me one Sunday after worship, and asked: “Would you like to come to youth group on Tuesday evening? I think you might enjoy it.” It was an awkward moment for both of us — for him because I could tell he was a bit nervous; for me, because I wasn’t honestly sure whether I wanted to go and what I should say in response.

In the end, I went. Maybe because I knew some of the youth that were going — and I thought they were pretty cool. But mostly because that core group demonstrated through its various activities and adventures together a really strong connection with each other and their faith in God.

Because that individual (not a family member, not a pastor) asked me, despite my status as the infamous PK (i.e. Pastor’s Kid) who should know all things church, my spiritual journey took the course it did — eventually landing me at the seminary, and working as an ordained pastor for over 15 years now.

If that particiular invitation wasn’t made at that critical time, who knows where I would have gone and done with my life? Let me just say how grateful I am for TS — his quiet courage, his guts, his boldness despite his nervousness. Thank you.

I know as parent today that I have a great responsibility in the spiritual development of my own children. I take that seriously. However, I know from my own experience that it’s not just the parents who will determine the outcome of their children’s faith journeys. Others are just as important, even more so, in offering that critical invitation.

Okay, that was more than 250 words!

Bridging the gap

Mark 10:35-45

Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink…” (Mark 10:39)

When we first stepped on the bridge spanning the wide, flowing river, our ten year old son stopped short. It was windy. He said he was afraid the strong winds could blow him off. He refused to walk over.

A few weeks later when we were giving a walking tour of our new home-town to visiting friends, the path took us over the bridge. Engrossed in showing all the sites to his friends, our son made it three-quarters of the way across before he realized what he was doing. I could see by his wide-eyed expression that he had, for the most part, forgotten his fear. He was focused on his friends rather than himself.

I often miss the extraordinary promise implied in Jesus’ words to his self-absorbed disciples. They had been walking to Jerusalem listening to Jesus speak about his suffering and death. Understandably, those who followed Jesus were afraid (Mark 10:10). Were James’ questions about finding a seat in heaven next to Jesus simply an attempt to find security amidst the ominous implications of Jesus’ words?

Fear of the world often drives us, above all, to find security. We are afraid of terrorism, so we start preemptive wars. We are afraid of failing, so we act to secure our reputation rather than take bold and necessary steps forward. We are afraid of what we don’t understand in others who are different from us, so we cocoon behind fortress walls with like-minded people rather than build bridges of cooperation and compassion.

When Jesus says, “the cup that I drink you will drink…” he is making his disciples a promise – a promise that one day they, too, will no longer be driven by fear; that one day they will act boldly, motivated not so much by self-preservation but by the Gospel.

This, too, is a promise made to me and to you. It’s not an easy way. But when our focus resolves itself on others, we no longer act according to our fears but according to the way of Christ Jesus.

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On whom have I given up?

“First of all, I urge that thanksgivings should be made for everyone (I Timothy 2:1)

Let’s face it. Even the most mature, enlightened and experienced of us need to confess: There are those we have given up on.

Mitt Romney may have given up on half the population in the United States. Unwise to admit, politically.

And yet haven’t we all, personally? That is, given up on those who annoy us to no end. On those who are different from us. On those whom we know we can’t change for the better. On those who appear to threaten our sense of security and stability. On those who are very near and dear to us who have fallen away from the faith. On those we pretend to have some measure of control or influence over, but who have rebelled against our wishes and desires. On the infirm, the elderly locked away in their homes or on the ward. Those in prison, incarcerated for committing some crime. On our political leaders. Have we given up on them?

Have you given up on that dream, a hope for your life? Have we given up on ourselves, tragically, when all options seem closed to us?

There’s a kind of resignation that comes with giving up. After having argued, reasoned, persuaded and tried oh so long and hard. After having endured tension and animosity for a long time. After trying so hard and so long.

Finally, enough is enough. We find ourselves at the end of our rope. I give up on them! I don’t want anything to do with them anymore. I don’t want to dream anymore!

Talking about politicians, I think it was Bill Clinton who said, “You become old when memories of the past outweigh your dreams for the future.” Have you given up?

And we turn to the scriptures to justify our resignation, where Jesus counseled his disciples in a specific situation to “shake the dust off your feet” (Mark 6:11); Jesus, who gave us words we use to rationalize not caring for the poor (Mark 14:7). We turn to Paul, who in another situation encouraged his followers not to associate with the ‘immoral’ (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Our anger, fear and anxiety lead us to insulate ourselves from others — creating fortresses and cocooning in places and routines that preserve our sense of self. As our world gets narrower and we dig ourselves deeper in the rut of isolation, our hearts harden and we fight harder to exclude others from our vision.

And then, surprise! We encounter the Gospel which states in no uncertain terms that in “God’s world there is no them and us. There is no them. Only us.” (@JamesMartinSJ)

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy Paul encourages Timothy to pray for all people, for God desires ALL people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:1,4). Not just our friends. Not just those who agree with us. Not just those with whom we get along and are just like us.

But those very people who annoy us. Those who are different from us. Those with whom we have little in common. Those who do not listen nor agree with us. Those who intimidate us. ALL people.

Maybe I need to keep praying for these folks, and not give up on them. Because God Almighty Maker of heaven and earth surely hasn’t. God has not given up on them.

Maybe what I need to give up, if anything, is the presumption that somehow it is I who is going to save them, change them and make them into the person I want them to be. Maybe what I need to give up is the belief that it is I who will manufacture the life I want to live.

Maybe my job is to keep hoping, keep praying, keep being the person God made me to be. Maybe my job is to persist in a gracious disposition to those I encounter in my day. Maybe my job is to take the risk to reach out in love — and leave the rest up to God. Maybe my job is to let the Christ in me see the Christ in you.

Yes, that’s my job. But it is not my job to ever, ever, give up on anyone — including myself. My dreams. And God. And the person who I can’t stand.

How can I do this, and maintain this sense of compassion for all?

Listen to this story entitled, “The Old Man and the Gulls”, written by Paul Aurandt (in ‘Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story’, quoted in ‘Heaven Bound Living’ Standard Publishing, 1989, p.79-80):

It is gratitude that prompted an old man to visit an old broken pier on the eastern seacoast of Florida. Every Friday night he would return, walking slowly and slightly stooped with a large bucket of shrimp. The sea gulls would flock to this old man, and he would feed them from his bucket.

Many years ago, in 1942, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life.

Somewhere over the South Pacific their plane became lost beyond the reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched the plane in the ocean…For nearly a month Captain Eddie and his companions would fight the water, and the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts. The largest raft was nine by five. The biggest shark…ten feet long.

But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable: starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. And a miracle occurred. In Captain Eddie’s own words, “Cherry,” that was the B- 17 pilot, Captain William Cherry, “read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off.”

Now this is still Captain Rickenbacker talking…”Something landed on my head. I knew that it was a sea gull. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food…if I could catch it.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. You know that Captain Eddie made it.

And now you also know…that he never forgot. Because every Friday evening, about sunset…on a lonely stretch along the eastern Florida seacoast…you could see an old man walking…white-haired, bushy-eyebrowed, slightly bent. His bucket filled with shrimp was to feed the gulls…to thank and remember that one which, on a day long past, gave itself without a struggle…like manna in the wilderness.

This story is about ‘not giving up’ — on several levels. Not giving up on life — even in the midst of desperate circumstances. Not giving up on God — for before the sea gull was caught, the surviving men praised God, said their prayers and sung a hymn. Not giving up on hope, even when all seemed hopeless.

And, finally, not giving up on giving thanks. The persistence that trumps a ‘giving up on’ kind of attitude is giving thanks over the long term. Not-giving-up is born from an attitude of gratitude. Thanksgiving is grown in the heart, over the long haul. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker didn’t start living gratitude after his miraculous survival story; it was already being cultivated before it. It is about learning to see whatever good there is, even in the direst of situations — and giving thanks for any glimmer of grace therein.

I like the way Mary Jo Leddy in her book, “Radical Gratitude”, wrote about the gratitude expressed by the birds at the start of a new day; she writes:

“There is a moment each day when it is morning before it is morning. Darkness still hovers over the deep. Those who wait for the dawn can hear it even before they see it. At first there are only the slight sounds of attunement as a chorus of birds assembles: twits and trills, chirps and peeps, and even the occasional squawk. Slowly they gather into one great concerted song of supplication: Let it begin! Let us begin! May it begin again! They are of one accord. They do not take the dawn for granted. When it bursts upon them, once again, as on the first day of creation, they give thanks once again for this once only day, to begin. The birds know, as we sometimes do, that the light does not dawn because of our singing. We sing because the dawn appears as grace.”

Is there someone you’ve given up on? Is there a dream, a hope, for your life you are on the verge of ditching. Make a list. And then, sometimes this Thanksgiving weekend, go down that list slowly and give God thanks for each of the people you’ve named there. Give thanks for each of those dreams and hopes you have listed there.

And then pray that their hearts, as yours, will be opened to receive the grace, love and light of God. And God will give you your heart’s desire (Psalms 20:4 & 37:4).

Amen.

How is God Faithful? – in Covenant

We are a Covenant people! — So announced the theme of the biennial Eastern Synod Assembly last week in Waterloo. What does it mean to be in a Covenant relationship with God? Certainly this word is not in common usage today. Perhaps ‘promise’ comes close.

Yet Covenant conveys more. First and foremost, to be in a Covenant relationship with God is to trust that God worries about the results. God brings it home. God’s action is the punctuation mark at the end of all our sentences. God finishes.

And we do not. That’s important.

Nevertheless, to assert God’s side of the bargain, what is presumed is our action as well. There’s no point in having punctuation marks at the end of sentences that aren’t written. And so to be in a Covenant relationship with God is to take the risk of faith, not knowing what the consequences may be. Without this element of faith we bring judgement upon ourselves in living and believing in “cheap grace.”

Indeed what we often need to start with — and that is why we being most acts of worship with confession — is seeking forgiveness for blocking God and locking ourselves in false ways of being church. How do we block God and lock ourselves in patterns of unfaithfulness? A worthy question worth exploring: How do we block God and lock ourselves in ways that keep us stuck?

Have you considered that being Christian is not just about going to church on Sunday? Have you considered that being Christian has just as much to do with what we do in our free time? — being Christian has just as much to do with Monday to Saturday as it does with Sunday? — being Christian has just as much to do with what we spend our money on? — being Christian has just as much to do with how we vote? — being Christian has just as much to do with how we relate with our spouse, our children, our extended family, our neighbours, our community? — being Christian has just as much to do with our behaviour as it does with the words we speak? “Preach the Gospel; use words, if necessary,” instructed Saint Francis.

Many of us, myself included, grew up in the church with the idea that faith was a private affair; and, therefore there were three topics good, pious Christians would never discuss openly, especially in the church. You know those three topics, right? — sex, religion, politics.

In looking recently over our annual Canada Revenue Agency charitable report that all churches are bound by law to complete and submit annually, I was surprised to find a question among a hundred other questions: The question was: “Did the charity carry on any political activities during the fiscal period?” The little note above the question clarified that churches indeed can be involved in politics, as long as that political activity is non-partisan and limited in extent.

I was also struck by the meaning of the Old Testament story optioned for this Sunday, from the book and prophet, Samuel. In this story, the Holy Ark of the Covenant — there’s that word again! — is brought triumphantly into Jerusalem. We read about that procession of King David dancing as the Ark is brought into Jerusalem and placed at the center of that great city. It is an image of uninhibited, unabashed glory, of joy and celebration (2 Samuel 6:1-5,12b-19).

Now, just for a moment, reflect with me on the meaning of this: The Ark of the Covenant in ancient Israel was at the time the most powerful and central image of Israel’s faith. And Jerusalem was (like Ottawa is for Canadians) the center of political power in the nation — the capital city.

And what does David do? He brings the two together: religion AND politics. And, perhaps more significantly, he does it not begrudgingly nor fearfully, but joyously!

At the Synod Assembly last week in Waterloo, we passed several motions that you could deem “political” in nature. Let me briefly review a few of these: a motion in support of non-violent solutions in pursuing justice in the world and in situations of conflict; a motion to call upon the government to re-instate full health care coverage to refugee claimants; motions to address affordable housing, poverty, racism and environmental action. These motions can be viewed on the Synod website; hard copies are also available from your delegates.

Faith is not exclusively ‘private’. It is ‘public’. It’s not just about me and Jesus; but about me and the world that God so loved. It’s more than just me. And as soon as we translate our faith into the public realm, it gets political. We have the biblical witness to this marriage between faith and politics:

When the seven perscuted churches in west Asia on the Aegian Sea coast (in present day Turkey) of the Book of Revelation are pressed to swear allegiance to Emperor Nero they are brought before the courts; and the encouragement of scripture is heard: Do not worry about what to say when called upon to testify to your faith in Christ as Lord. “For what you are to say will be given to you; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19).

The beheading of John the Baptist, from our Gospel text for today (Mark 6:14-29), provides a gruesome image of what sometimes may happen when religion and politics meet in the same room.

And perhaps the most poignant image from the New Testament — the Cross — was a political symbol and practical means of Roman capital punishment. It’s like the electric chair or lethal injection would be for us today. For several centuries after Christ early Christians shied away from using the cross as a central symbol; you can’t find images of crosses anywhere in the archeological record of those first centuries. In fact, the fish was the first central symbol of Christianity. Did the early church find the cross too brutal — too political — an image? I wonder.

I know I need to confess my own fear of bringing my faith to bear on the public world around us. I know I need to confess my own fear of blocking what God wants to do and locking myself because of my fear of rejection, my fear of failure, my fear of sticking out my neck.

One of the speakers at last week’s Synod (I’ll want to talk more about Michael Harvey in the near future) said that fear is the socially acceptable sin of the church today. It is a sin of omission. This is the sin we need to confess. I don’t think it’s coincidence that the biblical injunction: “Do not be afraid/Do not fear/Fear not!” appears some 365 times throughout the bible. We need to hear that; I need to hear that, each day of the year.

Because on the other side of fear is the vision, the abundant life. On the other side of fear is new life. The thing we fear is actually God’s call on our lives. We need to accept and confess our fear. We need to go there.

And when we do, God finishes. God is faithful. God remains true and steadfast to the Covenant relationship. Because God loves us and wants us to love God and those around us. God wants to be in relationship with us, even though we so often miss the mark.

Listen to Paul’s words we often recite: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? [notice the political words here]. No, in all these things we are conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Jesus goes there. Jesus has crossed the boundary between private and public, religion and politics. Jesus enters all aspects of our life together. There is no place Jesus does not go. Even to those places we fear most. Jesus goes there — into our hurt, pain, suffering, persecution, illness. It is not our job to be successful; it is our job only to be faithful, and do it. We are called only to follow, to follow in the way. And then “Jesus will bring to completion the good work begun in you” (Philippians 1:6).

Thanks be to God! Amen.

How is God Faithful? – Despite Us

How do you like your water? Do like it rough? Or do you like it calm?

In the Bible one of the most popular images of water is from Psalm 23: “He leads me beside still waters.” We say that still waters run deep; and indeed, it is true. In baptism, we sprinkle a few, tiny drops of water; or, we pour a small, shell-full of lukewarm water on the infant.

And so we sometimes and naturally receive these images and rituals as prescriptive of a rosy, comfortable, and easy existence with God and the Church.

Therefore, we may come to expect and even crave an easy life, saying it is the will of God. Conversely, when bad things happen or life challenges us to the core, is it because God has abandoned us, or is punishing us? Has our faith been lacking?

In reality our lives our often marked by a rushing torrent of roiling, turbulent, frothing white-water. Being faithful to the baptismal life in Christ is often descriptive more of being in a full-blown hurricane on the ocean.

I love the image of Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat while the disciples get anxious and fearful (Mark 4:35-41). To me, Jesus’ response suggests that in all the storms of our lives, Jesus does not diminish in any way the normalcy of the stormy life as part and parcel of faithful living.

The implication of this is counter-intuitive: It is precisely when life gets unnerving that faith makes any sense at all. Faith isn’t faith until it’s all you’re hanging on to, when the storms of life rage close by.

So when everything is calm, enjoy the moment because there will be more white water soon to come (if we are being faithful, that is). Because when we know God to be near, what we think is reliable and safe is shaken up. Whatever we presume is unchanging, constant, safe …. Beware! If Jesus comes close to that, you may be in for a ride! Because in Jesus’ presence we realize we really cannot control or fix those seemingly stable, controllable things on our own. And this is admitedly a scary prospect.

I’m not a white-water kayaker. But I do enjoy paddling in our canoe or kayak on relatively calm waters. Last weekend I got out on the river for the first time this season. And I was reminded again of the “Rules for White-water Rafting” described by Bishop Pryse at the last Synod Assembly in Toronto a couple of years ago.

He had eight rules for white-water. But I just want to highlight a couple. One rule, which is actually a combination of two of them, is: Never stop paddling, even when it seems hopeless, even when the boat doesn’t go where you want it to go. Never stop paddling.

This is so very important! One of the biggest challenges we face today is that of not giving in to cynicism which Martin Luther reminds us should be counted among, “doubt, despair and other shameful sins.” We need to keep paddling. We need to keep believing. We can never give up.

What did the disciples lack? If anything, they didn’t believe Jesus could do anything, that Jesus could actually provide a way through the storm.

But just as much as we need to keep paddling even when things aren’t going our way, at another level and in other circumstances we also need to be able to let go and stop trying too hard.

I’ve discovered that when docking or pulling away from the dock, all efforts to overcome wind and current by simply trying harder generally do not work. Far better than fighting wind and current is to position myself so that those natural forces will in their own natural way aid rather than frustrate my intent (p.229, Edwin Friedman A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, 2006).

I know this especially to be true when solo-canoeing. Even when heading out onto the river, if I don’t have my canoe aligned at the right angle vis-à-vis the direction of the wind, no amount of paddling on my part will achieve anything except frustration.

Alignment. Positioning. This has everything to do with the relationships in which we find ourselves. When we discover a need to realign ourselves vis-à-vis others, ourselves and God, the first step is to “take off the tires” that need re-alignment. For a complete re-alignment job, all tires have to be detached from the vehicle, rotated and then re-attached and balanced. In other words, letting go of our emotional grip on things is the first step.

Another one of Bishop Pryse’s rules for white-water paddling is: If you go under – which is a normal occurrence when white-water paddling – let go of everything; eventually you will come back up. An essential quality of faith is the willingness to let go of anything that we’re holding onto tightly. What are you holding onto so tightly? Resentment? Impatience? The need to be right? The need to be needed? The need to be in control?

Golfers, table-tennis, baseball and hockey players can attest to the one indicator that they are in a slump – what are they doing? They’re holding onto their club, racket, paddle, stick or bat too tightly.

If you want to get out of your slump, one thing to consider is “loosening up”. This is risky and scary. The stress of doing that can be sharp, but short-lived. Because once you have the courage to let go we discover an amazing truth, one that David I believe experienced on the battle field (1Samuel 17).

David could have gone home. David could have used the armor Saul was intent on giving him to fight Goliath, the giant Philistine. Yet, David did neither “safe” option. He was determined to trust in God by trusting in his own gifts of a sling and pebble – even when the facts appeared to suggest he was doomed.

We already have everything we need. We have enough; we don’t need to toil and strive to be something we are not. God has already given to us what we need. All we need to do is trust that God will not let go of us, and that ‘resurrection’, so to speak, will take care of itself.

For me it puts things in right perspective knowing that, regardless of what happens, we will most certainly come back up when we let go.

It’s interesting Jesus, after stilling the storm and bringing peace and calm to the situation asks his disciples, “Why are you afraid?” (Mark 4: 40-41) His question doesn’t refer to their fear during the storm, but after it was over: Verse 41, where the NRSV translates that the disciples were filled with “great awe”, is literally translated they were “fearful with a great fear” for what Jesus did. Why were the disciples as afraid – if not more afraid – of what Jesus accomplished to bring calm to the water than when the storm was at its peak?

Was it because they knew now there was no longer an excuse for not acting in bold, nervy, trusting, faithful ways DESPITE their fear? Truth be told, sometimes people want to remain stuck, holding on too tightly to that which they know is not good. Better the devil you know, right? The unfortunate result, however, is remaining stuck, cowering in despair and using fear as an excuse not to do the right thing.

But it’s not about us. While Jesus doesn’t diminish the reality of the storm, Jesus also demonstrates an everlasting, unshakable commitment to his disciples. Despite their unbelief and fear, Jesus is faithful. Jesus’ faithfulness is NOT conditional on the strength of our faith. This is good news. Jesus doesn’t abandon us in the storm. Jesus is not punishing us on account of the storm – whatever the storm you face. Jesus believes in us, even when we don’t have the courage to believe in ourselves.

One of the most honest, authentic prayers and confessions in Christianity is from the Gospel of Mark: “Lord, I believe; Help my unbelief” (9:24). And so our prayer today may echo the great prayer of the father whose son was healed by Jesus: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” For your homework this week, I invite you to read that 9th chapter of Mark leading up to that father’s statement. And read Martin Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism, where he writes: “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ … or come to him ….. but by the Holy Spirit.”

Reflect on those words and examine your capacity to trust and wait for God’s Spirit. And examine your capacity to be decisive; to be decisive with honest awareness of your limitations and despite your fears. And in all that reflection, remember the most important thing – God is faithful!

Amen.

Have a little faith!

The first thing is not to give up, and keep moving forward, even though it’s tough. When W.H. Murray led the famous Scottish Expedition to climb Mount Everest in the 1950s, he reflected afterward with his oft quoted piece of wisdom: “In the moment a commitment is made, then Providence moves too.” In other words, when you commit to doing something aware of all that is good in you and the world – even if it’s risky, scary – God goes with you and necessary resources are provided.

We don’t do reckless things and twist God’s arm into action; rather, when we are bold it’s like dropping a pebble into the sea of God’s grace: The ripples move outward creating more space for God’s grace to envelope, enfold and hold.

Take the risk. Make the commitment to a discipline of prayer, of study, of holy reading, of loving service – in a way that pushes you a bit out of your comfort zone, your routines, your familiar ways of being and doing: push the envelope. And don’t give up. You may be surprised by what God is doing for you!