March 06, 2022
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
There’s a story about a man seeking greater faith and goes to a monastery and speaks to the abbot, the superior monk of the community. The abbot explains that the man can be admitted but must take a vow of silence and can only speak two words every year for three years. At the end of the first year the monk asked him, “what are your two words?” He said, “Cold food.” And back to his room he went. End of the second year, he reported, “Hard bed.” Back to his room. End of the third year, he said, “I quit.” The monk said, “Fine, you’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.”
Faith is determined by what you seek. If your highest need is comfort and satisfaction faith might always seem a bit illusive, or perhaps thin. But if you seek a connection to God that can weather difficult times, then you will discover a faith that changes everything. Go back to the very first believers in Christ and chart their path of coming to faith and you will find persons who came to faith literally in the midst of difficult weather.
Early in his ministry, shortly after calling the disciples to follow him, Jesus travels across the Sea of Galilee with the disciples in a boat and they get caught in a violent storm. It must have been horrific because most of these disciples were fisherman who no doubt had been caught in bad storms before. But this time they feared for their lives while Jesus took a nap in the stern. They woken him and asked, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” The question revealed much about their faith up to this point. They didn’t figure Jesus could much more than share their panic. This is a story intended to help us think about our own faith. We all find ourselves in some proverbial boat from time to time where the waves are crashing against us and we feel as if God is present but not really present. We might go to worship, even practice devotions, do things that help us consider God is there, but our experience is that God isn’t doing anything. And in those moments we have to think about what we really want out of our faith. Do you look for a Savior you can bring into your panic, or a Savior who can bring you into His peace?
Now in thinking about that question let’s remember this is not a series on belief but faith. As I shared in the Ash Wednesday service from Dr. James Fowler’s work, faith and belief are different. Beliefs are the ways we try to describe our faith. Faith is the way we live. Faith is what happens when we incorporate those beliefs into our practices. Faith is about what we do based on what we believe. Most people would say I don’t want a Savior who can just share my panic, I want a Savior who can bring me into His peace. So the faith question really isn’t do I believe God has power over my storms; it is: what can I do that allows Jesus to bring me into his peace?
Jesus doesn’t answer the disciples’ question about whether he cares that they are perishing. Instead he shows them. He speaks to the storm and tells it to be still, and when it calms down he asks, “Have you still no faith?”
This story begins a section in the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus performs a number of miracles the disciples witness. He displays power over nature, demons, and even death. The section ends with Jesus coming to his hometown in Nazareth, where the people have heard about all these events, but it says, “He could do no miracles there…amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:5-6) So in all the instances where Jesus says the disciples have little faith, clearly that was not an obstacle to them experiencing God’s power. But unwillingness to exercise any faith can be.
So even though little faith doesn’t sound very admirable, its still an avenue, an avenue that can lead to experiences of God’s power.
For just a moment I want to fast forward in the New Testament. Jump ahead to the Book of Acts. You see Peter and John walking by a beggar who can’t walk, and they daringly heal him in the name of Jesus. You see Philip in Samaria preaching boldly, casting out demons and healing the paralyzed. You see the church earnestly praying for Peter in prison expecting his death, but an angle comes and sets him free.
Where did this bold faith begin? How did they ever get to such a point of trust in God’s power? It started, of course, with little faith; with just cracking of the door that maybe there is something to this person of Jesus and that He has power over this world and their lives. And with no greater declaration of faith than a ‘possible maybe,’ they experienced things that changed everything for them.
Where did this life-changing faith start? In a boat, because one day they were willing to cross-over to the other side of the lake. Now let’s think about what that meant. Whenever the Gospels tell us that Jesus took the disciples to the other-side, or when they “cross-over,” it meant they were going to the Gentile side, the non-Jewish side, to people different from them; to a side of the lake they had never been before.
Talk about an intimidating experience. They were going to people they had been told you don’t associate with them. They aren’t worthy. Those are people God doesn’t care about. Yet that is where Jesus regularly took his followers. And surprisingly the disciples were willing to go. They got in the boat. Faith starts as simple as that….(mimic stepping into a boat). Faith doesn’t always look like some mighty, daring act. Faith is always about taking some kind of step of trust; a step that feels uncomfortable, maybe even unsafe, but you trust it is what you should do, that it is the right thing to do.
The president of Ukraine ten years ago was an actor and comedian. In 2019 he ran for president and was elected. Several weeks ago when citizens were asked, “Do you have confidence in this government to handle a Russian invasion?” Many said, “Of course not! Are you kidding? Our president was a comedian!” But now they are seeing him in wearing fatigues like a soldier. The president! He’s giving interviews in bunkers. He’s telling his country he knows he might not see them again but this is where he believes he should be, fighting for them.
And it’s inspiring courage. People are building faith in him. They believe in him. And its even inspiring faith in God. Look at this video clip of an orthodox service and the dove that flies overhead.
It’s just a dove flying over a service and landing on the cross, but for some it gives them a reason to believe. You know, you can always find reasons not to believe, but what reasons can you find to believe? Regardless of where you are in your faith, what reasons have you experienced or seen or heard lately that might be just a little sign, but for you it’s a reason to believe?
Sometimes its good to go with your reasons.
The disciples obviously decided to go with their reasons. They had enough reasons to believe that this Jesus who invited them to follow, whose values and hopes for the world they were beginning to see were important, was enough to get into a boat. And because they did, they found even more reason to believe. You see the cycle that develops? You follow a reason to believe that becomes an act of faith and because of that act you experience even more reasons to believe. It comes down to what we are willing to seek.
If the disciples had sought comfort or success or safety first, they would have never left their nets. But that must have not been what they sought most. They must have sought more. Why else would they have ever started following?
What is for sure, is that they didn’t have much reason to believe in Jesus when they started following. That came after. They followed, they took a step, and the reasons to put their faith in Jesus came along.
What do you seek in life? What is it you are looking for?
The disciples got in a boat, and their lives got more uncertain. They faced a storm and thought they would die and then they experienced a miracle. But what did the miracle really prove? That Jesus had power to change the source of their fears? Sure. But I think it was more than that. Jesus had peace before the conditions changed. He was asleep during the storm. The real miracle that would develop in the faith of the disciples was a trust that in staying close to Jesus, the storms can rage and they will still be okay. It is his presence they need. It is seeking him in the midst of panic that brings peace. That is the faith that changes everything for them.
Mike Brown is a pastor friend from North Carolina days. He used to be the pastor of Boone UMC on the campus of Appalachian State University. While he was there the daughter of a member of his church was the victim of a home invasion. She was single and someone broke into her house. He made go to the bedroom. She was expecting to be assaulted. She said, “Just please don’t hurt me.” And then he said, “It won’t matter.” And she realized he was thinking much worse.
She started to panic. And just started praying to herself, and suddenly she had this calm that she was not alone. She said to the man, “You can leave me behind, you will always have a witness.” The man looked around and said, “What are you talking? Are you crazy? Besides, I don’t leave witnesses behind.” She said, “You ‘ll leave this one. He’s standing right here beside me now. I know it, I feel His presence. And wherever you go Jesus will know what you did. And one day you will have to appear before Him. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can choose otherwise.
The man just stood there without speaking for the longest time. He had a knife in his hand and lowered it. He sat on the bed and put his head down. He said, “I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m just an awful person. I am a terrible person. I hate myself.”
The woman sat down beside him, and told him that is not how God wants him to think of himself. That’s not what God thinks of him. They talked, then she explained that she need to call the police and he allowed her. They arrived and took the man away.
At then, at his hearing, the woman attended in order to speak on his behalf.
What allows someone to do such a thing? A faith that changes everything.
When Jesus spoke to the storm and the waves settled and the wind died down, it says the disciples were terrified. They were right back where they started in this story, afraid, only this time they were afraid of who Jesus is. If this is God what does that mean? If this is God what will He want to do to me? Or maybe even more significant, if this is God, what will He want to do through me?