Friday, September 11, 2015

Getting Out of the Boat (Matthew 14:22-33) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Dean Potter, a 43 year old well-known extreme sports athlete died on May 16, of this year in Yosemite National Park, while base-jumping.  Base-jumping is parachuting or wingsuit flying from a fixed structure or cliff.  It's an an incredibly dangerous sport. Think of it like sky diving but jumping off a fixed point, with little reaction time to correct course.

An article explores how dangerous, risk-taking activities, are becoming a big business. The article notes, "Adrenaline holidays are moving from a niche market to a mainstream …. Danger is an international business.  Parachutists and hang-gliders and skydivers float through the skies, rock-climbers cling to sheer faces and skiers are dropped from helicopters.  In the rainforests, the daring explore canopies on zip wires.  In the oceans, people swim with sharks or free-dive without oxygen.”

Why do people intentionally seek out risky, fear-based activities? The article states that it's a reaction to our sedentary, overly-safe society. "It's an escape from the mundane and the routine.  We need risks to feel fully human, fully alive.  It's about joy and intensity. It's about a drive for excitement.  If we remove risk from our lives, we never find our strengths and weaknesses. We stagnate."

Frank Farley, a Temple University psychologist, offers an interesting perspective: "These extreme athletes don't have a death wish; they have a life wish. They don't want to die and they don't expect to die. This is what being alive is for them. They don't want to sit at a desk all day. So rather than call the things athletes do death-defying stunts, they should be called life-striving events.”

Film maker Francis Ford Coppola writes: "An essential element of art is risk. If you don't take risks, how are you going to make something really beautiful that hasn't been seen before? I always had a good philosophy of risks.  The only risk is to waste your life, so that when you die, you say, 'Oh, I wish I had done this.”

What are typical words from a 16 year old boy, “Hey guys, watch this.”  I remember when I was 12 years old I was jumping off the roof of a house into a sand pile below.  It was such fun.  But on the third jump I missed the sand pile.  It's not good to miss the sand pile.    I broke my arm and am fortunate that that's all I broke.   When we lived in CO I took a hot air balloon ride.  Nancy declined the opportunity.   Standing in a basket, we rose to over a 1000 feet and gazed out at a picturesque view of Steamboat Springs.

My risk-taking days have slowed down a bit, since I have entered the world of seniors.  And yet when you think about it, everything you do, every day that you live, has an element of risk.  Getting out of bed has an element of risk.

I like to walk along East Mission Bay from the Hilton down to Sea world.  Now walking is tame, mundane, pedestrian right; I mean how risky is walking?

But one day I was buzzed by an enthusiastic bee, and I'm allergic to bee stings.  Fortunately he didn't sting me.  And another day a bicyclist coming from behind whizzed past me and nearly brushed my shoulder.  And then there is the sign that reads: “Caution: Low flying aircraft.”  You are walking along the beautiful bay, minding your own business, when you suddenly hear the roar of these radio controlled aircraft flying around you.   Maybe walking should be re-classified as an extreme sport.   Yes, there are even risks in taking a nice walk at the bay.

What risks have you taken in your life?  Do you regret taking them or are you glad you did?  Perhaps you have taken risks in sports, in travel, in education, or your career, in making friends or even in intervening in a life and death situation to save someone's life?   I know if I was in trouble I would want someone around me who was a risk-taker, who would take action, rather than someone who was risk-averse and simply stood quietly by.  I would also hope that I would do the same for someone who was in trouble.

It's essential to take risks in life, isn't it?  What a sad, unrewarding and unfulfilling life we would lead if we never took risks.   The world would never move forward.   We wouldn't have many fond memories.   We would never have anything or do anything worthwhile if we were always risk averse.  No new relationships would be formed.  No new inventions would be invented.  No new lands would be explored.  No new communities would be built.  No new companies would be started.  No one would get educated.  No one would ever get married.  No one would have children.   We would never try to help someone in danger or defend this nation against enemies if we were afraid to take risks.

Helen Keller wrote:  “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”  Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky said:  “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”  Mark Twain wrote:  “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Taking risks, getting out of the boat, trying to walk on water, is crucial in the gift of the life that God has blessed us with.  In our story from Matthew the disciple Peter makes the bold decision to get out of the boat.  There were no lifeguards sitting in towers, no rescue boats nearby, to save him if he ran into trouble.  Jesus' disciples are in the boat.  Jesus is standing on shore.  The wind and the waves are pounding against the boat.  Jesus goes out to them walking on water.  The disciples are terrified.  They cry out, thinking they are seeing a ghost.  Jesus says to them: “Take heart, have courage.  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”

The disciple Peter calls out, “Lord, if it's you tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” Jesus says to Peter.  Peter gets out of the boat, and starts to walk on the water toward Jesus.  But the wind kicks up and Peter grows afraid, starts to sink and cries out “Lord, save me.”  Yes,  getting of the the boat is often frightening, isn't it?

Immediately Jesus reaches out his hand and catches Peter.  “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  And after climbing back into the boat, the wind dies down.  Then the disciples fall to their knees and worship Jesus saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”   Yes, God wants us to takes risks for him, and the important lesson is that God is faithful and is with us in such times.

Does being a Christian involve risk-taking?  Does following Christ involve the business of risk-taking?  Is the church in the business of risk-taking?  Absolutely.  Christian discipleship means to grow and growth means being willing to try new things.  Christian discipleship means obedience and obedience means being ready to try new things.  Risk-taking always involves dealing with the dichotomy of fear and courage, the fear of failure, the fear of harm, the fear of regret.

God knows we must deal daily with the challenge of witnessing to Christ that involves the tension between the desire for safety and comfort on the one hand and the willingness on the other hand to take risks in the name of Christ.

How long has it been since you took a risk for God?   How long has it been since you took the simple risk of inviting a neighbor to join you in church?  Or in offering to help someone, perhaps even a stranger, who was in need?  What great risks are we taking for God? 

God desires His followers to take risks.  Is God calling you to get out of the boat?  What are you waiting for?   Amen!

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