You are Fierce with Reality (Mirror, Mirror #8) Notes
You are Fierce with Reality (Mirror, Mirror #8)
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • June 22, 2015 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Executive Pastor
For this series, Mirror, Mirror, The Art of Being Yourself, we are using Simon, who later becomes Peter, as our guide as he reveals to us what it means to trust ourselves with and to God. Simon has a lot to teach us about the art of being yourself.
Our Faith Grows As We Sink- Upsetting the equilibrium (Oops)
Last week, we caught up with Simon Peter as he took a step of faith by following Jesus into the unknown. Before Simon Peter gets out of the boat, I would have loved to ask him a couple of questions. I would have loved to know what Simon Peter knew about himself at this point? Perhaps he would have shared his great joy in finally finding the Messiah, someone who was full of hope and faith, who would rescue his people from their suffering. I would have loved to hear in his own words just what that meant to him, the deep longing that was now being satisfied. As I continue this mental wandering, I wonder if Simon Peter was able to know the depths of his fears or the magnitude of his pride? Were these things still hidden from him, I wonder?
Having left everything behind to become a fisher of people, we find Peter back in a boat, this time asking Jesus if he can join him walking on water.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:25-30)
The most common life application offered by preachers is simple, “move from fear to faith.” You do this by keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus during the storms of your life, this is how you keep the faith — anything else, and you will be overcome by the storms of life and will start to sink. The challenge to this application is its lack of presence in the text — Peter started to sink when he “saw the wind,” the text says. I think we struggle with this passage because we want to make it do something it probably wasn’t intended to do, give us a a direct and simple answer, an on-ramp, if you will, for how to keep the faith in the midst of our struggle. But, what if, our faith is actually activated and starts to grow as we sink? I know that doesn’t sound right, we’ve been taught that faith is spelled R-I-S-K and often it is, but what I discover here in Peter’s story is that maybe, just maybe, his faith grew as he started to fail. What if our faith grows as we cry out as Peter did, “Lord, save me!” What if faith is actually spelled T-R-U-S-T? Think of it as an invitation to learn to trust Jesus when things are going well and when they aren’t. It takes a lot of faith to acknowledge that when we start to fail, to stumble, to falter, if we are willing to trust and cry out, as Peter demonstrates, Jesus will save us. As the song says, “He comes to our rescue.” This is a faithful response to failure: our crying out for help. It’s also the full surrender of our false self–the self-deception that we can do this on our own, and our faith is activated because we have to believe that God is present to hear and ready to help.
You Say Faith is About T-R-U-S-T
Faith is a journey, it’s a stake in the ground that declares our hope in a God we cannot see but are confident is present. And let me say it again, blind faith is much better than despair. And informed faith is even better. Coupled with our faith is the space that is needed for our true self to emerge as we increase our trust and dependence on God. This faithful action, the lowering of our defenses, allows us to discover something significant about ourselves, just what we are called to. We have lots of names to label this activity, but only one is needed, vocation.
As I think through those questions I have for Peter, I’m taken back to Matthew 16 because we see the unfolding of vocation both for Jesus and Peter. Let’s listen in again on this encounter between them; keep in mind that Peter has a new perspective on Jesus now that he has spent some time with Jesus seeing him perform miracles, walk on water, heal the sick, and raise the dead:
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” (Matthew 16: 13-20)
There’s this strange thing that Jesus does throughout scripture. There are multiple accounts of Jesus asking this question, “Who do people say that I am?” Early in my faith journey, I had a clear answer to these questions, which scholars refer to as the Messianic Secret. It was simple; Jesus wasn’t ready to reveal who he was, so he kept anyone and everyone quiet about his true identity. I liked this answer because it helped make Jesus into a superhero, right? Every super hero has a secret identity. As I’ve continued to wrestle and study, I’ve arrived at a different answer, and my understanding starts with this interchange between God and Jesus at his baptism:
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
A fun question to ask pastors is “When did Jesus know he was God?” I’ve always struggled with Jesus’ vocation and understanding of his divinity, and without rehashing that all with you today, let me just say that I believe that Jesus discovered his vocation much in the same way we all do. It unfolded. It wasn’t delivered all at once, and this understanding makes his questions make better sense to me. Plus it removes the need for Jesus to be a superhero and now that he is like one of us, it makes him more approachable. He struggled. He understood suffering. He was acquainted with pain. He had to trust and depend on God just like I have to. I’m willing to follow him because he has gone first through the narrow gate. This picture of Jesus struggling with his vocation is a perfect invitation for us, it creates space for us. Whew, I don’t have to have it all figured out. Plus this picture doesn’t weaken Jesus or make him inept. In fact, it makes him stronger because he models what a life of faith, trust, and dependence looks like.
Where Deep Gladness Meets the World’s Deep Hunger
Fredrick Buechner says that vocation is “where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.” The “deep hunger” part is significant. When we come alive and see God at work in our lives, this often is accompanied by an increased awareness that develops within us. Simply put we start to care. There’s also a community aspect to this awareness and knowing, we discover something powerful about ourselves in the presence of others. We can see this unfold in Peter’s story. He was willing to leave everything behind because he discovered something better: joy.
Now there’s also a way that this is hard for us to enter into as we are trying to make ends meet everyday, and we often conflate and confuse our vocation with what we do for money. Our vocations can potentially include our jobs, but it is not limited to those. In fact, Peter leaves his job, one that provided him with wealth and security, to follow Jesus and discover his vocation.
Almost none of us will have an experience like Peter. So, how do we make our way forward?
It starts with us being in a posture of openness. Bear with me for a moment. I imagine it like when I’m busy and Sebastian my son comes into my office and tries to get my attention, “Daddy.” Yes, Sebastian. “Daddy.” Yes, Sebastian. And so it goes. What does he want, nothing really, just my attention. And he’s patient, sometimes, I’m not. I’m learning to be present with him when he does. I stop what I’m doing, I invite him to sit in my lap and wait and listen.
That’s the openness I’m inviting as we try to make sense of our vocation. It’s like a child trying to get our attention and often, we ignore it, because we think, you don’t have anything important to tell me. See, we have to increase of our awareness of God present in everything. I know this is hard to imagine. I know it’s hard to conceive, but just trust me here. When we think we are all alone, we are forced into believing that we have to make everything up from scratch. We don’t. We can be active in our discovery, our waiting, by learning to listen.
We listen to the fact that we are created by a God who sees us, loves us, takes joy in us, and desires good things for us. Vocation is never about a blueprint that you have to get right or you’ll ruin your whole life. Plan A or Plan B. Vocation is never a list of specific tasks you have to complete, and if you miss one, you have permanently ruined your life. Vocation, meaning, and worth are not taken away from you if you feel you have disappointed, struggled, or missed the mark. We miss the meaning of vocation if we do not understand that our vocations emerge from within us.
Parker Palmer, in his book, Let Your Life Speak puts it this way:
“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
The way forward always starts with trust. All great discoveries begin with the same pattern: trust-faith-risk. A hopeful probing in the dark. Artists don’t invent beauty. They see it, hear it, capture it. Art is discovery, not invention. As we consider our vocations, we move from the unknown to the known, and we do that a step at a time. We don’t start the process knowing; we start the process trusting… We see this echoed in Peter’s story.
We also see it in Jesus’ story.
Many of us falsely assume that Jesus was born with an automatic, magical understanding of his vocation and calling. And like an actor on a stage having memorized all of his lines, we imagine his every step, act, and spoken word were ordered, expected, and ordained.
This cartoon-ish view of Christianity takes Jesus out of the running as a role model for us. To be human is to grow, learn, and develop; a human is a being in progress. Often, to know as a human being is to come to know, over time. We gather information and experiences over time, making connections – one moment of insight makes way for another. It’s a process, a discovery.
God Knows What We’re For
Jesus wasn’t born into a vacuum; he was planted into a community. And out of this community, he came to understand his vocation. Luke in his gospel, emphasizes the role of elders surrounding Jesus: Mary & Joseph; Elizabeth & Zechariah; Anna & Simeon — all surrounding Jesus.
And it’s in community that we see Jesus’ vocation unfold starting with his birth announcement in Luke 2 through his baptism at age 30. We see the same patterns (trust -> faith -> risk) emerge for Jesus. His trust develops in community, surrounded by the elders, growing in maturing, listening to and asking questions of those a few steps ahead of him. In short we see Jesus in a posture of learning with his hands open:
And the questions Jesus asks are real. He’s pursuing insight. At no time do we observe anyone handing him a blueprint,or a script for his life. The community that Luke finds Jesus in is diverse too: prophets, women, elders, and teachers, each contributing a unique voice and perspective, speaking together, joining their voices to a larger tapestry: the unfolding of his vocation.
As we look to Jesus, I hope we see the same things, we was observant, attentive, open. How do you find yourself? Today’s practical tip is on the sermon handout, grab it, read it, try it.
Now, I want to take a little time to sit with you and mourn the losses in Charleston, and lament for the dead, and pray for us. Will you join me.
Discover your vocation the way that Jesus did, by listening to your life speak.
Vocation does not mean a goal I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must try to listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live – but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.
Find a place and time where you can sit at peace in the presence of God, where you can ask your life some questions:
What are you passionate about? What do you love about your life? When are you at your best? If you had unlimited resources and unlimited time, what would you choose to do? What are you best at doing? What do other people identify in you that you do well? What are you strongest spiritual gifts?