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Sowing Seeds of Faith

(This is the second in a four-part sermon series on the prayer of St. Francis: "Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace.")

A few weeks ago I suggested that we broaden our understanding of faith and think of it in terms of action instead of “I believe” statements. Faith in Something More, and faith in our interconnectedness with each other and creation, and faith in the Spirit of Compassion must be shown in the way we live, and in what we say.

Francis in this prayer calls us to drawn on the strength of the Divine to plant the seeds of faith wherever there is doubt in Something More, or doubt in goodness, light, love, compassion, grace and interconnectedness. But this isn’t easy in a world filled with violence, selfishness, bullying, wars, drugs, pornography, human trafficking, and on and on. All these things give us cause to doubt that there truly is an energy of Love underlying all things. We want to have faith, but instead we scream out, “God, where the heck are you?” And, how on earth do we sow the seeds of faith in the midst of this insanity we call life?

Faith and doubt. When we read the story about Peter walking on the water to Jesus, we see that it is a story about faith and doubt. Peter is in the boat in the first place because of his faith, because of his commitment to follow Jesus wherever he leads, because he believes (or at the very least wants to believe) in Jesus. But then a storm whips up and Peter and the rest of the disciples are scared and wet and miserable. Suddenly something is walking across the water to them... is it a ghost?

Jesus calls out to say, “Hey guys, it’s just me!” But they aren’t convinced, so Peter (in his infinite wisdom) says, “If it really is you, tell me to come to you across the water.” Seriously? How is this wise? Why not ask him to repeat some of what he was teaching about that day, or what they all had for breakfast, or tell him to stop the storm?

Nope, Peter wants to walk on water as proof. He wants to do what Jesus is doing. He want's his doubt taken away - doubt in Jesus and doubt in himself. 

Jesus obliges and says, “Come.” Well, Peter starts off strong, but can’t quite believe what he is doing. At that moment of doubt, he starts to sink. And when he begins to sink, Jesus reaches out a hand and helps him back to the boat. Some people see Jesus’ next comment as a reproach or a judgment. I don’t. When Jesus says, “You have so little faith! Why do you doubt?” I hear it with a smile in his voice.

It reminds me of when my kids were little and they were learning to jump off the diving board at their grandma's pool. They really wanted to jump and we’d tread water waiting to catch them, but they hemmed and hawed for a long time until they finally jumped and we said, “See, what were you so worried about? I caught you.”

Anyway, this would be a completely different story if Peter had simply walked across the water to Jesus without any trouble, but it wouldn’t speak to us in the same way. The truth about us is that we have faith and we doubt, we walk and we sink, we follow and we’re afraid. We flip back and forth between the two all the time. We believe and at the same time we have nagging doubts.

Even John Wesley, the founder of the United Methodist Church, had his doubts. It is said that he once asked a friend, “What do I preach if I don’t have faith.” The friend replied, “You preach faith, until you have faith. And then because you have faith, you will preach faith.”

But it helps when someone holds out a hand and lifts us up out of our doubt, someone who believes in us and believes that light shines in the darkness.

There is a story about two women who shared a deep spiritual friendship. At one point, one of them was in a really difficult situation and was telling her friend about her loss of faith. The friend said, “For seven years you’ve been telling me you believe this and this and this, and now you’re not saying any of that. Don’t you remember all the stuff that you said you believed in?” And her response was. “No, right now I don’t remember. Right now I hurt so bad I can’t remember. That is why I need you. I need you to remember for me.”

As I look back I can see many times when I felt overcome with doubt and afraid to get out of the boat (so to speak) but I had people hold out a hand to me. They kept me from drowning by sending a card, calling with encouragements, dying their hair blue, offering me a job, changing a tire for me, watching my children, or simply being there with a listening ear.

Just in these last few weeks as I’ve been dealing with my dad’s stroke, I’ve had complete strangers keep me from drowning in doubt and fear and they didn’t even know it. I toured a number of assisted living and memory care facilities, not knowing what kind of long term help my dad might need. I toured four in one day and I was pretty raw by the end of the last one. Perhaps she saw that, but she basically said, “Let us know if you have more questions, or if there is some way we can help. It doesn’t matter if your dad comes here or not, it’s about finding the best care for his needs.”

There is a cute story about a priest and a rabbi and a preacher. They’re out fishing. One of them walks to the shore and walks back. Then the other walks to shore and walks back. When the third one tries, he splashes in the water. The other two turn to each other and say, “Do you think we should tell him where the stones are?”

Perhaps losing faith when life gets tough is like losing track of where the stones are, and we simply need someone to show us again.

I also think it is important to remember that sometimes we’re Peter in this story and sometimes we’re Jesus.  Sometimes we need others to bolster us and our faith and help us to step forward and stay afloat. Other times we need to be that person.

Love & Light!