Scripture: Matthew 14:25-33; 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
25 And early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
13 Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.
The Word of Life. Thanks be to God.
You’ve heard of the term safe space. An environment where people feel….safe. Comfortable. Where you can participate and express yourself without fear of personal attack or retribution. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? We all want places like this in our lives. Places where we can simply be without having to justify ourselves...places where we don’t have to worry about feeling uncomfortable...places where we can feel nurtured and supported in a risk-free environment...a space that maybe feels like a warm hug, letting you know that everything’s going to be alright.
It’s a really popular concept in college and post-graduate classrooms, particularly when the learning material might feel threatening to some students. The idea is that the classroom can be a safe space for exploring difficult material. People can hold a variety of opinions and experiences and feel safe enough to share them without feeling attacked by another student’s opinions and experiences….and that others can challenge those thoughts. Learning, then, can happen without risk to one’s core self, without emotional or psychological harm, without discomfort. It’s a very well-intentioned concept, and one that was part of the framework of many of my seminary classes.
We like to think about it in relation to the church as well. Church is a safe place to be and belong. All are welcome whoever they are and wherever they come from. You can be yourself, express yourself without fear, and feel comfortable doing so. It’s a place free from hurt and harm. It’s a place that is warm and welcoming. Nice. Friendly. Loving.
The church inherently is not a safe space….because our God inherently is not a safe God. The church instead is a brave space, where we show up for God and one another and risk vulnerability and encounter for the sake of our own transformation and that of our communities.
The Bible is full of stories of people meeting God and God pushing them out of the safe spaces of home...predictability….familiarity - for the sake of a promise. Sometimes that journey is a physical one: Our very first story in the Bible - Adam and Eve, where God drives humankind out of literal paradise to face the harsh reality of the world - and promises to be with them as they go. Abram and Sarai - God takes them from their homeland to a new land where they can establish themselves and their children. Moses - God pushes Moses outside of himself and his own insecurities to lead God’s protesting people out from slavery. Sometimes the journey is an internal one - Elijah as he’s fleeing for his life - searching for safety - finds God in the silence and is propelled back into the world. Paul - encountering the risen Christ on the road to Damascus - and his whole worldview changes as God tasks him with bearing the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles. Mary - carry a pregnancy as an unwed mother. Esther - reveal herself as a Jew to her husband the king who just ordered all Jews to be killed. The early Christians facing ridicule and persecution for proclaiming that Jesus is Lord instead of Ceasar.
None of this is safe stuff.
But it is brave stuff.
The Bible is also full of stories of God reminding people of God’s promise of presence, even in the face of difficulty. God encourages Joshua as they are heading into the promised land, telling him to be bold and steadfast. The prophets reminded the Israelites again and again to find their strength in God alone. Jesus calling out to Peter to walk on the water, even in the midst of his fear and doubt. And Paul in his first letter to the church at Corinth: Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. That isn’t advice for the faint of heart - it’s an invitation to be brave in facing the challenges that life in community brings.
A safe space asks nothing of us. It requires nothing of us. Brave space, on the other hand, demands us to be present and to show up with our full selves and hold space for others to show up as their full selves too - because as we seek to follow God together, as we look for where the Holy Spirit is moving in our world, as we try to live this Jesus life with one another - it’s going to make us uncomfortable. It’s going to upset the status quo.
But that’s where growth happens. That’s where we learn and change. Transformation doesn’t happen in the safe spaces...because it’s hard to do things differently when we’re comfortable. It’s hard to see the need for change when things look OK to us. It’s when we are out of our comfort zone that we can begin to see the world around us in a new light - when we encounter the experiences of others that are different than our experiences...when we begin to think and reflect on why what someone said or did made us react with unease...when we look at the world as it is against the world as God hopes and dreams it might be - it requires us to be brave and to acknowledge and celebrate the bravery of others.
If we are truly about God’s transforming work in our lives and in our world - that doesn’t happen when we are safe; it happens when we risk encounter, it happens when we are willing to make mistakes and learn, it happens when we are willing to be vulnerable ourselves, it happens when we can trust that others can hold that space for us...and when we trust that God is in the midst of that as well.
One of our core values is “Community” - and we understand that to mean that we seek to be a place of belonging and a harbor of mutual support and interdependence. We strive to share together, help and reach out to one another, grow in faith together, and live together in light of God’s love.
A harbor...a harbor is certainly a safe space to weather a storm, to shelter a boat, to perform maintenance and repairs...but it’s not a place to stay. Boats, if you are really going to use them - for work, for recreation - have to leave the harbor to face the waters...it’s a risk, to go leave the sheltered space of the harbor, but you can’t stay there forever.
The church as a brave space means that we are able to share our true selves with one another and to hold space for those with thoughts and opinions and experiences that are different than ours. The church as a brave space means stepping in and naming the realities that others want to deny - about our climate, about our community, about ourselves. The church as a brave space means sitting in the uncomfortable spaces with others on their journey toward wholeness or as they mourn and grieve - not to try and fix or smooth things over, but simply to be present. The church as a brave space means moving from merely “what I need” to “what to we need together.” The church as a brave space means not being worried about our survival, but concerning ourselves with making the places around us more loving and compassionate. The church as a brave space means following after the God who continually asks us to do the things that seem impossible, scary, beyond our ability...and who goes with us every step of the way.
The church is not a safe space. The church is a brave space.
Our God is not a safe God, but one that promises to be with us, no matter what.
Being about God's work in the world requires showing up - for God, for one another, for ourselves - and doing the hard work of love. That's brave.
My prayer for us as a church is that we listen for what God is asking of us...that we listen for what God wants for this community...and decide to be brave together...to move out of the harbor into the waters where God is leading us on. Amen.
-- Need a couple volunteers:
(puzzle pieces face down - have 2 minutes to see how many pieces you can put together without turning the pieces face up)
Get the volunteers to share:
- What was that experience like? [get responses]
Do you ever feel like life is a little bit like that? That there are all these pieces and sometimes they fit together and sometimes they don’t and sometimes you think they *should* fit together…
...and sometimes maybe you feel like you are connected and the trajectory of your life makes sense it’s all hanging together in the right way
...and sometimes maybe you feel like that one puzzle piece that’s out of place...you’re not sure of where you fit, not sure what the picture even looks like and how you are a part of it all.
I want to offer these words from Scripture to help guide our reflection today - they come from the book of Romans, chapter 12, verses 3 - 13. This comes from The Message.
Scripture: Romans 12:3-13 (The Message)
3I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
4-6In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn't amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't.
6-8If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don't take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy; if you're put in charge, don't manipulate; if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.
9-10Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
11-13Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
The Word of Life. Thanks be to God.
I love jigsaw puzzles. I don’t have the opportunity to do them much nowadays for obvious reasons - but growing up there would always be at least a thousand piece puzzle on our dining room table that we’d pick at from time to time as a family - putting the edge pieces together first -- because we’d want to create a frame for how everything fit together -- and then filling in the middle bits...maybe by color...maybe by random luck...and we’d use the picture on the box as a reference point for how everything was supposed to fit together.
If you take a look at a puzzle piece - one single piece - it’s not that much to look at, is it? Bits of color...funny edges...you can’t really tell what it is supposed to do or how it is supposed to function. It’s just one piece in a box of many other pieces….disconnected and separate.
But what happens when you put it in the right place?
[put two or three pieces together]
The picture becomes clearer. The piece makes more sense. The piece no longer becomes one bit with funny edges...but part of a whole. It needs to be connected to other pieces to give a clearer picture of how it fits in the larger picture...what it is supposed to be doing...what it’s purpose is.
I think we’re a bit like that, too. Each of us is unique (funny edges, bits of color) - and we have gifts and talents -- but it’s only in connection with other people that those gifts and talents make sense. It’s only when we’re working together with others that our gifts and talents can make a difference. Paul in this passage we heard from Romans talks about it as parts of the body functioning together to create the body of Christ -- which isn’t just a metaphor. It’s an image of people working together to show a living, breathing, Christ to the world. There’s a part in God’s kingdom we play that no one else can play, and it’s only when we are in community when we get to play that part to its fullest potential and that our lives have God-filled meaning and purpose.
What would happen if this piece decided it wanted to be another part of the picture?
[get responses...there’d be something missing, things wouldn’t work correctly, picture isn’t complete, etc]
God needs each of us as we are -- each of us is important to the building of God’s kingdom. We don’t have to worry about being something we’re not, we don’t have to worry about doing someone else’s job, we don’t have to try and fill someone else’s role -- which is such good news...if you’re good at hospitality, live fully into that...if you are good at teaching, you don’t have to play host...if you are someone who is naturally generous, you can give to your hearts’ content -- all we have to do is live out our part, trusting that others are doing the same, and that God is the one who is bringing all of it together into something beautiful so that our world is more filled with love, more filled with hope, more filled with peace. And we do this together -- as a community, working with one another, to make God’s kingdom more real here on the island.
So I want us to think about these pieces and the parts that we play in making God’s kingdom here on earth.
What part do you see yourself playing? It can be something specific - like being kind to the people you meet on the ferry, or bringing different people together around the table for a meal, or caring for people when they’ve had a tough day. It can be more general - like being a cheerful giver, or volunteering. It can be something related to what you do for work, or your own personal sense of calling.
Whatever it is, take a moment, and jot it down on the back of the puzzle piece that [someone] is handing you. Put your name on it too.
What we’re going to do is going to get a little bit better picture of the ways that we as a community are building this kingdom, piece by piece, playing the parts that we are gifted and called to play. So when you have your piece ready, come on up to the front, and put your piece on the board here, and if you’d like to share a bit about what you wrote down, that’s great -- if not, don’t feel like you have to.
The image that God is making is God’s kingdom - and each of us is part of the puzzle. Every time we use our gifts, every time we love from the center of who we are, every time we trust that everyone has a part to play no matter who they are or where they come from -- every time we recognize our interdependence upon one another -- we are growing deeper into the community that God has for us - and deeper into a kingdom life together.
As we read the scriptures and hear stories of the early church, this was what really excited the people who watched those first Christians -- the way that they loved one another and worked together, shared food and homes together -- and shared this common mission to their surrounding communities. In this, priority was given to the community over the individual because it is only in community that the gifts of the individual make sense. It’s only by seeing the greater picture that any one piece can carry out its function.
Each of us is a piece of God’s puzzle. Will you connect with others to use your gifts and to help complete the picture that God is making? Will you allow God to place you in situations to make God’s kingdom more real? I pray that as we go forth this morning, that it may be so for us - that we may use our gifts to be Christ’s body in this world. Amen.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Word of Life. Thanks be to God.
This week I went on to Instagram - an app that allows you to share pictures with your followers - and decided to search the images that are tagged with #blessed. There were 120 million images. Those of you with phones and Instagram - take a moment to do a search - and I’m curious as to what you’ll find.
There are tons of images - mostly selfies - with comments like “so many reasons to smile” #blessed. “Nothing is worth it if you aren’t happy <3” #blessed. “I couldn’t have asked for a better day!” #blessed “You can have it all.” #blessed.
There’s a tendency in our culture to equate being blessed with material expressions...the more stuff you have, the more blessed you are. And we all know that that isn’t right. Yet we also tend to equate being blessed or feeling blessed as an emotional state akin to gratitude - we’re told to “count our blessings” when we’re down as a reminder to be thankful, we feel blessed when we consider the gift of family and friendship and community, or when we think about living in such a beautiful place.
People in Jesus’ day would have had similar ideas of what it means to be blessed - there was a prevalent understanding that those who had wealth and power were those who had been blessed by God, and those who were on the bottom of the societal food chain - the lepers, the poor, the outsiders - were not the recipients of God’s favor.
So what Jesus is doing in this passage here is taking those notions of who is and isn’t blessed by God -- and complicating that idea for the crowds - much like he does in the next few chapters (where he says, “You have heard it said this….but I say to you...something a great deal more complicated and nuanced”)
What Jesus focuses on here in this passage called the Beatitudes isn’t blessing as it pertains to stuff or as it relates to a state of gratitude or emotional well-being. It’s a statement of God’s nearness or presence - that God is near to the meek, to the poor, to those who mourn, that God is near to the merciful and the hungry, that God is near to the peacemakers and the pure in heart and the persecuted. God’s presence is revealed in those who are these things - it’s a statement of reality...not a statement of how you should be or how you need to act to get in to heaven.
I can imagine Jesus looking out on the crowd...people who were mostly from the edges of society...those for whom life was hard and demanding, who were close to the daily struggle of life...and handing out blessings upon those he sees around him. (Maybe a bit like Oprah...instead of saying, “and you get a chariot and you get a chariot and everyone gets chariots,” it’s “and you get a blessing and you get a blessing!”)
Author and pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber has this to say about the Beatitudes:
“What if the beatitudes aren’t about a list of conditions we should try and meet to be blessed. What if these are not virtues we should aspire to but what if Jesus saying blessed are the meek is not instructive –what if it’s performative? …meaning the pronouncement of blessing is actually what confers the blessing itself. Maybe the sermon on the mount is all about Jesus’ seemingly lavish blessing of the world around him especially that which society doesn’t seem to have much time for, people in pain, people who work for peace instead of profit, people who exercise mercy instead of vengeance. So maybe Jesus is actually just blessing people, especially the people who never seem to receive blessings otherwise. I mean, come on, doesn’t that just sound like something Jesus would do? Extravagantly throwing around blessings as though they grew on trees?”
Because those for whom life is hard now - the nearness of God’s kingdom brings hope for a different reality, a different way of being, and a different way of relating to one another...and that’s good news...the call for us is to recognize what God is doing among those who our culture has written off.
Nadia Bolz-Weber continues - and reimagines what the Beatitudes might look like if Jesus were here today - who might God be especially near to in our day and age...who might be the blessed ones? And here’s what she has to offer:
Let’s take this one step further. What about here...among us...among those on our island? Who are those that God is especially present with? Who are those who are blessed as we think about our friends and neighbors here on Chebeague? The ones that Jesus would point out and notice if he were walking around today?
Get into groups of 4, take some paper and pens, and make a list...take a few minutes...and we’re going to write our own interpretation of the Beatitudes for our island.
Let’s say these Beatitudes together.
Blessed are those who work for a kinder way
Blessed are those who can’t ask for help
Blessed are those who volunteer tirelessly
Blessed are those who keep our town moving
Blessed are those who keep moving in the face of mourning
Blessed are those who feel lonely
Blessed are those who have a serious, chronic, or invisible illness
Blessed are the soup servers
Blessed are the commuters, young and old
Blessed are our children
Blessed are those who serve our town
Blessed is the church family
Blessed are those who keep quiet
Blessed are the troublemakers
Blessed are those who keep it all together
Blessed are those who are hungry
Blessed are those who struggle with addiction
For God is near to them all.
Now here’s the Spoiler alert - Jesus is walking around today -- Jesus walks around in us as the church...Body of Christ isn’t just a metaphor we use, and we’ll talk a bit more about that next week. Jesus didn’t just speak these blessings, he embodied them - feeding those who were hungry, lifting up the lowly, restoring humanity and dignity to women and those who sold out to the empire and those who were segregated from society because of disease. We’re invited to embody that same way of living in the world. We are a blessed people because we understand God’s nearness to us, that love and grace are ours without reservation, without having to do anything to earn it, that we are already participants in the kingdom Jesus came to proclaim. The invitation for us is to let others know that they are blessed too. That God is near to them, too. That God is near to those we’ve mentioned - - .
So this day, remember that you are blessed. Maybe even #blessed. You are...and so are you...and you. And so are those who are out in our community right now. Go forth this week to live a blessed life - one aware of God’s nearness and presence with you - and to share the news of God’s nearness and presence with others. Go forth to be a blessing...because the kingdom of God is at hand. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son and 6 month old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.