In the silence of the night
The spirit whispered
Ruth Jewell, © March 13, 2019
Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
In the silence of the night
The spirit whispered
Ruth Jewell, © March 13, 2019
Tomorrow you’ll be brave, you say? Fool! Dive today
From the cliff of what you know into what you can’t know.
You fear the rocks? Better men than you have died on them;
Dying on Love’s rocks is nobler than a life of death.
– Jalal-ud-Din Rumi
(Translated by Andrew Harvey from A Year of Rumi,
Daily OM, May 7, 2016 )
It is always “tomorrow” for me, I always want to put off taking that risk until tomorrow. Maybe that is why this saying of Rumi’s means so much to me that I want to share it with you. This week I am offering Rumi’s saying for meditation with Lectio Divina.
Ruth Jewell, ©May 10, 2016
Matthew 22:1-14 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The above text is about how we are invited into God’s grace. However, what we do with that grace is entirely up to us. We can ignore it, accept it but only on our terms, or completely live into the gift of grace. What we do will be our choice and that choice will determine how we live our lives. The following is the text of the sermon I preached on August 23, 2015, at my home church, Queen Anne Christian Church, Seattle, WA.
On a warm June afternoon in 2000 I was sitting at the entrance to the primary hotel in Vallejo CA. I was waiting for a bus to come and deliver John to me who was taking the bus from the Oakland airport. I could hardly contain myself, you see in just a few short weeks I would be retiring from my consulting job and moving back to Edmonds. John was coming to help me pack-up the apartment and drive with me back to WA. We would be married in September. This was the beginning of 6 months of celebration that has extended into nearly 15 years. I had accepted an invitation, I said yes. I knew that in that acceptance I would now be living a new life and one that would require me to make the choice to change from a life of taking care of only me to taking care of someone else. Now that’s a huge change for someone who was 53 and never married. But it was a choice that I have been grateful for ever since. As a result I was blessed with a new life that has had its challenges and its joys. That’s what happens when you chose to transform your life. Life can be a bed of roses, but what you must remember is roses have thorns and you can be sure you will sometimes get stuck with one, or more, of those thorns.
The scripture from Matthew is not only about choosing between accepting and refusing an invitation to a wedding banquet given by a King, it is about choosing between accepting or refusing to live a transformed life of free grace in the way we were meant to live. And, to deciding to live a transformed life means accepting all of that life of grace. It means we are to commit to live that life no matter what gets thrown at us or how many thorns we run into. Living a transformed life of grace doesn’t mean there won’t be thorns, or potholes, or great sorrows on your path. It means we have the strength to walk through them.
Matthew’s version of this story, which is also found in the Gospel of Luke, is actually two parables about invitations. It’s a story about a king, who wants to invite people to celebrate the wedding of his son with a banquet. Matthew adds two additional details to the story; the first is when some of the king’s friends’ killed his slaves and he attacks and wipes out the kingdoms of those who committed those atrocities. It is accepted by most interpreters that this part of the parable, Verses 6 and 7, are an interpretation of Matthew’s who is reading back into this parable the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Matthew adds it because within his community he has people who are struggling with the loss of their ancestral home. It is not believed to be part of the original parable from the time of Jesus, the oldest version of which is found in the Sayings of Q. Actually these verses are much more characteristic of an interpretation of God from the Hebrew Text rather than the life and teachings of Jesus., Matthew’s second addition are the last 4 verses, verses 11-14, of the story where Jesus tells one more story of the banquet and this addition is very important in the way Matthew wants us to understand and respond to the divine invitation to a new life. Together these two parables are stories about the life choices we make and what we do with those choices.
So here we have a story of a King, who traditionally is identified with God, and throws a wedding party for his son, Jesus. Those are the traditional interpretations of Matthew’s King and Son. But I want to you think about a what if. What if we look at this story from a different perspective? What if we turn it upside down? What if instead of the King being God the King is Jesus who’s throwing a wedding banquet for the Children of God who he invites to live a new life? How will that perspective change the way we hear and see these parables?
Now even though the Matthew’s setting of the parable is Jesus defending himself before the religious authorities Matthew wasn’t referring to “the Jewish authorities” as the ones who refused to attend, or that the ones who came were only “Gentiles.” Rather, most interpreters now believe Matthew was addressing his own conflicted community who he wanted to live a transformed life. The Jewish Jesus followers of Matthew’s community were struggling with the loss of the temple and his Gentile Jesus followers were struggling with whether they should or should not become Jewish. All this would have made for many conflicts between the different factions and Matthew is trying to bridge the gap between them. I too am not suggesting that there are specific groups being discussed in these parables. So depending on which version you like the best, think of the players in the 1st century as Matthew’s neighbors or in our very own community as our neighbors right now in the 21st century.
So here is how the story might sound if we told it as if Jesus was throwing this shindig? The guests Jesus first invites to his amazing banquet are those he expects will accept the invitation because they already understand, or he thinks they do, what it means to live the transformed life He is offering them. Jesus wants them to come and celebrate with Him, to become part of the new life that only happens when we accept the Divine invitation. An invitation of free grace to live the life we are meant to live in the presence of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit. So he sends his disciples out to bring his guests to the party; the food is ready, wine is poured, the orchestra is tuning up for an all night event. But his disciples come back and tell him all have refused, all are too busy with the details of life, the minutia of daily living. So what does he do, after all he has a hall prepared, food on the table, wine chilling, and musicians waiting? Well, Jesus did just what he told his disciples to do when he sent them out to preach and the invitations they gave were refused. He “dusted the dirt from His sandals” and turns his back on those who refused him and sends his disciples out again into the streets and to the city gates to bring in whomever they find to the party, the good and the bad, the worthy and the unworthy. With the diligence of his disciples the hall is soon filled to overflowing.
Who were the people from the streets? Well if we think of who are the people of the streets in the 21st century you might first of all think of the homeless tent encampments, or the people living under a bridge, or the man or woman standing on the corner with a sign that says “Homeless vet, needs food and job.” And think of the shop keepers in the poorest parts of any town. It was people like these who were the ones who were welcomed into Jesus’ party. They were the nobodies of the town and here they were going to a big party given by the most important person in town. Can you imagine how they felt? Can’t you just hear them as they walk to the mansion, “Jesus invited me, me, to his party,” “You too, I can’t believe it,” “I was invited too, and get this, the man said come as I am, how cool is that.” Unlike Jesus’ first guests these guests weren’t concerned about who would be attending. It didn’t matter to them that the person next to them was a drug addict, a thief, a prostitute, a shop keeper, or a prosperous business person. They didn’t care if Jesus was failing or succeeding in life. They were excited about being invited. They understood the importance of being invited to this banquet, this table. They wanted to have new lives. Unlike those first invited they knew their old lives weren’t working for them and they were willing to change and live new lives, transformed lives of grace that had meaning.
As the guests enter the hall they see the banquet tables set up with every food imaginable, roast lamb, poached fish, pastries, bowls of fruit, cool drinks, and wine, good wine, not the cheap stuff. In the corner an orchestra was playing, with real instruments not a wash tub and jug band. Everyone was celebrating, drinking, eating, and dancing to the wonderful music. That is, everyone except this one guy who had piled his plate up with everything it would hold and was eating it in the corner telling anyone who would listen, “well it’s about time this Jesus dude recognized just who makes this town what it is.” “I deserved this invitation, but don’t expect me to go overboard for him; this is what we should have had all along. In fact I think I will just take everything I can. And I’m going to let this Jesus person know that I’m not going to do anything unless I really want to just because he invited me to this party.”
When Jesus comes in to join his guests he sees this guy in the corner and he says “Ah, excuse me, why aren’t you celebrating. This is a joyous occasion, you come expecting to be fed but you won’t celebrate your new life. You come in and can’t see the joy of living a life of peace, and justice. You blame me for your suffering but you did nothing to help those who suffered as well. I was there to help but you wouldn’t come out, is that my fault? You accepted my invitation to grace but only on your terms? It doesn’t sound to me like you understand what it means to come to one of my banquets; I don’t think you belong here, yet. Show this guy out until he understands what it means to come celebrate a transformed life.”
Jesus knew people had options in their lives. The trouble was those options weren’t working for the majority of the people. True the religious authorities and the Roman authorities were doing ok, but if you look at the number of people who were killed in order for someone else to advance socially or politically their options weren’t working for them either. So along comes Jesus with an alternative way of living a life that didn’t involve beating up, or tearing down someone else. But Jesus wasn’t offering a new idea. For centuries the Prophets of Israel were telling the people the same thing. Moses says in Deuteronomy (30:19b) “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” Every Prophet since Moses, including Jesus, has said the very same thing and the people listened and accepted life, for little while, then the ‘easier’ way of greed and self-centeredness takes precedence and the original message of grace goes by the way side.
But what does it mean to choose life? Well “When you say ‘Yes’ to life you say ‘Amen’ to all of life as a package deal. Thereafter the so-called problems you have with personal injustice do not arise. You renounce your concept of victimhood and the old impulse to complain about being unfairly treated.” A “commitment to life . . . refuses to make any distinction between your outer life and your inner life, or between secular and sacred spheres of life, or between loving God, loving all of life, or loving one’s neighbor. Nor does it distinguish between your current life concerns or your eternal concerns. On the contrary, it simply calls for an unhesitating and unreserved ethical response to the call of life, the call of Jesus, God, and Holy Spirit – right where you are at this moment in time, at this point in your life,” to live a life where you defend justice for all and refuse to accept injustice for anyone as an expedient to living. That is what Jesus taught, that’s grace. It’s not new information, its old stuff we haven’t listened to, at least not for long time.
That is what happened to our disgruntled guest. He may have accepted the Divine invitation of free grace to attend the banquet, but his acceptance had no depth to it, it never went beyond saying I’m here, thanks for the food, see you later. He was glad to accept the invitation to grace but on his terms only. He never truly transformed his whole life. He never saw that living in the presence of Jesus meant he had to let the inner life make its way to the outer side of who he was. It meant he had to share the love, peace and abundance of grace with everyone he met, not hoard it. He came to the banquet not because he wanted to live a life transformed but because he wanted what he could get and then live as he always had. That’s not change, it is not celebration and it’s not joy, and it is not committing to living a transformed life. It’s keeping the old life and saying it was good enough in the past it will be good enough now.
No matter how you tell today’s story it’s about Divine invitations, the acceptance of grace, and how you live once you’ve accepted God’s grace. When John asked me to marry him, I had a number of options. Like the first invited guests I could have refused and that would have been that. I don’t know where I would have been 15 years later but I am quite certain it wouldn’t have been here. But I did say yes and again to that yes I had options as to how I was going to live within this new relationship. One, I could continue to behave as I have always behaved. Taking care of me, making sure I had what I wanted and what I needed. Yes John would be there but our relationship would not have been very deep because I wouldn’t have let him into the deeper part of me, the part of me that would have built the relationship where both of us would have benefited. These two options were not the ones I chose. Instead I let John into my heart and said we are partners and what I do and what you do will affect and change who we both are. We looked at the covenant of our marriage and said we do this together as one, not as two people living their own lives in one house. When I accepted John’s invitation to marry, when I accepted that covenant, I had no clue as to what that might look like, but I knew I was going to have to change if I was going to make my life with John. And yes it hasn’t always been sunshine and flowers. Sometimes we have had our thorny moments. But it was because we chose to live a life together as one that we had the strength to overcome all thorns and rocks in our path. While my wedding story wasn’t about God’s grace specifically, by accepting my invitation I discovered grace in a way I did not expect, and that is how it sometimes work.
Jesus invites us to a banquet of grace, he welcomes every single one of us to His table, and He doesn’t ask questions about our past or how many times we haven’t understood, He wants us to come and join Him. To laugh and sing and eat together, to tell jokes, and play games. To dance to the music that life brings us, and cry together when life brings us sorrows. Jesus asks us to change who we are at our deepest level and live grace filled lives that don’t see differences between us, whether they are gender, racial, religious beliefs, cultural, social, or political.
We can change the world we live in, we can change the world by being the people we are meant to be, a people of grace, by being a people who refuse to accept evil, greed, and self-centeredness as the status quo. We can change the world by refusing to accept that war is the only solution, or that homelessness and hunger is just part of life. We can change the world by seeing each other as the Children of God, living the life God meant us to live.
The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers. . . . Jesus goes to town, stands on the street corner, and invites everyone within the sound of his voice: Come, rich and poor alike, come the worthy and the unworthy, come with me, oh come, and celebrate the wedding of our spirits with me! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, carefully selected wines. Leave your lives of self-centeredness, loneliness, fear, poverty, greed, and come, celebrate with me! Come celebrate a life with meaning, a life of grace. Come change your lives, remember to live transformed, not only your inner selves, but also your outer selves. Put on your cloak of joy and celebration and come, walk up the street to a life with meaning.”
Moses said: “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
Ruth Jewell, ©August 28, 2015
 Hare, Douglas R.A.: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Matthew, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, pg 251-252
 Miller, Robert J; Editor, The Complete Gospels, Annotated Scholars Version, Polebridge Press, Sonoma, California, 1992, pg 98
 Hare, Douglas R.A.: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Matthew, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, pg 251-252
 Allen, Ronald J. & Clark M. Williamson; Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2004, pg.76-78
 Hare, Douglas R.A.: Interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Matthew, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1993, pg 251-253
 Cupitt, Don: Life, Life, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, CA, 2003, pg 6-7.
 Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 131:1-2 God, I’m not trying to rule the roost,
I don’t want to be king of the mountain.
I haven’t meddled where I have no business
or fantasized grandiose plans.
2 I’ve kept my feet on the ground,
I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.
Like a baby content in its mother’s arms,
my soul is a baby content. (MSG)
One of the benefits of a sabbatical is having the time to stop and let the world go by. In fact I have begun to practice an extension of stopping that I call “what will be, will be.” On my trip I would wake in the morning and intentionally decided to let the day unfold as God intended for it to happen, making few plans, being open to opportunities to meet people or visit a place I hadn’t been before, taking the time to really listen to the person I just met, stopping and really seeing the world around me and the hardest of all, trying not to control my days events. What I discovered was I was more relaxed and rested at the end of the day than this normally anxious introvert is.
This is more than mindfulness or being in the moment. It is letting the Divine control the day, opening my eyes to the Good in each person I meet and greeting them with the Good within me. This is an intense letting go of my expectations of how things ‘should’ be and seeing how they are/can be beautiful and insightful.
Of course I couldn’t do this every day. Sometimes we had already made plans in advance so those intentional days weren’t every day, even on a vacation. But I did make them happen often, and probably more often than I will be able to do now that I am home. However, I do wish to maintain this spiritual practice and hope my ability to let go and let God control my days increase. Here are a few suggestions to help you, and me, get started. As I get better at this, or you, we might add suggestions or take some away, we will just have to wait and see how God unfolds this practice.
We all can’t take 6 weeks or even a day of sabbatical, but we all can let the Divine into our daily lives. We can offer one of our ‘normal’ busy days to God, and changing how we see our tasks and the people we interact with helps us change how we see the world. It costs nothing to offer praise or condolences, or to sit and listen to someone’s story but the gift is priceless.
Blessings on your Journey
Ruth Jewell, ©June 2, 2015
This week’s prayer practice is one a friend of mine taught me in the last couple of weeks. It is one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s practices called “Letgo.” After I began the practice I realized ‘Letgo’ has many similarities with the Examen and found that I was experiencing some of the same benefits. As I have begun to settle into this practice I have discovered my days to be calmer and more centered even when the world gets busy. I am able to separate what is important from what it is not. The most amazing thing is of the many of events and things I thought were important they just are not priorities any longer. Instead I am able to focus on what makes my life more enjoyable, beautiful and to just BE. So I offer this practice as my gift to your well Being.
I usually pick a time of day when things are quiet, either early in the morning or just before I go to bed. I like both times. The morning time energizes me and the evening time centers me and quiets my mind so that I sleep much better. But select a time that works best for you. I do set aside 20 to 25 minutes for each session.
May the peace of God be with you all.
Ruth Jewell, ©March 10, 2015
Genesis 1:1-2, 2:7 1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
2:7 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
Amos 8:11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.
Have you ever been unable to breath? I mean you just couldn’t get air into your lungs. I have several friends who suffer from Asthma and they tell me it is the most frightening thing to happen to them. Without air we can’t live. It is the first requirement of life, the first thing we do upon birth is to take that first breath and the last thing we do at our passing is to let the last breath go.
Genesis tells us that air is the first gift God gave to the earth. I mean it says so right there in the second verse, “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” and then in chapter 2 God brings man to life by breathing into his nostrils, breath is life. Without air we don’t live. Breath, ruach, spirit, is the palpable presence of God in our lives.
I guess that is what makes Amos’ words so scary to me. If the God I trust to be there when I am frightened tells me that She will no longer come to me, that she is separating himself from me that means no air, no breath, no spirit to enliven my life. I mean you can’t have words without breath and no words means no breath of God, no life.
With every inhalation we partake of God’s gift of life and with every exhalation we give back life. We have been doing it since our first breath at birth and will continue until we release our last breath at our dying. Breathing is a sacred act of life giving; it is the ultimate communion with God and each other. Turn to the person next to you and watch them breathe, the air they release is the air you take in and the air you release is the air they take in. Breathing is the most intimate act of our lives. Breathing connects us to all life, past, present, and future life.
Every breath we take has been blowing across this earth since God blew the wind across the waters. With ever inhalation we breathe there is a molecule of air breathed, and passed on to us, by Jesus on the cross, Moses as he spoke to the burning bush, Sarah as she delivered Isaac, Dinosaurs, Amos, even Hitler. We breathe air given to us as a life gift and how we use it depends on us.
This week I ask that you think about breathing and contemplate who is sharing your breath. Breathe deeply, take each breath into your lungs and feel the life fill you as your lungs inflate. Treat each breath as the gift from God that it is, and grace each exhalation with a gift of your own gratitude. Offer a prayer for those who struggle to breathe and remember how much their life, and yours, depends on the breath of God. Treat the air as sacred and refrain from fouling it with contaminants. With every breath you take this week let it be a prayer of thanks to God for the breath of life given at the beginning of time.
Ruth Jewell, ©February 10, 2015
“And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:10b
In the last weeks God’s creation has seemed anything but good. Terrorist attacks, ambushing of police, and police shootings of unarmed young men continue to rent the very fabric of our society. Yet God did not create an evil world, in fact God proclaims this world a good world where everyone, and I mean everyone, has what they need to live and be the person they are meant to be. It is our choice’s, not God’s, that have created a world that is unsafe.
Spending time in silent contemplation with a focus on what we could have been, and still could be, seemed the only way for me to center myself and see the world as good. So today I offer as our prayer of the week another Visio Divina using the above painting of the Garden of Eden by Jan Brueghel.
1. Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, the placement of the plants, animals and, people. Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
Please do not let your belief, or non-belief, in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent fall from grace prevent you from seeing the good things in creation. Our world is in need of prayer right now. All of our people, all of creation is crying and in pain. Let your prayers go out into the world and let them lead you to be the person God has always wanted you to be.
Ruth Jewell, ©January 13, 2015
Last Friday I had foot surgery to correct arthritis damage to two toes. I have had day surgeries before and in general they go well, just as this one did. But as I waited to be taken in to surgery I began to think of the consequences of my doing this. The benefits are easy to name, the primary ones are, being able to wear my shoes comfortably again and being able to walk without pain in my feet. But there are also consequences and benefits I hadn’t considered.
For example, I wasn’t going to make an InterPlay group on Saturday that I really wanted to attend, and I wouldn’t be able to make it to church on Sunday. In fact not until next Thursday will I be able to leave the house.
In addition to being stuck in the house my foot hurts, a lot, and because I can’t take the more popular pain killers, I have a pain medicine that, while it works well, has some drawbacks like extreme dizziness and fatigue. However, I have begun to see some real benefits, other than walking, that I hadn’t taken into consideration.
First of all I have to slow down, something I don’t often do, and think if what I want to do is really important and necessary. I have been surprised at how much I do during the day that really is busy work. Simply letting go of those fussy details has been a great relief and I think I am going to continue with that. The things I am able to do right now have real importance, mean something to me, and are getting done better and with less effort.
I also have to say “no” to extra tasks when I am asked for “help.” Setting of boundaries has always been complicated for me. I never want to “offend” anyone and so often take on tasks that I know I don’t have the time to do nor the energy and strength to do them. Saying no is one of the hardest things I am trying to learn. I overextend myself all the time all because I can’t set boundaries and tell someone “no, not today.”
There are benefits of saying no such as more the time for meditation, and pausing to take the time for myself. I don’t mean a short meditation I mean sitting down, which is all I can do anyway right now, for a couple of hours and meditating over a passage of scripture, or something I’ve just read. Instead of worrying about what I can’t do I have been rediscovering the joy of what I can do in the moment, the return of silence and quiet peace. Holding Suzie, my Chihuahua, in my lap I have been reconnecting with the Divine in art, literature and music and letting all of it wash over me and renew me.
I have also relearned the joy of receiving the generosity from others. From hospital staff, to friends, to family, especially my beloved husband John, I have been graced with an amazing amount of love and care. These lovely people have helped me slow down and have given me the space to be right here, right now without feeling guilty.
I am grateful that I am not seriously handicapped or so ill I am unable to learn from this slow time. I am learning to accept with joy the gifts others give me and not feel embarrassed or feel I don’t deserve such grace. I know at some point I will grow impatient with being unable to do exactly what I want, but right now I am grateful for this time of rest and recovery.
Now I know I am not the only one out there who has difficulty in accepting gifts. Therefore, I offer this spiritual practice of saying “thank you” for the gifts you receive this week. Simply say thank you, don’t elaborate, just accept. Allow someone to do something for you, or do something for someone else and receive their gratitude with grace. Recognize the joy of being in the moment and offer a thank you. Offer your gratitude to the Holy for this time, this place, the people, creation that is the now. Let the gifts of others to you renew your spirit and let the grace shine out from your heart to those around you.
May your week be filled with joy of gifts unforeseen, and may they bring you peace.
Ruth Jewell, ©October, 28, 2014
Matthew 14:25-33 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Nearly 40 years ago I went on a camping trip that included riding a horse 20 miles every day. The horse I rode was a rather smallish black mare with a lot of quarter horse in her background. She was gentle and quiet and when I learned she didn’t have a name I named her Sweet Pea.
One day we came to place where the trail all but disappeared and developed a tilt of maybe 30 to 40° as it extended across the lip of the canyon. The distance to the bottom of canyon was maybe 100 to 150 ft down. I needed to trust that my horse would safely carry me across the steep incline without falling to the bottom of the canyon. I took a deep breath and started across and promptly halted Sweet Pea and froze about ¼ of the way on the path. We were in very precarious position, on a steep incline and just inches from the edge of the canyon wall and a drop to the bottom would most likely have killed both of us. I held Sweet Pea in place until she pulled the reins loose in my hand, turned her head as if to say trust me we can do this and she walked the rest of the way across. As I look back over the years I have begun to learn this moment with Sweet Pea was a turning point for me. I now realize that it was here on a narrow trail in Mexico that I turned onto the path leading to this place in my life. For that first step to happen I had to let go of my fear and anxiety and trust someone else to take control of my life, it just happened to be that a small black horse was the one I put my trust in.
Peter too takes a step of trust when he steps out of the boat and starts to walk toward Jesus but something happened to him and he started to sink. Yes Jesus saved him and before they get into the boat tells him he needs faith. Ah, but what is faith and how does Peter or any of us get more of it? I can’t answer the “how” question because for each of us the way to faith will be different. But I can explore with you what it means to have faith.
The modern definition of faith is not the definition that was understood in the days of Jesus and Peter. Today we equate faith with religious belief; if you believe in specific religious doctrines you are said to have faith in it. But, Marcus Borg in Speaking Christian, says in the 1st century faith was expressed by the Latin words fidelitas, faithfulness, and fiducia, trust.
To have faithfulness meant you were committed to, loyal to, held allegiance to, and were attentive to a relationship, Such as our relationship with God. Faith as faithfulness does not just mean you are not going to follow other gods, but that you are committed and loyal to your relationship with God, and God known as Jesus, and that you attend to that relationship to keep it strong and healthy.
Faith as trust is more than a commitment; it is also a deep trust in God and Jesus. That trust is so deep that you are willing to get out of your nice safe boat and walk on water, or, ride your horse across a dangerous trail. The opposite of faith is not infidelity, but “mistrust”—that is anxiety, and that is what happened to Peter. One moment Peter was striding above the waves, just as Jesus was, and then his fears build into anxiety and he began to mistrust Jesus, so he started sinking. Jesus is not telling Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” No, what Jesus was really saying was “Peter, why didn’t you trust me to keep you on the surface of the water, why did you mistrust me?”
Isn’t that what we all do? Don’t we all mistrust God and Jesus to fulfill our needs? And, don’t our plans all too often sink, just as Peter did? I know it is true for me. My first steps out of the safety of my boat into the abyss of trust were with Sweet Pea and I froze. I wasn’t sure I could trust her to carry me across that narrow path to safety. But something in her eyes told me all would be well and you know what, 40 years later I’m still here. Since that horseback camping trip in Mexico I have had many moments when I let my mistrust of Jesus keep me from achieving goals I know I could have achieved if I had had faith, if I had trusted, in the one leading me and I know that there will be more of them in my future.
You see I am human and to mistrust God is part of a being human because I have a strong sense of my own independence which wants to rule the day. And having independence isn’t bad, nor is saying “No” to God and Jesus. The choice of following or not following must always be mine. It is when my independent voice says “Yes” that my trust in God and Jesus is the strongest and deepest for then I know with certainty that I am not alone. I know then that nothing will shake by commitment to, my faithfulness in, the One All Surrounding Presence.
Have any of you ever read John Ortberg’s book If You Want To Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat? Well Ortberg is right, you do have to step out of the boat, or onto the narrow path, and trust that everything will be all right. I often wonder if we, if I, can sustain my trust in God long enough to get out of the boat on that raging sea called life and walk across the water? More often than not we will set ourselves up for failure by allowing our hearts to mistrust Jesus’ promise that He “is with us always.”
Life can be hard task master and the main reason we don’t succeed is often how we see failure and loss of trust. Losing our trust, our faith does not have to shape who we, you and me, are; it is the way we respond to that loss that shapes us. Jesus wasn’t ridiculing Peter when he asked why he failed. Rather he was asking a question of Peter, ‘why did you lose your trust.’ Peter may not have understood the question at the time but following the resurrection he did and he stepped out of his nice safe boat big time. For Peter, learning to walk on water and being rescued by Jesus was his turning point, his moment that began his trip to his own cross.
We too don’t understand the questions Jesus asks us and I am no different. Right now I am struggling with so many questions that I don’t know which ones I’m asking and which ones God is asking. All I know is the answers are not forthcoming.
One of the first lessons in trust happens to be learning to wait on God to guide us in the right direction. We have to wait for the power to be given to us to walk on water. We have to wait for Jesus to calm the seas for us. Only then will we make it across that treacherous path or across the water’s surface. The problem is all of us are impatient; we want results now, not tomorrow, but yesterday. We want to move forward in our lives and we don’t care how we do it. One of my favorite phrases is “Give me patience Lord, but hurry” and for many years that fit me to a “T.” Slowing down and opening my heart and mind, trusting that Jesus will come is extremely hard. It is putting myself, in utter vulnerability, into Jesus’ hands. It is letting go of what I want and trusting and having faith that Jesus will bring me what I need.
The idea that any of us are self made individuals is a myth. We all need others in order to survive and thrive in our world. We have always needed the other, not just in today’s world where we are globally connected, but in all of time we have been in need of the other in our lives. That other might be our brothers and sisters, it might be the food we hunt or grow but what and who ever it is we cannot survive alone. We have always needed to choose who to trust, who we would have faith in and be faithful to. We look for what will guide us in ways that will allow us to flourish and let our children flourish. We look to pass on our understanding of the world in a way that teaches our children to trust in something other than themselves or those who only think like them. We look to trust someone who will honor our independent yes as much as our independent no. We want to have faith in someone who will show us how to walk on water and skip across dangerous paths.
Peter lost his trust and began to sink but Jesus was there to lift him up and into the safety of the boat. I lost my trust for a moment but the Holy Spirit said trust in the guide I have given you and together Sweet Pea and I made it safely across. It has always amazed me as to the number of different ways the Holy Spirit makes herself known to me. Sometimes I simply have to go with the flow of energy and trust that what will be is what is supposed to happen. It is all about trust. That is what faith is all about.
Ruth Jewell, ©August 10, 2014
Sermon given at Queen Anne Christian Church
In the last couple of weeks I have been reading a book by Jay Michaelson, Everything is God, The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism, who described a prayer practice I have been using for many years but didn’t know it was a prayer practice, Non-Distracted, Non-Meditation. This prayer practice, as Michaelson describes it, has no focus, no sense of meditation, where you simply become very aware that you are aware. This is not exactly mindfulness rather this is simply opening up and letting the world around impact your senses in sound, sight, smell, taste and touch. It is becoming aware of who you are. Sounds a bit contradictory doesn’t it?
I have been practicing this manner of prayer for many years not knowing I was opening up to the Divine and letting Her in to the deep places of my heart. Sometimes I am just plain clueless about what I am really doing and who I am! I am by nature an introvert, a strong introvert, who is often very unwilling to let anyone into my space and awareness. This practice, however, opens doors, well maybe a window, where I become aware of the beauty of what surrounds me. The beauty of my grandchildren playing, my husband fussing in the other room, the softness of Suzies fur or the way sunlight plays on the water in Puget Sound. Most times I push those things away but when I sit and relax and open up for just a moment I am amazed by how they sweep over me in gentle waves. I am astounded by what I discover that I have been hiding from my own awareness. It has allowed me to rest in this place and simply be. It is being aware that I am part of the universe, becoming aware that my DNA sings the same song the stars do. It is awakening all of my senses to what G-d has created and knowing I belong here, in this place.
So how does the practice work? Well Michaelson says it best, “ … sit with eyes open, just relax into awareness, with nothing to do and nowhere to go … just, for a moment drop what is in your mind and become aware of awareness itself; inhabiting it, and [letting it] speak” It’s like sitting in your backyard with nice cold drink in your hand, not thinking, nowhere to go, nothing to do, just being.
You can practice this at anytime, anywhere, whenever you want, just stop, take a deep breath, and for a moment become aware of your surroundings, relaxing your body and refreshing your mind. You might say it’s a 5 minute vacation for heart, mind and soul.
May you find peace where ever you are, may the Holy Spirit sit with you as you both enjoy the view.
Ruth Jewell, ©July 29, 2014
 Michaelson, Jay: Everything is God, The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism, Trumpeter, Boston MA, 2009