Sunday, August 13, 2017

To Boldly Go...

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
August 13, 2017

Year A, Proper 14: The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

To Boldly Go…
            Since I talk about it often enough, most of you know that, before I was a priest, I was a teacher – and my last teaching job before hanging up my chalk and going to seminary was at my alma mater, St. Peter’s Prep.
            I think about those days a lot. Like any kind of work, it had its ups and downs, but for the most part it was a wonderful and meaningful way to spend my life – and get paid doing it!
            One of the traditions at Prep, both then and now, is the “Senior-Faculty Dinner,” which is exactly what it sounds like: near the end of the school year the members of the senior class and the faculty have dinner together and celebrate four years of teaching and learning.
            The seniors put on skits, poking (usually gentle and good-natured) fun at some of us teachers.
            And, each year one teacher is invited to address the seniors.
            Well, one year they asked me to give this speech.
            To be honest, I felt a lot of pressure and nervousness. It was kind of intimidating to speak in front of most of the senior class, plus many of my colleagues.
            On top of that, since I had the reputation of being funny (or, at least, I thought I had the reputation of being funny!), I felt some pressure to get some laughs.
            But, I didn’t want it to be all about amusing the audience. I really wanted to use this opportunity to say something meaningful. So, I thought back to when I was a high school senior and wondered what I would say to my eighteen year-old self if I had the chance.
            As I thought back to those days, I remembered and realized how cautious I had been.
            For whatever reason – and I’m honestly not sure what it was, maybe it was all those ego-shattering math classes that I just barely survived – by the end of high school I had lost faith in myself and, I suppose, I had lost faith in God, too.
And so, lacking faith in myself and in God, I decided to play life as safe as I could, choosing to go to college very close to home, not really challenging myself, not doing the big things that I had thought about doing, like studying abroad or joining the Peace Corps.
Unlike my TV hero Captain Kirk, I chose to not boldly go much of anywhere at all.
And, so that day, all those years later, standing up in front of the senior class in the Prep cafeteria, with some embarrassment, I told them my story and I urged them not to make my mistakes, but, instead, to take good chances, to, as our bishop likes to say, risk something big for something good.
I told those young men “to boldly go.”

If you were here last week you may remember that we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration, we remembered that mysterious mountaintop experience when Peter, James, and John witness Jesus transformed and they overhear his conversation with Moses and Elijah and, if that weren’t enough, they even get to hear the voice of God.
I love the Apostle Peter because, like us, he so often doesn’t really get it, so often fails spectacularly – but, you know, on the mountain he did OK.
He realized that he and the others had witnessed something spectacular, so he wanted to build shrines right there on the mountain, wanted to memorialize that most amazing experience.
Not a bad idea, but instead, Jesus and his friends go boldly down the mountain and continued the holy work of teaching and healing, of speaking truth to power and paying a high price for doing so.
And now, in today’s gospel lesson, in yet another mysterious scene, Peter takes center stage once again.
Jesus had just fed the multitudes with miraculous loaves and fishes, and then, we’re told, that he “dismissed the crowds.”
That night, the disciples were caught in a big storm which sounds like it was scary even for experienced  fishermen – and then they were even more alarmed when Jesus appeared to them walking on the water.
As he so often does, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”
Easier said than done, so, no surprise, the disciples remained afraid.
But, lovable Peter, who so often got it wrong, gets it right this time, too, putting his trust in Jesus, and boldly going out of the boat, stepping out onto the sea, able to take a few miraculous steps before fear got the better of him and he called out to Jesus, who was right there, ready and quick to save.

Back at the Senior-Faculty Dinner, I spoke very personally – more personally than I normally did at school – but, of course, I didn’t tell them everything.
I didn’t tell them that now my faith in myself and my faith in God were stronger than when I was eighteen and, in fact, I was getting ready to hang up my chalk and step out into an unknown, a little frightening, but mostly exciting future, to boldly go to seminary and prepare to become an Episcopal priest.
Since making that big move, there have been times when I’ve felt like Peter, felt like I was sinking – times when things weren’t going as well as I had hoped or when I kicked myself because I wasn’t as sensitive or caring as I should have been or even times when I wondered if I had made a big mistake – there have been times when my faith has faltered and I’ve felt like I was sinking, but each time I’ve discovered Jesus to be right there, right here, ready and quick to save me.
The truth is that we are called to risk something big for something good, “to boldly go” out there, out onto the sea, not alone like Peter, but together, holding hands – knowing that we can reach out for help when we get ourselves in trouble, when the current seems to be pulling us down, when it seems we have little or, even no faith.
And, when I look around, I see St. Paul’s and Incarnation – I see the Episcopal Church in Jersey City – “boldly going” in new directions, venturing to new places, taking on new ministries.
Last week I was so pleased and proud when Glenda and Patricia got up and told us about their experience at the weeklong choir camp in Camp May.
I know that they had been nervous about going – it’s a long way for two kids from Jersey City – a long way to go and be with a bunch of strangers. But, they overcame their fear and had the most wonderful experience and sang the offertory anthem with newfound confidence, skill, and joy.
To boldly go.
And, we’re just a couple of weeks away from launching the new Triangle Park Community Center, risking money, energy, time, and, yes, even the possibility of failure, risking some big things for something good, the possibility of serving and working with our neighbors in Greenville – a community where we have longed to be for more than twenty-five years.
To boldly go.
And, as you know, we’re beginning conversations about uniting St. Paul’s and Incarnation. We are neighbors with not always the best history but over the past few years we have become truly friends, brothers and sisters, and, by God’s grace, someday soon, we will become one – become an even stronger and bolder church, more able and willing to serve our community.
To boldly go.
Obviously, we are living in stormy days and even the most experienced among us may be frightened or even terrified.
 With the flippant threats of nuclear war, with Nazis – Nazis in 2017! – brazenly showing their faces and their hatred, carrying torches marching through the streets of Charlottesville, chanting their vile slogans, injuring and even killing peaceful and, yes, very bold counter-protesters, with a President unwilling to condemn this disgusting racism, with all of the storms in the world and in our country - plus our own personal storms - it would be easy to lose faith in God and ourselves, easy to get scared and become cautious.
But just like he called out to Peter and the other disciples, Jesus calls out to us here today, saying, “Do not be afraid.”
Jesus calls us out of the boat, to boldly go onto the water, and into our future, together.