I have been reading Jesus Freak, by Sara Miles. Sara tells stories about where she met up with Jesus, who she calls “The Boyfriend” in feeding, healing, and raising the dead.
I got the book because I loved the title. I remember going to seminary and calling home in a panic and telling my wife “I think that I am going to turn into a Jesus freak if I stay here.” Her response was immediate and clear. “Things could be a lot worse than that!”
Sara talks about faith as being “hardly a miracle; it was more like living in a different key, being tuned, as the hymn said, to grace. It meant the kind of trust suggested by the story of Jesus walking over the water to the panicky boatload of disciples.”
As the Gospel tells it the story begins on a stormy night. The folks out fishing are scared to death and scared of death. They see someone who looks like a ghost. That ghost-like thing is getting closer. Jesus calls out from the storm, “Don’t be afraid! It is me!” Peter, the guy of a little bit of faith, climbs out of the boat and starts walking toward Jesus. Hoping for a miracle, Peter shouts “Lord, if it is you…” He takes his eye off Jesus and he begins to sink. Jesus takes Peter’s arm, and the two of them climb back into the boat.
Peter wanted proof of miracles. “But the miracle was really just his ordinary, flawed, human willingness to be in the storm, to be scared, and to try to follow Jesus anyway…. The lesson isn’t that if we had more faith we could walk on water or that God will reward our greater faith with supernatural powers and send the storms of life away. It’s that, as long as we love each other, we aren’t alone. “It’s me,” Jesus says. “Don’t be afraid.”
This story catches my heart today because I have been thinking about the many people I know who are scared to death of sinking down into fear or grief or the big unknown, that comes like a huge wave, knocking them over and pulling them under. The boat does not seem big enough to hold the lot of us. Being squished together is not comfortable.
This week I traveled to a church in another state and I stood in the pulpit and I preached a message about my church’s journey to be an Open and Affirming Church. I talked about the challenges and the pains, the openings and the grace that held me and my wife and our church. When the service and the discussion was over and I was about to pack up and go home a women pulled me aside. In a shy and halting voice she thanked Dorrie and I for being so brave (courageous was the word she used) to speak so boldly and so authentically, not knowing what our reception would be. She said that our witness and faith was a gift to her; a hand reaching to her storm.
I believe in the kind of miracles that are embodied in people who as Sara Miles says “keep moving, however imperfectly, toward the force calling them to be bigger, braver, and more loving.” I have been swamped in my own boat enough times to recognize the voice that calls me to imperfectly grow larger in love. “It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” And I am beyond grateful when someone pulls me aside and tells me that they are in the boat and our being together makes a difference.