Get Out of the Goat Preached by: Rev. Anne R. Atwell June 29, 2014 For those of you who don’t know, the man speaking in that video clip was the founder of MCC, our church denomination, the Rev. Elder Troy Perry. When I think of Troy, I always think of his sermon about going first […]
Get Out of the Goat
Preached by: Rev. Anne R. Atwell
June 29, 2014
For those of you who don’t know, the man speaking in that video clip was the founder of MCC, our church denomination, the Rev. Elder Troy Perry. When I think of Troy, I always think of his sermon about going first class. That message has meant so much to so many people over the years and I’m quite certain that his message of dignity has saved many lives and given many people, particularly those in the Queer community, a real sense of self-worth. Troy is someone that I look up to and someone that I believe has made our world a far better place. He didn’t let his fear of the unknown, of potential obstacles, stop him from doing what he was called to do.
In our gospel reading this morning, we heard of the very familiar story of Jesus walking on water. This is a story that is included in three of the four gospels. We heard the reading from Matthew’s Gospel just a few minutes ago but a very similar story appears also in Mark’s and in John’s Gospel. Each of the stories is just slightly different but what makes Matthew’s story distinct from the others is the inclusion of the disciple, Peter.
Now throughout our readings and our studies, we’ve come to know Peter as, well, maybe kind of a fool, possibly someone who speaks before he thinks and someone who was led by his emotions, someone who very passionate in all that he does. Someone who loves Jesus but does some things which aren’t quite so loveable, like denying Jesus three times! So when we think of Peter, we may decide that he is probably not someone we would like to emulate. I know that in my study for this message, many scholars stated that Peter behaved foolishly in this passage because when he got out of the boat, he became distracted, he showed what was described by them (and Jesus, as well) as a lack of faith, and he began to sink. And I remember thinking to myself as I read these disparaging statements that Peter just sounds kind of human to me. Maybe Peter was a bit impulsive but aren’t we all sometimes. So it was pretty easy to imagine myself in Peter’s place. But I think that rather than making disparaging remarks about Peter, maybe we’d be a little better off if sometimes we all acted a little more like Peter. Think for a moment what Peter did. It was actually pretty brave of him want to walk across the water because he knew that something really wonderful was within reach.
In this story, we hear of all the disciples gathered in the boat though we’re not really sure why. It sounds to me as if Jesus was kind of tired of having them around and so he just sent them out in a boat. Jesus probably just wanted some “alone time”, after all, he was kind of a busy guy. In the scripture passage from Matthew’s Gospel that is just before the reading we heard today, Jesus had just finished 5000 people so I guess that would make you a little tired, therefore I can understand him wanting some quiet time to pray. But in the middle of the night, Jesus didn’t want to be alone anymore so he decided to just take a stroll across the water to be with his friends, his companions.
In ancient Hebrew thought, water represented to the people much more than just a physical reality. Though the people depended on water to survive themselves as well as to nourish their crops, they also feared water as it could be perceived as hostile or containing evil. Raging rivers flood and the depths of the seas were very frightening to those who did not know or understand what lie beneath the water of the seas. So to have control over the water was considered to be very powerful, something only a God could have or someone who is like God. Someone who is divine.
There are a number of places in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible in which we hear passages of God’s control of water. The writer of Isaiah 51:10 shares, “Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over?” And in the Psalter taken from chapter 77, we hear, “When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled. Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.” Or we can remember Moses and his parting of the Red Sea during the exodus from Egypt, where Moses is an example of a God-like figure with control over the water. And that is what we’re hearing in the reading from Matthew’s Gospel because, remember these scripture passages that we identify as the Old Testament were the sacred texts of the Gospel writers. According to Matthew’s author, Jesus has control over the water by walking on it, making Jesus divine or a God-like figure.
And like the others disciples in the boat, I’m sure that Peter was probably panicked and horribly frighten by the turbulent waters of the sea. I know I would be! I gotta tell you that I’m not so wild about being on a boat when the water is really rough and everything seems out of control. But Peter wanted a piece of that power, of that divinity, of that control over the waters. So when Peter realizes that it is Jesus walking on the water, he states, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.” To which Jesus simply replies, “Come.” And Peter got out of the boat and began to walk. At that point, Peter had control over the water, over something that would bring fear to the people of ancient times, and quite probably some control over his own fears. Now we hear in this story that Peter took his eyes off of Jesus which caused him to begin to sink, but once Jesus reminded him to have faith and held out his hand, Peter’s sinking stopped.
So, let’s put ourselves in Peter’s shoes…so to speak. How many times have we needed to step into a place where the water seemed turbulent…where it all seemed very scary…in order to reach that divine, sacred place…that place where we need to be? That can be a tough call to make. In order to move towards that divine goal, we gotta get out of the boat! And you may be thinking, huh?? Get out of the boat??!! No way! I’m not getting out of the boat. The boat is safe and secure and it’s keeping me dry. Sure, staying in the boat isn’t always fun and it can be kind of boring. But I know that if I stay on this boat everything will be all right. Everything will stay status quo. And there isn’t anything wrong with staying put, choosing the safe road or the safe place in the boat. And that is correct. Sometimes staying in the boat is for the best. But what we need to remember is that all of us, at some point in our lives will need to step out the boat if we’re going to accomplish anything – if we’re going to reach that divine goal. And I believe that is the point of this passage from Matthew. This story is a wonderful metaphor for moving beyond what is safe and secure and taking a chance to change our lives. After all, life without risk is no life.
I opened this message with a short video clip of Rev. Troy Perry and when I think of those who took that giant step, who took a risk, really putting their life at risk and got out of the boat, I think of Troy Perry. He was someone who knew what needed to be done. He knew what his call was. In his book, Don’t Be Afraid Anymore, Rev. Perry shares of a time when he was praying for some clarity regarding his call. He writes, “Lord! You know I’ve prayed…and I know you love me. You’ve told me that. And I feel the Holy Spirit. I wish there was a church somewhere for all of us who are outcast.” He continues by sharing, “Suddenly, as if there was an electric spark in my head, I began asking myself, “What’s wrong with Troy Perry? Why are you waiting for somebody else?” He continues with his prayer, “Lord, you called me to preach. Now I think I’ve seen my niche in the ministry. We need a church, not a homosexual church, but a special church that will reach out to the lesbian and gay community. A church for people in trouble, and for people who just want to be near you. So, if you want such a church started, and you seem to keep telling me that you do, well then, just let me know when?” Then, Troy received the answer to an impossible dream. A still small voice spoke, and the voice said, “Now.”
I love that story and have shared it a number of times. It’s a story I read when I need to make a change in my life, when making that change is rather scary. You know, I truly wonder where I would be without MCC and the ministry that it offers to so many people especially those in the Queer Community and others in society’s margins as well as our wonderful allies. And I would suspect that starting a new faith movement is tough work with people telling you…just be quiet about yourself and no one will know. Stay with us, stay in the boat! It’s safe! People may tell you, we’ve never done it that way before!! You’re causing trouble. If you get out of the boat, if you rock the boat, you’ll make waves. No one will like you if you make waves!! But you know sometimes we have to do just that. We have to make waves! And that will happen when we get out of the boat. We have to move through what frightens us in order to reach our goal, to make changes that ultimately will guide us to wholeness and that divine goal.
In these past few months, we’ve seen and heard of many attacks against the Queer community. I know when I heard people make such ignorant, hate-filled statements, it really gets me angry – and truly sometimes I don’t know what to do with that anger. But I remind myself of a couple of things.
Number 1 – to pray for those making these awful statements. I know. Sometimes we just want to lash out and throw back the “mean-ness”. But what we need to remember is that this person is a child of God, just like you and just like me. There is obviously something that keeps them from loving others and that allows them to think that they can freely judge others. And I don’t know what that is but I feel badly that they just don’t seem to experience the same love or the same happiness in their life that I’ve experienced in my life.
Number 2 – I pray for the Queer community and for all those living in the margins. I pray that people, all people will know that they have sacred value and that they are created in the image and likeness of our God. And I recognize that all people deserve to be loved and honored and encouraged to live full, authentic lives!
Number 3 – I get out of the boat! I speak out when I see injustice! I do work with Queer and Queer friendly organizations that honor all people and take steps and makes waves, doing the work that each of us are called to do. And make no mistake, that work is sacred, it is divine. And it a goal of mine that all people, wherever they are in their journey, are reminded that they are part of the holy.
But getting out of the boat and making waves can be very scary and it is very intimidating to step out and to speak up when injustice is so prevalent and seems to be part of societal norms. But to move towards that divine goal of equality and justice can be done. It has been done by people like Troy Perry – and Harvey Milk – and Gloria Steinem, Martin Luther King, Jr and Bayard Rustin, And by Susan B Anthony and Frederick Douglas and Laverne Cox! And Ellen DeGeneres and Alice Walker and Harvey Fierstein! And Michael Sam and Tammy Baldwin! And so, so many others, too numerous to name! And I honor those who don’t have the fame or recognition and simply go about their daily lives and step into those areas that are scary. My friends, we stand on their shoulders! It can be done! Provided we are willing to get out of the boat, to call out oppression and inequality as wrong and immoral.
So, in this instance, being like Peter in our story really isn’t a bad thing. Peter did something that maybe frightened him and required him to move into unknown territory…and he almost sank! But when he was reminded to keep the faith and to keep his eye on the goal, the sinking stopped. As we close out Pride month, tell me my friends, are you ready to get out of the boat? Are you ready to make some waves? Are you ready to make a difference in your life and the lives of others? If so, be reminded of the quote from Rabindranath Tagore, “Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless when facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it. Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield but to my own strength. Let me not cave in.” So, my friends, take a deep breath, be like Peter, and get out of the boat.
And this is the good news!
We affirm together:
My life has meaning and purpose.
My positive thoughts will create positive actions.
I have the courage to make a positive impact in my life.
And so it is!