I knew that, sooner or later, I would preach this sermon.
STEPPING OUT OF THE BOAT
A headwind appears on the sea of Galilee as the disciples are crossing to the other side. The seas start to get rough around sundown and have continued to toss their boat around until past midnight. These are the conditions no one wants to be in. Facing hard wind and water is bad enough during daylight. But, when it is dark and the other side of the shoreline is not in sight, such conditions are ripe for breeding fear. While it is easy for us to open our Bibles and talk about not being afraid or singing “When I rose this morning, I didn’t have no doubt,” the fact is that night-time comes up in everyone’s life and the wind isn’t always going to blow your way. The atmosphere for fear comes to all of us and more often than we want to admit, we don’t always show our “saved, sanctified, born again, baptized in the Holy Ghost” selves and we find ourselves afraid.
The conditions for fear arise even when it is Jesus who makes us cross the sea. In verse 22, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side. He sent the crowd away. Crowds can’t always cope with darkness and rough water. Crowds tend to want miracles and a something for nothing full bellies. But, the disciples, the ones who have dropped their old lives to go wherever the Lord was going, the ones who denied themselves, took up their crosses and followed him, these ones were ready to face headwinds, hard waves and do so when they couldn’t see the other side. It is no accident that we are taught to count it all joy when we face trials and temptations. After His baptism, Jesus Himself did not go to a fancy resort on His private jet. Our Lord was sent by the Holy Spirit to the desert to fast and be tempted by Satan. Likewise, We who are not just members of the crowd. We who deny ourselves, carry our crosses, and follow Him will be sent by God to times and places where we are going to get scared.
We are going to get scared even of the very thing, the very one we shouldn’t be scared of. At the darkest hour of the night, Jesus walked across the water toward them and they were troubled thinking they were seeing a ghost. Earlier, Jesus calmed the wind and waves in a storm once before. This was not the first time they witnessed His mastery of the winds and waves. Had this storm arisen during the day or there were no storm and He was just walking on the sea at night, maybe the disciples would have recognized Jesus immediately. But, the conditions for fear, darkness and storm, caused them to forget the power that Jesus showed in the past and the lesson of faith they learned the first time.
Truth be told, we will even become fearful even when we are trying to be faithful. At his test and the Lord’s positive response, Peter steps out of the boat and walks to Jesus. At first, Peter does the impossible as he walks on the water to go to Jesus. As long as he kept his attention on the Lord and His calling, Peter’s faith overcame what should have swallowed him up. But, when he saw that the wind was boisterous, able to stir up the sea around him, Peter became afraid and as he began to sink, he cried out saying “Lord, save me!” Failure to keep our eyes on Jesus and to let things distract us from our calling will cause us to be afraid and sink. Inital courage and faith, though a good thing, is not good enough to carry us through. We all can be lose focus in the winds of our finances, relationships, and other winds that may stir up things around us and rise against us.
Peter shows that despite his willingness to step out of the boat, he is no better than the disciples that stayed in the boat. All of them lacked faith. Peter’s case was more dramatic. But they all let the conditions of storm and darkness get the better of themselves. Our lesson for today and everyday is to not let the conditions of storm and darkness get the better of us. Jesus will not only allow, but he will send us out into such conditions. If we are indeed disciples and not just a part of the crowd that wants miracles and blessings, Jesus will send us into places that will challenge our ability to remember how good He is and what He is able to. If we are willing to test our faith further, Jesus may even call us to step out of our boats of familiarity and safety and by faith, we can walk out on the waters with Him. Let us be of good cheer! Let us have faith and not doubt! Because whether we step out on the waters or stay in the boat, Jesus is with us even in storms and darkness.
For the first time in over 16 years, we will enter a time of uncertainty. Today, I give you the words I gave to the deacons last Sunday:
Sunday, December 1st, 2013
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I have studied Eastern Orthodoxy, the oldest form of Christianity, for over a year and found great value in this ancient faith in its history, spirituality, and daily practice. It would be unfair to you and myself for me to continue as a Baptist on the surface and Orthodox in private practice. After consulting with a few wise colleagues, my wife, and spending time in fasting and prayer; I have come to the conclusion that it is best that I leave.
On Christmas Day, Wednesday December 25th, 2013; I will preach my last sermon at Trinity Baptist Church. I will also resign my Certificate of Ordination in the Baptist Denomination. As of January 1, 2014; I will be a member of St. Basil the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church in Poquoson. I will also work with the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black in its efforts to introduce Orthodoxy to African-Americans and all who seek this ancient Christian faith.
I thank you for allowing me to serve you for over 16 years as your pastor. It has been a pleasure to share laughter, tears, and everything in between in this work of the Gospel together. I am glad that there is an energy for growth here at Trinity and belive that you will continue to be a beacon of light in this community.
May the Holy Trinity bless us as we take separate journeys with the same purpose of spreading the Gospel to all nations.
Yours in Christ,
John R. Gresham, Jr.
Yes, I have decided to step out of the boat of the denomination that has given me the safety and security of the Gospel for over 40 years. This boat has been very good to me. And in particular, this boat called Trinity Baptist, has allowed me to serve in the pastoral ministry for over 16 years at a time when the average minister rarely last 5 in his or her first pulpit. I have been blessed to be in this boat with you.
Yet, I cannot ignore what I have studied and practiced for more than a year. I see Jesus in the 2,000 year old Orthodox Church and hear Him saying, “Come.” I will have to walk on waters of uncertainty and through winds of opposition. Walking by sight tells me to stay here in the boat. Jesus is coming to us anyway and He will calm the winds down and we will all make it safely to the shore anyway. None of the other disciples walked out with Peter and didn’t face any rebuke from the Lord. In fact, Peter is the only one in the story who was rebuked for his doubting and lack of faith.
But, we are called to walk by faith and not by sight. This may not be your storm to walk out on. Maybe you have walked out on the waters before. And if you haven’t yet, keep living. Because in all of our lives, there will be a storm that will arise as we do the will of Christ. In the midst of the storm, He will come to us, calm the winds, and lead us safely through. But, there will be something inside of you that will cause you to see Jesus out on the sea. Your desire to be with the Lord will stir up inside of you to a point where you won’t be satisfied with the safety and security of the boat. You will step out on faith and as long as you don’t let the wind nor waves nor anything else distract you, you will walk on the water and reach the Savior. And should you falter and sink due to doubts and lack of faith, call on the name of Jesus and He will rebuke but, save you.
This church will be without a pastor and this pastor is going to put his faith to the test as he is called. We are going into a time of darkness and storm. But, Jesus says to us today as He said to the disciples of old, “Be of good cheer! It is I, do not be afraid.” The same God who lovingly provided someone to serve this church before is able to provide another man or even woman to stand at this sacred desk and deliver the Gospel. “Be of good cheer! It is I, do not be afraid.” A little darkness is arising now as I am leaving. But, we serve a greater light that was here long before I came here and will be here long after we are all gone. “Be of good cheer! It is I, do not be afraid.” There is a head wind blowing against us as for a while, this pastoral office will be vacant. But, with the faith and willingness to work as seen in the ushers, Voices of Praise, children’s church, progressively minded members, and a church family that works together to do God’s will; this branch of Zion has what it takes to keep moving forward. “Be of good cheer! It is I, do not be afraid.” If we follow the word of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and I keep the faith and do not doubt, we will be in the same boat in the perfect peace that only He can provide and He will lead us safely to the other shore.