Sunday, July 29, 2018

When No One Comes to Our Party

What if you throw a party and no one comes? 

I don’t know about you, but when I have invited people over for a special party or event, like my daughter’s birthday, or to celebrate my getting a PhD, or even to come for my ordination, I go to a lot of trouble to get ready.  I think carefully about who I want to come and I make sure he or she is invited.  I might even make special invitations.  I think carefully about the menu, what are we going to drink?  Will we serve ice tea and lemonade?  Or will we also serve beer and wine?  What are we going to eat?  Will we have bitings or appetisers while people are coming.  And then what am I going to prepare?  Will I cook meat on the grill?  Will I make a special casserole? What about salads?  And what about desert?  Will I make a fancy cake, or maybe a couple of apple and mango pies?  With ice cream?  And then I need to make sure I have plenty of coffee or tea for after the meal.  And then there is getting my place ready for guests.  Bathrooms need to be cleaned, carpets vacuumed, shelves dusted, cobwebs removed.  And outside, the grass needs to be cut, the toys in the garden need to be put away.  You know, parties don’t just happen.  They take effort and work.

So what if I go through all this effort to throw a party, and no one comes?  How would I feel?  How would you feel?

Starting a Church is sort of like throwing a party, at least in terms of all the work it takes.  For starters, someone has to have a vision for starting a Church.  And then there’s all the work of talking about it with all the necessary people, and getting the approval and the blessing of the Bishop.  But in order to have services, one needs to have a place.  Somebody needs to provide a place for the Church to meet.  Somebody needs to pay the rent.  And then there’s the question of who is going to lead this Church.  The Bishop appoints, yes, but that person has to be willing to leave a place where everything is settled and ordered and provided for, and come instead to a place where nothing is settled, nothing is ordered, nothing is provided for.  It takes a lot of commitment for someone to take that step, for someone to be willing to come essentially to an empty space.  And then what about a choir?  Where does a choir come from?  And what about prosphera?  Who’s going to make the altar bread?  And what about the altar wine?  Who’s going to buy that?  And candles and icons?  And charcoal for the censor?  Who’s going to provide that?  Who’s going to try to lite the jiko every time we have a service?  And signs so that people know that we are here?  Who’s going to make them and pay for them?  And biscuits and sodas and tea after the service?  Who’s going to make the tea and the coffee?  Who is going to buy the sodas?  And who is going to clean up after you go home?

It takes a lot of effort, and a lot of money, to start a Church, to throw a party for Jesus in this city.  But what if we go through all this effort, and nobody comes?  What if we start looking at our numbers, and begin to get discouraged?  What if we start thinking that it would be better if we just turned around and went back home?

Jesus had told his disciples to get back in their boat and go back home to Capernaum, probably.  He would join them later, but he wanted some alone time to pray in the hills.  The disciples knew this lake like they knew the back of their hand.  But as they were trying to head across the water, something was wrong.  The wind was against them.  The waves were against them.  They were hardly making any progress at all.  It grew dark.  They should have been home by now, but they were struggling, somewhere in the middle of the lake.  And it wasn’t getting any easier.  In fact it was getting worse.  They were worried.  And then one of them yelled: ‘My God, what’s that?  Look!  It’s a ghost! Coming straight for us!’ And they all yelled and were terrified.

But then they heard a familiar voice - ‘Take heart - It’s me.  Do not be afraid!’  It is Jesus, and He is walking across the lake on the waves, He’s walking on the water.’

And then Peter does something totally unexpected.  I mean, would you have done this?  Would I have done this?  He says, ‘Lord if it is you, give the command and I will walk on the water to you!’

And Jesus simply says, ‘Come.’

Peter steps out of the boat and starts walking on the water to Jesus.  He gets about three quarters of the way there, and then he realises what he is doing, and he feels the wind on his face and the water splashing his legs and he forgets Jesus and starts thinking about the lake that he is now sinking into.  Help! he cries.  Save me! he cries.

Jesus catches his hand and pulls him up to Himself and together they walk back to the boat.  ‘O man of little faith,’ Jesus says, ‘why did you doubt?’

Starting a Church is like the disciples getting into a boat and setting out for their destination.  It’s what Jesus told them to do.  And this Church is what Jesus is telling us to do.  But the disciples found it hard going, unexpectedly difficult.  Discouraging.  And so does anyone who is starting something new for the Lord, whether it is a Church or a school or a ministry.  And the disciples are really discouraged.  And when they see Jesus on the water coming towards them, they’re terrified.  They don’t recognise Him in the midst of the storm and the challenges and all the discouragements.  But Peter does.  He’s the only one who does, and when he hears Jesus say ‘Come,’ he leaves the boat and walks to Jesus.  Just like many of us, we’ve heard Jesus say, ‘Come, follow Me.’ and we have given up everything to follow Him.  We’re like Peter.  We’re even willing to get out of the boat. 

But then reality sinks in and even Peter is afraid and distracted and can’t keep walking towards Jesus, and he starts to sink.  And maybe it’s the same with you and me this morning.  We’ve come so far, but maybe we are losing sight of our Lord, maybe we are not hearing His voice, maybe we are too distracted by all the details, by the wind and the waves, by the storm. And we are sinking.

I really feel this story.  You would think that a full-time Christian worker, a minister, a missionary, would find it easy to follow the Lord, to be a Christian, to start a Church.  It doesn’t matter if I have taken five steps on the water.  If I am sinking, I am sinking.  And I need a Saviour or I will slip under the waves and drown.

In all the icons of this passage, Peter’s arm is stretched out to Jesus, but it is Jesus who grabs him by the wrist and pulls him up.

Have you gotten out of the boat for Jesus?  Are you walking on water for Jesus?  Are you sinking in the midst of the wind and waves and storm?  Cry out to Jesus.  He will save you.  He will grab you by the wrist and pull you to Himself.  And are you in the middle of doing what Jesus has called you to do, but nothing is happening?  Everything is hard and difficult.  And nobody is coming, just a few.  Maybe we are looking around at our circumstances, at the wind, at the waves, at the storm.  And now we are starting to sink.  Like Peter, we need to cry out to Jesus.  Like Peter, reach out to Jesus.  He will grab you and me and pull us to Himself.

I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to the day when Jesus will say to us, ‘O you man of little faith, O you woman of little faith, O you church of little faith.  Why did you doubt?’

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

'When No One Comes to Our Party'
Sunday, July 29, 2018
St. Moses of Africa Orthodox Church, Kisumu, Kenya
Subdeacon Dr. Joseph Black

The Gospel Reading for Today:
Matthew 14:22-34

            At that time, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking 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 for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying "Take heart, it is I; have no fear."
            And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me." Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" And when they entered the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.

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