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Sermons > Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

7 Aug 2011

“‘It is a ghost,’ they said, and they cried out in fear.  At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’”  (Matt. 14:26-27)                                In the name …

Last summer some of us from the parish went to Zoar Outdoor up in Charlemont and took their zip-line tour down the mountain and through the treetop canopy.  While we were there we started making plans for this summer, and one of the adventures we mentioned was skydiving, you know, jumping out of a plane with a parachute strapped to your back.  This wouldn’t be the first time for me.  Back when I was in college a friend and I came up this way to the Orange Airport from Westfield.  We were 21 at the time.  We went through the couple of hour course and I never remember being at all fearful.  That may be due to either my being naïve or just plain stupid. But anyway everything was fine as we boarded the plane that was going to take us up and over the jump area.  There were three of us along with the instructor and the pilot in the airplane.  It was my friend and I, and some other guy who we didn’t know.  This other guy was pretty cocky and he volunteered to be the first one out the door. 

To jump they tell you to stand on this little metal bar just outside the door of the plane.  As you release the speed of the plane and gravity pull you back and down quickly.  When you fall to a safe distance the rip-cord automatically opens your parachute for you.  There are these toggles on the parachute that help guide you to the nice sandy and soft landing zone.  Well, this hot-shot jumps out of the plane and we’re inside the cabin with the instructor.  He’s being told to do this or that to get him over the zone.  For whatever reason, he’s not paying attention.  The guy ends up falling into the brush just short of the woods around the airport.

By now the plane has circled around and we’re approaching the drop zone again.  We’ve just watched this guy jump out and end up in the trees.  Now the instructor tells me to get out of the plane and get ready to jump.  You gotta be kidding!  The other guy is stuck in some trees down below and now they want me to jump out of the plane just like he did?  Before the actual jump when I was practicing how to land I had no fear when I was leaping off a five foot high platform, but when that instructor told me to step out on that little metal bar way up the air and after the first guy ended up in the brush, well by then there was plenty of fear to go around.

Fear could very easily have stolen that experience away from me, and for no good reason.  After I stopped screaming, I listened to what I was told to do and I gently floated down, enjoying the sights and the sensation the whole ride down.   Fear does serve a purpose.  It keeps us from doing really stupid and unsafe things.  But other times fear just holds us back from what is new and untried.  It prevents innovation, experiment and challenge.  I like the quote of the Jazz trumpet player Wynton Marsalis that I included in this month’s newsletter:  “If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough.”  Sometimes we’re just too afraid of making mistakes and so we stay with what we have even if we know what we have is not enough.  Then we’re left safe, but unsatisfied.

The way the economy is limping along a lot of people are going to have to play it safe.  The movers and shakers are too afraid to invest in anything new and untried.  I read in the Globe that the only housing market in Massachusetts that is doing really well right now is that of the expensive condominiums in downtown Boston.  A fried of a friend is a yacht salesman.  He says it’s never been this good.  The ones who have money aren’t investing it, they’re splurging.  They’re not taking risks on new ventures, they’re not starting new businesses, they’re not creating jobs, they’re just spending money because they’re too afraid to invest it.  We can see the results of that kind of fear because all of us suffer when the economy is this uncertain.  Fear is holding us back.

  And today Jesus is talking to us about fear and faith.  If we read the story of Jesus walking on the water and of the disciples’ fear as an analogy for all of us rather than just a story about the twelve men in the boat, then Jesus’ words of “Come” and “Do not be afraid” are meant as a challenge, a challenge to our faith, a challenge to not be afraid.  The boat represents all that is safe in our faith lives, but possibly also unsatisfactory in them too.  We’re O.K. in the boat, but we feel that there should be more.  Then Jesus’ invitation to walk on the water is the challenge to face all that is fearful in our faith, to leave the boat and face the unpredictable, the unknown and the untried.  It is the challenge to make mistakes because it’s the challenge to try harder at living and expressing the faith.  And it’s also the reassurance that when we do make a mistake that Jesus is there ready to grab our hand and keep us safe.  In the analogy of the disciples in the boat, even though Peter fails, it is his faith among all of the other disciples that stands out and is remembered and is honoured.  He failed, but he tried.  He made a mistake, but he grew.   He accepted Jesus’ challenge of “Come” and “Do not be afraid.”

What’s our figurative boat and what’s our challenge?  Where we’re happy and satisfied that’s wonderful when it comes to our individual faith lives and also our communal church life, but where are we settling only because we’re too afraid to try something new, too afraid to make a possible mistake?  I am not satisfied with the idea of settling.  Peter didn’t walk on the water long, but he did.  None of the others could say that.  That’s the message in today’s Gospel for us.  He tried.  Let us pray that we are willing to try, willing to make mistakes sometimes, but definitely not willing to settle when it comes to our faith; and let us pray that this be more than just more words, let us pray that some one or two or three speak up about their ideas whether it be about sermons or music or more participation in the Mass or about the life of the church outside of Mass.  Let us not settle for being afraid of the ghost while sitting in the boat.  Let us go to Jesus.  And for this we pray in His name.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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