November 11th, 2018

Hooray for Failing Faith
Matthew 14:22-32

Her name was Kathy Stevens and she was prettiest girl in the junior class. She sat beside me in Social Studies and by the end of our junior year we had gotten to be good friends. When the junior-senior prom rolled around, I decided to ask Kathy to be my date.

Now given my charming personality and stunning good looks, it may surprise you to hear that I didn’t have a whole lot of self-confidence when I was in the 11th grade; so asking somebody out, like Kathy Stevens, was a pretty big deal. In fact at night, when I was trying to go to sleep, I’d rehearse what I was gonna’ say the next day. Finally, after all the planning and practicing I got up the never to ask her.

That next day, when I saw Kathy in Social Studies, I was scared to death, but I finally got the courage to throw out my opening line.

“Uh, Kathy, you know the prom’s comin’ up pretty soon and I hear the band they’ve got this year is really great.”

As she turned to me and smiled I thought I’d die on the spot. “Yeah, somebody told me the Aardvarks are playing. I really like that band.”

(“It’s workin’,” I thought to myself. Now drop the big line).

“Well I like that band, too,” I said. “Hey, uh, Kathy, why don’t we go to the prom together.”

“That sounds great,” she said. “Once somebody asks me to the prom, you and your date could double date with me and mine.”

At that moment, I felt like a puddle of slim that had just melted to the floor. In the midst of my embarrassment, all I could say was, “Oh, yeah, that would be great.”

Injured by that unsuccessful encounter, I decided not to go to the prom at all that year. Kathy Stevens didn’t go either. What a wasted opportunity!

Now, why did I choose to stay home instead of asking Kathy to the prom? I chose to stay home because I was afraid I’d fail. If I tried to ask Kathy out again she might say no, and at that point in my life I preferred not to try at all than to try and fail.

How about you? Are you a person who is willing to venture out and take some risks, or do you play it safe because you fear you’ll fail? When it comes to our spiritual lives many of us miss out on the rewards of faith because we’re afraid we’ll fail. In a world that venerates success and vilifies failure, most of us have decided to play it safe, to attempt only those things which are obviously attainable.

But you know what? Attempting the attainable has little to do with biblical faith. Faith is that which attempts the impossible. And yes, in attempting the impossible sometimes we fail, but that’s okay, because faith’s failure is often a prelude to an amazing discovery that awaits our next effort.

In today’s text, we see a character that tried and failed. Unfortunately, most readings of this text emphasize the character’s failure. But today I want us to read our text and view Simon Peter in a different light, not as the man who failed to walk on water, but as the man who had enough faith to try.

Listen as I read the story in Matthew 14:22-33.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Hooray for Simon Peter. Hooray for failing faith. Granted, Peter’s faith wasn’t all it could have been or all should have been; but it was a whole lot bigger than the faith of anybody else on that boat. So, hooray for Simon Peter. Hooray for failing faith.

When most people read this text, they assume Peter’s water-walking experience was one of great defeat for him. I think most people figure that old Simon Peter got back in the boat and hunkered over in the corner like a wet, whipped pup, bemoaning that Jesus had said, “Oh you of little faith.” But you know what? I don’t think that’s how the story went, at all.

I can see Peter now. He climbs back in the boat and before his feet even touch the deck he starts yelling, “Hey, boys, did you see that? I walked on water. I mean I put my foot out on the waves and took three big steps. Count em’. One, two, three. Three big steps. Granted, it was only three steps but it was three steps more than any of the rest of you attempted.”

Yes, I think that was the way Peter must have felt once he got back in the boat. Peter had been able to accomplish the impossible. He had accomplished what no human had ever accomplished before. Oh yes, in the end he failed and Jesus had to bail him out, but in his failure he was more successful than all the other disciples combined.

As we look at this passage, I think it helps us redefine faith. Too many of us define faith by examining results. We define great people of faith as those who’ve achieved great success.

For years I’ve watched our denomination define faith like that. When a pastor is presented an award for baptisms or church growth or denominational giving, the award presenter often says, “And here is a man of great faith.”

Phooey. There are some pastors out there in little struggling churches who attempt the impossible every day, simply by keeping their church doors open. So don’t tell me their faith is any less than the big church pastor whose church just happens to be in fastest growing – most affluent - part of town.

Biblical faith is not measured by results. Biblical faith is always measured by one’s willingness to attempt the impossible. In the Bible, faith is always measured by one’s effort, not by one’s success. Let me repeat that. Biblical faith is always measured by one’s effort, not by one’s success.

The Bible calls Moses a man of great faith even though he, himself, never made it to the Promised Land.

The Bible considered David a King of great faith, even though he never built the Temple of his dreams.

The Bible considered Elijah a Prophet of great faith, even though he spent most of his life wrestling with depression.

The Bible considered Stephen a deacon of great faith, even though his life ended up in martyrdom.

In all these cases and in many more, the Bible defines people of great faith, not by examining their results, but by looking at their effort. It’s the effort, not the results that always defines our faith.

I’ve read that the African Impala has the ability to leap 10 feet high and cover a distance of 30 feet. Yet, these animals are kept in the zoo behind 5 foot walls. One might ask, “Why doesn’t the Impala simply jump over the wall and get out.”

Well, you see, the Impala has a problem of faith. An impala will not jump if it cannot see where its feet will fall. So instead of taking the risk of leaping toward freedom, the Impala stays incarcerated by playing it safe.

Some of us are like the Impala, aren’t we? We like to play it safe and, in doing so, we forfeit the thrill of freedom that comes with the risk of faith.

And the same could be said of churches. For institutions that call themselves “Faith-based institutions,” churches are, at times, one of the “least faith” institutions around. For fear of failure, most churches like to play it safe.

You’ve heard the excuses. “We can’t do that because we might not have enough money.” “We can’t do that because people might not come.” “We can’t do that because we might make somebody mad.” Or the lamest excuse of all. “We can’t do that because we’ve never done it before.”

Those excuses sound a lot like the excuses probably given by the other disciples in the boat. I can hear them now. “We can’t walk on water because we might drown. We can’t walk on water because the storm is too strong. We can’t walk on water because we left our swim suits at home. And of course, “we can’t walk on water because we’ve never done that before.”

But Simon Peter walked on water - because he was not afraid to fail. Isn’t it time we try some water-walking, too?

Earlier today, I challenged you to do some things we’ve not done before and I admitted that our efforts may fail. Over the next few months our committee will continue to ask our church to venture out on faith. In other words, we’re going to have to get out of the boat and walk on the storm. And you know what? Sometimes we’re going to sink. Sometimes we’re going to fail. But sometimes we’re going to walk on water for 3 steps, maybe 4. Granted, we might eventually get too scared and start sinking. But that’s okay. Once we start sinking, Jesus will be there to pick us back up and carry us to the boat.

Yes, today’s text, and so many texts in Scripture remind us that faith is lived out in the land of failure, and at times our faith has lousy results. But results are never the true measure of faith. Biblical faith is always measured by one’s effort, not by one’s success.

So hooray, hooray for failing faith. Hooray for those who attempt the impossible, even if their attempt ends up in failure. For better is the one who failed at the impossible than one who never attempted it at all.