Saturday, August 9, 2014

Homily – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Walking On Stormy Seas

Isaiah 55:10-11
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

            I love the great outdoors. More specifically, I love doing things in the great outdoors: biking, running, hiking, kayaking.  If you asked about my passions in life, besides my family, faith and friends, these things would be high on the list.
It was exactly two summers ago this month I went on a nearly fatal kayaking trip from the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal area.  A buddy joined me.  He’s a meteorologist and longtime TV forecaster.
As we were about to set off, I asked him if he was at all worried about the odd skies looming over Whidbey Island.  He told me he’d keep an eye on it, but otherwise wasn’t too concerned.
So, we launched, slowly paddling around the Mukilteo Tank Farm toward Everett.  As we cleared the long pier of the Tank Farm and entered open waters the waves started to get a little rougher.  That crazy sky was starting to move overhead.   Winds were kicking up.  We kept paddling. 
Eventually, waves of two to three feet were breaking over the boat.  So, we decided to turn around and head back to our launch point.
Just off the end of the Mukilteo Tank Farm pier, a rogue wave sideswiped my kayak, flipping the boat in rough waters.  I quickly climbed out from under a capsized boat.
Seconds before this all happened I was in deep prayer, asking, “Lord, I’m only two months away from ordination and now I’m going to drown on Puget Sound? Why make me go through four grueling years of formation only to take my life now? What did I do wrong?  Are you telling me something?”
But the minute my body hit the cold Puget Sound water, an unexplainable calm came over me and I knew I was going to be fine.  Truly, it was an indescribable peace.
Just like Elijah, I didn’t hear the voice of God in the roaring of the seas or the rushing of the wind, but in a quiet whisper -- underwater.
It was almost as if Jesus was saying to me in the quiet of my heart, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Now I must confess.  Kayaking was a new endeavor for me that summer.  To be truthful, I had not taken any safety classes yet and had never learned how to get back in a boat once capsized or roll a boat from a capsized position.  These are things every experienced kayaker knows how to do.  
I emerged from underwater, thankful I was wearing a good life vest, grabbed my 17-foot kayak and started to swim around the Mukilteo Tank Farm and toward shore. 
We were nearly a quarter mile from the beach and knew I’d have to pace myself to get there and not let go of my boat. 
But the whole time I paddled to shore, all 45-minutes of it, I knew I’d be OK.  Rough waters, salty gulps of seawater, and all. There was absolutely no fear.  No panic.  Just calm.
Now, perhaps you were thinking I was going to say Christ appeared, I picked up my boat and walked across the water with Jesus?
My faith is strong, but I guess, like Peter, not that strong.  But Christ was present in my experience in a deep and meaningful way, calming the stormy seas of my heart, grabbing my hand and silencing all my fears. 
The only embarrassing moment was calling my wife Mary to have her come get us since we had to ditch our boats on shore in front of a locked chained-linked fence and walk a mile or so down the rocky shore to an exit point. 
There’s a popular song on Christian radio these days. If you listen to Spirit 105.3 perhaps you’ve probably heard it.  The song is Oceans by Hillsong United. 

The lyrics beautifully peg what I experienced on stormy seas:

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown - where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

             Don’t we all experience moments of fear in our lives? 
Lately, the news of the world is causing much fear and anxiety, testing all our faiths...

                 -          Christians being crucified and children beheaded or families evicted from their longtime homes, threatened with death, or left to starve or die of thirst by the terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (I.S.I.S.)

-          A deadly Ebola virus outbreak in Africa, killing hundreds, with the potential to spread to many more countries, killing many more people

-          An armed conflict in Gaza pitting the Israeli Army against Hamas militants with hundreds to thousands of innocents killed in the fray        

So many terrifying things in the news these days, it's no surprise so many people are walking around fearful, on edge or even angry.
That’s why I like the song Oceans.  It helps my spirit know who’s in control in this messed up world.  One lyric says it all…

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Sadly, this fear is even found today in our Catholic Church among people who do not like Pope Francis and his message, especially Catholics here in the United States.
As most of you know, I’m a big fan of the Holy Father for the way he shows love and mercy to a broken world. 
In fact, I’ve been asked by the Archdiocese to speak on this topic at Theology on Tap on August 27th at Finn MacCool’s Irish Pub in the U-District.
Archbishop Sartain kicked off the event this past Wednesday and hit it out of the park.  If you know a young adult struggling with faith, encourage him or her to attend.
For those who like what Pope Francis has to say, perhaps you saw his Top 10 Secrets for Happiness this week.  It’s a great read and posted here.
But not everyone likes Pope Francis.
A popular conservative priest blogger has some sound advice for these Catholics.  And he referenced today’s Gospel message sharing his advice in a blog post entitled:  Ten Things to Remember if Pope Francis Upsets You (below are links to all 10).
Here are just a few from Fr. Dwight Longenecker.  He said:
“Remember Francis is from Argentina. The church scene there is very different from the atmosphere in the USA and Europe. He surprises us in many ways. He surprises right wing conservative American Catholics with what seems to be left leaning economic positions. He surprises liberal Catholics with his emphasis on the devil and the battle against demons. He surprises those in the developed world with his passion for the poor and his ability to turn over some tables. This is part of his gift to the church: that he is an outsider and as such he surprises and disturbs. Isn’t that part of what the gospel should do? It’s supposed to make us uncomfortable. It’s supposed to make us re-examine our preconceptions, our self righteousness and our certain certainties. Isn’t that what Jesus did to the religious establishment?”
Fr. Dwight goes on to say…
“God knows what he’s doing, and if a particular pope challenges your faith…well, faith isn’t much good unless it’s challenged.  What kind of faith is it if it’s nothing but certainty and confidence all the time? Think of St. Peter walking on the water. That’s faith.”
Perhaps it’s a personal crisis that’s gripped your heart with fear: a cancer diagnosis, a failing marriage, an estrangement with an adult child, or loss of a job. 

 If your heart is ever troubled -- for any reason -- today’s Gospel message encourages us to keep our eyes on Jesus as we walk on stormy waters.  Or like me keep treading water and swimming to shore. 
Christ will be right by your side calling you to a trust that’s without borders“And your faith will be made stronger - In the presence of your Savior.”