Focus and Faith

“Lord, if is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

In 1976 when I moved to Lake Wales from Nebraska I had just finished my first year of college. Have you ever heard the term, “Freshman 15”? The idea of the statement is that it is very common for young people in their first year of college gain 15 pounds. I guess it has something to do with the typical diet and life style of a college student. Well in my case it was more like Freshman 25. My favorite meal was a cheeseburger and fries. Who can find much wrong with that? Working out in a gym or doing something crazy like running was the farthest thing from my mind. That was before I was invited by some friends to go with them to a place called Regency Spa in Winter Haven. I turned them down promptly and continued to turn them down every time they asked, with one lame excuse after another. Could I trust these guys? In my mind, I was embarrassed, I already knew that I was out of shape, I didn’t have to prove it by going to a gym. Finally, in a weak moment I decided to take a chance and except their invitation for a date 3 days away. All the way up to the day I thought about excuses that would save me. (maybe my car would break down on the way.) The day arrived and they suggested that I should ride with them. Well, it looked like I was going, I guess the only thing to do was to trust them and give it a try.

They helped me and my worst fears never materialized.  I continued going, and as time went on, I even started running. Several of us started running local races. Then, we decided that we would train for a marathon. 26 miles, who could imagine? We followed a training program that included a slow steady build up with several runs of 20 plus miles. We decided that we would travel to Washington DC for the Marine Corps Marathon. Standing at the start line among thousands of runners I wondered if my training was enough, could I even finish? It was too late to change my mind now! The gun went off and we started running, the miles seemed to go by quickly. Eventually we reached 20 miles, the farthest that I had ever run. We had now reached the 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac River. The wear and tear of the miles had begun to take their toll, my mind began to wonder and I started to lose focus, I was distracted. It didn’t help when I saw that several runners were walking, some had stopped and were sitting on the curb, some appeared to have cramps in the calf muscles or legs. Did I need to stop too? Do I feel a cramp? I really wasn’t feeling so good. I decided to forget about them slow down a little bit and focus. I knew that Arlington was after the bridge and Arlington National Cemetery the finish. Focus, Focus and don’t doubt.

Yes but, I feel like I am getting a cramp in my right calf muscle. Man, I am really starting to feel bad. Maybe I could stop and walk just a little bit, it won’t matter that much will it. No! I can’t stop I thought. I decided to focus on the runner ahead of me and keep going, just stay with him. I caught him then I picked out another and then another. One by one each of them actually carried me to the finish at the Iwo Jima Monument.  What a feeling!

In the years since that first marathon now nearly 35 years ago, I have run 8 or 9 more. As I look back, there are several things that are in common to them all: Each is very much a leap of faith. Each time when I stand at the starting line, looking toward the journey ahead that will last at least 3 ½ hours I say Lord here we go again. What in the world am I doing here? There have always been periods of boldness, confidence, and strength, and there also comes periods of loss of focus, distraction, doubt and sometimes hopelessness. I think this is why I run marathons.

The account from Matthew’s Gospel of Peter’s attempt to walk upon the storm-tossed waves to meet Jesus on the sea comes right after the disciples had witnessed Jesus’ miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus sends his disciples off in a boat, while He dismisses the crowds and proceeds to spend the night alone in prayer. The disciples soon forget the joy, excitement and boldness that came from being part of that miracle as they struggled through the night fighting an adverse wind, perhaps their feeling became one of hopelessness. If that isn’t bad enough, it now all turns to terror as they see what they imagined was a ghost walking toward them on the sea. Initially they completely miss the revelation of Jesus’ divinity, His identity as the Son of God. They cry out! Jesus immediately tells them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Unique to Matthew’s account of the incident is the scene of Peter’s brief jaunt upon the water. Our bold friend Peter requests permission to come to Jesus, Jesus grants Peter the authority to do so. This is just one example of Jesus giving his disciples the authority to do the things He does by the power of the Spirit. Earlier when Jesus appointed the twelve apostles and sent them out on mission, “He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness”. This authority is not magic; it is the power of the Spirit operating through faith. Without trust, this authority does not work. Later in Matthew, the disciples find themselves unable to cast out a particular demon, and they ask Jesus why they were not able to cast it out. He said, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. When Peter takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses upon the strong wind, Peter’s mustard-seed size faith is replaced by fear and he begins to sink.  Isn’t that how it goes for us? We step out in faith, everything is going well then, something happens and we get distracted and we lose focus? Or is it that we get distracted, lose focus then something goes wrong and the wheels fall off?

As Christians, we start out excited about God, we start out with good intentions, then, because of all the distractions in today’s digital society, our digital world, our ability to think deeply about God, to really and truly know Him gets derailed. The trouble is we just can’t stop long enough to read, study and focus on Him. We just can’t find the time to meet and know our Father. Prayer used to be the first thing we do in the morning. We now begin our daily routine by checking our e-mail! Our prayer and daily Bible study time has to compete with voice mail, text messages, e-mails and face book. How often is it that we never get around to our daily prayer time?

A recent study found that more than 4 in 10 Americans say they can’t live without their mobile phone: 82 percent say they never leave home without it; nearly half of them sleep with it nearby.  It is not enough for them to send text messages all day; they need to have their phones nearby in case something happens during the night. Meanwhile, more and more of us are taking our cell phones and computers with us on vacation, mixing work and leisure time, (this one is me.) Perhaps, as I stand here in the pulpit, from my elevated position, I might even catch one of you out in the congregation sending a text message right now! During a worship song at a Diocesan meeting several months ago, I spotted a lady with raising one hand in worship while send a text message with the other. I am certainly not exempt. My picture was taken at a Deanery Meeting several months ago; Bishop Brewer and I were both caught in the same photo with our attention directed to our cell phones instead of being present in the moment. At my work I have to darken my computer monitor when someone comes into my office so I am not distracted. This same thing has been happening at my home, after some trial and error with putting our phones on a shelf, Laura and I have deleted face book app from our I phones because we were spending more time in the evening looking at face book than actually talking with each other. The point is this, we are going to get distracted. Are we willing to set aside the distractions and focus on the things that are important?

I believe that we are not here on this earth by accident. I believe that God placed each one of us in His creation at this particular moment in time for a purpose. God has a perfect plan for us and our lives. He prompts us to find that purpose through the nudges of the Holy Spirit. We then have the choice, whether or not we are going to trust Him, to respond. Responding will require having the faith to take that step out of the safety of our own boats. Will we respond? Do we have that faith? If we do, and we dare to stand at the starting line, there will be those times when we will lose our focus on Jesus, we will get distracted, things might even begin to seem hopeless. Our walk with Christ is a marathon, not a 100 yard dash. It is a life-long journey, it is a journey with lots of adventure: times of boldness and times of failure, times that we will have to reach to Christ and cry out save me! Although we start out with good intentions, sometimes our faith falters. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we have failed. When Peter’s faith faltered, he reached out to Christ, the only one who could help. He was afraid, but he still looked to Christ. When you are apprehensive about the troubles around you and doubt Christ’s presence or ability to help, remember that He is always with you and He is the only one who can really help.

 

We can take heart my friends, we are in very good company. Even Elijah called out to the Lord when he became disheartened and afraid. So, afraid for his life that he hid out in a cave. Even after he had seen the awesome power of God. The Lord searched him out and asked “What are you doing here, Elijah?” In the very same way God searches us out.

The Good News of the Gospel is this, Jesus loves us and is with us. In all of the times and all of the circumstances that we encounter in life. Jesus still loves us even in those times when we stay in the boat or perhaps don’t even have enough faith to get in the boat in the first place. Jesus will do whatever it might take to rescue us. To find us, because He loves us.

Amen