It’s happening. Glue sticks. Our three children are single handedly funding Elmer’s retirement fund. The school supply list said, between our three kids, we need 872,974 glue sticks. I am happy to report that the hunt was successful. The school supply sections at the Big Box stores really are war zones at this point. You’ve got to get fired up in the mini-van before you slide open that side door like the A-Team on a rescue mission. We actually lay out a blue print of the store on the dining room table and map out our plan of attack. Hayes is to cause a diversion in the toy section which draws other looming children out of the school supply area. Morgan tells cute stories to parents sending their oldest child to kindergarten for the first time – she can keep them busy for hours. Dane has the gift of stealth and is more of an action oriented sort of guy – he’s on glue stick detail. Once the kids fully get the section cleared out, Carrie and I move in and get the list checked off in no time. ‘Tis the season! And I’m kidding… for the most part… maybe…
Honestly, back-to-school season is a nostalgic time for me – especially when it comes to school supplies. I remember the hype and excitement I felt as a kid going to the store, getting the necessary items and having a fresh set of #2 pencils ready to work their magic. Carrie and the kids jumped on the hunt early this year and found everything on the list. I had a meeting the night they picked things up but when I got home, it was on. We sat down on the floor together and one by one, they talked me through the rhyme and reason of every single supply. Then… there were the accessories. I learned about Yoobi’s and locker tassels and why color coordination makes the world go ‘round. What ever happened to Trapper Keepers with Punky Brewster or New Kid’s on the Block on the front of them? Anyway – I enjoyed their excitement. The gleam of being ready, having the stuff, anticipating a new year. So much hope on this side of Day 1. They. are. set.
We’re talking about the ‘set’ in our Ready, Set, Go series today. We’re considering, as a community, what it means to enter any new season of life, especially as we share the collective shift from summer back to the school season. Even if you’re not a student or a parent of a student you feel and share in the shift of season all the same. Last week, we tackled what it means to ready ourselves for any new season in our lives. Sure, there’s a time when we just have to make that leap and go for something. People so often say, “If you waited until you were ready to have kids, you’d never have them.” I get that. Even so, there is something to living in a state of readiness which, when it comes to our faith, has much to do with being read up, prayed up, and friended up as one of my colleagues likes to say. Being read up means keeping the stories of our faith close of heart – close enough that they interweave with the story we’re living today, influencing our ability to live within, and share, the love of Christ. Being prayed up connects to the passage we lived in last Sunday from the letter to the church at Collosae – “Keep alert in our prayers,” and see the world through a lens of gratitude. Staying disciplined in this effort truly changes the way you see the world on an ordinary Tuesday and that’s what we’re after here. Friended up? That’s more than your chillin’ peeps – not that it can’t include those folks, it very well may – but it’s that special circle of faith-committed friends who make you better. They bring out the best version of you. They build you up and pour into your life. It’s your accountability circle. It’s what church is supposed to be. So much of the time when we think of church, we think of worship and what we’re doing together right now – super important and one of the best parts of my week. But the church at is best is what happens in circles, not in rows. Andy Stanley pushes this all of the time. What happens in rows, like the ones we’re hanging in today – good, important stuff. But it’s the circles where the real stuff happens – the acceptance, the influence, the service, the accountability, the knowing and being known, the dreaming and caring and challenge. If you can stay read up, prayed up, and friended up, you’re prepared for whatever the day calls for.
The “Ready” part, even if we fall off the discipline sometimes, is something we understand. If you’re going to run a marathon, it’s best that you’ve been running well in advance to get ready. Sure, you can roll out of bed one day and say, “Think I’ll run a marathon today” but if you haven’t been training, it’s going to be a rough 26.2 miles (if you don’t crash and burn well before then). We get the “ready.” If you want to do anything well, practice is key. We also have an easier time with the “Go.” Ready or not, go-time has a way of getting you to participate. Momma bird pushes you out of the nest for the first time, you better be flapping your wings whether you’re ready or not. But this middle part, the “Set” part of Ready, Set, Go, is not so easy. You’ve got the school supplies and when the bus comes on Day One, you have to get on, but what do you do in between all of that? Being set is the moment of greatest potential. All of the energy you’ve put into preparation has prepared you for the go – but the go has yet to occur. It’s that silent moment when the runners are in the starting blocks or swimmers are poised on the edge of the pool awaiting the starting gun. Most of the time being set doesn’t come with the luxury of being focused like those athletes. It catches us off guard. Countless times in my life as a parent I have hollered at one, or all, of my children, “Come here!” only to receive the response, “You mean now?” They weren’t set to respond to the call. The call comes in the midst of the busy lives they are living all of the time. I wonder if this is how Peter felt in the boat on a stormy sea as Jesus calls to him from the water, “Come.” “You mean now?”
Matthew brings us this story today. If you’ve been around the faith for a while, you’ve probably heard this story. If you haven’t been around the faith much, you’re likely aware of the “walking on water” story as it surfaces in pop culture fairly often. It is a marvelous story. A critical time in the journey of Jesus. John the Baptist had just been beheaded – the cousin of Jesus, the one he played with at the family reunions, his horseshoe partner that helped him land the family trophy each year (it’s good to be on a team with Jesus). JtB, John the Baptist, was the one who baptized Jesus, who pointed others to Jesus as the one they had long been waiting for. They were tight. But John is killed and Jesus was surely grieving that loss. No time to slow down, though, as the crowds have found Jesus again – five thousand men plus at least that many women and children (who don’t get counted in the 5,000 – yikes!) gathering around him to be healed and hear him teach. Matthew says, “Jesus had compassion on the crowds.” Jesus cared and so he served. But all of that grief and compassion and healing and teaching wears a person out. And, when you’re Jesus, you don’t get to clock out. Never off the clock. Jesus knows, however, his spiritual charge is important and so he compels the disciples to get in the boat and go on ahead of him while he hikes up the mountain to clear his head and pray. But… like a mother who can’t have more than a minute of privacy before her child says, “Mom, momma, mother, mom – can I have a snack?” Jesus can hardly catch his breath for a minute. A storm comes. And it’s bad. The waves were crushing. Now – there are several professional fishermen on this boat and they are in water that they are very familiar with so you’d think they could manage the situation but…
I’ll tell you, water can be so powerful. One night in Nicaragua after a long, hot, hard day of work, our team got the night out to play on the beach of the Pacific Ocean. I realized that night that I had never been in the Pacific Ocean in my life. I’ve been to some of the great west coast cities – San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver but I’d never been to the water’s edge like we were in Nicaragua. The waves were powerful. It was great fun. We’d dive into the waves and try to body surf them back into shore. But more than once I totally lost control – the water could handle me like Robin Ventura in a Nolan Ryan headlock. At one point, several of us were on the beach playing catch with a whiffle ball when out of nowhere, a huge wave crashed down on us and tossed us a long way – all the way up to the deck of the restaurant that was a good thirty yards from the typical water line. At first, I tried to fight it. I’m not a terribly small person. But I couldn’t, it threw me down and when I came to a resting spot, I looked around at my friends who were pulling themselves up from the same battery, laughing hysterically about our being blown around like seaweed. I was still pulling sand out of my ears this past week. The power of the sea is not a power to take lightly.
Theologically, the storms at sea in the Bible often represent a state of chaos. When you think of all Jesus was going through – the loss of John, the demands of the crowd, the inability to get any quiet time – things were easily labeled chaotic. I’m guessing your reality is like that much of the time. You’ve got so much going on, so many demands, so little time to quiet yourself, replenish your spirit, that the next chaotic wave knocks you off your feet. Instead of Ready, Set, Go, your life feels more like Ready, Setback… Ready, Setback… Ready, Setback. Isn’t that frustrating? You think you’re getting on top of your finances. You’re trying to be responsible and, “Boom!” Unexpected expense sets you back. You’re rehabbing from an injury or you’re finally making space for the exercise your body needs and then, “Boom!” Setback. You’re trying to stay sober. Setback. You’re trying to re-build your marriage. Setback. You’re trying to forgive. You’re trying to retire. You’re trying to heal. Setback. There’s often nothing more discouraging than a setback when you’re trying to get on the right track. You’re preparing, you’re doing the ‘ready’ part with great discipline but…. We’ve all been there individually, and we experience this collectively as well.
Charlottesville, Virginia – a rally this weekend based in hate leads to violence, a physically hostile manifestation of the hostile spiritual and moral violence that was already prevalent. Racism isn’t an issue of generations past. It isn’t a Virginia issue. And it’s beyond a political issue. It’s our issue. The images are horrifying. Last school year, in fifth grade, my daughter learned of the atrocities of the Holocaust – of a supremacist mentality – and she was appalled. “Daddy, how can this happen?” It is crazy to think I can’t tell her this is just a matter of history when we see that mentality on the news yesterday. It is a spiritual, moral, and human decency setback issue that cannot be excused or accepted. Individual and collective setbacks can be overwhelming and we cannot control them all but we can control how we live the love of Jesus in this world. I also know this; the more ready we are in advance, the more we’re practiced up, the more we’re read up, prayed up and friended up, the better we’ll navigate the personal setbacks and the more effective our collective witness will be when our faith demands a response that is nothing short of the love of Christ made manifest in our speech and our actions. Let’s press through the set backs together. “Come?” “You mean, now?” “Come.”
The disciples have launched to the other side but encounter a storm that has set them back. So Jesus goes to them on the water. This has had people talking for two thousand years. He walked on water! How did he do that? Scholars have debated the matter from every possible angle. They’ll take you back to the original Greek manuscripts and say, “Well, it could mean this and that – stuff about deceivingly shallow water.” Others have said, “The stumps were positioned just right for Jesus to walk on.” Others say, “What, he’s Jesus, he can do whatever he wants.” What matters most is that the disciples were in trouble and Jesus went to them. And when he is finally invited into the boat, things calm down. Your life feels like a chaotic boat ride right now? Invite Jesus in and see if there isn’t some growing peace in your spirit about the chaos. And it’s not a “Jesus take the wheel” appeal but a read up, pray up, accountability friend up situation. Regardless, before Jesus gets in the boat, we have this epic narrative of Peter doing what Peter does. He’s that friend – a bit impulsive; heart’s always in the right place; but sometimes he’s in deep before you have a chance to intervene. You got a friend like that? If you’re thinking, “No, I don’t.” then maybe you’re the Peter of your group. And that’s not at all a bad thing. But here he is, and everything in his life has readied him for this moment. He’s backing Jesus to the full. He trusts him. He doesn’t just intellectually believe Jesus to be the Messiah. He trusts Jesus like you trust a brother to be “all in” when you need him the most. “Jesus, is that you?” he cries in the midst of the storm. “10-4 good buddy!” “Can I join you?” Pete hollers back. And why? Why does Peter feel like he needs to go to him? I don’t know. He’s coming to the boat. It’s storming something fierce. None of the other guys are eager to jump off the pontoon. They’re freaking out. Why do you always have to press the envelope? But Peter – chaotic storm all around him – says, “If it is you, call me to come.” Looking at this literally may get us into some stormy water, okay? Jesus himself, while in the wilderness with the devil, says, “Do not put God to the test.” Don’t go out and lay in the middle of the road on the BA as a way of demonstrating that you trust God to protect you. But maybe, we can apply this to some other important aspects of our lives. Listening for the voice of Christ that calls us when we’re ready — when we’re read up, prayed up and friended up – who says, “Come. My voice is in this effort and I need you to serve. My voice is in this need, in this relationship, in this ministry, in this co-worker’s life and I need you to “Come,” get engaged, answer the call, respond to the spirit.” When we’re in a good disciplined place spiritually speaking, we can hear the voice of Christ so much clearer then when we’re not giving our spirit life any fuel. Jesus says to Peter, “Come.” “You mean now?” “Yes, now.” And Peter says to Bartholomew, “Here, hold my drink.” Not really. Not in the passage. Sorry.
Peter steps off the boat into the water and we know the story from here. He walks on the water a bit until he comes to his senses and is like, “Wait a minute!” [insert wide eyed emoji] and he starts to sink. And then people rail on Pete. “He lost faith.” “He didn’t trust that much.” But let’s note that he’s the only one who stepped off that ledge. John Ortberg was the one who’s been quoted on this subject a thousand times: “If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.” It’s a line that may be overused but it’s a great line. You put in the time and effort and discipleship and prayer and at some point, you’ve got to step out – risk your preparation on the Spirit of God. You can wait and wait and wait for the absolute right time but your obituary will only read, “Well, he waited… a lot.” It’s a tough balance but you have to trust the work you’ve put in at some point and respond to the voice of Christ that is continually looking for someone who’s ready to risk comfort for call. “Come.” “You mean now?” “Come.”
You may have seen Justin Juenemann on the news this week. He’s the third string kicker and fifth year senior on the University of Minnesota football team. He’s a walk on athlete and has never played in a game in the last four seasons. Think Rudy Ruettiger. He’s put in the work. He’s supported his team. He’s set… but he’s never yet heard “Go.” Gophers Coach PJ Fleck said he’s “never seen anybody serve and give more than that guy…” Juenemann, among other things, is a regular visitor to the Masonic Children’s Hospital in town, visiting and lifting the spirits of kid’s who are hospitalized. At a team meeting this week, Coach Fleck brought in a teenager named Kyle who was a patient at the hospital. Kyle’s favorite player on the team? Justin Juenemann – a fifth year senior, third string kicker, who has never played in a game. #peoplerememberhowyoumakethemfeel. Coach gave the young man a t-shirt canon and invited him to shoot the t-shirt to his favorite player. It was a perfect shot and Justin made a great catch. It was a sweet moment. Everyone enjoyed it and that would have been good enough all by itself. Not suspecting anything, Coach told Justin to hold up the shirt he just caught and read what it said. The shirt read, “Justin, congrats on earning a scholarship!” The room erupted in celebration and his teammates lifted him on their shoulders. It was a story of a guy who readied himself for the good of the team and cared for others when it wasn’t expected of him because his faith says it is the call on his life. Being “set” paid off in a most deserving way. Coach Fleck, talking about Justin’s heart to serve said, “He could easily just not do it and nobody would ever say anything. All he does is continue to keep his oar in the water.”  That, my friends, is what it water-walking looks like.
Are you “Set?” Are you primed to hear the voice of Christ call to you, “Come”? There’s truly no better way to live and there’s no time our world needs such an embodied presence more than now. Put in the work. Read up, pray up, friend up. Listen for the voice of Christ. You’ll be set when the time is right. “Come!” “You mean now?” “Come.”
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 https://www.si.com/college-football/2017/08/09/pj-fleck-justin-juenemann-full-scholarship-minnesota-fototball. Just one of the many places this story was covered.