Doubters and Leapers

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

John 20.19-31

Does anybody want to go to Hawaii?

Well, I’d like to take you, as Barney might say, in our imagination to the north shore of the island of Oahu. There is a bay there called Waimea Bay. Has anybody ever been there, Waimea Bay? If you go there in the winter, it’s best not to enter the water, because they have some of the wildest, largest surf on the planet there. But in the summer, the bay is actually pretty calm and you can scuba dive around there if you want. To one side of the bay is a big rock that extends out from the sand into the water. And they call it, “The Big Rock.” It is perfectly positioned with a steep face right over the water and it’s about 30 feet high. Does anybody know how high this ceiling is, to the tip of the ceiling? About 30 feet? So you would be standing there about at the top. Now in terms of cliff-diving it might not be the highest thing, but if you’re a little kid, or if you’re a little squeamish about heights, that’s a big rock.

It’s become a tradition to ignore the signs not to climb on the rocks and to make your way up to the top and to jump off into the water. Perhaps if you would visit with me in your imagination and would go up on the rock with me… now I want to ask you, are you someone who would just go up there and look and go “YEAH!!!!” and jump off and fly into the water, legs and arms flailing, or would you kind of inch your way up to the top and peer over and say, “Uh, you do it first.” Now which kind of person are you?

Somebody’s looking at their partner and saying, “No, you’re not! You’re the other kind!”

At the bottom is cool refreshing water, but you have to leap to reach it. This morning we gather here in this place, we climb a rock of a different sort, it is the Rock of Decision. At the bottom we see the cool refreshing waters of faith, but to get there, you have to take a leap. We don’t hurl our bodies off, at least not in the beginning (faith may involve that later), but initially, the leap of faith is one that involves our minds and our hearts and our very spirits.

When you sincerely leap, it shapes your core convictions. Not just the convictions that we utter for public consumption, you know the ones that we like to talk about when others are looking and listening. But it shapes the convictions that govern how we see things, that determine what we do, and what we say and what decisions we make with our money and our time and our talents. Folks, that Rock of Decision is The Big Rock. It shapes our life.

Now some go up and climb up that rock and make the leap with abandon. They jump off, legs flailing, “Yes, Jesus! I’m yours! Amen! Hallelujah!” Some make this leap hesitantly, inching up to the side, watching others go first. And then there are also some that wait at the top of the rock, just looking, thinking, wondering whether it’s really worth it at the bottom. Wondering whether there are any rocks that we can’t see down there that might break a leg or two. Maybe we can just climb down and wade in the water.

Well, that might be an option in Waimea, but not when it comes to faith. There comes a point when faith asks us to step out, to leap off, to give ourselves up to gravity and the water. We might not be sure about how deep it is, but others are doing it. How about us? When it comes to faith, are you a doubter or a leaper?

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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