This week, the girls and I took a quick, end of summer, Corona-cation up to Lake Malone. While trying to be safe and physically distant from others, we made a few plans for fun things to do. Miniature golf in Hopkinsville was a must. So was a stop at Stellian’s in Central City for ridiculous, bajillion-calorie milkshakes garnished with whole Twinkies, Little Debbie Nutty Buddy Bars, and Oreo Cookies. On the lake, we swam at the State Park Beach, but the centerpiece of our trip was a kayaking adventure. I know next to nothing about kayaking. I mean, I’ve paddled around for a few minutes near the shore in one a couple of times, but I am by no means an experienced kayaker. I probably should have researched how to get back into a kayak in deep water before we launched, but I honestly didn’t even know what I didn’t know. Without any faith in my own abilities, I put what little faith I had in the kayak’s buoyancy to keep us afloat.
During our afternoon ride, the lake got a little busy. At one point, cutting across our bow was a pontoon boat. On our port side was a speedboat, pulling a tube full of kids, making donuts in the water. These two powered machines were putting off pretty good wakes that were now coming at us from two different directions. In order to not find myself suddenly in the water, I needed to muster just enough faith in the center of gravity in my kayak so as not to panic and capsize myself. It wasn’t much faith, but it turned out to be enough to ride that little kayak through what this beginner thought was some pretty rough water. Meanwhile, in the other kayak, Eliza thought it was all a lot of fun. I believe Jesus had something to say about the faith of a child, but that’s for another sermon.
As I read the story of Jesus and his disciples on the stormy sea, I couldn’t help but look fondly upon the little faith of disciples. It is easy to look down on the disciples, especially Peter, in this story. Our lesson comes on the heels of one of the most remarkable miracles in Jesus’ ministry. The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle, aside from the Resurrection, to appear in all four Gospels. Hounded by the crowds, Jesus wasn’t even able to mourn the death of John the Baptist. As he and his disciples crossed the lake looking for solitude, the crowd ran around the shoreline to meet him. He spent the whole day curing the sick, until it grew late and the disciples suggested Jesus send everyone away to find something to eat. Instead, Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and made the disciples feed the crowd out of God’s great abundance. As soon as the twelve baskets of leftovers were collected, Jesus sent the disciples on their way back across the lake while he found a quiet place to rest and pray. We might wonder how their faith baskets weren’t also filled to overflowing.
The truth of the matter is that they still had plenty of reason to doubt. Jesus sending them away was reason enough to question what was going on. He’d spent the last several days telling them parables about weeds planted among the wheat, seeds that didn’t take good root, and angels separating the good fish from the bad. In the feeding miracle, they made what seemed like a mistake in suggesting that Jesus send the crowds away. Despite participating in such an enormous miracle, when Jesus chose to stay behind, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the disciples to wonder if something had gone wrong. Their faith was not particularly strong as the waves begin to the beat against the side of the boat and the wind turned against them. Exhausted from a night of fighting the storm and mired in doubt, it is no wonder that the disciples were terrified when they saw what appeared to be a person walking on top of the water, coming right at them. In their fear, they cried out, “It is a ghost!”
As their already shaky faith began to crumble, Jesus came right up to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” In order to experience this next miracle, all the disciples needed was enough faith not to panic and sink themselves. It seems that eleven of them got it, but Peter needed more proof. In that moment, Peter’s faith wasn’t strong enough to take Jesus at his word. He needed a sign. When Jesus called him out onto the water, his faith again began to falter, but as he sank, he cried out to the only one he knew could help him, “Lord, save me!”
It had been less than twelve hours since the disciples directly participated in one of Jesus’ miracles, yet their faith was fragile, and I honestly don’t blame them. It’s been twenty-two Sundays since we’ve been able to participate in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. Twenty-two Sundays since the community has gathered in the nave, a Latin word that literally means ship, a worship space designed to remind of us Christ’s presence in the stormy seas. If you are feeling like your faith is weak at this point, I don’t blame you. Going without the rituals and practices that have sustained this congregation for more than 175 years, it can most certainly feel like we’ve been battered by the waves and wind for 154 straight days. Having to decide whether to send your children to school as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow. Having to decide between putting yourself at risk to go to work or choosing between paying rent and buying groceries. Struggling to affect systemic, institutional change in light of 400 years of white supremacist policy in our nation. The waves are coming quickly from every direction, and it can feel like faith in God’s promise of restoration is hard to come by. Maybe you are looking out at the horizon and feeling terrified yourself.
In that kayak on Wednesday, I was reminded that even though it sounds like criticism from Jesus, a little faith is more than enough. Take heart. In fact, it is that very same Jesus who elsewhere tells his disciples that faith as small as a mustard seed could move mountains. Do not be afraid. We may not be able to gather in person, but even at a distance, God is present. Take heart. Even with a little faith, God can work miracles. Do not be afraid. Even if it feels like we are sinking, God can save us. Take heart. Do not be afraid. All God asks of us is enough faith not to panic and sink ourselves. The rest, even when it doesn’t feel like it, God’s got it. Take heart. Do not be afraid. My friends, a little faith is more than enough. Amen.
 I’m grateful for the Sermon Brainwave Podcast for sparking this line of thought during vacation week sermon prep. http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1287