What do you seek when you seek God? For me this is one of the most important questions to ask at the beginning of any journey of faith, yet for most people when they begin or transition their faith lives they never take time to really explore this question. Often this leads to a faith without depth or a faith that is comfortable, a faith on your own terms.
The problem with faith in America and especially in the Bay Area is that we treat it like a commodity … even the church, yes even the Presbyterian church does this. Think about how often we equate church attendance with the power of the Spirit. But that is only one example of many where faith is used to buy and sell ideas, further political aspirations (this is true of the left and the right), and in some of the most egregious ways promote a hierarchy of righteousness. Those with more access are better than those without. This is a real problem which we see almost every day as people use faith to further their own power or influence over promoting God.
There is an interesting and overlooked aspect of faith in the New Testament. That overlooked aspect is the theocentricity of faith. For Christ, faith is a relationship between people and God. It is a trust that God will provide in our final hours but it is also a responsibility on our part to be in fidelity to God in all aspects of our lives. This is best exemplified in one of the readings from the lectionary this week, Jesus walking on the water.
Jesus walking on water is one of those stories that is used as proof of Jesus’ identity and often used jokingly to prove people are not who they say they are, pointing to the fact that Peter sank. But to look at the story that way is to miss a huge part of the story. The story of Jesus walking on water is not a miracle story like many of the others which are to prove Jesus’ identity and connection with God, while that plays a part; this story really is about Peter and faith.
We forget that for a brief time Peter is able to walk on the water, just as Jesus had. In his exuberance he left the boat and found his way towards Christ. But along the way he lost his focus and began to let the wind cast doubt and he began to sink. The faith that he had in Christ was lost to the situation he was finding himself in at that moment and panic ensued.
The problem for Peter is that as much as he wanted to be with Christ, he still let his own will overpower his faith, thinking that the things of this world have power when God is involved. The teaching that Christ gives to Peter is that if he had stayed focused, if he had not let the strong wind corrupt him, he might have been able to make it to Christ.
Peter was someone who tried to be faithful like so many of us, but his greatest problem while being Christ’s disciple, and ultimately the fatal denial that cost Jesus his mortal life, was his inability to keep the faith when difficulty arose. He took the things he “knew” -- whether that be the wind in the sea or safety from persecution -- to be ultimate over God, not trusting that God will provide.
Peter is not alone. We all succumb to the powers in this world defining faith not in terms of God, but in tangible things. Saying if “I am faithful God will. . .” is not a statement of faith because it is about us and not God. Think about Peter, the moment the wind came the faith he had in Christ came second to the reality he knew, when in fact had he kept the faith he would have made it all the way.
As you think about faith, it is really simple; focus on God and make God your goal. As you get distracted from that goal because people are telling you one thing or another, or when life jumps up and pulls you away from your journey, remember to stay focused on God’s calling, not man’s, and listen for Christ’s call to come. Even if you sink a little, if you regain that faith and focus, you’ll never drown.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen