“….and Getting out of the Boat” 09/16/2018 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Genesis 12: 1-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Matthew 14:22-33 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Last week’s scriptures brought us into the story of Noah and the Ark from the book of Genesis in the Old Testament and the story of the disciples getting into the boat with Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew in New Testament.  Through these stories we reflected on the idea of what it was to get into the boat.

Our scripture this morning continues and expands upon this theme.  For here we have Abraham being called out of the life that he had known.  He is packing up and stepping out with nothing but a promise and an assurance to guide him.  A promise that he will be blessed and an assurance that he will be a blessing.  With that ephemeral hope hanging in the air, he gets in the proverbial boat and sets off.

And we reflected that isn’t that what we do as well. Isn’t that what we have done this morning?  Haven’t we too gotten into this ark, this boat that is to carry us into this program year?  Haven’t we too left the mooring of our comfortable routine, leaving the morning paper on table and our coffee growing cold beside it?  Haven’t we too packed up kids, or arranged for the ride so that we may come into this place longing also for a hope and a promise?

But before we go any further let us pray.  Holy one, you call us in and send us out.  You bless us and command us.    Be with us in this time, we pray and set your truth on our hearts.  And may the words of my mouth and the mediations of all of our hearts, be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.


Getting into the boat is not easy.   It is not easy to carve out this hour amidst all of the other demands on our time and energy.  I appreciate that it would be easier actually not to do so and I appreciate, as we talked about last week, that doing so is counter cultural.

This came home to me again over the summer, when we do not have our regular Sunday morning services.  Instead of getting into the boat on Sunday mornings often would run errands or go to the gym, and every time I was rather shocked at the number people I found there.   Who knew that while we are in here, doing this, the rest of the world is busily going about their busy lives.

It takes intention to get into the boat.


But as challenging and important as getting into the boat is, getting into the boat is not what the life of faith is all about.   Getting into the boat is important, but it is not the most important move we are to make.  The most important move we are to make is what can happen next.  And that is, that we, like Peter, can find ourselves commanded to get out of the boat.

For being church is not to be an escape from the world.  Instead, being church is where we discover, and re-discover over and over again, that ancient Gospel Way (a Way that becomes new in our living) a Way of entering more deeply into the world — Into our own lives, into the lives of each other and of our neighbors around the world, and into the very mystery and mission of God.

So what is it about this place, here in this ark?  What are we to learn and experience so that we too can find ourselves commanded to step out?

I believe there are three key qualities or experiences of community that are needed.

I’d love to explore these three qualities  with you more deeply over the course of this program year, but that in our time together this morning I will briefly touch on each one.  They are Belonging, Connection and Purpose. [1]

The first quality of community that is needed to make stepping out  possible is that of True Belonging.  To unpack what that means, I draw upon the wisdom and research of Brené Brown ( a research professor at the University of Houston who for the past 16 years has been studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy).  She writes:

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone it the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” [2]

True belonging asks us to be vulnerable.  To come out of our place of hiding and show up as our authentic selves.  True Belonging is what Jesus was all about.  To be in his presence was to belong.  This is the grace he offered so freely because it is the grace that is the starting place of it all.

Here we are to create a community of true belonging, which stands in counter to a culture of fitting in.  Here we are to be a place where who we truly are is welcomed not where conformity to a certain ideal is required.

The second quality of community that is needed to make getting out of the boat possible is that of Connection.  I saw this over and over again in my work with Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.  People who had been cast out, deemed unredeemable, given up on and thrown away were who the program served.  And  I will never forget what Jim O’Connell the founder and president of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program and so many other talented people who practice there taught me.  He said, “true healing can only happen on the far side of trust.” Here was a brilliant, top trained physician affirming that skill, competence, commitment, expertise is not the gateway to healing, trust is.  All of whatever is also needed comes out of the birthing ground of trust.

Trust is what enables connection. And connection, writes Brené Brown “is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement.[3]

The third quality of community that is needed to make getting out of the boat possible is that of purpose.  We create a community of true belonging and authentic connection so that we can catch a glimpse of a greater purpose of our living.  Our life work is not just to find a way to survive in the rat race of our days.  Our life work and purpose is to share in the mystery and mystery of God.  When we experience true belonging and authentic connection, we can not only catch a glimpse of the life of God but begin to share in it.  When we do our lives take on purpose and meaning.

And that is what I think happened to Peter that day.

When we are “in the boat” so to speak, experiencing true belonging, sharing in a community of authentic connection and awakening to our sense of purpose, we find ourselves living in alignment with the divine energy and spirit of God.  And to live in alignment with the divine energy and spirit of God is to be drawn out of ourselves and into a bigger life.  It is to be commanded to get out of the boat.

I heard Rob Bell, pastor and teacher, put it this way.  He said :

“We live in a universe that has been expanding for 13.8 billion years and when you move beyond yourself in love generosity and compassion, when you expand, you are lining yourself up with the fundamental energies of the universe.  ”[4]

Brilliant poet David Whyte expresses this moment in his poem “just beyond yourself”

It’s where

you need

to be.


Half a step



and the rest


by what

you’ll meet.


There is a road

always beckoning.


When you see

the two sides

of it

closing together

at that far horizon

and deep in

the foundations

of your own


at exactly

the same



that’s how

you know

it’s the way



to go.


That’s how

you know

it’s the road



to follow.



how you know.


It’s just beyond



where you

need to be.


In that moment of which David Whyte speaks, Peter sees Jesus coming to them across the turbulent waves of the sea.  In that moment, something in Peter shifts.  And Peter cries out “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says  “Come.”

Peter who worked so hard to get into the boat, Peter who has so many doubts about what this being “fisher of people-life” was all about.  Peter who was so sure of himself that he will try to correct Jesus and then deny him three times. Peter who will need to be forgiven not just once but three times, Peter who will be as Jesus named him the rock, upon which the church even this church stands, throws first one leg and then the other out of the boat and onto the stormy sea takes his first steps.

Getting out of the boat is the discovery of a capacity that frees us from feeling we need to escape life or the fear of feeling swept away by it, but instead gives us energy, curiosity and wisdom to enter more fully into it.  And that is just inherently a more interesting as well as helpful, generous, way of living.

We enter and work to create this place of belonging, connection and purpose so that it can enable us to step out to join with God in helping to birth, re-create this experience of belonging, connection and purpose so that all may come to know the healing and redemption that enables the getting out of the boat.  When this happens, when the multiplication of this grace happens we will finally come to know I trust not only God’s Joy made complete in us but we will come to see a pathway towards the healing and redemption of the world.   This is the movement of faith, we get into the boat and help others do so as well so that when the time is right we can take the bold step of getting out.  This is our the rhythm of our work, our life, our joy.


Now as a grace note, how many of us when we heard the Gospel passage immediately focused not the amazing move of Peter getting out of the boat but instead on, after taking a few steps, Peter sinks into the waves?  I will not ask for a show of hands but isn’t that what we do?  If you cannot do it perfectly than it is not worth doing at all.  Who said that?! Not God.  For as Peter sinks, Jesus saves.  How many of you would condemn a toddler who falls the first time she release her hold from the coffee table? None right?   Don’t we all cheer?

So let us get into the boat.  Let us create here a place of belonging, connection and purpose so powerfully compelling that we cannot help but step out. Step out as ambassadors of God’s grace into a world that needs to know what it is to find belonging, connection and purpose so that together we may join in the life giving, world saving power of Love that is God.

And let sinking, that is sure to some, not deter the stepping out.  For Jesus saves and grace abounds.   Thanks be to God, Amen.

[1] “Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle (Random House Business Books: 2018) provides an concise and compelling argument for these three attributes as key to a thriving community.

[2] Brené Brown, “Braving the Wilderness. The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone.” P. 40.

[3] “Daring Greatly” Brene Brown, P. 145

[4] Rob Bell “Something To Say – Part 4”  The work of Rob Bell. Podcast.