I began by reading the first page of “the Hobbit”.
The hobbit we meet here is Bilbo Baggins, and the adventure that is told of in this book is one of dragons and treasure, friendship and tested loyalties. It is a tale of a journey, and on that journey there is danger and fear, pain and suffering, but there is also joy and laughter. On this journey, we hear the beginnings of another story, that of the Lord of the Rings.
One of the things that I think many people love about this book is that Bilbo is such an unlikely hero. When we first meet him he is a homebody, someone who is content in his life and in his home. He doesn’t travel far, he doesn’t need to. He is safe and comfortable, warm and well fed. He has no desire for adventure and is bounced into it by Gandalf and a bunch of unruly dwarves. As he travels and meets the challenges that face him he discovers resources that he never knew he had, parts of his character develop that never would have grown if he had only stayed at home. As the book goes on, we travel with him and delight to see him blossom and overcome, and to see him live up to the promise that Gandalf saw in him. It is a journey which ends with Bilbo back at home, a greater hobbit than when he set out.
Peter was at home in his boat. It probably wasn’t as warm, dry, or comfortable as Bilbo’s hobbit hole, but Peter was at home there. He was a fisherman, he was on the lake that he had always worked on. He was at home on the lake, he was at home in the boat. Of course, there was a stiff wind blowing and the sea was rough but Peter wouldn’t have been particularly concerned. He was with his mates, some of whom were also fishermen on this lake. They knew the ropes, and would ride out the weather, no problem. Peter was with his friends, in a safe place, in familiar surroundings, even if they weren’t going anywhere.
Suddenly everything gets turned upside down. Something happens that calls into question something that is completely central to Peter’s understanding of how the world works. Jesus walks out to the boat. The disciples were absolutely terrified when they saw this. Jesus was forcing them to unlearn something that had probably been taught them before they could speak. Think about it. If you are a parent living by a lake, what is one of the most important things to teach your children? Water safety. Whether you go down the water is dangerous, keep away from the edge route, or down the water is fun, we need to learn to swim route, either way, your children need to understand the properties of water. You can’t breathe it and it won’t support your weight unless you can swim or have a boat. In waterside communities children learn these two basic facts about water very young. Jesus challenged his friends to unlearn them.
Peter stepped up to this challenge. He stepped out of the boat. He left the place where he was comfortable, where he knew what he was doing, where his friends were, where he was at home, and he stepped out towards Jesus. He walked on the water. On the way he had a wobble, he took his eyes of Jesus and was distracted by the wind and waves and he began to sink. Jesus caught him and walked with him back to the boat. Peter went on a short journey that ended up with him back at home, with a greater faith and understanding of who Jesus is then if he had only stayed at home.
Now this is my last regular Sunday morning here. In a week or so Liz, Tabitha, Nathaniel and I will move to Telford to begin a new part of the journey that we are walking with Jesus. God has called us there, and we are going. It will mean leaving people and places that have become home for us, and that will be painful. However, it is our experience as we have moved from place to place, and from new thing to new thing that God who calls us also provides for us, and that we will find new friends and make a new home in Telford. I fully expect that this journey will bring us back home (even if that home is in a different place), with a greater faith, with a greater understanding of who we are, and of who Jesus is.
As we go, it is our prayer for you all that you will also have this experience, both as a church and as individuals.
If you are to experience this then it seems to me that there are three questions that it would be useful to think about.
What is it that Jesus is challenging you to unlearn? What is it that Jesus is calling you to leave behind? What is it that Jesus is calling you to?
What is it that Jesus is challenging you to unlearn? Is there something that you learnt a long time ago about how the world works, about how life works, about how the church works that you need to unlearn? It might be an understanding that that your house is private place that only you and your close family are invited to. It might be a belief that church is something for Sunday mornings. It might be the idea that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, as long as you’re a good person. What is Jesus challenging you to unlearn?
What is Jesus calling you to leave behind? What is that makes you feel comfortable, that you want to hold on to, that makes you feel safe? Are those things stopping you answering Jesus’ call. It might be a work place, it might be a group of friends, it might be the street that you’ve lived on for so long, it might be a way of worshipping, or a form of prayers that have become so comfortable that they have stopped enabling you to encounter God, but are now preventing you moving closer to God. What is Jesus calling you to leave behind?
What is Jesus calling you to? It might not be walking on water. I’m not sure that he’s asking us all to head off to Fenton pool and to practice on the deep end. But there are things that he is calling you to. At the end of his time on earth Jesus told his disciples to go and make more disciples. That call is for all of us. We are only here as followers of Jesus because disciples down the ages followed that call. There will only be disciples in the future if we also answer that call. To make disciples we first have to be disciples, those who are willing to learn from our teacher. At different stages of our Christian lives that will mean different things. It might mean more time spent with God in prayer, it might mean more generosity in our giving of our time, money, and selves to others, it might mean reading our Bibles more so that we can hear God speaking to us. It will almost certainly mean more opening up of our lives to share with other disciples. Answering the call to make disciples is scary, but we can do it as we keep our eyes focussed on Jesus. As we walk towards him, we invite others to walk with us. What is Jesus calling you to?
Peter’s step out of the boat was a step into a faith that would see the world changed through his preaching of Jesus’ life changing power.
Bilbo’s step out of the door led, via another three books, to the triumph of good over evil for his whole world.
I wonder what your step out will lead to.