FOLLOWING – Chapter 5

Peter! What in the world happened? You are soaking wet! The cell is soaking wet. Everything is soaking wet!

It is just one of the things that take place in this prison. They come through with huge buckets of water to just clean out everything – us, our cells and anything else that might be here. It happens, I guess, when the stench just gets so bad that they decide they cannot stand it anymore.

Wow! You are soaked to the skin!

It’s certainly not the first time in my life (nor in this prison!). As a fisherman one ends up in the lake for different reasons from time to time. There was a time with Jesus when I followed him into the lake on a stormy night. I was really soaked that time!

Why were you and Jesus swimming in the lake on a stormy night?

Well, swimming had little to do with it and that is what makes the story important for a new disciple like you! We talked last week about the time that we were with Jesus and how over 5,000 people were fed. What we didn’t get to was that Jesus sent us all on our way after that took place. He dismissed the crowds and then we got into a boat to head across to the other side of the lake. Jesus stayed behind for some private time to pray up on the mountain.

A storm came on the lake. Storms on that lake can be vicious! While we were a good way from land, we also were not anywhere near our destination. We were out on a dangerous, stormy lake in the middle of the night!

As if that were not enough, suddenly we saw Jesus walking toward us upon the lake! I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true! We thought that it could be a ghost or something. But, Jesus cried out to us, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Something came over me in that moment. I am still not sure if it was the devil or the Holy Spirit, but, I found myself saying to what seemed to be Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come upon the water.”

What? Why in the world would you have used that as your test for whether it was Jesus or not?

Well, that is why I am still a little uncertain if it was the devil or the Holy Spirit. I lean more toward the Spirit, but, with what happened, you will see that I was not really prepared to take the next step, for Jesus did say, “Come.”

Now understand, as a fisherman for so many years, I was a pretty good swimmer. But also, as a fisherman for so many years, I knew that this was not a time to be out swimming in the lake at any distance from the boat! But, Jesus said, “Come,” and so I did!

I took a step upon the water and it held me. I took another step and it held me.  I walked a few feet away from the boat and looking to Jesus as I walked upon the water briefly. But, the wind was really howling. The water was up and down. This was so crazy. I took my eyes off Jesus and started looking around at where I was and what I was doing. I lost it! I was afraid and then I began to sink! I cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of me. He said to me in that moment, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

He got me back to the boat and we both climbed in. As that happened, the wind just stopped, and the lake was soon still. We were amazed, humbled, and inspired to just worship him and realize that he truly was the Son of God!

What a story! He really walked on water!? You really walked on water!?

I know that it is miraculous, but, yes, it is true. But, what is even more important is what I learned as a follower of Jesus.

Those few moments that I walked on the water were purely possible because I had my eyes on Jesus and believed in his calling to me to come to him. The wind and the water were not as much on my mind as I stepped out of the boat because I was, for a few moments, focused upon him. He called, and I followed.

It was, in one sense, very similar to the fishing story that I shared with you when Jesus was with us and we had the great catch of fish. He invited us to go fishing and we followed – twice. First, out onto the lake where we acquired a huge catch of fish. Then, he called us to follow out into the hills of Galilee as he continued to preach his message of the coming of the kingdom. He called. We followed.

In this instance, when I took my eyes off Jesus and no longer saw him before me, I was lost! The wind and the waves were greatly beyond anything that I could handle by myself. I knew this as an experienced fisherman. What I had lost was all that I was learning about what it meant to follow Jesus. The storm was greater than me. The storm was not greater than Jesus.

I will say it again to you, I was lost when I took my eyes off Jesus.

This was the lesson that I have treasured since that day. I have taken my eyes off Jesus many times since, but I now tend to realize it sooner and turn back more quickly. (Well, there was one evening where that was not the case, but that is a story for another visit!)

I hear you saying that a key aspect of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus is learning how to follow him and keep my eyes focused upon him even though I cannot physically see him now.

It is the essential focus of a disciple. It is all about Jesus. He is there as you listen and learn from these stories of him. He is there as you walk in the wetness of your baptism each day (which especially comes to mind for me right now!). He is there as you eat the bread and drink the wine of the Meal. He is there in your prayer life, always hearing and guiding. He is there in your midst as you gather with other sisters and brothers who are disciples. He is there as you reach out in words and actions into the lives of your neighbors. He is there. He is here now.

Jesus said, “Follow me,” so long ago and my life has been blessed. He is saying to you, as well, “Follow me!”

What I am just beginning to learn is that, even though I never knew Jesus as he walked this earth, it is still possible for me to know and follow that same Jesus right now these years later in a completely different part of the world! What you are saying is that this is not just a novel idea that I should think about and toy with. This is the essential aspect of what it really means to be a Christian disciple. I am to follow Jesus and Jesus is ready and available to lead me daily in my life!

That is exactly what I am saying and could not have said it any better myself!

But, it must come so naturally to you as one who knew Jesus back then. How do I develop this ability to listen and learn where Jesus is leading me in any given moment?

We learned very early in those days after Jesus ascended that he left us with some key experiences that inspired us and renewed us in our journeys with him. We began to devote ourselves to the stories of his life and teachings as we recalled them and shared them, and as we studied and learned from the scriptures themselves. There was a powerful sense of new life in those conversations – his Spirit was there as we shared.

We learned that our baptisms had meaning not just at the beginning of our walks with Jesus, but for our daily journeys of faith. We found we were comforted by the promise of God in Jesus that came to us in our baptisms. They were resources of confirmation of God’s love and grace in times where we struggled and doubted. And, we were renewed as we celebrated the meal of bread and wine together as a community. We have that physical promise again and again that he gave his body and shed his blood for our forgiveness and new life. It is ongoing spiritual nourishment in physical form. He was and is present there with us in that simple meal.

We learned the value of prayer. We found that it mattered to talk with the Lord and listen for guidance. We learned that it inspired and guided us as we turned faithfully to him in prayer. For me, talking in prayer to God was all I knew in my earliest days. Learning to listen has been fascinating and inspiring. I have found that the Lord gives guidance during my prayers if I listen.

We learned that it was healthy for our journeys to be together and share with each other. Our community in him, our fellowship, was not just a nice experience. It fed our faith and we found that there was a strong sense of his presence as even two or three were gathered together in his name. He told us, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

We learned that as we reached out in words and action into the needs and lives of our neighbors, Jesus was there. If fact, it brought the full meaning to his parable where he had said: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” In those times of vulnerability in which one becomes available to people who are in need, the Spirit is present. Jesus is there. Conversations and actions of love and grace happen in ways that are often unplanned and amazing.

Jesus rose from the dead and is alive and present in us, with us and through us! It has been a truth that I have experienced for many years now.

So, for a disciple, there are disciplines to focus upon – the scriptures and the stories and teachings of the apostles; fellowship with other followers; our baptisms; the meal; praying – talking with and listening to Jesus; and reaching out in the love of Jesus to the needs of our neighbors!

Yes, he is still with us and leading and calling us to follow.

I get it. And, I know I will have a lifetime of learning, but eternity to enjoy! But, now my damp friend, I must leave and will be back next week.

Go in Jesus!

 

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY:

  1. When have you felt that the living Jesus was particularly present and providing support, guidance and/or grace to you in your faith journey?
  2. How have you sought to keep your eyes on Jesus in your faith journey?
  3. Peter listed a group of five things, disciplines, that have been used by disciples to grow more connected with the living Christ over many years: God’s Word (those stories); the Sacraments, Prayer, Fellowship and Witnessing in words and actions. As you consider these five disciplines, which has been most helpful to you in your faith journey?
  4. As you think about those five disciplines, of which have you taken least advantage as you have sought to grow in your faith?
  5. What would be one new step that you might take with one of those disciplines upon which to focus for growth in following Jesus – keeping your eyes on him?