Preaching a God who believes in us more than we believe in him

I am into 'radical hermeneutics'. I am reading Caputo's 'What would Jesus deconstruct.' Barth is often my starting point for the way that I then go on to articulate faith. It is not as if I have read my way through the Church Dogmatics, no mean feat, but somehow my theological education was Barthian because it was given this flavour over all others by the faculty at college.  That it is all God's initiation is so helpful, that it all begins with him and in him and it is not about us working up a faith which is often where I am left with evangelicals who have to have all their doctrine in order before they feel like they are really walking in the way, helps so much.

So this morning i spoke about Peter but really I spoke about Jesus. The bible is so very much a book from which, rather than us learning how to behave, being taught a moral code - boy, it it is that - it gets confusing, we are shown instead the character of God through Jesus Christ...Jesus is revealed and how to live is worked out in the light of that and changing circumstances.

...so we concentrate on Peter when perhaps we are to look at Jesus and his approach - this God of promises who is actually making his way to the boat, to join us in those situations we can not bail out of, we can not leave.  Peter steps out of the boat and is often then a hero of the faith - someone to emulate. If we can only keep our eyes on Jesus we can even surpass him in the faith stakes and somehow it becomes a story about trying harder, being more focussed, being better than I am and it can be exhausting. We are made to wonder about the should be's and the could be's...about making our way to Jesus. This can not be right can it? What about with a right view of the sending, missional God, this was instead always a story about Jesus coming to us, getting almost interrupted by the bold faith of Peter as Jesus makes his way to us!

What if we concentrate less on Peter and more on the disciples who remain in the boat. What if we focus instead on how we are are to remain in the boat. We have reason to stay there  – to remain in a family when family life is hard, to keep working at a job when we feel we are not being as valued as we could be, to remain in a church where it is not always very comfortable, a church that is perhaps undergoing lots of change. Staying in the boat requires just as much faith - trusting that Jesus will come to us and climb into the very beaten-up by the waves situation that we are in.  Peter might be heroic but no more heroic than those of us who stay in the boat – was Peter even perhaps more into being self-sufficient and proving who he was when Jesus instead demonstrates how powerful Jesus is when we are not.

Jesus draws near to Peter indeed but he is on his way to the boat. In that storm Jesus is walking toward that boat when Peter sinks. He comes so much toward them all that finally he just gets in that beaten-up boat with them. We focus on Peter walking toward Jesus when the whole story is about how much Jesus walks towards us.

The truth of this story is that Jesus walks toward us. The truth of the story is that the piles of faith I have or the lack of faith I have do not stop God from drawing close. We say that creed of ours, which we are exploring in church this term and sometimes we enter into it fully and sometimes it does not see us in a good place but we declare it nevertheless because of this God reaching out to us whether we are steady and sure or not to say trust me. I believe... is I trust and God seeks relationship with us, not our subscription to a bunch of propositions.

As Isaiah writes “For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” – Isaiah 41:13 – it is those promises that we build our trust upon – this is the God we believe in. This is the one God, Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth who reaches for us, steps into our boats to sail the storms with us. It is okay to be unsure in the water. Jesus knows all about it.


Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

"If we can only keep our eyes on Jesus we can even surpass him [Peter or Jesus?] in the faith stakes and somehow it becomes a story about trying harder, being more focussed, being better than I am and it can be exhausting."

Well this isn't very Barthian, is it? Also, a bit further down you somewhat contradict this.

"the piles of faith I have or the lack of faith I have do not stop God from drawing close."

The texts are a cultural construction trying, by such interpretation, not to be a cultural construction - and yet this approach leaves them bereft as detached narrative.

Rach said...

Adrian - that is exactly the point I am making - read it again. With that sentence I am questioning the preaching I have heard. We preach Jesus making his way to us rather than us making our way to Jesus -no contradiction later if read carefully.

Thanks though - you echo my thoughts.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It's the extended description of doing it wrong (in your viewpoint). I don't agree with you though, as you'd expect. Perhaps that's what happened when I read it. I thought I agreed with this part and somewhat mistook the point, finding it then otherwise as well as it starting otherwise.

Rach said...

Not wrong as such - some people do need to get out of the boat, so to speak - this passage is used a lot to encourage people to take a risk and trust that Jesus will be there for them even when it gets rough, I just think it's interesting too to think about what it is like for those of us who remain in the boat. What do you think we can find from this passage about ourselves and God.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It's about being purposeful and keepuing your eye focused, and if you don't and lose confidence then you sink, but even if you sink (as you do) a hand will pick you up.


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