Children have an amazing capacity for faith... I think that’s part of the reason Jesus told his disciples, “Let the little children come to me... for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Most of you know that Tammy and I have three grown children... and maybe I’ve mentioned this before... I don’t really remember: but when our boys were small... pre-school and elementary aged children... we had lots of fun with elves. I’d tell them “elves” were watching... and say “look, there’s one now, behind that tree - or in that bush” - and they’d swear they could see it!
Because I could imagine it... they could see it... they could embrace the possibility that there’s more to life than literally meets the eye. Which is a powerful truth!
And that’s what faith is... in simplistic terms. Faith is believing in more than what we can physically see or intellectually understand. Faith is the belief that there’s literally more than meets the eye! There’s more to life than what we can physically see and hear, touch, taste and smell. Faith is the confidence in what we hope for and the assurance of things we cannot see.
Of course... to a child, faith is limited by an undeveloped view of the world. A child simply cannot comprehend that the gifts hoped for and received, are really the manifestation of the love of God, demonstrated and lived-out through the love of their parents.
But as a child grows and matures, his or her faith develops, too. In fact, for most of us, our faith is an ever-changing, ever growing part of who we are - through out the entirety of our lives.
And as people of faith, we expect our faith to grow, to develop and mature... and it generally does. But, that growth is not steady - there are peeks and valleys along the way... and all too often our faith limited by the finite world around us, and our inability to totally comprehend an infinite God.
We have two stories of faith in our lessons for today. Both dealing with boats and water and miracles... and both requiring extreme faith... a childlike faith... to fully appreciate.
The first is the story of Jonah! Who doesn’t remember the story of Jonah and the whale from our childhood? It’s a story that has managed to transcend the bounds of Sunday school, and entered the common story of us all.
Jonah may have been the most reluctant prophet in the whole of the Old Testament... doing everything he possibly could to avoid doing what God had called him to do! He was unsuccessful ... but he gave it a great effort...
Jonah was a Hebrew. He had a deep and abiding faith in God, there’s no doubt about that! But like most Hebrews of the day, Jonah was convinced that his God... Yahweh... was the God of the Hebrews alone, and not the God of every nation that we know him to be.
And since Jonah believed God to be God of the Hebrews - not the Ninevites... he had no desire whatsoever to share God’s Word with such heathens. So when God told him to go up to Nineveh and preach repentance to the Ninevites... he was determined to do the opposite... In fact, Jonah was so determined to avoid God’s call... God’s will... that he hurried off to the port of Joppa, boarded a ship that was headed West... believing he could sail beyond God’s reach.
Of course, Jonah’s plan didn’t exactly go as he’d imagined. God whipped up a storm. Jonah realized it was because of his disobedience, so he told the ship's crew to throw him overboard... choosing to die rather than do God’s will.
But God had other plans for Jonah. He sent a big fish which swallowed Jonah up... saving Jonah... and in our Lesson for today, we hear Jonah praising God from the belly of the fish!
But the story continues: Assuming Jonah had learned his lesson, God had the great fish deposit Jonah on dry land. While Jonah was still drying off, God called to Jonah, again... a second time... to go and prophesy to Nineveh.
And this time he went... convinced that the Ninevites wouldn’t repent and God would destroy them... which is was Jonah’s Will... not God’s. And when the king and city repented... Jonah couldn’t believe it... and he threw a good ole’ fashioned temper tantrum... even to the point that he wished to die, again.
In other words... to the bitter end, Jonah tried to contradict God. While his faith in God was strong, Jonah’s limited vision hindered his comprehension of the infinite power, love, and forgiveness of God.
Then we have Peter... the impetuous, impulsive, brash Peter... whose faith was filled with passion and drive and desire... but waffled between the extremes of militant activism... to outright denial.
Peter’s faith, at best... wavered. In fact during Jesus’ earthly ministry, Peter’s faith was all over the place. It was Peter who drew his sword in defense of Jesus... and it was that same Peter who denied even knowing Jesus... three times!
Of course, when Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, he was not sure that it was Jesus: so he yelled out, “Lord, if it’s you, call me to come to you on the water.” Jesus replied, “Come!” Peter immediately began walking across the sea, but the moment he focused on the wind and waves... he began to sink. Causing Jesus, to reach out his hand and save Peter.
Suborn Jonah; waffling Peter.
I don’t think our lessons today are intended to determine who had the stronger faith, Jonah or Peter!
But, I do think both of these stories have been given to us as examples of how faith works... and how we’re (you and me) are part of God story of redemption.
Even when our faith isn’t perfect... even when our faith wavers... even when our own self-will gets in the way... God faithfully remains our source of salvation; our comforter; our protector; our provision; our friend.
Ultimately, in the end... God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness are stronger than our doubts, fears and even our prejudices.
Most all of us know what it’s like to have stubborn or wavering faith. That’s OK. The church was built by countless people over the centuries, who all experienced varying degrees of faith... but they also all experienced the confidence in what was hope for... and assurance about what could not be seen.
Through the lens of the Resurrection, we have the assurance of the infinite power, love, and forgiveness of our God. And as we experience our own Extreme Faith... may we know that every time we step out of the boat... or even when we allow ourselves to be cast into the stormy seas... God is there, providing a way to safety... Jesus is always there... reaching out to save us... when we call.