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My last sermon at Christ Church
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on August 10, 2014

Pentecost 12 Proper 14
August 10,  2014

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1- 6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. (Sonnet 43)

            by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints – I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.


When I came to serve as your Interim, in Advent two years ago, I realized my role here was to be as John the Baptist, pointing to the one who was coming! And a few weeks ago when Michael Hodges was identified as that one who will be your new rector and travel with you going forward, I was aware that my role changed from the one who points to midwife, preparing you all -- and frankly, me -- for the birth or coming of a new person who will bring life and joy and, of course, change to this community, as every person who is added to a family does! In a year you won't be able to imagine life without Michael and his family, and I believe you will be a wonderful combination of priest and people.

As midwife, I want to make sure that all is in place, and some things are of course. We have done a lot of Preparing kinds of work together over these many months. And some things are, as in all communities, left undone, or this past week I have carefully moved them to someone else’s “to-do” list to get done! But more than that, I think the work of a midwife is to help you be ready, to make you comfortable, to help you give birth to your own new beginning, one that does not include me any longer, realizing I will not be here to celebrate with you as you begin your new life together with your new rector.  When I think of this day in those terms, helping you prepare for your life with new possibilities and new faces, and I willingly fade into the background, letting go, placing you lovingly into the care of a new pastor, it feels doable to me.  Though all week I have been acutely aware of my own wrestling with letting go of you.

I am sad. I knew this day was coming. I have done it before -- it's part of the job -- it's ”the deal”. But, still, you are a very special people, and I will miss you. When I thought about you this week, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem kept leaping into my mind. I posted it on my computer. It is the header on this sermon -- it fits how I am feeling about you as I prepare to leave. “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” For truly I do love you, and it has been a good match. Thank you to Jim Walker for seeing that so long ago now, and thank you to each of you and each of the people with whom I have had the great grace to work.  

Saying goodbye is never easy, but it is a good thing to do because it means that something new and wonderful is beginning. Beginnings come attached to endings. It is the way it works -- life is passed from the end to the beginning, as new life is passed from mother to child, new life moves, ever coming, even as it is ever leaving.

Now, you may be thinking, what do midwives and saying goodbye and new beginnings have to do with Jesus walking on water and Peter sinking? Affable, blundering Peter sinks, and Jesus pulls him out of the drink!

I will admit it's a stretch, but stay with me a minute longer. 

Jesus had gone off by himself for a bit to “regroup” as we all need to do from time to time -- different from saying goodbye, but an integral part of it, as well as essential to saying hello. Regrouping helps us to make sure our lives are being lived as we would choose them to be, as God would choose them to be. Regrouping is what prayer is all about, setting one’s mind outside one’s self, deliberately, and in a quiet, focused way that allows us to ponder and to “be still” long enough to receive what God sends us.

Jesus regrouped...and the disciples kept at it, doing what they usually did, fishing as they crossed the sea to the other side. A sudden storm came up -- not hard to imagine this time of year -- and they were tossed and turned by the waves, churned up to a point where fear began to seize them. And Jesus, hearing their cries of dismay, decided to walk over to them -- Right. He walked on water.

And so this week, our summer gospel readings, filled with parables and, as Helen noted last week, at least one miracle, welcome metaphors to the mix. Jesus walking on water may or may not be a scientific fact, with ice a factor or waters made shallow and blown away by storms or tides, or other”natural” phenomena. Or it might be one of those miracles, less easily explained scientifically than feeding 5000 men -- not counting women and children. But the “facts” of this metaphor are not nearly as important as the action that takes place in it. 

“Come!” Jesus said to Peter. And Peter got out of the rocking boat and walked on water with Jesus, or toward him anyway. And then the wind churned up again, in a summer whirlwind of a storm, and Peter became as frightened as he had been in the boat with the others. Fear overtook him once more. Fear made him think too much about what he was doing and how he didn’t know what was going to happen to him. And guess what ? He began to sink. He cried out for help. Jesus reached out and touched him, and pulled him into the boat.

Fear, we learn from this metaphor, is what kills faith and trust in God. When we are asked to do the impossible, or even just to step into a future that we cannot know, fear can destroy our ability to walk across the water with Jesus. It can destroy our faith in God and our ability to follow. Fear prevents us doing the impossible.

So I say to you now, as your midwife, fear not. Walk on the water with Jesus. You can do it. Your faith is strong. And when it wavers -- which it will because you are human -- we are all human, and for us faith wavers at times. Fear not.

Fear replaces faith for many reasons during our lives...perhaps because we forget to take those regrouping times in the tradition that Jesus modeled. Or when we spend our regrouping time thinking about ourselves, our wants and needs and lusts and wishes. Perhaps when our prayers become shallow, disconnected, self serving, “demands” or “instructions”. And then we find that we fear more, have faith less. When we forget that regrouping is about a time of deep listening to God’s directions, of letting go of fears rather than creating new reasons to have them, our faith wavers as Peter’s did in the storm. As your midwife, I say to you: listen to God’s voice, and fear not.

I trust that you will hear God’s insistence that you, too, walk on water with Jesus. I believe that you will go places, see things and do the impossible as you go forward with your new rector, Michael. I trust that you will find parables to tell, miracles to proclaim, and metaphors to explain your faith, and all the while your actions will exhibit the faith you all share. 

One thing I know for sure -- and this is fact and miracle -- You can depend on the faith of this community to hold the boat steady and be ready to be the hands of God reaching out to pull you back into the boat out of the raging waters to prevent you from sinking. I believe any ”regrouping” that you practice will direct you right back here toward this big, beautiful, boat filled with wonderful people. 

Our stewardship theme this past year was based on the puzzle of the church building, and we said every piece -- each of you -- is needed to make this boat the vessel of Christian Community that it is. I remind you of that this morning because as your midwife I want you to remember the new people that have come into your lives -- a child, a spouse, a coworker, a friend, perhaps even casual acquaintances -- and how they have changed you, your life, even your outlook on things. Remember how they have become as essential to you as those who were already there. Your “boat” changes shape and size to fit them in. You are right now about to have that experience of boat reshaping again! New people -- a new rector Michael and his family (Laurie, Emma and Sally) will bring more pieces that make up the puzzle of Christ Church. Each of them will be as essential as each of you.

So in the metaphor of this gospel lesson today, don’t be afraid of the water, because it is factual and true: a little water is necessary for each birth, each new opportunity to serve God, don’t be fearful of getting wet. You may walk on water, swim in it, ride on it, drink it in. Who knows what God will direct you to do?

Whatever it is, I know it will -- from afar -- cause me to love thee even more.  Peace my friends...and happy water walking! Amen.

Last Published: August 12, 2014 3:46 PM