Tired of Drowning: McKinley Sermon 6/26/16

This morning, I was fortunate to be the guest preacher at my home church in Champaign Urbana, McKinley Presbyterian. McKinley is a loving, inclusive place, and Pastor Heidi Weatherford and Associate Pastor Keith Harris work harder than anyone I know to follow the well-known directive to “preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

The scripture reading today was Matthew 14: 22-33, the story of the storm, when Peter steps out of the boat towards Jesus but becomes fearful and begins to sink. Jesus saves him, and then says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Below is the text of my sermon. Thank you so very much to the wonderful congregation at McKinley for allowing me to offer this testimony.


“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” This question has always struck me as a kind of blow, a slap. “Peter, why didn’t you do better? Why didn’t you listen? Haven’t you been watching, learning, and by the way, did you just miss that whole scene with the loaves and the fishes?”

But perhaps if we consider Jesus’ question to Peter not as a rebuke or a chastisement, but rather as a sincere inquiry, we might hear something like this: “Peter, what happened? What are you afraid of? Where is the conviction, and the belief, and the courage that you had only moments ago?”

Jesus’ question might not actually be, “Why did you doubt me?” but rather, “Why did you doubt you? Why did you doubt your own deep longing, and your desire to step forward towards something you are so very desperate to believe in?”

The poet David Whyte has something of an answer for these questions, and it can be found in his poem, “The Truelove.” As a poet, writer, and highly sought after organizational consultant, Whyte has worked for organizations all over the world bringing poetry and his own form of servant leadership to companies who are trying to do things differently than they have in the past. “The Truelove” was written for a group of nuns who were struggling with the reorganization of the health care company that they ran. So this poem is not simply about romantic love; it is about claiming the work and the life that is rightfully our own.

Photo by Brad Severance

The Truelove

There is a faith in loving fiercely
the one who is rightfully yours
especially if you have
waited years and especially
if part of you never believed
you could deserve this
loved and beckoning hand
held out to you this way.

I am thinking of faith now
and the testaments of loneliness
and what we feel we are
worthy of in this world.

Years ago in the Hebrides
I remember an old man
who walked every morning
on the grey stones
to the shore of baying seals

who would press his hat
to his chest in the blustering
salt wind and say his prayer
to the turbulent Jesus
hidden in the water

and I think of the story
of the storm and everyone
waking and seeing
the distant
yet familiar figure
far across the water
calling to them

and how we are all
preparing for that
abrupt waking,
and that calling,
and that moment
we have to say yes,
except it will
not come so grandly
so Biblically
but more subtly
and intimately in the face
of the one you know
you have to love

so that when
we finally step out of the boat
toward them, we find
everything holds
us, and everything confirms
our courage, and if you wanted
to drown you could,
but you don’t
because finally
after all this struggle
and all these years
you don’t want to any more
you’ve simply had enough
of drowning
and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness
however fluid and however
dangerous to take the
one hand you know
belongs in yours.

— David Whyte
from The House of Belonging 
©1996 Many Rivers Press

While there are many beautiful elements in this poem, the one I’d like to call special attention to this morning is the somewhat startling truth that when we step out of the boat towards what we are longing for, towards what we truly desire, despite the fact that everything holds us, if we wanted to drown we could. But why would we want to? Why indeed.

In “Let Your Life Speak,” the Quaker author and educator Parker Palmer, in writing about his own grueling experience with clinical depression, reminds us that in Deuteronomy 30:19, God says, “I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Therefore choose life.” Palmer asks, “Why do we need such an obvious reminder?

Photo by Toni Frissell, 1947

Because the truth is that we choose the wretchedness of drowning all the time. We just don’t like to think about it. We choose to drown when we withdraw from others, when we retreat into cynicism or learned helplessness, when we numb ourselves into oblivion with whatever our drug of choice might be. We choose drowning when we allow ourselves to believe the lie of our own unworthiness, and when we simply give up because we have lost faith in our power to do something, anything.

We choose to drown when we worry that perhaps God wasn’t really talking to us when God said, “For surely I know the plans I have for you…plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” We choose drowning because it’s easier, and we are creatures of comfort. Yet drowning is a perverse comfort that allows us to expect little from ourselves, and for others to expect little of us. There is no courage in drowning.

And this is a time for courage. It’s not a time to rely on hope alone. Jesus tells the disciples to take heart. He calls Peter out of the boat, and it is an invitation to step towards what he longs for, regardless of the wind and the water. And “The Truelove” is a hopeful, human, joyous, clear-eyed call to claim the love, the work, the life that is rightfully ours, whatever it takes.

Above all, it is a call to say, YES.



6 thoughts on “Tired of Drowning: McKinley Sermon 6/26/16

Add yours

  1. Absolutely incredible how rich this post was. “Because the truth is that we choose the wretchedness of drowning all the time. We just don’t like to think about it.” There are no truer ways to describe this. Thank you so much!


    1. Wow! Thanks! As someone who has truly benefitted from recovery through rehab and treatment, this means a lot! Feel free to share with anyone who may benefit!


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