Jump!

For five summers, I taught swimming for my local Parks and Recreation Department. Every Monday through Friday, for ten weeks, from 9:00 in the morning until 12:30, I could be found surrounded by six to eight children ranging in age from 3-14. My favorite skill level to teach was beginner swimming. As anyone who taught Red Cross Swimming in the eighties remembers, each ten-day course had clear daily modules, designed to guide the young swimmer towards mastering the skills needed to pass.
Beginner Swimmer was always the same series of lessons. Day one, we slowly worked our way into the shallow end of the pool, we methodically got each part of our bodies wet until finally each swimmer dunked under and was willing to get the tops of their heads wet. Day two worked on rhythmic breathing by having the children bob up and down while taking breaths between each bob. Then they learned the flutter kick while holding onto the wall while their faces were in the water as they learned to breathe by turning their heads to one side. 
Every day built on the previous day’s skills as we worked our way towards putting together the crawl stroke. However, the big day for beginner swimming had little to do with learning the crawl. Instead, it had to do with conquering the deep end of the pool and yes jumping off the diving board.
This event always came on the second Wednesday of the session. After running through our opening drills, I would “monkey crawl” the children along the long wall of the pool to the deep end. Once there each child would hold onto the wall and do two bobs and discover their feet couldn’t touch the bottom. One by one they would jump off the wall into my waiting arms. 
Once all had mastered this skill the moment of truth finally arrived. The moment some couldn’t wait for while others feared it, that momentous jump off the one meter board. My assistant that day would line all the children up just behind the ladder. As the children self-selected their order, I treaded water just in front of the diving board. It never failed, there was always one dare devil in the class, usually a little boy, who of course took first in line and when allowed, zoomed up the ladder, down the board and straight into the pool. Most, however, were a little more cautious. They would carefully climb the few rungs up the ladder with the help of my assistant, carefully walk down the length of the board, look over the end to verify that I was really there, and jump in.
Then there was the child at the end of the line. The timid one, he or she would literally freeze at the base of the ladder. It never failed, the assistant would always have to climb onto the board with them and walk behind them while holding both of their hands until they reached the end. The look on their faces was always the same. It was the look of mortal terror; you would swear they were being asked to jump to their deaths. For what felt like hours, as I held my hands high above my head while I used my legs to tread water they would look down at me as I yelled up, ‘it’s okay, JUMP, I promise I’ll catch you.” Then they would look up and again I would yell up, “trust me, it’s okay, I’ll catch you, just JUMP!” Then the moment came,when, somehow, they found the courage they needed as they grabbed their noses and down they came.
As I helped them to the surface their expression was always the same, it was the look of victory, as they smiled ear to ear. They were overjoyed, they had conquered all the obstacles of the deep end of the pool and now what was once formidable and scary was theirs to enjoy. 
Our journeys with God are a lot like beginner swimming. We all have to start in the shallow waters of baptism. We get our feet wet with Sunday morning worship and maybe some prayer time during the week . . .and all is good, all is easy. But God rarely lets us stay where we feel safe. Eventually, God beckons us deeper into the pool of hope, which we take in stride, as we make it a point to be part of Christian formation or perhaps commit to attending more often.
But, in every journey there comes a point when we find ourselves standing on the edge of the diving board of faith as God calls us to jump. We hear about these moments several times in the Gospels. For some it has to do with letting go of family obligations in order to follow, “ Let the dead,” Jesus proclaims in Matthew and John,” bury the dead.” James and John, the disciples in this morning’s Gospel, have to leave their father and the family’s fishing business in order to follow Jesus. This morning they learn that in order to have a place at the right and the left of Jesus they must be willing to sacrifice their lives for Christ.
 Luckily most of us are rarely challenged to leave family behind in order to journey deeper with God. Instead, most of us are challenged in the same way the rich young man was challenged in last week’s Gospel. You remember, it was the story of the young man who approached Jesus asking what he needed to do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven hoping he was already there. He relaxed when Jesus asked if he kept the commandments. That was easy for him to do, but when Jesus ratcheted it up a few notches and told him to sell everything he had and to give the money to the poor, the young man went away disappointed.
There is something about letting go of our personal resources that leaves us standing at the edge of the diving board. I know Maureen and I struggle with this every year when the annual stewardship drive begins. For some reason, Maureen and I are hard wired worriers. Like most everyone else, we worry about the future. When we were first married, we worried about making our basic bills, with children, we worried about being able to pay college tuitions. Now that we have a mortgage for the first time in over a decade, we worry about that.
We know we have more than enough to meet our financial obligations; the problem is, we often want more than we need so we struggle with the difference between the two. Every year we begin the process of determining our pledge the same way. Maureen reviews our budget and determines what she feels we can afford. I argue this is the wrong way to do it and then point out that as a clergy family we need to lead by example and strive towards tithing. In recent years we have run the numbers and we usually come to a negotiated agreement of somewhere between 3-5%. (Remember we have lived in a rectory and those numbers are never really clear.) We read the result and swallow hard as we let go of the vacation we could have taken, or the electronic toys I could have bought. Then we remind ourselves of how God has always provided through out our marriage.
Every year, somewhere in this process, I recall our first year as man and wife. How we lived on Maureen’s income from her entry-level position with Connecticut National Bank, Now part of Bank of America. How we barely made the bills each month, and how God provided when the head gasket of our car blew.
It was the second week of January. Maureen was commuting fifty miles from New Haven to Hartford while I studied full–time at Yale. Christmas had just passed and with the extra money we received from our parents we decided to spend it on a VCR so we could watch our wedding video. Well, wouldn’t you know, as soon as we had spent the money, the head gasket blew and the repair costs were more than we could handle. We were both angry at ourselves for wasting our money on that VCR when we should have saved it. Feeling frustrated and angry with myself, I decided to take a walk onto campus. For some reason I decided to check my campus mailbox even though we were still on Christmas break. To my surprise there was mail. Real mail, not campus-mail. The envelope was from a scholarship fund I had applied to nine months earlier. The letter just happened to contain a check for the exact amount we needed to repair the car. 
Somehow, God provided in that moment, in the same way God has always provided when we have needed it. 
It is because of this experience, Maureen and I have learned to trust in God. Yes, when it comes to tithing, we still stand at the edge of the diving board, but at least we have gotten to the edge and this year, like every year, we will find our way towards generously giving back to God when pledging to St. Peter’s. Why? Because I agree with our Bishop, St. Peter’s truly is on the verge of great things. We have an incredible team of professionals who are chomping at the bit to grow our ministries to their fullest potential; to bring our music to greater heights, to increase the services of the community market, to provide greater learning opportunities for our pre-school, and to expand our offerings for prayer and spiritual formation. Our possibilities as a community are limitless. . .but only if. . all of us are willing to go deeper with God by taking the plunge into the deeper waters of stewardship. 
So jump, you can do it, JUMP! I can assure you. . .God WILL catch you.
Amen

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