Scripture: Matthew 14:25-33; 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
25 And early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
13 Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.
The Word of Life. Thanks be to God.
You’ve heard of the term safe space. An environment where people feel….safe. Comfortable. Where you can participate and express yourself without fear of personal attack or retribution. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? We all want places like this in our lives. Places where we can simply be without having to justify ourselves...places where we don’t have to worry about feeling uncomfortable...places where we can feel nurtured and supported in a risk-free environment...a space that maybe feels like a warm hug, letting you know that everything’s going to be alright.
It’s a really popular concept in college and post-graduate classrooms, particularly when the learning material might feel threatening to some students. The idea is that the classroom can be a safe space for exploring difficult material. People can hold a variety of opinions and experiences and feel safe enough to share them without feeling attacked by another student’s opinions and experiences….and that others can challenge those thoughts. Learning, then, can happen without risk to one’s core self, without emotional or psychological harm, without discomfort. It’s a very well-intentioned concept, and one that was part of the framework of many of my seminary classes.
We like to think about it in relation to the church as well. Church is a safe place to be and belong. All are welcome whoever they are and wherever they come from. You can be yourself, express yourself without fear, and feel comfortable doing so. It’s a place free from hurt and harm. It’s a place that is warm and welcoming. Nice. Friendly. Loving.
The church inherently is not a safe space….because our God inherently is not a safe God. The church instead is a brave space, where we show up for God and one another and risk vulnerability and encounter for the sake of our own transformation and that of our communities.
The Bible is full of stories of people meeting God and God pushing them out of the safe spaces of home...predictability….familiarity - for the sake of a promise. Sometimes that journey is a physical one: Our very first story in the Bible - Adam and Eve, where God drives humankind out of literal paradise to face the harsh reality of the world - and promises to be with them as they go. Abram and Sarai - God takes them from their homeland to a new land where they can establish themselves and their children. Moses - God pushes Moses outside of himself and his own insecurities to lead God’s protesting people out from slavery. Sometimes the journey is an internal one - Elijah as he’s fleeing for his life - searching for safety - finds God in the silence and is propelled back into the world. Paul - encountering the risen Christ on the road to Damascus - and his whole worldview changes as God tasks him with bearing the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles. Mary - carry a pregnancy as an unwed mother. Esther - reveal herself as a Jew to her husband the king who just ordered all Jews to be killed. The early Christians facing ridicule and persecution for proclaiming that Jesus is Lord instead of Ceasar.
None of this is safe stuff.
But it is brave stuff.
The Bible is also full of stories of God reminding people of God’s promise of presence, even in the face of difficulty. God encourages Joshua as they are heading into the promised land, telling him to be bold and steadfast. The prophets reminded the Israelites again and again to find their strength in God alone. Jesus calling out to Peter to walk on the water, even in the midst of his fear and doubt. And Paul in his first letter to the church at Corinth: Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. That isn’t advice for the faint of heart - it’s an invitation to be brave in facing the challenges that life in community brings.
A safe space asks nothing of us. It requires nothing of us. Brave space, on the other hand, demands us to be present and to show up with our full selves and hold space for others to show up as their full selves too - because as we seek to follow God together, as we look for where the Holy Spirit is moving in our world, as we try to live this Jesus life with one another - it’s going to make us uncomfortable. It’s going to upset the status quo.
But that’s where growth happens. That’s where we learn and change. Transformation doesn’t happen in the safe spaces...because it’s hard to do things differently when we’re comfortable. It’s hard to see the need for change when things look OK to us. It’s when we are out of our comfort zone that we can begin to see the world around us in a new light - when we encounter the experiences of others that are different than our experiences...when we begin to think and reflect on why what someone said or did made us react with unease...when we look at the world as it is against the world as God hopes and dreams it might be - it requires us to be brave and to acknowledge and celebrate the bravery of others.
If we are truly about God’s transforming work in our lives and in our world - that doesn’t happen when we are safe; it happens when we risk encounter, it happens when we are willing to make mistakes and learn, it happens when we are willing to be vulnerable ourselves, it happens when we can trust that others can hold that space for us...and when we trust that God is in the midst of that as well.
One of our core values is “Community” - and we understand that to mean that we seek to be a place of belonging and a harbor of mutual support and interdependence. We strive to share together, help and reach out to one another, grow in faith together, and live together in light of God’s love.
A harbor...a harbor is certainly a safe space to weather a storm, to shelter a boat, to perform maintenance and repairs...but it’s not a place to stay. Boats, if you are really going to use them - for work, for recreation - have to leave the harbor to face the waters...it’s a risk, to go leave the sheltered space of the harbor, but you can’t stay there forever.
The church as a brave space means that we are able to share our true selves with one another and to hold space for those with thoughts and opinions and experiences that are different than ours. The church as a brave space means stepping in and naming the realities that others want to deny - about our climate, about our community, about ourselves. The church as a brave space means sitting in the uncomfortable spaces with others on their journey toward wholeness or as they mourn and grieve - not to try and fix or smooth things over, but simply to be present. The church as a brave space means moving from merely “what I need” to “what to we need together.” The church as a brave space means not being worried about our survival, but concerning ourselves with making the places around us more loving and compassionate. The church as a brave space means following after the God who continually asks us to do the things that seem impossible, scary, beyond our ability...and who goes with us every step of the way.
The church is not a safe space. The church is a brave space.
Our God is not a safe God, but one that promises to be with us, no matter what.
Being about God's work in the world requires showing up - for God, for one another, for ourselves - and doing the hard work of love. That's brave.
My prayer for us as a church is that we listen for what God is asking of us...that we listen for what God wants for this community...and decide to be brave together...to move out of the harbor into the waters where God is leading us on. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.