Just the other day, I was privileged to lead a celebration of life for a much loved and respected member of our community.
I arrived a little early and ran into local singing legend and noted ginger, Ty Wilson, in the parking lot. Ty was singing at the service. As we walked to the door, he said to me, guitar in hand: “Do you ever get nervous?”
I think I said something like, “Sure, all the time I do.” And then, after an awkward pause, I think I added something redundant and flip like, “You just have to do what you do.” Yeah, sometimes my wisdom is astonishing, isn’t it?
I don’t know for sure if he was really nervous at all, but in we went. The service started and when it came time, he said a few kind and loving words about the person we were celebrating and then sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. It was beautiful, genuine and touching, very much like the wonderful words of the two people who did the eulogy together. It was what these moments should be: an opportunity to celebrate and remember a life with stories and words that reconnect us – literally “re-member” – with that life and how it has touched ours.
Nervous? Couldn’t tell by looking or listening, in the end. It’s also fair to say that what brought everyone there was love and respect and when you can see that the room’s full of people who came with that, doing your best will be just that. Maybe it is a “do what you do” moment, after all. I don’t think it’s just about being skilled or practiced, prepared or confident. I think it’s a moment that you have to believe in yourself and express yourself genuinely. And that’s all those other things and more. It’s really having faith in yourself.
There’s a story about Jesus walking across the water to the disciples as their boat struggles in rough weather. In Matthew’s telling of it, Peter steps out onto the water at Jesus’ invitation and starts to walk towards him. Peter – and let’s be clear about this – Peter, the story says, did just that. And he was doing fine until he gave into his fear of the storm and the water and then he began to sink. He calls out to Jesus to save him and Jesus does just that. As he pulls Peter to safety, he says “you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I think this story is all about faith, but it’s not about faith in Jesus (or the disciples lack of it). I don’t think Peter doubted Jesus for a moment. He called out to Jesus to save him because he fully believed that Jesus would do that. Peter had all sorts of faith in Jesus. He just didn’t have any in himself. I think that’s what Jesus questions.
Peter was being just like Jesus, walking on the water, until he began to fear. It’s only when he gave into the fear, that he started to sink. And if it seems like there’s an air of disappointment in Jesus’ response – “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” – maybe it’s because Jesus believed in Peter more than Peter believed in himself. This isn’t the only time that Peter will struggle.
For all the struggles we may have with faith – in God, in Jesus, in each other – I believe that Jesus has faith in us. Truly, how many times does Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid,” and yet we give into fear so easily. I know it’s not in the story, but I like to think that when Jesus pulled the soaking wet Peter into the boat – Peter, a professional fisherman, remember – Jesus had more to say. Maybe he said having faith in yourself is about being genuine and living from the heart of who you really are. Maybe he said that it’s more than confidence, more than skill or practice, it’s sharing the love in you with the love in the world. Maybe he even said something like, “You just have to do what you do.”