Sermon 10 August 2014: “Operational Risk Management”

We get another familiar story this week, this time, Jesus and Peter, walking on water. Well, Peter doesn’t quite make it the whole way. But that’s not what’s on my mind this morning.

I’m wondering about those other 11 guys back in the boat.

The summer of my 7th grade year, my budding baseball career hit its highpoint when I got put on the pitching staff of 3 on our summer rec baseball team. My rise to stardom was that I had really good control….and I threw so slow that it often threw off the timing of the batters I faced. Actually though, I could throw a lot harder, but rather than throw overhand like most people do, I used this sidearm delivery because my control was better….and as a kid in the 7th grade, I thought I looked really cool. But I threw a lot slower because of it. When my dad and I would practice my pitching in our yard, I’d throw overhand, but I just couldn’t control it…which resulted in a lot of broken garage windows and a few balls that ended up in the woods behind the garage. Over time, I just felt like I couldn’t do it – pitch overhand successfully. So I switched to sidearm throwing, and because it was successful for me, I just stuck with it.

However, my success was limited….in games, hitters would adjust their timing and my awesome pitching became like batting practice to them. My dad would yell over and over “Pitch it overhand! Try it!” But I was just to scared to…scared of embarrassing myself with a wild pitch or hitting a batter, scared of losing my position as a starting pitcher…..scared of failing. The risk as just too great.

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Typically, this story ends up being about Peter’s failure, a LACK of faith. Like Peter, if we could just trust a little more, keep our eyes on Jesus, then we’d be able to walk on water, do amazing things….get closer in our walk towards him. We’d be a whole lot more successful at this following Jesus, discipleship thing.

A good sermon perhaps. But I’m still stuck on those 11 back in the boat.

In the Navy, we have this thing called “Operational Risk Management,” which is a fancy Navy-speak for considering risk vs. reward. In fact, the Navy came up with this matrix, where risk and reward are quantified on a graph with green, yellow, and red zones that essentially tell you whether you should do something or not. My second Executive Officer actually had laminated wallet-sized cards with the Operational Risk Management matrix on it made, and had us pull them out every time we had to make a “risky” decision.

While I don’t think anyone of us are carrying a card like that around, I do think that’s exactly how we think about life – operational risk management. I think we live in a society today that really values managing risk. Every decision we make is based on considering the risk vs. the reward……how we save and spend money, how we choose work and activities, and even how we choose our relationships.

The thing about Operational Risk Management as a way of life is that we don’t really have any need for anyone else but ourselves. We’re in control, and we manage life according to the outcomes we want or hope for….with as little risk as possible to ourselves. Thing is though, no matter how hard you try, you can’t eliminate all of the risk. No decision comes with out it, and the same’s true of relationships. Life gets a little stormy and rough at times…and we might fail.

And I think that reality scares us so much that we’d rather just stay in the boat.

But like the 11, we miss something when we stay in the boat. Because Peter doesn’t just witness the miracle of Jesus’ saving power as the Son of God – he experiences it. Because in the moment when he’s sinking, Jesus reaches out his hand and catches Peter – out of a concern and care for him. In his cry to be saved….Jesus saves him. And because of that experience, saying that Jesus is the Son of God is more than just idle words, paying lip service. Experiencing the hand of grace that catches and saves us when we’re in over our heads…saying Jesus is the Son of God becomes a confession of faith, a faith that led Peter out of the boat in the first place…a faith that calls us out of the boat today.

Some of you may know, but we’re planning on participating in the ELCA National Day of Service – “God’s Work, Our Hands” weekend. It’s on September 7th. And we had this great plan to form teams to go out and sing to nursing homes and assisted living facilities….bringing church to those who are “shut out” because of age and limitations. Well, that plan hit a snag…..only one of the 5 places we called were able to schedule us. Now we could have let that failure stop us….not enough time for a new plan, the risk of failure too great.

But the desire to serve is still there….and so a new plan emerged. Folks can still go sing at the one place we were able to – Churchland House – 3pm, Sunday September 7th. But on Saturday, the 6th, we thought: let’s do a neighborhood cookout, and give away free food as a way of serving and getting to know folks in Portsmouth. Let’s invite folks from all over the City of Portsmouth – friends, family, neighbors, even strangers……to come and enjoy some free food, and we’ll sing some songs together too. And if everyone contributes a little bit…..a bag of chips, a couple packs of hotdogs and buns, and everything else…..between three churches we should have enough. And between three churches, we have enough talent and able bodies to cook food, sing songs….to pull this off. We’ll give it away until it’s all gone. We’ll give it away, a free gift, and act of service……kind of like the free gift of grace God has given us and all people in Jesus Christ.

God does not call us to a life of Operational Risk Management…..we are called to a life of faith. But God calls us to this life of faith assuring us of the promise of Christ’s care and saving grace that carries us through no matter if we sink, swim, or walk on water…and because of that, maybe, just maybe, getting off our butts and out of the boat might end up being the greatest experience of our lives. Amen.

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