Thursday, March 26, 2015

Read Before You Swim

Reading is a favorite pastime of mine. I have a stack of “to be read” books on my nightstand and a list of them in my head. The stack is high and the list is long because it takes me a while to finish a book. I am deliberate about my reading, which is just a fancy way of saying I am a slow reader. 
I read and reread paragraphs and pages because I want to be absolutely sure I understand what the author is trying to communicate. I hate to get to the last couple of chapters and find a reference to something earlier in the book that I can’t connect with the storyline. I don’t want to miss anything so I read and reread. 

It’s a wonder I got through college reading like that. I took a religion class because it was a graduation requirement for every single student at the university I attended. The school was financially supported by a religious denomination at the time, and that requirement was one of the concessions for accepting the money. I did a lot of reading and rereading in that Religion 101 textbook. Thankfully I passed and went back to the classes that were more relative to my major.

Every student also had to pass a swimming test before they could graduate. I have no idea what was behind that requirement other than it was Florida and there’s a lot of water there. I wasn’t a very good swimmer so I took Swimming 101 for credit. I swam laps for an entire semester because I didn’t want to take the test without ever having been in the pool. It was the aquatic version of reading and rereading.

I could tell more stories about my college days, but really, it’s one of those things where you just had to be there. There’s nothing like being an eyewitness to make it more meaningful.

I don’t think the disciple Peter was anything like me. He never seemed to hesitate. He didn’t feel the need to reread anything. He didn’t always get it right, but that didn’t stop him. He spoke up. He stepped up. He stepped out of the boat and sank. Perhaps that was one time he could have benefited from rereading the disciple handbook, or at least a Swimming 101 course. 

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, one of the first sermons came from Peter. In Acts 2 he starts by telling them, “listen carefully to what I say.” New Christians then were not just the first ones in their family or in their circle of friends, they were the first Christians ever. Peter had been an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry which gave him credibility in telling them what would be required of them as Christians. He also knew there were people like me there who needed to be reminded to pay attention because they might not get a chance to reread it. 

In that sermon Peter talked about Jesus. He quoted scriptures. Those are the things he wanted them to think about over and over. What he didn’t talk about was his unsuccessful water-walking adventure. We can read and reread the Bible and never find a record of Peter talking about it. Matthew is the one who told that story earlier. Peter probably wanted to forget, but he likely was reminded over and over by the other disciples who never got out of the boat. Isn’t that how it usually goes? We don’t like to talk about the things we don’t get quite right, but everyone else does. All the more reason to be reminded of what we should be thinking and talking about. 

Just a few years after that sermon, Peter knew his days were numbered. In the last letter he wrote to new Christians he says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (2 Peter 5:6). Those sound like words that come from someone with firsthand experience of sinking in the sea. When he recalled it, all he really remembered was who it was that saved him. Keep thinking about Jesus.

The was originally posted October 26, 2014 on The Press and Standard's website:

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