John Harry Bentley 4/03/1937 – 11/30/2018
I learned something recently about John I did not know about before. He was a sailing instructor! Wow! I knew he loved the water. I knew he loved his view out the back of his house. I knew he was in the Army but loved the Navy Hymn (which is why Amy and Dave are singing it later in the service). I knew he loved the family cottage. I knew that he loved boating and sailing and was part of the Sailing Club. I just didn’t know he taught sailing too. That is so cool.
Sailing a boat requires knowledge, skill and patience; just like driving a truck in the city or a bus full of children requires knowledge, skill and patience. John did both of those, and it says much about the knowledge, skill and patience he had and needed to have in a variety of places in his life.
But teaching something also requires passion – and not just passion for the thing itself. We all have those things in our life that are “our” things that refresh and renew and revitalize us. It is important to have and nurture those. What makes passion different, is that it becomes insistent that others share the experience that same love and devotion of the thing as we do. That way people can develop not only the knowledge, skill and patience that leads to competence, but experience the life-giving nature of the thing we love that makes us breathe deep and live more fully because of it. John possessed the wisdom to understood that and integrated it into his life and relationships.
How about you? Are you tending to the things that give your life? Are you developing the passion to share it?
I wonder about Peter in our story from our Gospel reading from Matthew. To be a fisherman (which Peter was), he had knowledge and skill and patience. You need knowledge and skill and patience not just to operate the nets to have a successful catch, but you also need to know where the good spots are; when the best times are to go out on the water, what kind of crew to enlist, and how to train them. Peter’s livelihood and survival depended on it.
Peter would have been no stranger to a boat – navigating one is no easy feat (as John knew) – but with the right know-how, the right finesse, the right instincts and time – one could do it well. Peter probably did.
Peter would have been no stranger to swimming either; (another thing requires knowledge, skill and patience).
In John’s Gospel when Peter saw the risen Jesus on the beach cooking breakfast on the fire, he dove off the boat and swam into shore to greet him and be with him. I kind of think we all would jump in and swim to see Jesus if we had the opportunity – no matter how expert or novice a swimmer each of us are. But Peter dove in and swam quickly to Jesus – showing us he was a pretty good swimmer.
So why did Peter panic when he got in the water with Jesus in our story here?
Jesus invited him out on the water with him, and the first thing Peter did was forget his knowledge, skill and patience. He was invited into something knew and his fear overtook him. He forgot his love and passion for the water – and for Jesus – and began to sink, and panic, and drown. Which is something that happens when things are unknown; when we feel threatened; when our knowledge and skill and patience we have doesn’t seem to translate. We forget who we are. We lose confidence. We trust our doubts over our experience and relationships. We start to lose hope.
It happens to all of us. I think John started to feel this way the less stable he got on his feet. I think John felt this way the more his heart failed him, and he needed more and more oxygen to breathe. I think John felt this way when he could no longer drive and could no longer get out on his own. When his sailing days were over. When his knowledge, skill and patience failed him; it must have felt like drowning; like panic; like a wave of uncertainty rushing around him.
John didn’t want to bother anybody. Maybe he thought his knowledge, skill and patience were enough. But like all of us he needed assurance. He needed that passion rekindled he once shared so generously. Things like companionship, prayer, the scriptures, the sacrament came through the connections of people who shared them with him.
Yet like Peter, Jesus lifts us up and pulls us out of the water. Jesus lifted up John and pulled him out of the water too. When our lives cease to be about our knowledge, skill and patience – and center instead on Christ’s passion for us that lifts us up and pulls us out – we become people of trust and relationship no matter how rough the waters get.
In these trying, uncertain and unfamiliar days – when the wind picks up and we forget what to do; when we lose sight of who we are; when we are not sure who to rely on or where to turn, when doubts overwhelm us and it feels like drowning and panic and separation as the storm threatens to devour us.
REMEMBER: Jesus in there to lift us up and pull us out. He lifts us up and out of the water. He lifts us up and out of our fear. He lifts us up and pulls out of our uncertainty. He even lifts us up and pulls us out of death.
He sets our feet on solid ground. Embraces us. Reassures us that we are his, and that is all that matters. It doesn’t matter how uncertain we are; how skilled we are; or how badly we’ve forgotten who we are. All that matters – is that when Jesus pulls you up and pulls you out – you are his. And all he asks of us is that we use that love we don’t deserve but he freely gives, to lift up others up in love and pull them out of what threatens them too.
When Jesus called Peter to follow him. He said, “Come follow me and I’ll make you fish for people.” If you read the gospel stories, Peter fell in the water more than once. He forgot who he was often. He forgot who Jesus was too. He forgot his knowledge and skill and patience and passion. Jesus pulled him out of the water again and again.
Remember that story I told you when Peter dove out of his boat and swam to see Jesus?
The last time he saw Jesus, he denied him three times. And there on the shore Jesus asked, “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?”
“Yes Lord, you know I love you.”
“Feed my sheep.” Or better yet, “Be that fisher of people I called you to be.”
“Use your knowledge and skill and patience. Trust me. Help others.”
“Find your passion again – not just for yourself, but to share – so others can live and breathe and enjoy it too.”
That’s the same call we have. That is the gift John had. To share Christ’s love we have been given. To find that passion. To share it so others can experience it too.
When you feel like you are drowning, the storm is coming, or that you will sink and you begin to forget what is important…
Remember that is Jesus, who again and again and again lifts you up, pulls you out, and keeps you close: In life. In Death. In a new life yet to come.
I imagine John sailing in the boat right now. It is not a cold, dreary and rainy day like today is in January, but it is warm, and sunny and summer. The breeze is perfect. He’s tacking back and forth across the Long Island Sound. He’s gaining speed with a huge smile on his face. But he’s not alone. Peter’s there too. John tells him which ropes to grab, when, and why, and then has Peter take command of the small vessel as he keeps instructing him how to do it, with ease and confidence and enjoyment. When they stop in a bit – don’t worry. Peter has brought along all the gear so the two of them can go fishing. It’s a beautiful day for that too. And if the weather changes, or they go for a dip, or if they find themselves in trouble… Don’t worry about that either. Jesus is in the boat too. He’ll lift them up. He’ll pull them out. Then they will laugh and tell stories.
He’ll do the same for you too, so don’t lose heart.
Use your knowledge and skill and patience with others and you’ll see Jesus there; lifting you up and pulling you out of the water…every time.
Immediately (Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’