The Leap to Faith

Rev. Paul Escamilla | February 6, 2022

Simon, James, and John know the fishing trade like the back of their hands: the boats, the nets, the fish, the marketing . . . This is their livelihood, their world! It’s familiar, predictable, reliable, relatable, sacrosanct. The water is their terra firma. Jesus shows up and calls these three to leave those waters and move into the far murkier waters of people’s lives. Amazingly, they agree; they leave their boats, their nets, and follow him.

A Danish theologian named Soren Kierkegaard called such a decision, such a moment, such an act of trust “a leap of faith.” For Kierkegaard a leap of faith occurs when a person blends reason and common sense with other things in the decision-making process, things that may be less practical, less cautious, less quantifiable, and perhaps more risky. Faith is the choice to step away from a comfort zone of safe and structured surroundings and coordinates in order to follow God along a lesser known path. “Faith,” Kierkegaard would say, “sees best in the dark.”

“Leap of faith” is a phrase I’ve used more times than I can say—in preaching, in teaching, certainly; but mostly in describing behaviors and life choices I’ve seen in other people—including in you, the community of faith at Laurel Heights: your history, your present way of sharing life together, your openness to an open-ended future. To say “yes” without knowing for sure where the “yes” will lead, but with a willingness, a trust, an openness to go there. What I’m describing is at once a very ordinary and a very extraordinary act; ordinary in that it’s always available to any of us; extraordinary in that when it is practiced, it has the potential to inspire and transform both the person and their world.

But what is the call? What is the yes a yes to? Jesus says to these three disciples, “Come follow me, and fish for people.” Talk about an ambiguous job description. I can hear the consultants now: Jesus, if you want to attract followers you need to clarify the job you want them to do with specific, measurable, attainable goals. This “fishing for people” needs some clearer definition. The unfolding of Jesus’ ministry will provide that definition. We will learn very quickly that fishing for people does not mean what it suggests—catching people, but just the opposite—setting people free.

Some of those Jesus and his followers will meet in his time, and in ours, long for healing; some for meaning; some need advocacy or deliverance; some yearn for a sense of purpose in their lives. Some are seeking a place to call home; others are waiting for an invitation to know God in community. Some need a safe circle in which to begin recovery from abuse or addiction. Some simply wish to experience an institution whose motives and methods are transparent and trustable, and whose spirit is patient and generous, in which to grow more human, maybe even more Christ-like, in the company of others who are seeking the same.

Fishing for people doesn’t call for a hook; it calls for a key; a key that will turn a lock that will open a door that will lead to someone else’s freedom. And in the paradox of self-giving, will lead to our own as well.

What’s your key? Every disciple has one by virtue of having our heart unlocked by God either way back when, or maybe in this very moment. Perhaps it’s a listening ear, an understanding heart; administrative ability; a ministry of financial generosity; advocacy and encouragement; compassion; organization; teaching; making music, prayer, dependability, lending a hand, or the most cherished gift of all, the golden key of unencumbered presence.

Every disciple holds a key, and every key fits some lock on some door that waits to be unlocked, set open, and never closed again. The life we never dared hope for is this life, this way of life, this unscripted story of self-surrender toward the goal of freedom for others and ourselves.

“Leap of faith” is a marvelous concept, but I think it’s misnamed. In my experience, faith most often shows up after the fact. Is that true for you, too? The leap of faith is the decision to say yes to that call to set people free maybe before we’re absolutely sure, or altogether confident, or completely ready to do so. The “yes” is not so much a leap of faith as a leap to faith, possessed only by the assurance that God will provide all we need for this journey, this work, this life—bread for sustenance; the cup for joy.

After being at the seashore pitching his message with the fishermen about setting people free, Luke tells us that Jesus is in the city—for all we know making the same invitation. “Follow me.” Then he’s in someone’s home; probably doing it there, too. “Each of you has a key.” Then he’s in the marketplace—one of his favorite hangouts. “Follow me.”

Then we’re told he visits the synagogue, which is of course the sanctuary of his day. Imagine that—Jesus showing up in some sanctuary where people have gathered to offer their praise to God, and saying something like, “This, too, is worship: to give your life to the one who seeks to give life to you. You have a key; and so many wait to be free, including you. Come, follow me.”