A few years ago, I went on a fishing trip with some buddies to Idaho. We spent a week exploring the streams and lakes around McCall, Idaho.
We caught a lot of fish, and some of us – like me – started to get a little overconfident.
One afternoon, we worked our way downstream along the Payette River, which winds through a wooded canyon and into a rocky gorge.
Somehow I ended up on the north side of the gorge while everyone else was on the south side of the gorge.
I became stuck at the base of a cliff on a rocky ledge.
I really did not want to hike back upstream, but I could not see how I was going to get past the cliff and downstream – and the sun was beginning to set.
My boots were slippery from mud and river gunk, and I did not trust my footing to climb across the rocky ledge.
I briefly thought of jumping into the raging river below, but that was definitely a stupid idea.
Then I looked across the gorge to the other side, where a member of our fishing party was standing on another rocky ledge with a big cigar in his mouth.
He was not just anyone in our party, but Joe Hennessy, who at 80-years-old, was our most experienced outdoor adventurer.
Joe yelled at me take off my shoes and walk across the ledge barefoot.
“Trust me,” he shouted. “You won’t fall.”
I did as he told.
I climbed across the ledge, barefoot, my boots slung over my shoulder, and I reached the safety of a big meadow on the other side.
I believed him, though it seemed nuts at the time.
Belief is a tricky thing. Sometimes you just have to take off your shoes and walk across the rocky ledge.
The word “believe” is deceptively difficult to define. Outwardly, the meaning of “believe” in English is plain enough.
Believe: To give assent to an idea, or as my Webster’s dictionary puts it, “to take as true” a particular proposition.
But the word “believe” in the New Testament has many layers of meaning.
In the Gospel of John the word “believe” appears no less than 96 times, more than anywhere else in the Bible.
You might say that an overarching theme of the Gospel of John is an exploration of the nature and meaning of the concept of belief.
The meaning we find today in Gospel of John, the word “believe” is about forming an intimate relationship. An exact way of translating it would have Jesus say “believe into me.”
And there is still another layer of meaning of “believe.” The concept now becomes about trust, as in “trust in the truth of something you don’t yet see or understand.”
In other words, sometimes you just have to take off your shoes and walk across the rocky ledge.
This meaning of “believe” as trust in the unknown laces throughout the passage we hear today.
You might say we as a parish have been out on a rocky ledge. We are being asked to trust that there really is a beautiful meadow beyond and it is time to walk across.
The passage sounds almost the same as last week’s, but is not.
To refresh your memory, last week Jesus talked about how his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood. He is not talking about cannibalism, but about having an experience of the holy through the bread and wine of our Eucharist.
Today Jesus is moving us beyond the meal of the Eucharist and into the difficult ground of belief that is trust in a relationship with himself.
Jesus asks us to believe him – believe into him – trust him – because we are intimately connected to him even though we don’t yet see it or understand everything yet.
He is asking us to take off our shoes and walk across the rocky ledge because it is there where we will especially find him.
He invites us to be with him especially when we are feeling broken and wounded, unsure and lost. He invites us to the open meadow we don’t yet see.
It is why he goes to the Cross, to be in rocky and risky places with us, and to show us how to walk across the ledge to the other side where we will find the open meadows of healing and hope.
Yet not everyone is willing or able to walk. Some who have followed Jesus this far just cannot take another step.
Maybe they are bone weary, or maybe Jesus is not conforming to their religious expectations. Taking off our shoes is just not the way we have always done things.
Yet Jesus continues to invite us to walk across the ledge. He invites everyone to join him at his table in his circle. He never stops inviting, knowing that people will walk at their own speed, in their own time.
But also notice this: As he brings people in, he is recasting the meaning of being in his circle.
This circle represents a new way of life that is based on compassion, healing and forgiveness. This new way of life runs radically counter to world’s way of competion, greed, and violence.
Today, as we re-join this circle, we need to ask ourselves a few questions: How do we care for each other in this circle? With compassion, kindness and patience?
And how are welcoming others into this circle? How do we help others walk across the rocky ledge with us? How open are we to new people?
In the story from the Gospel of John, not everyone can handle this. They disappear. Notice in the story that it is some of the disciples – the most committed people – who disappear.
Jesus sounds as if he wonders if anyone will stick around. So he turns to Peter – “Do you wish to go away?”
And here is where I find hope in Peter’s answer; maybe this is why we call him “Saint” Peter:
Peter admits he doesn’t understand everything, or what exactly Jesus is getting at. But Peter tells Jesus he trusts him, he believes into him.
Peter tells Jesus I will take off my shoes and go barefoot wherever it is we are going, even out on the rocky ledges. There really isn’t anywhere else to go.
Peter can’t yet know the full meaning of his belief, or where he will end up, or how he will get there. And neither can we.
Yet Peter trusts enough to go anyway – one step at time – and so can we.
For now, it is enough for Peter to say to Jesus: “You are the holy one of God.” And then Peter takes off his shoes, walks ahead, listening, seeing, experiencing the Holy One.
And so can we. AMEN