There are some activities in life that are far too dangerous for the average person to attempt. Skydiving. BASE jumping. Riding a bicycle without a helmet. Telling your mother-in-law what you really think of her cooking.
Then there are the risk-takers—those who run toward adventures that the rest of the world avoids. And while there have always been the adventurous few who go and do what few dare to attempt, something has changed in the world of risky behavior. These risky thrill seekers now have cameras!
It’s no longer enough to experience the adrenaline rush and then tell the story to buddies over a beer. It’s no longer about staring death in the face. It’s about getting the perfect shot, of you, staring death in the face…and saying “cheese!”
That’s the big idea behind “roof-topping,” a term used to describe the latest fad in death-defying behavior. “Roof-topping” is when a “roof-topper” climbs to some insane height, be it the top of a building or the edge of a cliff, and they snap a picture. But it’s not just any picture.
Whereas your average climber would snap of shot of his or her spectacular view, the roof-topper’s entire goal is to snag a selfie— showing the world how high and how crazy he or she is.
Enter “roof-topping” into a Google image search and you’ll find thousands of photos of climbers smiling brightly as they dangle off the edge of skyscraper… (picture) As they willingly hang by their fingertips from the top of a tower… (picture) Or as they sit peacefully atop Christ the Redeemer, the massive statue at the in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (picture)
For the folks that do this, the risk is worth the result. And just to show you just how I commit to my sermons… (picture)
Believe it or not, Jesus was a risky guy too. He wasn’t, however, a self-indulgent daredevil, taking on risk for risk’s sake, but Jesus did manage to find himself in a number of truly treacherous situations, often by his own design.
Jesus surely knew that a particular crowd would eventually get rowdy and demand more miracles; that a certain religious leader would call for his arrest; or that a demonic power would surface, screaming at the very sound of his voice.
These are the types of situations that sane, safety-loving people tend to avoid. Yet Jesus never tried to avoid them. He embraced them. He was a risk-taker.
And, if you were following Jesus, it meant that you were called to be a bit of a risk-taker too, whether you liked it or not.
Imagine for a moment that Peter, James and John were all on social media, documenting their journey with Jesus.
What would their photos consist of?
If they were honest photographers, their feeds would be filled with more than just celebratory selfies with freshly healed lepers. You’d see volatile crowds. You’d see dead bodies and anxious mourners. You’d see religious cliques crowded together and talking smack. You’d see nights spent sleeping out in the cold. You’d see shots from a boat on a stormy sea.
And you’d probably see a good deal of hashtags expressing the fear and uncertainty overwhelming them—which would be understandable given the fact that they didn’t have the benefit of knowing how the Gospels end. Following Jesus was truly a risk.
In Mark’s gospel we find Jesus and the disciples in another risky moment.
They’re packed into a boat sailing across the notoriously volatile Sea of Galilee. And, as a result, the group found themselves being tossed about by a strong and sudden squall. Jesus, however, was unfazed by the adventure at hand.
Mark tells us that Jesus was “in the stern, asleep on the cushion.” You could argue that napping through a violent storm was Jesus’ version of a roof-topper’s unimpressed smile while dangling off a cliff’s edge by a couple of fingers.
Eventually roused by his disciples, Jesus does more than calm the seas. He teaches them a lesson. Seeing their anxiety and fear, Jesus says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
And with these words, Jesus makes it clear that this isn’t just an opportunity to prove his divinity by demonstrating his power over nature. It’s a lesson, taught on the “rooftop,” so to speak, about the nature and substance of faith itself.
The disciples were far too focused on their circumstances. They were far too consumed with where their feet were located—were they on steady ground or in a rocking boat? Had Jesus led them to a cliff’s edge or were they safe and sound in a synagogue—you know; where a rabbi and his disciples should be?
When Jesus kept them safe and comfortable, their faith was solid.
When Jesus took them someplace scary, their faith tended to fail.
Yet, by implying that faith was still possible, still the goal— despite their crazy location— Jesus makes it clear, to them and to us, that their faith must not be in the ground on which they stand, but in the person with whom they’re standing.
Their faith could not be contingent upon circumstance, but must be clinging to the company of Christ.
As long as they were with him, they were going to be okay.
Now granted, that’s a hard thing to believe in the middle of a storm. So how do we believe it?
Well, we do it by embracing the risk that comes with following Jesus.
Not much has changed for followers of Jesus. He’s still leading his people to dangerous places. He takes us to places where we are surrounded by enemies, and he urges us to pray for them. He leads us to situations where we must consider what it means to be faithful and kingdom-minded with our money and our possessions.
Jesus goes with us to work, and stirs up empathy toward our unbelieving friends, urging us to invite them to church.
Jesus grabs our hands, and pulls us into a terrifying awareness of our sins and of our deep need for divine forgiveness.
And Jesus walks alongside us, guiding us in valleys of death, despair and personal tragedy.
Yes, Jesus is still leading his disciples, into some very scary places. He’s still taking us to rooftops.
The question we must ask ourselves is: How do we go?
Do we go willingly or reluctantly? Do we go as people of faith or people of fear?
I want you to ask yourself: Where are you and Jesus right now?
Where is Jesus taking you that is scary—that maybe you are going to or are reluctant to go to? Maybe you are in the midst of a health diagnosis that is dim—be it your own or a loved one’s. Maybe you are in the role of your parent’s parent, and the future is difficult and uncertain. Maybe you are coming to terms with an empty nest, the unbelief of your child, or the missed opportunity of employment, relationship, or retirement.
Whatever it is—whatever the storm is that is tossing your boat—acknowledge it…speak it out loud—and then go to the stern of your boat, where Jesus is waiting for you, and wake him up.
After all, our lesson for today is the same that was given to Peter, James, John and every other seasick disciple. Their journey, like our journey is more than an opportunity for God to demonstrate divine power. It is a lesson on the nature and substance of faith itself.
So go and wake Jesus up, wake up to Jesus, and hear him say, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Hear those words; and then watch and see what he does next. It may not be an instant calming of the storm, but he is going to stand between you and the storm and make sure you get through it.
There are crazy risk-takers in this world. And, truth is, they’re only getting crazier. Last year two stories stood out.
One was of 16-year-old Justin Casquejo. (Picture) He was arrested after breaking into and climbing to the top of the then unfinished 1 World Trade Center skyscraper.
The teen spent two hours atop the 1,776-foot-tall building snapping pictures of his daring feat.
The other was of Google executive Alan Eustace (Picture) who set a record for the world’s highest skydive, dropping from near-outer space, an altitude of more than 135,000 feet or 25 miles. And it was all caught on camera.
Those daredevils had every reason to be overcome by fear. Not only were they doing things that were incredibly dangerous, but they were doing them alone. The only one to have faith in, as you illegally climb to the top of a sky scrapper or as you fall from outer space, is yourself. But followers of Jesus—that’s a different story.
Sure, followers of Jesus will often feel alone, as though they have been stranded by Jesus. But, the truth is, followers of Jesus are—in every risky, dim, scary moment—joined by him.
Jesus does not take his people where he does not go himself. That’s the point of the promise that ends Matthew’s gospel, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
He is with us, on the edge, always. And this Jesus who takes us to risky, dim, scary places has on his resume` what no other risk-taking rabbi does: an empty tomb. It’s one thing to stare down death, and say cheese. It’s a whole other to defeat death.
So if you have to be out on an edge with anyone, it might as well be the only one who has risen from the grave.
Jesus was a risk-taker, and if you’re following him it means you’re called to be a bit of a risk-taker too, whether you like it or not because he will lead you tom some risky places. And when he does, the temptation will be to give in to fear as you focus on your feet.
When that happens, take inventory of just who is with you. Lift your eyes off of your crisis and on to Christ. The ground beneath our feet will always give us some reason to fear. But, our risk taking companion, our Savior, is mighty to save.
Sure, you may discover that he’s napping in the boat. But what would you expect from a perpetual risk-taker like Jesus? He’s been here before. He’s unfazed by fear—after all, they guy has defeated death.
So may we all become risk taking roof-toppers.
Not only will it make for some cool pictures, it will make for a good and faithful life. Amen.