Robert W. Henderson asks: Do you trust the person at the controls as you step out in faith?


The Rev. Robert W. Henderson, senior minister at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., delivers his sermon “Out of Step” Sunday, July 18, 2021 in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

From the very first time he boarded a plane, the Rev. Robert W. Henderson has experienced every sort of trauma a passenger can go through — not just bumpy rides, but emergencies and crash landings. “I am not much of a sailor, but I fly a lot. And every time I do, I think about Peter walking on the water,” he said.

Henderson preached at the 9 a.m. Monday, July 19 service of worship in the Amphitheater. His title was “Get into Your Stride,” the second in his series “We Make our Way by Walking.” The scripture text was Matthew 14: 22-33. 

“By paradoxical calculus, my future father-in-law was an amateur pilot,” Henderson said. “Part of my hazing to prove myself worthy of his daughter’s hand was a test flight in a four-seater plane. Love is a powerful motivator, and I learned the small planes not only bounce up and down, but side to side.”

The three of them flew around Nashville. “I was sweating in places I did not know I could sweat when my future wife urged her father to land,” Henderson said. “He tried, but overshot the runway, and we had to pull up and come around again. When I put my feet on the tarmac, I told Susan, ‘If God had wanted us to fly, God would have given us wings.’ ”

Analyzing his fear later, Henderson realized he was asking, “Can I trust this pilot? Does he know what he is doing? The real issue is the man at the controls.”

In the story of Jesus coming to the disciples walking on water, Jesus told his disciples to leave him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, get in the boat and sail to the other side. But a storm blew in, and they could barely keep the boat upright. “Jesus was the reason they got in the boat, but obedience is no guarantee of blue skies,” Henderson said.

Jesus walked out to the boat, on the water, and the disciples thought he was a ghost. When Jesus told them not to be afraid, Peter said, “Call me out.” Jesus said, “Trust me, and step out.”

Henderson said this act is called controlled trauma, and said Jesus used it skillfully. “Controlled trauma helps us take a step of faith we wouldn’t otherwise take,” he told the congregation.

Peter could have drowned. He had to decide if Jesus was trustworthy.

“Peter had to know Jesus’ character and intent. He had to ask himself, ‘Is Jesus worthy of my yes?’ Once he took the step, Peter found himself on the other side of, yes, a place of blessing,” Henderson said. “Faith requires a ‘yes’ with no guarantee, but the other side is a place of blessing.”

He continued, “In the life of faith, we have to step out of the boat, and we may drown or be spilled across the tarmac, or it could be a time of adventure in which we are forever changed.”

Henderson urged the congregation, as they consider stepping out, to think about where God had walked toward them with a gift, a task, an agenda, to sing a song, or write a poem.

Writer Kathleen Norris wrote that when mystery breaks through our consciousness, we can run, talk in cliches or respond from our deepest “yes” that will change us forever. 

“Discover the other side of yes is a place of blessing,” Henderson urged the congregation.

The Rev. Natalie Hanson presided and read the Scripture. Joshua Stafford, who holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and is director of sacred music, played a setting of “Amazing Grace,” by George Shearing, for the prelude. Members of the Motet Choir sang “The Storm is Passing Over,” by Charles Albert Tindley, arranged by Barbara W. Baker. The postlude was “Overture” to The Marriage of Figaro by Wolgang Amadeus Mozart, transcribed by Jonathan Scott. The Mr. and Mrs. William Uhler Follansbee Memorial Chaplaincy and the Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy support this week’s services and chaplain.

Tags : Get into Your StrideMatthew 14: 22-23morning worshipRobert W. HendersonWe Make Our Way by Walkingweek four

The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.