August 13, 2017

There are days – maybe even many days – when some of us can identify with disciples out in the boat, rowing against the wind in the dark… Not making any discernible headway in the face of the raging storm…

There are dark nights of the soul and of the human condition when  progress seems impossible. When it takes all our strength and effort just to keep from tipping over and sinking…

There are also days when we can perhaps identify with Jesus, as he heads out of town for much-needed-time-away…Only to find more work waiting for him…

After preaching parables to large crowds by the lakeshore (where we’ve been camping with Jesus over the past four weeks) Jesus goes home for a quick visit. Only to be met with skepticism from home-town churchgoers, all-bent-out-of-shape because of Jesus teaching with power and authority. They complain about the home-town-boy making waves…  ‘Who does he think he is? We’ve known his family forever. Where does he get off, acting as if he’s someone special?’) And Jesus says, “prophets are held in honor, except in their hometowns…” And he won’t do much… for a town that won’t listen.

Then we hear John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, has been brutally executed by governor Herod. A son of the Herod who tried to kill Jesus back when he was an infant.

And now sure seems like a very good time for Jesus to be getting away to a quiet place for some down-time with God the Father. Which is the very thing he’s trying to do. Matthew tells us he withdraws by boat, by himself. Though “by himself” here apparently means accompanied by the 12 disciples who travel with him.

But by the time Jesus gets across the lake, crowds are already there, ready to listen, and hoping for healing… And we can almost feel the fatigue Jesus must be experiencing. Still, Jesus has compassion, big time, for all.. As he heals the sick, and teaches all through the day and into the early evening hours. Till disciples tell Jesus – ‘Send the crowds away, it’s getting late. Send them off so they can go to nearby villages and buy food.’

But Jesus says “They don’t need to go. You give them something to eat.”

“But all we have is five loaves of bread and two fish,” disciples say.

“Bring them to me,” Jesus says. He orders everyone to sit down. He gives the blessing, breaks the loaves, gives them back to disciples to distribute… And 5000 men plus women and children (perhaps too many to count) are fed… And twelve baskets of leftovers are collected, reminding us of the twelve tribes of Israel who lived on manna, forty years in the wilderness…

Immediately, we’re told, Jesus sends disciples off in the boat, gives the benediction, sends the crowds off to go home. (Well-fed now, body and soul.)

Then he goes up the mountain to pray by himself. Jesus still needs that time-out that he came for. Better late than never… And this time Jesus really is alone. We know, as we hear the disciples are out in the middle of the lake, rowing into the wind and getting nowhere…

And so, finally, in the early morning hours – the original language specifies in the fourth watch of the night – between 3 and 6 a.m. – Jesus, batteries, we hope, sufficiently re-charged – heads off to meet disciples… Walking on water.

Scaring disciples half-to-death when they see him… But Jesus reassures them, saying  “Take heart. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

And (as my mother used to like to say–) now the plot thickens. As seeing and hearing Jesus walking on water, first-round-draft-choice-disciple Peter says “Lord, if it’s really you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus says “Come!” Peter does. He actually comes to Jesus, walking on water.

Wow.

We’re never told how many steps Peter takes from the boat. Does that matter? Hey! This is Peter, a human being, like us, walking on water. This isn’t Jesus, Son of God now. This is funky Peter, defying laws of gravity and physics –  and what are we to think?

Is this maybe a special-one-time-miracle? Reserved for special occasions,  like when Jesus is really, really tired – and we’re bugging him so much he decides to give us whatever we ask for? Like God (played by Morgan Freeman) in the movie Bruce Almighty, letting the Bruce character (played by Jim Carrey) have divine powers for a few days, after Bruce complains God isn’t doing his job right. God giving Bruce a little taste of what it’s like to actually be God. Maybe something like this could be going down with Jesus and Peter. We don’t know.

Because on the other hand, maybe, just maybe, Jesus is actually saying we can, all of us, actually do this kind of thing. Since we’re all made in the image-of-God. And, since believing in Jesus, we’re citizens already of the kingdom of God – perhaps the power to walk on water and feed five thousand is actually there, all along – if we just download the App. (Somewhere at Jesus-dot-Kingdom-dot-God.)

And in all seriousness, Peter will soon enough, in the book of Acts, actually be healing the sick, and even raising someone from the dead. So…Imagine the possibilities – if we, too, start with small miracles like walking on water – then work our way up to healing the ill and wounded. Starting wherever we are… Remembering… Don’t stop believing. Even when storms of life are raging.

***

I hasten to say that anytime I’ve ever tried to walk on water I’ve either been ice-fishing with at least a foot of solid ice under my feet… Or I’ve sunk like a stone. Unlike the Apostle Peter, I haven’t managed even a single step on (liquified) water without sinking or touching bottom…

I suppose I can recall occasions where I’ve had a very small role, like the disciples who contribute the two little fishes and five loaves of bread, in feeding a multitude… But so far I haven’t had any personal experience of certifiable miracles that I’m aware of… Though (like some of you) I have known people, including parishioners, who have been healed (in full remission) from stage 4 cancers that had been pronounced incurable by doctors – one of them still alive, forty years now. Another more than a decade so far. (In both cases the healing is all from God, far as anyone can tell… Not otherwise explainable…But… )

Anytime we’re talking about the miraculous, people tend to divide into camps – those in one camp accepting all the miracles of Jesus at full-face-value – reasoning Jesus is God – God can doing anything – Jesus did it all.

The other camp tending to subdivide into degrees of skepticism and agnosticism. Some thinking the miracles are legends. Others hearing miracle stories as parables intended for teaching, but probably not literal accounts. Still others agreeing something highly unusual has happened – maybe something that stretches the bounds of the natural beyond where we thought nature could go. And

Perhaps the first question, as CS Lewis suggests in his book, Miracles, ought to be – what do we mean by miracle, natural and supernatural? Could the realm of the so-called “natural” include unseen domains and dimensions we usually think of as “supernatural?”

This is probably not a question anyone in first century Palestine would have spent much time pondering. But it’s absolutely a question many people of faith, trained in scientific methods, ponder today. A question to explore in other settings where we have more time for discussion. (This is not a topic where one-liners are very useful…)

And for us today the focus is elsewhere…

As Jesus says, “Come!” And Peter, amazingly, begins to walk. But when he stops to consider what he’s doing, his faith falters and he begins to sink, crying out, “Save me Lord!” Which of course Jesus immediately does. And if we remember nothing else today, we should remember the deep compassion of Jesus, hands outstretched to save.

And yet we should probably also consider: Does Jesus congratulate Peter for doing what no other person in the Bible except Jesus and Peter ever does?

Not exactly. Jesus says, “You of little faith! Why do you doubt and not believe?”

And whether we hear what Jesus says here as scolding – or as a lament for what might have been – (and I tend to hear it both ways) – and whatever we may think about Peter’s strange (to my mind) choice of miracles to request – (wouldn’t multiplying loaves and fishes be a more practical choice?) – still, the real ponder for me is all about how Jesus doesn’t take issue with Peter’s request.

Perhaps he’s just glad a disciple’s trying to learn something new? Jesus never names walking on water as something disciples ought to do. I don’t think walking-on-water even makes it onto Jesus’ Top-100-List-of-things-to-learn. It’s more like – OK – Peter – go for it. But if you’re going to do it– do it. Don’t stop half-way. Keep walking…

Whatever we are called to do in faith, Jesus says – keep walking. Be focused. Be persistent. Walk in faith. When John Wesley experienced storms of doubt, on a storm-tossed ship, after a disastrous mission trip to America, he asked a band of calm Moravian missionaries aboard ship – “What’s the secret of your inner peace? How can I get this peace you’ve got?’ The missionaries told Wesley “Practice faith until you’ve got faith. Then practice faith because you’ve got faith.”

Don’t quit believing when storm waves are getting higher. Keep looking to Jesus. Keep envisioning his welcoming arms stretched out in our direction.

Keep remembering to take all the time-out-with-God-time that we need – time even Jesus needs. Time we all urgently need. Remembering – even when our faith grows tired, and we’re deeply in need of rest – even when we can’t see how this tired hungry crowded earth can all be fed – even when we feel like we’re stuck, rowing against the wind, even sinking in stormy seas… Remember –

God is still always here.

Jesus is still calling – calling us to learn from him – not just to walk on water but to heal the sick – even the cancers of racism, war, and greed – even bring new life to the dead…

May we hear his call.

And give him our full attention… and all our thanks and praise.

Thanks be to God. Amen.