“And early in the morning, he came walking toward them on the sea. (Mt. 14:25; within Mt. 14:22-33)
The joke is about a brand new preacher whom the folks in the country parish don’t much like. He’s young and sure of himself, from the city and fresh out of seminary. That little country church has a yearly gathering where they all meet at the lake, get into rowboats, row to the island in the middle of the lake, and have a day long Church Picnic. Four of the most important leaders decide to take the pastor with them as they travel in the boat to the island. After a while the pastor, in the back of the boat, kind of by himself, with nothing much to do, begins to sing. One of the leaders looks back at the pastor, and then beyond him, and says, “Dagnab it! We left the ice-cream cooler on the dock! Stop rowing! We’ll have to turn this boat around and go back.” The pastor says, “No, no, don’t worry about it; I’ll go back and get the ice-cream cooler.” And with that, he climbs out of the boat and begins to walk on the water, back toward the dock. The leaders all begin to beat on each other as they say in various ways, “See, I told you! He’ll never fit in! Look at that! He doesn’t even know how to Swim!”
Those church leaders just Dumbed Down a Miracle. We often dumb down miracles. We call them coincidence, or science (not that science is not real; it’s a miracle, too), or symbolism. Almost all the commentaries on this scripture said it was symbolism: “The boat represents the church that Matthew had, the sea represents the Roman Empire, and the storm on the sea is the difficult times the early church had in the Roman Empire without Jesus being present.” Even D. Mark Davis, the guy who translates Greek said he didn’t really know why this miracle was in here… What was the point? Just to show off? Actually, I think the showing off thing is what got Peter in trouble; more on that later…
The Hebrews have a word for filling in what is between and around the words of Scripture: Midrash. In the theater, one of the things we do is figure out the Backstory: what happens to the characters between the scenes; why they do what they do; where they just were before they came on stage, etc.
So I did that with Jesus.
Last week, he had just found out about the death of John the Baptist, so Matthew says he got into a boat alone, and went to a deserted place. I figure he prayed to God, knowing that this was a game-changing time, a time of decision that could change the course of Jesus’ ministry. And I imagined that he asked God to tell him what his next step would be, and I figured God had said something like, “I trust you to know what to do; you’ll know what to do when you see it.” And when Jesus saw the crowd, he did know. He had a gut level understanding of what they were feeling, of what they were going through, and he healed them (the root of the Greek word for “healing” is “therapy.”)…
Now most of us think, “man, that would take a lot out of you/out of me” and we think he needed to go up on the mountain to be renewed, refreshed, filled up again with the Father’s power.
No, as I pondered what Jesus did and why he went up on the mountain and as I imagined what he did there, the real reason for his miracles came to me: Miracles are to Show the Power and Awesomeness of God’s Amazing Unfailing LOVE. God’s Love does not get diminished as it gets used.
And then, as I imagined Jesus up on the hill, I remembered a miracle that happened to me one day, long ago. I was a young woman in college at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and I woke up late one day, with like, 5 minutes to get to the bus, and I had to run down a hill, cross a major street, go down two LONG blocks, cross another street and catch the bus. I was still half asleep, got dressed, ran down the hill, crossed the first street and got to the top of the hill with the two LONG blocks in front of me, and looked down to where the bus was going to pick me up, and it was already There!…about to head on, and I shouted, “Wait, wait!” I took a step on that first LONG block and it was all ice, and I slid, still half asleep, so I was sure on my feet, to the end of that block, then did three little hops across the little street between the LONG blocks and hit that next LONG block and slid all the way down it, in about as much time as it took you to read this last LONG sentence, and ran across the last street and got on the bus; it was still there! When I got on, one woman looked at me with a face full of disbelief and confusion and wonder, and I went and sat in the back of the bus. When we got to the Quad, I stood at the back door and when it opened, there was Eddy! My friend that I hadn’t seen in two years, and had never expected to see again; my friend Eddy, who was my bosom friend as long as he lived. He’s the one I cried for from my gut, from my soul, when he died. If I hadn’t made that bus, I would have missed finding Eddy again. We stayed connected as long as he lived; we still are, in some ways.
So I remembered that miracle, as I thought of Jesus sitting at the top of that mountain, and that’s when I realized: God grants miracles because of God’s miraculous, unfailing love. God’s miracles are a manifestation of His/Her/Their power and boundary-lessness, full of possibilities for our connection to each other, and to the world, and to the Cosmos. So I imagined that Jesus was on the mountain sharing the power gained from his self-giving acts of healing and feeding; and I imagined that he saw the boat on the water with his disciples in it, struggling, fearing, and that he, Jesus, bounded down that mountain in maybe two LONG steps and then was so connected to the love of God that the water’s Love loved with him, and he walked on the water to help his disciples, as another self-giving-God-sized act of love.
See, when we say that miracles aren’t real; that they are coincidence, or symbolism, or even science or magic or happenstance or fate, we dumb them down, and what that does, is, it dumbs down God’s miraculous LOVE. We have all had miracles happen in our lives, and some of us have dumbed them down; as “oh, I just chose that school;” or “those neighbors just happened to move in there,” or “it was hard work on my part,” or “it’s no big deal.” When we dumb down miracles, like the miracle of creation, we allow the misuse of the planet. When we dumb down miracles we allow the abuse of our children, or our spouses or our neighbors, forgetting that every living thing on the planet is a Miracle. Created by and sustained by and nourished by and encouraged by and grown through God’s Powerful, Unimaginable, Amazing, Never-Ending, Always Re-newing LOVE. You are such a miracle.
I know you’ve had miracles in your life. I know this, because All of you have told me, at one time or another, about a miracle in your life. This week, I want you to do two things, for me, for you, for God.
1St: remember a miracle in your life. And ponder it, and figure out what God showed you about your life, your worth, your love, about how that miracle showed God’s love for you, and for the world. What was the lesson of that miracle? What did God give you? When I ran down that icy sidewalk, God showed me friendship that I needn’t give up. God gave me unconditional love through Eddy.
2nd: do an “Examin”… SJ’s… Society of Jesus folks, begun by Ignatious of Loyola, do this every night. Sit down, light a candle, write down the best moment of your day. The moment you felt the most alive, closest to God, most loved or loving… and then write down the worst moment of your day; when you felt the most dead, the farthest away from God, from other people, most unloved or unloving. After a while you will find a pattern. God wants you to do the things you love best. And the worst times are usually denying what you love best. Figure out what you love, then let God lead you to make miracles.
Saturday, I sat on my front porch, doing what I usually do with sermon prep: I speak out loud all the things I’ve read and seen and been part of and hoped for and thought about and heard about, and I was kind of in a groove, and someone drove into the parking lot between the house and the church. And I thought, “Darn, I’m in a groove here, getting this sermon closer to ‘down,’” and then I thought, “yeah, and the sermon is about Miracles: me and the world and all the people…”
So I spoke to the lady who was getting in the shade of the tree at the end of the porch. And it turned out that she was driving a car with water and burritos and power bars for her husband, Roy, who was Running 100 miles in order to raise money for a well for some Navaho family who didn’t have water.
See, he had figured out that he loved running, and he loved traveling, and for the past 9 years, he has run in various countries to raise money for wells. Last year he ran in Ethiopia. But this year, because of Covid, he couldn’t go out of the country, and he became aware of the Navaho nation (around the Four Corners area of the Southwest [Arizon, NM, Utah, Colorado]) and its poverty. 25% of the homes in the Navaho nation do not have running water or electricity. So, Roy, from the Lutheran church in Glendale, decided to run to raise money for a well for those people. He is a manifestation of God’s love, making miracles happen in our world, today. Roy gives people all over the world, and this year in the US, the Miracle of Clean Water. Living Water.
That’s what God’s love is…Living Water… flowing water, a never ending spring… it never dries out; it never stops. It renews itself as it gives. Like the love of Jesus, Healing and Feeding and joining with the sea itself to love his disciples with the power of God’s Love; it does not diminish as it gets used.
As miracles are God’s love, this is how you can tell if the miracle is from God: (I Corinthians13:4-8a). It will be about love. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Peter did not get out of the boat as an act of love. That was his problem.
The Greek word for “doubt” actually means to “stand in two ways,” or “waver.” When we doubt, when we waver, when we dumb down the miracles in our lives as “tricks of the trade,” or coincidence, then we dumb down the power of God’s love in our own lives, we dumb down our own lives, we dumb down the worth of the planet and the people and the Cosmos that God loved so much as to send God’s Son, who could walk on water! There is no other story of walking on water in the Bible. There are talking donkeys; there is an angel army which defeats a mighty army just by showing up; there are prophets who raise children from the dead; there are folks healed of leprosy; partings of water; there is a story of astral projection, but No other stories of walking on water. Walking on water is a Miracle.
What was your miracle? What did God give you, through that miracle? What was the lesson? See more miracles, if you can. Look for them. Dont’ dumb them down. See them as God’s LOVE.
Practice doing what you love (without ‘hangovers’), and see if you can see more miracles. We aren’t practiced at seeing or believing or creating miracles, so we might sometimes dumb our miracles down, and when we do, when we don’t really believe in God’s amazing love, we will end up like Peter, crying out for help. He was “standing in two ways,” thinking he could learn the “trick of the trade,” and be a showoff, and that he could ride on the power of Jesus… He neglected the power of God’s love, in Jesus, in himself, and in the sea. He sank. And Jesus rescued him out of love.
The Good News is that God loves us so much, that even when we fear the miracles in our lives, when we dumb them down, and sink, we can still shout the three most amazing prayers, which God in God’s love will always answer. “Help.” “Thanks.” “Wow!” Because Miracles are God’s powerful, faithful, unimaginable and inexhaustable Love made manifest in all our lives, for the World. Thanks be to God.
Blessings, Pastor Bethany