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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Walking On Water

Walking on Water

John 6:1-21

Growing up was not easy for me and my five brothers and sisters.  Our mother had a bit of difficulty controlling her anger and we found ourselves sometimes walking gingerly through the house when we sensed that something was making her angry.  She was someone to be feared.  But at one point in her life, something changed all that.  She had grown up in a faith that had explained God as an angry, vengeful God and humans as worthless and unworthy to be in His presence.  The dramatic change came about the time I wanted to be baptized in my early teens.  In order for that to happen, the pastor required that my mother come talk to him.  She did so, but I was not privy to that conversation, but shortly after that she started attending church for the first time since her childhood.  The change in her soon became apparent.  Bouts of her ugly temper began to disappear and as she became involved in the activities of that church, her personality began to change dramatically.  Along with increased patience, she began to care for others and became nurturing and giving.  As each of her children began to move away and find lives of their own, we also began to drift back in visits, every once in awhile most of us gathering on the same weekend.  Her blossoming care for others began to show even to us as we woke in the morning after our first night of stay.  As we came down the stairs of the house she would ask each one of us what we wanted for breakfast.  And, no matter what it was, she would prepare that for us.  Even when each person wanted something different, she fixed it.  It was not unusual for her to be making 5, 6, 7 different breakfasts.  She did not accept, “Oh, anything you want to fix,” as an adequate answer.  It was not unusual to have an abundance of eggs in all sorts of styles, French toast, cereal, oatmeal waffle and pancakes at the table during the morning.  What might have been her purpose?  Perhaps it was because she wanted each of us to be filled and satisfied when we left her table.  Perhaps she wanted everyone to feel at home and at peace in her house.  It was one way for her to give her love, the love she had been unable to show in our growing up, but one that she certainly came to know as her faith grew.

Jesus had a whole company of people seeking his healing, his words, and his miracles, roughly 5000 according to today’s story.  He knew they were tired and hungry from following him around the countryside.  He posed a dilemma to his disciples, he wanted them to feed the people, all of them.  It was an impossible task, why pose such a difficulty?  Because he had compassion upon them.  They did succeed in feeding all of them in abundance with much left over. 

And then his disciples, crossing the lake, we beset by waves pounding dangerously on their boat.  Then Jesus appeared to them walking on water.  Why did he do that?  Because he had compassion on his friends.  They arrived at the shoreline safe and intact.  The impossible had been overcome.  In the same day Jesus had provided bread, fish, and peace to those in need.  Some would think that these miracles were done to show the power and strength that Jesus had, to show what he could do and how powerful he could be.  And the crowds believed that was his purpose.  They mistook his actions and wanted to crown him king, a good king they had longed to have through the times of return from exile.  The people were looking for a powerful person to lead them, to guide them in uncertain times, times of dominating rule from the Romans.

But what was Jesus really trying to do in performing those miracles.  If we look back on the conditions surrounding each miracle we see the strong needs present.  People were literally starving from hunger, hot, tired, some farther away from home than they had intended to be.  In the second miracle his disciples were frightened, probably close to panic, in fear for their lives.  Jesus was not trying to show power to these two groups who benefited from his miracle.  He was trying to show compassion and in showing compassion, revealing the compassionate God behind the miracles.  It was not power that Jesus wanted to claim.  It was the love and compassion of God that he wanted to demonstrate.  Jesus’ whole mission was to reveal this God of love to the world. 

Perhaps we too look through the same lens as those people who wanted to make Jesus share his power as king.  We want a Jesus who continue to perform miracles, especially when we need a miracle so badly.  Some of us want all our needs to be provided, especially when we face extreme difficulties.  We narrow and downsize Jesus to fit our needs and expectations and so often end up discouraged and doubtful.  In that discouragement we may continue to pray, sing, worship and give lip service to our faith, but meaning and sense of God’s presence may have diminished.  We look at church and find all kinds of things wrong with it, and leave our real need, the need for a living and vital and sustaining relationship with our creator unnamed and unmet.  Our unmet wants quickly turn to apathy, doubt and rote worship.  But there is so much more to faith then the miracles that might accompany it.

When my mother provided whatever anyone wanted for breakfast, she was meeting the

physical needs of those she loved, and it was what we seemed to want at the time.  But I’ve come to realize that what each of us wanted was not the breakfast she provided, but her love, her acceptance, her forgiveness and her nurture.  Her breakfast was just one small token of that love. 

We want the same sort of thing with Jesus.  We want the healings, the security of having our problems solved, the reassurance that Jesus is there to help us and give us strength.  But to limit Jesus to those things is to miss the much greater ability Jesus has to show us God, to show us God’s grace, grace that fills our souls  and leaves us freshened and strengthened for the many trials in life, grace that fills our deepest desires and needs, those that are much deeper than our physical needs.  Jesus wanted his disciples to catch a glimpse of what he knew, to know not only what great things he could do, but to know the very heart and character of the God who created it all.  Jesus revealed himself to the disciples as one who walked with God, shared in God’s actions, spoke God’s words, not for his own glory, but for God’s glory.  Jesus demonstrated God’s love and nurture in powerful ways, not so much just to fix individual’s physical needs as much as to show them the way to their true source of peace and happiness, their relationship and existence with God. 

Instead of being discouraged if the miracle we want does not happen, we can turn our thoughts to what greater thing is in the making, what greater thing Jesus did while he walked this earth.  In my line of work I hear and witness to very tragic events.  A beloved father dies surrounded by his grieving family while they are reading him some psalm and they find the courage to face the future strengthened in faith and assured that promised new life has been given to the one they have lost.  A mother loses her son in a motorcycle accident, and has the chance to commune with God in her son’s backyard as the birds seem to sing to her, herself sensing and drawing strength from a greater reality.  A young woman addicted to alcohol and drugs turns her life over to God and finds the capacity to resist her addictions, knowing that she will have to face that fight every day of her life. And with each story, with each event the desired outcome has been different and a much greater truth has been revealed.  Faith has been challenged and strengthened, love has been tested and grown more powerful.  Doubt and despair have led to assurance and hope, churches have doubted in the midst of conflict and have come to believe and do ministry in much deeper faith.

The greater gift from Jesus is not always the miracles we seek.  The greater gift from Jesus is not that he might appear to us in person, or gives us bread and fish.  The greater gift is what he always points to, the grace and love of God.  Because when we experience God’s grace and love in a sense of being forgiven our sins, redeemed, saved, born again, in harmony with the universe, reassured of our name “Child of God”, or whatever words we choose to name it, we have found what we truly need and we find ourselves at peace with our creator and with ourselves. 

What does God offer in Jesus?  Certainly physical, emotional, and spiritual well being are all a part of it.  But God offers so much more.  God offer the opportunity for us to become people who participate in that which is enduring and true.  God offers himself in a way that even death has no hold over us.  We are still capable of hurting, of being disappointed, but those hurts are framed in a much larger knowledge that all is still well and will be well with our souls.  We can look at Jesus in the midst of the storm and be afraid, or we can reach out and pull him in the boat and find ourselves on dry, safe land.  It really is our choice.

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