Rev. Danielle K Bartz July 17, 2022
John 6:14-20 “A Letter Home”
When I study Gospel stories, especially miracle stories, my mind tends to first wonder how the people experienced it. What did they see? What were they thinking? How did they reconcile the experience with their idea about the world and God? And, what did they tell people? Because we know the stories were told. We know those who witnessed the miracles and ministry of Jesus told people about them because we still know the stories today. They were passed along, person to person, until they were eventually written down – years and years later.
So, I wonder – what did the disciples tell people after they saw Jesus walking on water in the middle of a storm? How did they work out what they saw and how did they help other people understand the power of it?
So, this morning, rather than offering you a traditional sermon on this miracle, I will instead read to you a letter that I wrote imagining myself as a disciple telling my loved ones back home what I had witnessed and how I am making sense of it. I am not writing here in the voice of James or John or Peter. Instead, I imagine myself on that boat, having seen something beyond imagination, and trying to describe and understand it.
We have just arrived in Capernaum after a frightening boat crossing and I can’t sleep. Because, I saw something tonight that shouldn’t have happened. Something extraordinary. And I don’t know if I should be frightened or in awe. Maybe those emotions are the same thing and I just don’t know what to call them. I gave up everything to follow the Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth because his message of liberation and justice and peace tugged at me like nothing ever had before. And I don’t regret it, not at all. But, I know now that I was not prepared for what I have been witnessing.
I had heard that Jesus could perform extraordinary miracles before I decided to follow him. But, it was one thing to hear about them, quite another to witness them. Yesterday was one of those days filled with miracles. We were in a village, and Jesus was teaching the people – telling them the same thing he told me: that God formed me in God’s own image, that God wishes for me and for everyone a life that filled with good, and that service to our neighbors in God’s name is how we serve. Some people love to hear Jesus talk about that. Some people hate it, especially the folks who think people ought to serve the empire instead of their neighbor. But, anyway, Jesus was teaching and people were starting to get hungry. Like just about everyone we spend time with, they don’t have enough to really get by. But, somehow, with just a couple loaves of bread Jesus was able to make sure everyone had enough to eat! I am not sure how it happens, but it happens a lot. Jesus blesses the food and people start to eat and share and what seemed like not enough turns out to be plenty.
People love it, you know. Like I said, most don’t have enough to eat usually – so when Jesus makes sure they do, often just by showing them that there really is enough if they are willing to share, the people get excited. It is so different than what we are told by the empire. The empire likes us to think there is never enough and so we have to compete and fight over everything. The empire likes it when people are selfish. But Jesus has a different message and it is really starting to catch on. So much so, the people think he should be our king. Jesus doesn’t want that. God is the only one people should be serving, he says. So, every time people start talking about wanting to make Jesus king, he gets out of there, so they don’t get any ideas about trying to force him. It wouldn’t work anyway, but you know how people are – they get an idea in their head about trying to manipulate the system and sometimes are willing to do just about anything.
So, Jesus went away to pray, to remind the people who were paying attention that he is worshipping God by doing all of these incredible things. And, my friends and I decided to head out as well. We usually leave him alone when he needs to pray, so we decided to get a head start on our trip to Capernaum, knowing that Jesus would catch up to us like he always does. So, we were out on this boat we borrowed, making good progress when it started to get stormy. The wind picked up and we were having a hard time rowing. Even the guys with us who used to be fishermen were starting to get nervous. I’ll admit, for a bit there I was really wondering if we were going to sink – I mean, there was no swimming in that weather.
So, there we are, out in the middle of the Sea – too far from either shore and being tossed around by the waves, when we see this person coming towards us. Not in a boat, not swimming, but walking towards us on top of the water. I was sure I was hallucinating, but everyone else was seeing the same thing. But a man walking on water just makes no sense. I mean, I was sure we were all dreaming or hallucinating or maybe had died and were crossing over to heaven. Whatever was going on definitely scared us so we started to try to row faster – to get out of there because whatever was going on just wasn’t normal. But, then the man on the water spoke. It was Jesus. You all, Jesus walked a few miles out into the middle of sea, climbed into the boat with us, gave us a smile, and told us to keeping heading towards Capernaum.
I just don’t get it. I mean I have seen some pretty amazing things. Just that morning I watched thousands of people have a full meal with what started out as just a couple loaves of bread. I’ve seen sick people get better. I’ve watched angry people turn their lives over to service. I have seen some incredible things. Not to mention just listening to Jesus teach us things about God that blow my mind. But this, I don’t know what this was. Walking on water, in the middle of a storm no less – that is something else. Like I said, I don’t know if I should be frightened or in awe, or maybe those are two different words for the same thing.
We are all staying in this rented room at the back of an old inn for the night. Jesus is here, fast asleep – though the rest of us are mostly awake. Right now, he looks like any other guy from Nazareth. A little rough around the edges like the rest of us. His clothes have more patches on them than the original cloth. And we could all use a bath. Right now, anyone looking at him would think of him as just another guy who doesn’t have enough money. So, how can he be the same man I saw walking on water and telling us not to be afraid just a few hours ago? Is this God?
I get why the people want him to be king, especially now. King Herod is nothing like Jesus – Herod is only interested in power and pleasing Emperor Tiberius. And I doubt either of them would make sure everyone had enough to eat, let alone walk on water. So, maybe Jesus should be king, maybe that would make everything better. But, Jesus doesn’t want that. He keeps saying he is not about worldly power, he is just about helping people see that God wants something better for us. He talks and talks about the Kingdom of God, but what he describes is nothing like the empire. It isn’t about keeping a few in power and everyone else in poverty. It’s not about money or influence or popularity. I am not really sure what it is yet, but I know it is not like anything else we have. So, I guess he can’t be king – since the only idea we have of a king wouldn’t fit into this idea that Jesus is teaching.
I really don’t know what to make of all of this, but I knew I had to tell you. You need to know because there is something happening that we all have to pay attention to. Something good. Something extraordinary, in fact. I’ll keep following him around, doing what I can, learn what I can, and help him take care of the people we encounter. Maybe you should too. At least come and listen to him sometime. All I know is that guy in the ratty clothes sleeping in the corner is not just any other guy. And I think we need to pay attention to what he is saying. Maybe if we do, we won’t need him to be a king. Maybe if we really listen to him, we can make this world a better place on our own with God’s help.
My love always,
God of Miracles, when we look around us, if we are really willing to pay attention, we cannot help but be overwhelmed by your miracles. They are big and they are small, but they are everywhere. For this extraordinary life filled with blessings you have given us, we are so grateful. And it is with this spirit of gratitude that we come before you in prayer.
Today, God, we seek your reminder of the way you have filled this world with wonder and awe. For the glorious creation of the cosmos, to the simple pleasure in sitting with a friend, we work to remember that all of it is a gift from you. And, for those moments when we are convinced miracles don’t happen anymore, help us to open our eyes and our spirits to see that indeed this life is filled with them.
Even as we look around us at the abundant blessings of this life, we hold deep within us our fears, our worries, and needs. We are surrounded by people who are sick and hurt and afraid. We hold them close to us and offer our prayers for them to you – trusting in your loving care.
We also turn over to you the prayers we have for ourselves, even those prayers we cannot bear to utter aloud. In these moments of silence, hear the voices of our hearts speaking to you…
Good and Great God, prayer and praise is how we celebrate you and your presence in our lives. We pray all of this and so much more in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who showed us what is possible when we believe. And we pray in the way he taught by raising our voices together…Our Father…