Copyright © 2009 Nathan L. Bostian
A Sermon For Year B, Proper 12 BCP
Based on 2 Kings 2:1-15, Mark 6:45-52
I mean, do you even believe that Jesus could do such a thing? Walk on top of stormy seas without falling in?
I've known many folks who rationally dismiss the whole thing as pietistic propaganda. They say everyone knows that people simply do not walk across water. We don't have the buoyancy. We are a bit top heavy. We tend to sink.
And they lump this story in with just about every other miracle story as propaganda carefully crafted by the early Christians to get people to join the Church.
They believe that miracle stories, especially outrageous miracles like walking on water, are custom tailored to say "Look! My God is bigger than your God! NaNaNaNaNa!"
But I still believe in miracles. I have seen things that defy any attempt at purely rational explanation. I have seen lives healed, people delivered from bondage, and incredible interlocking events that cannot be accurately described by the word "coincidence".
I bet you have experienced events like that too. Miracles.
And, I even believe this miracle happened. I believe it because it doesn't read like propaganda. Propaganda is smooth, rational, carefully argued.
This story is not smooth, or rational, or carefully argued. This story is messy. In the verses before this story, Jesus just fed thousands of people with a handful of food. But, instead of resting- instead of basking in the glow of miraculous success- Jesus orders the disciples to hop in the boat and row to the other side of the lake.
And Jesus goes up to a mountain to pray.
Instead of staying for fame, publicity, and adoring crowds- which is what you would expect from propaganda- Jesus and his disciples leave.
That doesn't make sense. Not if you are interested in propaganda.
Then, with no one around except a boatful of scared, poor, ignorant fishermen- not the kind of people you want as star witnesses if you are testifying before the powers of the world- with no one around but them, Jesus does perhaps his most spectacular miracle.
He literally wills control over the laws of nature, and walks on water like a model walks on a fashion runway. If I was going to craft propaganda, I would do a much better job. I would write about Jesus doing miracles that astonished the powerful, the prosperous, and the important. But this Gospel does just the opposite.
I mean the disciples don't even GET what happens here. They think he is a ghost, a phantasm, an apparition. They are scared stiff. And when he does get in the boat and the storm ceases, they don't get that either. Their hearts are hard, impenetrable, and ignorant.
And it's not like Jesus is hiding anything here. Its all out on the table. When he says "Take heart! It is I!", what he literally says is "Be courageous! I AM!" I AM is the personal name of God in the Hebrew Scriptures.
That's an incredibly un-subtle way of saying Who he really is. He is I AM. He is God embodied. God undercover. God with us.
But nobody gets it. And that means, if it is propaganda, its really badly written propaganda. Because if there is one thing that propaganda is, it is clear. Propaganda tells you clearly what is good, what is bad, who is in, who is out, which is dark, and which is light.
But there are very few things in this Gospel that are that clear. It is as if someone has all these messy stories of what Jesus did and taught, and they throw them out there, and say: "Here's what I experienced. You decide what to do with it."
In fact, when I read the Gospel of Mark, more than any other Gospel, I get the feel of sitting at the breakfast table talking to my Grandmother, my Mamaw.
Mamaw had all these great stories. And she was old enough not to care what other folks thought of her stories, or of who she was. She just told it like she remembered it. Stream of consciousness. Interjecting whatever came to mind in the middle.
She would tell of what it was like to live in the Great Depression. She would talk of her daddy, the sheriff who rode on horseback in southern Arkansas.
She would talk of being married to a bootlegger during prohibition. She could talk of making ammunition in World War II, of going through desegregation in the 1960's, and of the time she was convinced that the Russians were attacking Little Rock.
And by telling those stories, Mamaw made sense of her life. She shared what she learned, and who she was.
Were all of her stories completely accurate and delivered with scientific precision? Heck no. But were they still true? Did they still happen? Did they still shape the identity of this incredibly interesting person, and her often quirky family? Yes and Yes.
When I read Mark I get this same sense. Its almost as if someone pulled up a chair to the breakfast table with an elderly Peter, or one of the early disciples, and said: "Tell me about how it all started. What was Jesus like?"
And these experiences and stories just pour out…
"Well, there was this time we didn't have no food, and Jesus, he wanted to feed the whole crowd! And we didn't know what to do, till Jesus blessed some bread and fish, and fed the whole bunch of 'em.
"To my dying day, I will never figure out how he did that. Then I tell you what. That man told us to leave right then, and meet him on the other side of the lake. And Jesus did that thing he always did, where he went up on a hilltop and prayed.
"And like it always did, that ol' wind kicked up somethin' fierce. And that's when we saw him. Just strollin' across that ol' lake.
"Only we didn't know it was him at first. I thought it was a ghost. Andrew thought it was an angel. Then we heard that voice say 'Be Courageous! I AM!' Now what kinda person says 'I AM'. Hmmm.
"Then he got up in that boat and everything calmed down. Jesus had a way a' doin' that, y'know. Then we went right on to the other side, where, wouldn't you know it, there were a bunch a sick folks and crazy folks and…"
Have you ever read the Gospels like that? Like you are sitting at the breakfast table with an old friend who is telling stories? Have you ever imagined yourself in the stories, as a participant?
I have this bad habit when I read the Bible, and you may have it too. So, I will share it with you. You see, I often read the Bible to try and prove something. Prove I'm right. Prove someone else is wrong. So, I dissect it and rip it apart until I find just the right piece of evidence to support my case.
Then there are other folks who do the same thing to prove they are right too. And then there's a whole different group of folks who read the Bible in the same way- picking it apart- to try and prove the Bible itself is wrong.
So the Bible gets used like propaganda, to be proven or disproven as it is collected and categorized and analyzed and dissected. No wonder there are so many folks out there who are scared of the Bible and want nothing to do with it. Folks like me have a tendency to use the Bible in a scary way.
But what if that's not the point of the Bible? What if the point is to invite us into IMAGINE ourselves in a story: The Story of a God who enters into History and calls us to Love him and Love each other? What if the key to understanding the Bible is first and foremost our imagination, long before we do any rationalization?
Or, let's look at the same issue from a completely different perspective:
What kind of stories do YOU like telling over the breakfast table? What kind of stories bring a sparkle to your eye and life to your soul? What kind of stories do you get so wrapped up in that you loose time?
Here's the beginning of some stories that no one enjoys telling or hearing:
"When I met this person, and I could tell from the way they looked exactly what kind of person they were. And you know what, I was right!" Or...
"Well, let me tell you about the time I accomplished my five year plan with pinpoint accuracy!" Or...
"Here is how I make sure nothing unexpected ever happens in my life…"
Think about it: What is the most unsatisfying kind of movie to watch? What is the most boring book to read?
The kind where you know exactly what is going to happen from the very beginning. We are shaped by God to dislike stories that are predictable, punctual, planned, formulaic, and prosaic.
We crave drama, difference, distinctiveness. This is because we are created in the image of a God who does amazing, unpredictable things, like entering into His own creation and walking on water.
So why do we treat the Bible, and religion, and spirituality in a way that is predictable, punctual, planned, formulaic, and prosaic. Why do we insist on God fitting nicely into our pre-made boxes?
Now, do not get me wrong. I also believe that God made us as planners and thinkers and rational beings too. God created the world with order and structure and purpose.
Its just that in our culture, it is easy to loose the amazing, creative, unpredictable side of our life in Christ to the rote, routine, and reasonable side of life.
For example. Here is my cell phone. On this phone, I have my plans and appointments for the next two years. I also have all of my family's plans, all of our play dates, all of our sports games. I have contact information, phone numbers, and emails for all of the people in my professional and personal life.
I have five email addresses I can check. I have facebook. I have twitter. I have text messages. I have voice notes. I have a camera. I have the Bible in 30 translations. I have the Book of Common Prayer. I have internet, newspapers, files, documents, and much more.
This does not count all of the planning and preparation and paperwork on my computer, at my jobs, at home, in the mailbox, and scattered in my car. Multiply that for my wife and life gets very complex, very quickly.
And I say all of that because I know most of us in this place face similar levels of pre-planned complexity in our own lives. In fact, I know of people from Junior High age, up to well past retirement, who I would consider much busier than me.
And I think it can all take a toll on our life with God. We can have so many good things in our life- legitimately good gifts given to us by God- that we allow them to squeeze out what is best. We allow what is good to squeeze out what is God.
And not only that, but we allow it to squeeze out our sense of awe, mystery, and meaning in life. We allow it to squeeze out relationships. I know the times are few and far between, that I am able to just sit and BE with someone, and enter into their stories.
I know that if Jesus walked across the water right now, I would probably miss it because I would be too busy checking my email. I know that if God were to send flaming chariots from heaven right now, I would probably miss it because I was worried about getting to my next appointment on time.
Are you in the same place?
How long has it been since you took time to sit with God and enter into God's Story? How long has it been since you made space in your life for God to do something miraculous and awe inspiring?
How long has it been since you have watched for Jesus to walk into your life, across the troubled waves of anxiety and scheduling and responsibilities and requirements and paying the bills?
We all have to plan. We all have to structure our lives so they work. We are all busy. And much of that cannot be changed.
But we can carve out a space to sit with God at the breakfast table and listen to God's Story. We can come to Scripture without an agenda to make it say what we want, and instead imagine ourselves WITHIN the Story it tells.
We can make time to just BE with God for a while: To be a human BEING rather than just a human DOING.
And that is my prayer for us all. I pray we would make space in our lives for God to do something amazing and miraculous. I pray that in the midst of all our DOING we would remember we are human BEINGS made in God's image to live life with God. I pray that we would find Jesus telling stories at our breakfast table. Amen+