More muttering about miracles.

Once again, a familiar story; the disciples take to the water – off to Bethsaida on Jesus instructions.  This time, Jesus stays behind to pray.  Earlier in Mark’s gospel, in the coming and going across the sea of Galillee, they were in a boat, caught in a storm and Jesus calmed their fears (and the waves) with a word.  This time they are far from shore – and Jesus was alone on the land.   The rowing is difficult; the wind is contrary; and Jesus “comes toward them, early in the morning, walking on the sea…”

Matthew’s gospel describes a conversation and a challenge – Peter joining Jesus on the water; a test of faith that Peter fails.  For Mark, the conditions are different.   The disciples forget their struggles with the weather at once – Jesus may have intended to encourage them by his presence, but they are terrified!  Jesus speaks – identifies himself – “Do not be afraid.” – and climbs into the boat.  The weather is calmed, but the disciples are not.  Astounded – agitated – completely mystified, they continue on to the shore.  Mark’s comment is important: “…for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

A miracle, says a friend of mine – and I will not argue that.  A miracle full of important images, and difficult truth.  And in a week where an “atheist minister” makes the news, I will say, for the record, that what we call miracles in Scripture are miracles indeed.  In every case the author is giving evidence that God has intruded on our reality in an unforgettable manner.  Multiplying loaves an fish – water in to wine – healing – reconciliation and restoration; all these are extraordinary works of God, offered to help us imagine the true capacity of God to save us and satisfy us.  So this episode – in either gospel account – is miraculous.  But just as with the loaves and fishes, the real miracle is not in ‘headline story’ (the walking on water, in this case).  The miracle is the desire of God to reach out to those whose hearts are hardened.

Mark’s gospel is full of quick exchanges and rapidly changing locations – immediately is the most common connector between episodes in Mark’s gospel – and things happen so quickly that we don’t always notice the details.  Jesus meets them, on the water, in the early morning.  He tries to clam their fears; reminds them of who he is – does any of that sound familiar?  For as much as the gospels try to give us insight into Jesus life and work, their true purpose is to call to mind the greatest of all miracles; Jesus crucifixion and resurrection – the ultimate revelation of God’s capacity to love and redeem.

Early in the morning – that is when the women come to the tomb.  there is a confusion of identity; there is terror and doubt until Jesus calls to them and reveals himself.  We cannot forget that the account of Jesus walking across the lake is told (and heard) through a post resurrection perspective.  To those who have encountered the Risen Christ, every other miracle seems ordinary.

It is true that we have become cynical – not just as a society, but as the people of God.  We have developed sophisticated (and detailed) explanations for things that our ancestors found impossible to describe.  Our ‘knowledge’ has dulled our sense of the miraculous, and that is unfortunate.  Like those people in the boat, our hearts are hardened, and we do not (will not?) understand or accept the miraculous, even when it  comes marching across the surface of the water to meet us.  But surely we are not too proud (or too cynical) to recognize the gift that Scripture does offer us.  To a generation whose imagination is compromised by centuries of discovery and rapidly changing technological marvels, Scripture says “Look at this!”   “God is HERE!”

Over and over again, we are challenged to see the world through the eyes on a generation that saw God’s grace and God’s activity in every facet of human existence.  In the generosity and hospitality of a hungry crowd; in the soothing presence of a faithful friend; in the quiet hours of grief and fear, miracles abound.  The presence of God takes many forms even now, and when we are grounded in the Scriptures – when our search includes the traditions of our ancient ancestors – we will discover ample evidence of God’s capacity for love; God’s ability to redeem; God’s desire to bring us back to right relationship.

One of the definitions of faith is the confidence or trust in things unseen.  Miracles are the evidence that we don’t want to believe – the power of God made visible; the glory of God seeping into our line of sight.  It can be unsettling – terrifying, even – and we are always going to have work to do to reconcile the miraculous truth of God with our desire to have everything explained and well ordered.  But the truth of God will not be ordered or easily contained.  Resurrection cannot be ‘undone’ – we are living in a world that has seen death defeated.  That’s the miracle, and the truth – it’s our story to tell as the church, and our gift to a world without hope.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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