We are full of Olympic fever in our house!
One of the greatest Olympic moments took place during the Cold War, in 1980; a hockey game at Lake Placid between the US and Russia. I wonder if any of you saw it. The US team was very young and inexperienced while the Russian team was full of older, tough looking professional players who had taken four straight Olympic golds. They were considered unbeatable. It was a David and Goliath situation. The US team pulled off a victory and everyone was stunned. In the last five seconds of the game the announcer, Al Michaels, famously screamed: “Do you believe in miracles?” Well, practically everyone, other than the Russians, yelled: “YES!”
Was that victory, in fact, a miracle? Kevin tells me that it was just a statistically improbable event, kind of like hitting it big in Vegas. That is not a miracle. (But, the movie about that famous game is great: it is called “Miracle”.)
I’m bringing this up for a reason. While reading about today’s gospel I found sermon after sermon trying to say that what happened when Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes, then went out and walked on water were not so much miracles but special, statistically improbable events.
I think the writers of these gospels knew this might happen. They foresaw people saying something like this: “Sure, he fed 5000 people with a little bit of bread and fish. I could do that too if I just gave out tiny flakes of fish and crumbs of bread to each person!” So the writers of this story make sure that we understand that each person ate his fill and then, and THEN, when they were full to bursting, Jesus told his disciples to “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the leftovers, they filled twelve baskets.” Twelve baskets of leftovers. So there. We are NOT talking about crumbs and flakes of food. This is abundance. This is bounty. This is an astonishing, impossible thing. Don’t dumb it down.
Oh, but we must. The other, very popular interpretation of this story reminds me of a Hallmark Card. In this version, everyone sees the poor ragamuffin little lad sharing his meager lunch with Jesus and hearts are opened until slowly, one by one, they unclench their selfish hands and turn to share with their neighbors; a few olives here, a bit of pita bread, some cheese, a little wine. The “miracle” here is that people are inspired to goodness and selflessness by both Christ and this darling little boy. Lovely image, isn’t it? But is it a miracle? No, it is a greeting card. Don’t dumb it down.
Let’s move on. How can we ruin the next miracle? Exhausted after feeding so many people, Jesus needs to get away from these folks who insist that He should be king... not a heavenly king but a worldly king. He withdraws to the mountains. As the bright day darkens into a stormy night His disciples start off in a boat for Capernaum. The sea becomes rough, the wind strengthens and the frightened men find themselves three miles from shore. They are more frightened, much more frightened when they see Jesus walking toward them. Yes, walking across the sea, toward them. Jesus says what he always says: “Don’t be afraid. It is just me. I’m here for you.” So they calm down and let him into the boat.
Wouldn’t that seem to be a slam dunk miracle? Walking on water? Come on. Well, here is a wet blanket: Scientists at Florida State University have proposed a pretty fantastic explanation: somehow, a rare set of weather events combined to create a 4 inch thick slab of ice on the lake and Jesus walked on that, well, maybe he skated across that lake. Boy, if he did, I hope that he skated like an Olympian, zooming backwards with his robe flapping around his ankles, doing jumps and loops and fantastic skating tricks!
I’ve also read about some enterprising folks in present day Capernaum who might build a slightly submerged bridge out into the Sea of Galilee. It would be covered with about two inches of water so that tourists could walk out into the sea and take lots of pictures of themselves “walking on water” to post on Facebook.
Why do we do this? Why do we disallow the miracles of Jesus? We read that Jesus performed about 34 miracles but that doesn’t count the many, many people he was healing. That is why he was attracting such huge crowds. And then there is one more sticking point. He died then he came back. Miracle or statistically improbable event? Hmmm.
All of these stories, the entire tale of Jesus is meant to jolt us, to jar us out of our mundane, concrete worlds and move us into a state of wonder. I come to church to remember each Sunday that life is not just about getting Jeff to soccer on time or harvesting the kale before it bolts. I come to church to open my soul to more. I want to open my mind to bigger thoughts, my soul to bigger feelings, my heart to bigger love then I feel in my mundane daily life. I want to broaden my mind to huge possibilities and these stories, these miracles help me do that. I want to ponder the inexplicable, not hear dumbed down stories.
As children, we are so open to wonder, to amazement but as adults that gets drummed out of us. I want to feel wonder and awe. These stories, this experience of church, singing beautiful hymns bring me wonder and awe.
But, each of us also experiences feelings like those of the disciples holding onto the edges of that small boat, just hanging on for dear life in the whirl of the dark, wet wind. We all have dark, scary times. When you are there close your eyes and see Jesus calmly walking toward you, through the dark, through the storm, arms outstretched. Jesus, walks on water to you in your need; bringing abundant love and compassion to you through the storm.
Walking on water. Hmmm. Let me tell you one more story about that. There were two cranky old men who were VERY put out when they learned that their next pastor was going to be a woman. Hmph - a Woman! Finally they decided to try to be good sports so they did what they always did with new pastors; they took her out fishing on the lake. Things were going quite well and oh boy, the fish were really biting. After hours of this, the new pastor said that she needed to be brought back to shore as she had a meeting at church. The fishermen looked at her in disbelief. “Are you kidding? We can’t leave while the fish are biting like this! You’ll just have to swim back!”
The pastor admitted that she didn’t know how to swim. The old boys just didn’t care. They were not moving. So she shrugged, stood up and walked off the boat toward shore. The fishermen paused in their fishing long enough to watch her walk on water. One old guy turned to the other and smirked, “Imagine that! They not only send us a woman to be pastor but she can’t even swim!”