Summary: The power that enabled Jesus and Peter to walk on water is available to us.
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 7, 2005 Proper 14
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
There has been resurgence in America that might just go unnoticed if it weren’t for Hollywood. This summer’s blockbuster movie Fantastic Four joins Spiderman and The X-Men as recent comics turned cinema. The popularity of these movies mirrors the revival of interest in comic books.
The recent “Comic-Con International trade show in San Diego that drew nearly 100,000 participants is another indication. “Comics are on a comeback,” declares World Magazine (6/6/05, 15). Matt Lechner, a Wisconsin comic-book store owner says that it wasn’t’ that long ago when “you couldn’t give them away” (p. 17). He believes that it all changed with Harry Potter. Not only are kids reading, but they are now more open to the fantasy genre of most comic books.
The best selling comic books are and have been superheroes. There is a love and fascination for heroes with super powers. But, why do we need superheroes when we have a real God? While Jesus doesn’t display x-ray vision or superhuman strength, there is another power that Jesus does display that is available to us lesser human beings.
Our gospel lesson today begins,
v. 22 Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
This morning’s gospel lesson follows Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. After directing His followers into a boat with instructions to go to the other side of the lake, Jesus sends the crowds away. He has healed their sick, fed them, and now He bids them goodbye.
vv. 23-24 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.
After sending everyone away, Jesus climbs the mountain to find a place of solitude for prayer. He had been in prayer earlier, after he had heard about the beheading of John the Baptist, and that time for prayer had been interrupted by the crowds who had followed Him. This time, He is able to find a quiet place alone.
If you will read through the gospels with an eye toward the life pattern of Jesus, you will see that He regularly sought out solitude for prayer. In fact, we cannot understand the life of Jesus apart from prayer. As Anglican nun Margaret Magdalen says in her work, Jesus, Man of Prayer, "He had a deep need to be alone, silent and still, simply because he was human" (p. 39).
Think about what we know about the last three years of Jesus’ life. First, He was constantly with people. He was with His disciples all day long. He worked with great crowds often. During the day, He had no personal space in which to retreat. People with their constant demands were always seeking something from Jesus.
Even apart from the demands that others placed upon Him, Jesus needed time alone to get His bearings. It is all too easy to get into a rut of doing without reflecting. In the final analysis, what is it that our production serves? Is there any purpose behind our lives or are we merely making it through each day? Jesus found His answers to these kinds of questions in solitude. We will too, by the way.
For the disciples, theirs was not an easy trip across the lake. The boat was beaten by the waves and buffeted by the wind. It was a struggle to make progress toward their destination. But, as they worked their way across the water, something extraordinary happened.
vv. 25-27 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid."
Their trip was not made any easier by the sight of Jesus approaching them by walking of the water. The disciples were gripped with fear. The power of God can be a fearful thing. Of course, if you don’t believe in the power of God or miracles, you have to do something else with this story. However, as Anglican bishop N.T. Wright points out about miracles:
The problem is that miracle … is not a biblical category. The God of
the Bible is not a normally absent God who sometimes intervenes. This
God is always present and active, often surprisingly so. [Borg/Wright, p. 171]
If you start with the premise that God is present, powerful and active, then so-called miracles present no problem whatsoever. Or, if you start from the premise that God created all things, including the laws of nature and that God has the ability to work contrary to the laws that He set up, again, supernatural occurrences present no problems. It is true that God works in ways that we would never have imagined, and that’s a scary thing. Anglican luminary Michael Green writes,