God is Walking on Water in Selma
“You are the Christ, the great Jesus Christ. Prove to me that you’re no fool. Walk across my swimming pool.” These words are taken from a very, very lose interpretation of Jesus’ passion and death as depicted by the 1970s musical Jesus Christ Superstar. If you haven’t seen the movie or play, then I am not sure you are missing much. But then again, I might have just committed a modern day cultural heresy for saying such a thing.
Anyway, King Herod seems to be articulating something that many of us have wondered at some point in our life. If Jesus is really the Christ, why don’t we see him performing miracles on demand? Why isn’t Jesus still walking on water or turning a few loaves of bread into enough for thousands? What happened to Jesus the miracle worker?
Even more, the miracle stories of Jesus, stories that once inspired belief, now seem to inspire doubt and disbelief instead. We live during a time when everything has to be explained. We live during a time where knowledge is the path to truth and enlightenment. Because if we know why things the way things are, then we will be able to fix them and save the world, right?
This being said, every forward thinking person knows that it is impossible for someone to turn just a few fish into enough for a community fish fry where everyone has their fill. Even more, the physics of walking on water just doesn’t work. Human beings just can’t walk on water—it is a scientific fact! And scientific fact is the end game—or so we like to sometimes think.
And this line of thinking isn’t limited to non-Christians. Even Christians reduce the power of Christ’s miracles in order to have them make sense according to our human point of view. Too often we try to explain miracles according to human understanding. We try to explain miracles in such a way so they won’t break the rules of science and human reasoning.
For example, some Christian scholars examine the original Greek from today’s gospel and explain that the original text says that Jesus walked “by” the water and not “on” the water. They claim this because the Greek word for on or by are interchangeable.
Others hold the view that the generosity of the little boy who shared his lunch inspired the entire crowd to share their secret stashes of food for the entire group to enjoy. And this is a belief that I held for a long time. After all, my preacher growing up, arguably one of the greatest in the Episcopal Church, John Claypool, held this view.
If this is how you look at these stories, I am not going to tell you that you are wrong. However, I do invite you to consider what you are giving up. This is a question that I often ask myself when faced with a theological crisis. What am I giving up if I hold this particular view point?
In the case of Jesus walking by the water instead of on the water, I believe we give up the idea that God has the power to alter how we see how the world works. I believe if we don’t take seriously that Jesus can actually walk on water, then we can’t take seriously that Jesus is establishing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
If Jesus’ doesn’t walk on water, then I am not sure we can fully consider the truth that God’s heavenly kingdom operates differently than our earthly kingdoms. And ultimately, if Jesus doesn’t walk on water, then I am not sure we can take seriously the implications that Jesus is risen from the dead.
In addition, while the crowd might have been compelled to be more generous in their giving as a result of the feeding miracle, I believe we are giving up God’s ability to surprise us with his works of wonder if inspired sharing is the driving force behind the miracle. In other words, I believe this inspired sharing interpretation limits God to one who is governed simply by human laws and not by divine possibilities.
Don’t we believe in a God who does more than just inspire us? Don’t we believe in a God who is desperate to break the rules of our earthly reality so we come to know a new reality in Christ? Don’t we have a God who can take even our best efforts and dreams and turn them into something beyond our wildest imagination?
Yes, our God calls us to share the little that we have and that is critical, but the real miracle is what God does with our mustard seed of faith! God makes the impossible possible. God takes what shouldn’t be enough from our human point of view and does things that surpass any kind of human understanding.
The Apostle Paul certainly believed in this kind of God. In today’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul falls to his knees in prayer. Paul prays, “I pray that you may have the power to know… the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
We have a God who can do for us things that go beyond anything we can ask or imagine. We have a God who gives us a faith, as Paul says to the Corinthians, where we no longer see the world from a human point of view. Instead, God gives us a faith to see how God is establishing his heavenly kingdom on earth through the work and person of Jesus Christ.
We are given a faith to see a new reality that doesn’t operate based on human commands but rather a world that operates because we have a God who is faithful despite the limits of human ideas. Through these miracles, God is inviting us to live where life was previously deemed impossible. The miracles of Christ are meant to move us beyond the limits of the human point of view and invite us to operate in a world where anything is possible with God—even walking on water and turning not enough into too much.
Soon the Vestry is going to invite the congregation to share in a conversation that explores how God is walking on water in Selma and how God is calling us to offer the little we have so God can use it to make dreams come true. This past weekend the Vestry sort of kicked off this conversation as a leadership team with consultants from the Episcopal Church Foundation. I am not going to debrief you on all that was talked about this morning except to say that we dreamed BIG. I believe we dreamed BIG because we believe in a God who dreams BIG.
We dreamed about not only what God can do through St. Paul’s but what God can do when the community dreams together. We all know the obvious issues at hand—crime, education, industry, infrastructure, and the list goes on. But how can we get out of our own way and give God a chance to do something that will show the world that we have a God who can raise even the dead to life?
I know the thought of reviving Selma is an overwhelming thought—I have plenty of those days too. There is good news. I’ve said it before. I’ve heard many of you say it too. The good news is that God is up to something special here in Selma. And that is good news because only with God’s help is revival possible. I know some of you might think I am a fool too. How can I believe in revival with all the problems out there? Here is how I believe…
I believe the same God who called the 100 year Abraham and the 90 year old Sarah to give birth not only to a child but to the entire nation of Israel is calling Selma to hope for a brighter future for our children for generations to come.
I believe the same God who called a very under-qualified Moses to lead a very stubborn nation of Israel out of bondage into the land of promise is calling our community to get past our shortcomings and division and see that God can take us anywhere if we work together.
I believe the same God whose breath gave life to dry bones and made them rattle is breathing life back into Selma, and I can already hear the faint sound of an excited rattle.
Most of all, I believe the same God who is at work in Jesus Christ is alive in Selma. The same God who can bring even the dead to life is walking through our streets and calling the faithful to be inspired by his works of wonder and generosity that surpass human understanding.
God is among us and is walking on water all over Selma. Can you see it? God is among us and inviting us to consider how just a little can be turned into more than enough. Can you see it? Can you see Jesus emerging through the windstorm? If you can, then what a terrifying and awesome site it is.
And the good news is that Jesus is calling to us out of the storm in Selma and saying, “It is I, do not be afraid.” Jesus is reaching out his hand and telling us that with his help we can make it to dry land; we can endure the storm and get to where we’ve always dreamed of going. Thanks be to God! Amen.