9th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12/Lectionary 17)
John 6: 1-21
When I was a small child, I was afraid of the dark. Unfortunately my imagination would play games with me and I would often see figures, or monsters or something like that in the dark.
So when you have a child who is afraid of the dark, what do you do? You often employ things like night lights that cast a small, dim light so that at least it isn’t totally darkness. A little bit of light can often calm the fears of a little child.
Or, if the fears of the dark are quite extreme, we may calm the hearts of little ones by sitting on the edge of their beds and holding their hands. Sometimes you may have to lay down beside them. Some little kids have teddy bears or stuffies that calm them. I did not need a teddy bear or a stuffie; a little night light was enough.
Of course we could all commiserate and nod our heads in understanding; this is a common thing. We know that young children are often afraid of the dark and we see that as okay. Such a phenomenon is very natural. Unfortunately as we get older, such “natural fears” give way to fears that are not so natural.
As I got older, I developed other fears. As an 8 year old I feared the bully down the street. As a teenager I feared standing out and simply wanted to blend in with everybody else. As an adult, I feared my abilities to be an effective father. I feared for my career paths, my station in life, my financial position or lack of it.
At every age, there are fears; there is darkness and storms in one form or another. At every age we need something to bring light to the darkness, calm to the waves. Sadly, we know that night lights and teddy bears don’t necessarily work as we get older.
In the face of darkness or storms, we might ask in this context of church worship what role faith takes in all of our struggles.
Sometimes people say to me, ‘I don’t know how a person can cope without faith.’ I do not question that for a second. If that is the case, what does faith bring to the table?
One might ask the disciples of Jesus.
Today in the reading of the gospel, we have a couple of remarkable events in the ministry of Jesus. The first event was the feeding of the 5,000. The second event is Jesus walking on the water.
One day Jesus' disciples got into a boat and started to the other side of the lake. Before they got to the other side, it became dark. The wind started to blow and the water became very rough. The disciples were already beginning to be a bit afraid when they looked and saw someone coming toward them walking on the water. The Bible says that the disciples were terrified!
Then, they heard the voice of Jesus. He said, "It is I, don't be afraid." The Bible tells us that when they realized that it was Jesus, they were willing to invite him into the boat with them. We do not know if they ceased to be afraid, but the story informs us that they came to land.
One would assume that once they reached land their fears subsided and they were no longer afraid.
So there we have it. As we gather in church worship, as we read the Bible together, we hear that Jesus feeds and also that Jesus is there for us, to calm our storm.
We read those stories today, but we also read them every year. In our 3 year cycle of Bible readings, these two stories take place every year. Sometimes in our 3 year cycle a Bible story will occur only once in the 3 years, but these stories of the feeding of the 5000 and the walking on water occur every year.
It should be noted that all four of the gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John record these two events. Why was it important for them to mark the feeding of the 5000 and the walking on water?
I don’t know for sure but recently I read an article by Nadia Bolz-Weber who is a well written Lutheran pastor in the United States. She stated that these two events were MIRACLES.
The feeding of the 5000 and the walking on water were miracles; probably never to be replicated. The question is: Why are these miracles so important? They are important she claims, because we as human beings NEED miracles.
We need these miracles, these stories to remind us that God is present in our lives that God will not abandon us and somehow God will feed our souls and will calm our storms.
Jesus directed his disciples to gather those who were hungry so that he could feed them. Jesus fed them and there was abundance in the face of what seemed like scarcity. The miracle was that Jesus welcomed them and fed them so that they could continue on with their lives.
The miracle was that Jesus met his disciples in the midst of their storm and told them not to be afraid. Somehow and in some way, he stilled their storm and brought them to dry land.
We need to hear about the miracles and we desperately want to believe in those miracles. We need to hear that Jesus feeds us and calms our storms.
Or course, the question will become for each of us: How will we experience these miracles. What will OUR miracles look like?
How will Jesus feed our souls and calm our storms? These questions I can’t answer for you, or for myself; we will all have a different experience. Our storms may look different from one another and we will all see Jesus, sometimes in similar ways, sometimes in different ways, but we WILL see him and he will tell us not to be afraid.
However today, as like every other Sunday, we have the first installment in our experience of the miracles of Jesus. Today Jesus feeds us. We receive bread and wine; Jesus within us. Jesus welcomes us to the table, no matter how afraid or skeptical we are and he feeds us without question.
What a miracle. And with that we venture out into this world, continuing on with our lives with the good news that he will meet us during the storms of our lives, will guide us to safe shores and will calm our hearts.
Thanks be to God. Amen.