As I was preparing this message I found the above picture with the caption new age surfing. It gives the illusion that this man is surfing the Jesus way; he’s going board less. Now you and I can look at this picture and say yes it does look that way but hey isn’t it just that his board and his feet are on the back of the wave and we can’t see them. Yeah that’s it all right. And as I read the passage from Mark’s gospel that we had read out to us today I’d really like to be able to find some sort of easy scientific way of explaining Jesus walking on the water. Maybe Jesus was surfing the swells on the lake, or the first ever board sailor or they were in the shallows, but I can’t do it.
Maybe it was like the joke about the Rabbi, the catholic Priest and the Presbyterian minister who go fishing on a lake on their day off. The Jewish rabbi wants a coffee so he jumps out of the boat and walks on the water back to shore. Gets a coffee from the near by café. Then comes back out to the boat, gets in sits down and keeps on fishing. No one bats an eyelid. A little later the catholic priest says he too wants a coffee so he too gets up jumps out of the boat and walks to shore gets a coffee and comes back out to the boat, gets in and sits down as if he hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary and carries on fishing. Now the Presbyterian minister had watched that and just like the disciples in our reading this morning he is totally amazed and freaked out. But also he thinks to himself my faith is just as strong as theirs so why can’t I do that. So he decides he wants a coffee and he’ll try walking on the water. So he steps to the side of the boat and jumps over, only to plunge straight into the water and be sucked down by the weight of this clothes and the catholic priest and Jewish rabbi turn to each other and say. Do you think we should have told him about the stepping-stones.
The name of this series on Mark’s gospel is close encounters of the Jesus kind and we are wanting to encounter and meet Jesus in a real way that he may speak into our lives and we may be transformed to be more and more like Christ. That means we need to encounter Jesus walking on the water not simply try and explain it away.
Quite possibly for us in New Zealand the image of Jesus walking on the water is the one that is most a part of our culture. It is an image that has appeared on our stamps and that is often in brochures that tourist read about this land of ours. At the Anglican Church at Onehinemutu there is the amazing piece of art where as you look out from the church you see etched in the glass Jesus with moko on his face and a feather cloak draped round his shoulders walking towards you on the steaming waters of Lake Rotorua. One of James K Baxter most well known poems picks this image up
I saw the Maori Jesus
Walking on the waters of Wellington harbour
He wore blue dungarees
His beard and hair were long
His breath smelt of mussels and paraoa
When he smiled it looked like the dawn
Then the poem goes onto talk about this Jesus walking into the lives of disillusioned railway workers, street walkers, worn out housewives and even alcoholic priests and bringing new creation and life. So how will we respond to the Jesus we meet walking on the water?
The starting point for looking at this passage is not trying to comprehend what we have read through our twenty first century scientific mindsets but rather what is the author wanting to tell us about Jesus. Really this passage is rather mind blowing.
Morna Hooker in her commentary on Mark’ says the two miracles of feeding the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water show the Jews that here is one in their midst that is even greater than their ancestor Moses. Through Moses God provided manna in the wilderness, through Moses God lead the people of through the red sea on dry land, through Moses even though they had sinned against God as Moses raised up a snake and people looked to it they were healed. Here in these miracles were signs for the Jews that the God who had saved them from slavery in Egypt was amongst them in the person of Jesus Christ: Able to feed his people, walking on the water, healing all who looked to him.
Secondly it shows us the creator has sovereignty over his creation. In a few weeks we will look at the transfiguration where three of Jesus disciples will encounter the glorified Jesus Christ on a mountaintop but here for a brief moment we glimpse something of God’s glory something more of Jesus divinity. Just as in the calming of the storm were we saw that the forces of nature obey the son of God, just as the unclean spirits obey Jesus command and the sick are made well here we see that even the laws of the physical universe bow to the will and sovereignty of the creator.
Thirdly we are like the disciples left to wonder at this mystery. One of the terms that has been rediscovered as we move away from modernity with its emphasis on science is the word mystery. Not mystery as a puzzle that needs to be unravelled and solved but as a genuinely beyond our ability to comprehend. Recently in the word of quantum physics scientists have begun to talk about dark matter and dark energy, that is matter and energy that exists in the universe that is beyond the scope of our technology to observe and quantify. Some scholars believe this equates up to 90% of the fabric of the universe. It is a really humbling thing for scientists to acknowledge that the vast bulk of the universe is just beyond their ability to measure or even observe, that it is a dark mystery. Here in this passage we see the mystery of the divine in human form. That God is beyond our ability to comprehend and quantify. Jesus doesn’t fit into a box. In fact the only response is utter amazement and worship.
When we read of Jesus walking on the water part of response needs to be to remember the words of Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are my ways your ways declares the Lord. As the heavens are above the earth so my ways are so much higher than your ways and my thoughts that your thoughts.” It is ultimately a mystery that the creator of the universe should become one of us and dwell with us.
How then do we encounter Jesus walking on the water today?
It comforts us to know that there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the Love of God. Alan Cole sees this passage primarily as a rescue mission for the disciples like when Jesus had calmed the wind and the waves after being woken from his sleep in the back of the boat in Mark 4:35-41. Once again we see Jesus able to reach out and help his disciples in the storms of life. This time he wasn’t even in the boat this time he was separated by the vastness of the lake but he came to his disciples struggling against the wind and waves and the sea and says don’t be afraid take courage, lets face it he’s just totally freaked them out, and he gets in the boat with them and the wind and waves are calmed. The disciples who even though they were hard of heart and didn’t get who Jesus really was were once again rescued from the storm. Not even the limitations of the physical rules of the universe were able to stop that.
You may feel you are distant from Jesus and struggling against the wind and waves you might even think well Jesus can’t possible get to me here but our God is not restrained or limited. In Romans 8:38 says there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from the love of God. Paul’s list of the things that would attempt to separate us is rather long. Death, the sword, nakedness and hunger, demonic forces principalities and powers height and depths trouble and hardship but none of these is able to do it. They certainly try, right, but ultimately these created things cannot separate us from Jesus who walks on the water and gets in the boat with us. They are created things and our saviour is the creator.
Secondly, Jesus is at work in the world outside the boat. I don’t know about you but I found it rather disturbing to think that Jesus was about to pass the disciples by and it seems that it was only their fear that caused him to turn and get in the boat with them. Jesus was walking across the lake to the other side where he knew there were many sick and suffering people who needed to hear and experience the Good news of Jesus Christ. He then turned and came into the boat and the disciples went with him to the other side. Recently people have begun talking about the missio dei or the ‘Mission of God’ and seeing that Jesus by the Holy Spirit is at work in the world beyond our boat beyond the walls of the church and the call on God’s people is to recognise what it is that God is already doing in the world and go and join him.
You know I think we can get caught up and think that Jesus is in this boat with us, God’s in the church with us and we find him and his will as we come together. But just like Jesus walking on the water we find that Jesus just might be moving and working in unexpected ways. Ways that go beyond our trying to keep this boat afloat and he will pass us by if we don’t watch ourselves. The bible tells us that right from the beginning of creation the spirit of God has been hovering over the waters stirring them up. We see the Old Testament affirms that it is the sovereign god who causes nations to rise and fall who works within human history in his church and outside to bring about his purposes. In the parable of the sheep and the goats we see that God is present in this world in the least and the lost and calls us to worship and serve him by caring for them. God is active in the world and invites us to find where he is walking and working and to go with him.
Movements like the call to cancel the debt of the poorest of the poor and to be a generation that isn’t simply known for the Internet but for solving the problem of world poverty are moves of God. This is so profoundly the agenda of the Kingdom of God. But it may be also be a simple matter of finding Christ in the lost and least who live right next door to us.
Finally, In the U2 song grace on the CD ‘All you can’t leave behind’ Bono sings about grace as if it were a girls name but so much more and one of the lines is ‘grace she moves outside of karma’. It’s a great way of declaring that the kingdom of God and his love and desire for the world to know that love are not restricted or limited or fixed by anything in the created world. As we encounter Jesus walking on the water we are aware that while me might face powers and systems in our world like capitalism, consumerism, secularism, scepticism and fear that try and stop us joining God in what he is doing in the world that we have a sovereign God who is not bound by those powers. That the laws of the world and its ideologies and the principalities and powers even the laws of physics are under the sovereignty of God and that as we seek God’s kingdom we will see that sovereignty. And while we may not walk on the water we can surf the Jesus way and be willing to face the powers of this world and not let them limit or impede us in sharing God’s grace or seeing his kingdom come.