Sunday, 10 August 2008

Walking on Water


Pentecost 13, August 10, 2008. Sermon preached at Holy Innocents. The reading was Matt 14:22-36, Jesus walking on the water.

The thinking behind this sermon began with the simple point of not getting lost in the miracles of Jesus. Some people get very excited about the miracles of Jesus to the extent that he becomes something more like a pagan wonder worker. We must remember that the miracles were a significant part of the ministry of Jesus, not the totality of or key to his ministry. And we should also remember that for all of us miracles will account for a very small percentage of our total life experience. if Jesus is going to be important in your life it will be because he meshes with the other 99% of it that is non-miraculous.

But this then led me further. Sometimes it is possible to lose the point of the miracles of Jesus because of the miraculous. Take Jesus walking on the water today. The point of the miracle is not that Jesus proves he is divine because he is able to suspend the laws of nature. That is not the point. Some make it the point because they have in their sights an atheistic scientism that tries to lock God out of our lives. The way to respond to that ideology is not by making this miracle into an anomaly for science.

The point of this miracle is deeply theological. In this regard two points to note. First, the sea and what it represents in biblical terms as chaos over which God's sovereignty is exerted. (See, for example, Gen 1:1-10; Job 9:8; Ps 144:7; Dan7; Mk 5:13; Rom 6:3-4; Rev 13.) The sea is a place of chaos, demons, fear and possible death. And Jesus can walk on it and control it just as God does. (See also Matt 8:23-27.) Second, the great "I AM" that Jesus uses to identify himself. (Matt 14:27) The translation just has him say, "It is I." But we lose the force of the Greek which is an echo of the name of God from the Old Testament" I AM. (See Exod 3:14; Isa 51:12; see also John 6:35; 8:58; 10:11; 11:25; 15:1)

With this background the point of the miracle becomes clearer. By walking on the water, and claiming to himself the great I AM, Jesus is identified with the God of Israel, creator and saviour, the God who rules over the chaotic seas and brings life out of (Gen 1:20-21) and through the sea. (Exod 14:21-30). To get lost in the miracle as a suspension of the usual rules of science not only misses the point, is anachronistic, but also deflects us from the true meaning of the miracle!

And just in case we should miss the point, the gospel does a strange thing with this identification of Jesus with God. Yes, by walking on the waters of chaos Jesus shows himself to be imbued with the actual authority of God. But the gospel does not allow us to remain at the miracle as the point of recognising the true identity of Jesus. It is not enough. Indeed, it can lead to the wrong conclusion if we end up focusing on the proof of his divinity lying in breaking the rules (of nature). Jesus is divine, one with the creator and saviour of the world, and this will be displayed preeminently on the cross. The disciples struggled with this, as do most people staying away from church. [The miracle worker seems more comfortable, and perhaps more distant, indeed controllable: there when we need a miracle, the rest of the time back in heaven.] It is important to maintain the identity of Jesus on the cross with the Jesus of the miraculous walking on water because the God of creation and redemption will bring both to their fulfillment in the cross of Jesus.

1 comment:

stephen clark said...

I think the point is good about not being o'erwhelmed by the miracles (which is a problem 'cos miracles tend to be overwhelming)
But I took the line that what is important in this story (as you mnay remember in my MU address) that we are often engaged in a sink or swim mentality.
Faith invites us to behave differently. To walk on the water.