The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Hilary's, Fort Myers, FL
1 Kings 19:9-18
9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 10He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." 11He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 14He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." 15Then the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."
22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." 28Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
We've all heard the jokes about priests, ministers and rabbis walking on water. They are jokes. We cannot! And that is just as well. For if we could, we'd become unbearably arrogant.
And let's not worry too much about Jesus walking on the water. For the miracles attributed in the Gospels to Jesus, are not matters of razzle-dazzle magic. Nor do they "prove" anything about Jesus' Divinity. Many other great religious traditions have stories of the miraculous; they seem to be par for the course for spiritual leaders.
The reports of Jesus' miracles seem to make two major points.
The first is that they display Jesus' compassion for the sick, the poor, the abused and the neglected. They are trying to say "God is just like this". God is filled with compassion for the nobodies.
And lest you are tempted to think that the "nobodies" are someone else, just remember that night when you woke up at 2:00 a.m., could not sleep, and began to think "I am a nothing and nobody. If I died tonight, no one would miss me". God is filled with compassion for you.
The second is that they are trying to teach the disciples and us what it means to follow Jesus. I say again, Jesus is not interested in magic. Jesus is all about calling us to follow him, and in doing so to discover the heart and mind of God.
What we can say about miracles has been well said by the eccentric theologian John Dominic Crossan. The following words are attributed to him, or to his thought.
"We can still look for the miraculous in the grace-induced interruption of the laws of human nature".
The grace-induced interruption of the laws of human nature.
Surely we have heard of them.
The coward becomes fearless. The feeble become strong. The careless become caring. The selfish become generous. The sinners repent. The whiners become grateful. The foul mouthed sing the praises of God.
All these, and many other miraculous changes in human nature are possible in the decision to follow Jesus.
Peter had made that decision to follow Jesus. He knew that faith was not about accepting certain doctrines, or assenting to certain theologies. He knew that faith was the decision to act. And act he did. He took a bold step, and having done so, he became afraid.
As did Elijah. Having, with boldness taken on the prophets of Baal, and having triumphed, he became terrified and ran away to the cave. The "bold one" is on the pity pot in the passage we read.
That also happens to us. We take a bold step in following Jesus, and immediately become afraid. Is this because we have "little faith"?.
The marvellous young theologian Sarah Dylan Breur suggests that when Jesus says to Peter: "you of little faith" he was not condemning Peter for having "little faith", rather he was commending him, in effect saying "all you need is a little faith to be delivered from fear".
Yes indeed, the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is fear! Fear paralyses us. A little faith allows us to get out of the boat.
Sarah Dylan Breur writes this:
"In other words, faith is about doing. A faithful person eventually gets to the point at which s/he can say to God, "I don't know where you're going, but I know that wherever it is, I'd rather be drowning with you than be crowned by somebody else."
She goes on to say: That kind of trust in Jesus, in my experience, comes from experience with the person of Jesus. The kind of trust I have in Jesus has come as I've experienced Jesus' generosity and mercy, so much that I'm pretty sure that if Jesus is involved, then following Jesus is where I'm going to experience the most of the goodness and mercy God has to offer.
That's what we are saying to the children (we are baptising today) (we baptised last night). We are giving them a mini drowning in water, so that they will grow up knowing that it is better to drown with Jesus than to be crowned by the world. And so we sing
We have decided to follow Jesus (3) No turning back (2)
The world behind us. The Cross before us (3) No turning back (2)
Though none go with us, still we will follow (3) No turning back (2)