1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9 "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?" 10 Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost." 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, "This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!" 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. [ESV]
Count them - three. One. Two. Three. That's how many miracles there are in the lesson I just read you from the Gospel of John. Three. Did you notice them all? Two of the miracles are obvious; the third not so much. Which is why maybe you didn't notice it unless you were listening really well.
The first miracle: Jesus feeds the multitude with just a few loaves of bread and fish. You must have noticed that one. Certainly the crowd who ate the free lunch noticed. It caused quite a stir, so much so that they wanted to crown Jesus king on the spot.
The second miracle's pretty obvious too. Jesus walks on the water. Well - not just water; it was a stormy sea he walked on. That one, as far as we can tell, the crowd didn't know anything about. Only the disciples, who were in the boat he was walking to. "They were frightened," as St. John tells us. Well - wouldn't you be too?
But the third miracle is the one most people don't notice, even if it is the most intriguing. (At least to me it's the most intriguing.) Which is why I thought I'd point it out to you this morning.
But first let me tell you what it's not. Maybe you're thinking this is the story about how Jesus calmed the storm. It's understandable you should think that, because all the familiar ingredients are there: Jesus, the disciples, in a boat, on the sea, in a storm. So naturally you assume Jesus is going to rebuke the wind and waves and calm the storm. Except he doesn't. That story's in the other Gospels, but it's not in this one, John. For all we know the wind's still blowing and the whitecaps still breaking when, at the end of John's story, the disciples are glad to take Jesus into the boat and then - now hear this because this is miracle number three! - "immediately," it says, "immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going."
Okay. So one minute the boat - together with its passengers of course, the most notable of whom is Jesus, who just got on board - one minute the boat's in the middle of the raging sea. The next minute - poof! - they're on shore. It's kind of like "beam me up, Scottie." Except in this case it's be more like "beam me over." Is that cool, or what?
Don't you wish you could do that sort of thing? Think of all the travel time and expense you could save - not to mention fuel. Hey - we could go energy independent in a flash! Hmm. Here's an idea. Maybe Congress could mandate this sort of thing. Well - maybe not on second thought. After all, this is not the sort of transportation we poor mortals are capable of, is it? This is divine transportation.
Just look at Jesus. He not only defies gravity by walking on water. He can warp time and space. The disciples were terrified. "Who is this?" they wanted to know. "It is I," Jesus said. "Have no fear." Except when Jesus said, "It is I," what he really said, being translated literally, was "I am." And what else is "I am" but the very name of God, who appeared in the midst of a burning bush to Moses, who, when he asked him his name, said, "I am; I am who I am." That would be Jesus, revealing himself as the great "I Am." No wonder the disciples were terrified. And no wonder Jesus had to tell them not to be afraid. And no wonder, when the disciples took him into the boat with them in the midst of the stormy sea, immediately they found themselves at the safe harbor they were bound for.
God with Us in the Boat
This is the Gospel - the great good news of Jesus Christ our Lord - this is it in a nutshell. God's with us in the boat - even and especially in the midst of the stormy seas of life. He's in the same boat we're in. So be not afraid.
Mind you, he may not calm the storm. He didn't in this story. Instead he came through the storm, joined his beloved disciples in the midst of it, and in the end he became their rescue from it.
And what storms are raging in your life?
A lot of people aspire to be not much more than fair weather friends of God. You know, they're good with God as long as God is good to them the way they want God to be good to them, as long as it's smooth sailing. But let a little storm cloud rear its ugly head, and they're off on their own. Which, it seems to me, is the last place you want to be in a storm. But that's what they do.
But God wants better than that. God deserves better than that. So God sometimes doesn't calm the storm. He may even stir it up.
He's been known to do that, you know, to accomplish his purposes. In the days of Noah, he stirred up a whopper of a storm to cleanse the earth of the pollution of sin. In the case of Jonah, God stirred up a storm to get that reluctant prophet to go where he was supposed to go, but wouldn't. And in your case, God may very well stir up a storm or two or three - if for no other reason than to stir up greater faith in you and make you more than his fair weather friend. But you can count on it, should he stir up a storm in your life, he's coming to you through it, walking in the wind and the waves. And what you need to do in the midst of the tempest is stay in the boat. Because that's how he gets you to the safe harbor you are bound for.
There's another story like this one - the disciples in a boat on a storm sea, Jesus walking on the water. Except in this story, Peter wants to walk on the water too. So he steps out of the boat. Now some people give Peter all kinds of credit for the strong faith he must have had to do such a thing. I think it's another one of Peter's pratfalls. Because it quickly turns into one of those how long can you tread water? moments. Answer: not long enough. For what happens is, when Peter steps out of the boat, he hears the wind howling and sees the waves churning and begins to sink. Jesus has to grab him and get him back on board the boat where he belonged in the first place. That's why I say we should stay in the boat. Walking on water's not for us. And if we try it, it's a step too far.
Now the boat is a time-honored metaphor for the church. Jesus puts us in the boat, the church, so we're not alone when the storms churn up. And where, even if he doesn't calm the storm, we're where we need to be, which is where he is. He comes to us in the boat to get us to the safe harbor we're headed for - thanks to him and him alone - which is the kingdom of God and heaven itself.
So be not one of God's fair weather friends. He is, after all, the one who, through the prophet Isaiah, said:
"I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe.
I am the Lord, who do all these things."
But he does not do so willy-nilly, but to accomplish his good and gracious will, which is with us and for us - Jesus, the great I Am, our Lord, who, having weathered the storm of the cross, is now risen from the dead, and so is with us in the boat, which is his church. Which is why we can with confidence sing, as we will in a moment, that, even if "sin and hell in conflict fell with their bitter storms assail me, Jesus will not fail me" [from the hymn, "Jesus, Priceless Treasure."].
In the name of Jesus. Amen.