I have been consumed with thoughts about the Christians in Iraq. I picture their pure terror as ISIS comes for them, forcing them from their homes, killing, starving. What would you do? I picture myself singing Amazing Grace as I prepare to die.
CS Lewis once wrote that a Christian has really one choice between two alternatives. We can either believe that Jesus really was the Son of God or we can believe that he was a lunatic. One or the other. Many want to comfortably think of Jesus as a revolutionary or some kind of nice prophet, but the truth is that the gospels record some pretty wild stuff. Jesus walks on water. Jesus cures blind people. Jesus brings the dead back to life. And Jesus says that he is the Son of God, so either he was mentally ill or an incredible liar, or he was who he said he was. You have to come to terms with the gospels as miraculous occurrences or write them off entirely. There is no in between.
Today's gospel is so miraculous as to almost seem outrageous. Jesus finally says when and shows some tough love. He tells the crowds to go home, go away. He tells everyone to go away. He goes up a mountain to pray through the night. He sends the disciples out in their boat. After all, that was how they got their food. They went fishing at night. On the Sea of Galiliee, the fish rise at night. It is just too hot during the daylight hours so they go deep underwater during the heat of the day and rise to eat insects in the cooler hours of the night.
After his prayer time, Jesus comes to the disciples by walking on the water. It is by now early morning. And when they see him coming, the disciples are afraid. Jesus says, "Take heart. It is I. Don't be afraid."
Don't be afraid. The Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters in the beginning of creation and Jesus moved across the waters to the disciples. God says, "I move across the chaos and disorder and violence and hatred, I walk on top of all of it to find a way to you."
I watched the movie Heaven is for Real this week. It is the true story of a four-year-old boy who almost dies from a ruptured appendix and finds himself in heaven. He describes heaven with amazing accuracy and seems to have greeted a great-grandfather he didn't know existed and even a sister who died just a few months before birth. The little boy talks of his experience with child-like trust and innocence but the adults in his life and in his fathers church find his experience disturbing.
The church board meets with the boy's dad, who is the pastor of this small Nebraska Church, and they tell the pastor to stop talking about his son's experience. They don't want to hear it anymore. It's too disruptive, it scares them. It's just plain weird.
When faced with the possibility of true miracles, we want to run away. Give me comfort. Give me rational explanations. Give me the status quo.
All of us are called to follow Jesus out on that water like Peter did. We must move out of the comfort of the boat that we know will sustain us, focus on Jesus himself as our source of strength, and then step into the unknown. How do you know when you are walking on water? When you dare to try things that could truly fail. When you aim to follow Jesus and have no idea how you will get there. Being a Christian takes enormous courage. It means believing in the possibility of miracles. It means stepping out in faith.
My friends, the status quo is just not good enough. The boat of comfort that we live in is not cutting it. Christians are dying by the thousands in the Middle East. The Ebola virus is spreading with disturbing speed. We don't need a tame God who comforts only. We need miracles! We need the God who walks on water, rises from the grave, and saves people.
I want you to pray in a new way this week. I want you to pray with the conviction that God can and will bring peace somehow to the Holy Land. I want you to step out in boldness and ask God to save those Christians being slaughtered in Iraq and around the globe. I want you to pray for the ethnic Yazitis who are trapped on a mountain in Iraq, starving to death. And even more importantly, I want you to offer God your all. I want you to be willing to step out in faith. Ask that God will get you out of the boat. Ask God what He wants from you. Then ask Him for the courage to do things you think impossible.
There is a priest named Andrew White who is called the Vicar of Baghdad. Ten years ago, he was pastoring a flock of about 6000 Christians. In the past decade, 1200 members of this flock have been killed and yet he refuses to leave Baghdad. He walks on the chaos and continues to pray for a miracle. He looks nothing like what I would have pictured. He is not big, strong, courageous looking. He has glasses and he talks with a slight slur. Father White has multiple sclerosis. When asks if he thinks the situation will improve for Christians, he says that he must believe this. He has no other choice. He must believe in miracles.
If you were on top of the mountaintop with 40,000 others surrounded and dying, what would you do? Would you let yourself be killed? Would you fight? In a way, we all are up there with them on that mountain. We are all waiting for a miracle.
To follow Jesus means to face chaos. To follow Jesus means to be afraid. Peter was scared stiff! He had no idea what he was doing. But he did it! He walked on water. Yes, on that day he became anxious and sank, and was saved by Jesus. But there would be more chances for Peter to step out in faith. And he did just that, even to martyrdom.
Let us not give up hope that our world can be healed somehow, that God is great enough to find a way forward. Let us have the courage to step out on the chaotic waters ourselves, just like Peter, and to put our trust in the Son of God who transcends all that we can begin to imagine. For He is The Lord, the God who saves His people.
This is the God of the Universe here! Of course miracles are possible.