When they woke up this morning, they had no idea their day was going to turn out like this! The disciples are holding on as best they can, but they’re getting soaked from the spray washing over the side and the wind is raging. They had been waiting for Jesus, but he never showed up. They finally had to push off if they’re going to get to Capernaum before morning. Now a storm had swept up on the sea.
Here they are in the middle of the chaos at exactly the hour when seasoned sailors see ghosts, or angels, or what’s the difference. But that’s not what they see! It’s Jesus. He’s moving over the storm, walking on the water, coming right at them, coming to get them! The disciples have nowhere to hide. They are terrified…
Today we’re continuing our journey through the Gospel of John. All through this book, we see people who are crossing boundaries— boundaries between insiders and outsiders, boundaries between the literal world and the spiritual world.
Now in some of the stories we’ve encountered, it might start to seem like the literal, physical world is inferior while the mystical, spiritual world —well, that’s the real goal. Nicodemus gets tripped up in thinking too literally; he wonders how we can get born again physically. On the other hand, the woman at the well quickly figures out the water of life isn’t liquid; Jesus is talking about spiritual fulfillment. The way the stories unfold, a reasonable person might start to think that physical, literal things are the problem while supernatural, spiritual things are holy. It’s just… What if this misses the good news?
What if the tangible, ordinary stuff of life is exactly what leads us into the spiritual realm? And maybe it goes the other way too… What if heaven gets us barreling right into the stuff of everyday?
There’s a wonderful tweet by a man named Joel Leon. He says this: “I never saw my mother walk on water, but I saw her wait for the bus in the snow to pay the rent. We define holy differently.”
In the scripture George read, we hear a pair of classic Sunday School miracles: Jesus feeding the multitudes and Jesus walking on water.
Now there’s a famous theory that attempts to explain the miracle of the multiplying loaves and fishes. It says: Maybe what happened was that there were some sensible aunties and uncles in the crowd that day. Everybody knows, sensible aunties and uncles always carry an emergency granola bar or a pack of goldfish crackers. When it became clear that they wouldn’t be getting home in time for dinner, one of the aunties started handing out snacks from her purse. Pretty soon, everybody was sharing whatever they had, and who would have guessed, there was more than enough to go around!
I will tell you, I really love this theory, but it’s not quite what happens in John’s version. In this Gospel, the writer wants us to understand this is a bona fide supernatural sign performed by Jesus with the power of God. Once Jesus speaks the words of blessing, where there was not enough food, now there is more than enough — twelve baskets left over! Now nobody goes home hungry.
I will tell you, I love this version too. This shows us something of the very power of God. God is proving her reign where everyone shares a feast on top of the mountain and no one is afraid. Christ is revealing who he really is. I believe the ones who argue: This story means something more than the clever resourcefulness of aunties and uncles.
It’s just… If you’ve ever been hungry and someone shared their food with you, then you know— of course that’s a miracle! If you’ve ever been afraid to give, because what if you need it later, but then you do go ahead and give, and you wind up with so much more —of course that’s a miracle!
In the past two years, the Church of Peace food pantry has kept going when nearly everything else was shutting down. And sure enough, as we began following the path of giving that leads to more giving, we discovered opportunities we never dreamed of.
These days, more than anywhere else at our church, the food pantry is where you will find young people. It is not uncommon for children and teenagers to come pick up the food for their families. When little ones are in the backseat of the cars, you can count on Ed to find them some lollipops.
One of our dedicated volunteers got her high school friends to come help at the pantry. Now even though she has gone to college, they still keep coming to help along with a handful of students getting credit for National Honor Society.
For many young people who are not Christian or who used to be but have become disillusioned with religion, there’s something about volunteering on a Saturday morning that makes Church of Peace far more inviting than showing up for worship on Sunday. Now on many Saturdays, you’ll find the outside team is made of eighty year olds and eighteen year olds working together and learning about each other’s lives.
Along these same lines, our food pantry has invited us into new partnerships with other groups in the Quad Cities. Not only do we receive bread and pastries from Panera and Hyvee, but we’re starting to get to know our neighbors in other churches.
First Congregational in Moline donated produce from their garden. First Lutheran held an entire Christmas collection for the pantry. South Park Presbyterian regularly sends us money. Hope United Church of Christ has brought their youth group to help, and they provide a core crew of volunteers every Friday.
And it’s not just churches! For years now, members from the Indian SAI community have been volunteering every month; they’ve become one of the pantry’s largest financial supporters. But more than their time and money, the best part has been getting to know the members of this group and realizing how much we have in common across our cultural and religious differences. It’s just like what happened to the people in the crowd on the mountain that day. Once you start passing around the bread and the fish, you begin to notice each other and start talking, and who knew we’d be making friends?
There’s a similar miracle happening with our neighbors. Since the distribution moved outside, we’ve learned which of our neighbors walk to the pantry and how they manage to carry home the food —if you guessed by bringing a child’s wagon or a baby stroller, that’s exactly right! Seeing this need led George and Mary to apply for grant money to purchase carts for the walkers.
Here’s something I didn’t know until I got to volunteer. A number of the people who come most faithfully are actually picking up food for elderly relatives and for other neighbors who are homebound. Tracy from across the street is always getting food for somebody who’s struggling. I did not realize how our neighbors look out for each other. Now Church of Peace is part of that team of generosity, and people are starting to find out.
Our church is getting a reputation as a place where people can come to find help. Giving is leading us into more giving, and this might lead us right out of our comfort zone. It might lead our church in a direction we haven’t even imagined. By keeping the pantry going week after week, Church of Peace is taking a public stand for the work of compassion. If that scares you a little, yeah, no kidding! The disciples can relate…
When they woke up this morning, they had no idea their day was going to turn out like this! They waited for Jesus, but he didn’t show up, so they had to go ahead and cross the sea. But now it is night, and a storm has swept across the water, and they’re trying to hold on. This is the hour when seasoned sailors see ghosts, or angels, or what’s the difference. Instead, they see Christ coming right at them. And they are terrified.
The Bible says, they want to take him into the boat, but it doesn’t say they do take him into the boat, so you have to wonder… They know Jesus is coming to get them; they might even know this is God, and they are afraid. And just like that, their boat reaches the other side. It’s a miracle!
Heaven reached out and grabbed this bit of earth. The holy realm is crashing right into the human realm, while the ordinary, literal stuff of life is rushing us right into the Holy Spirit. And you and I know, this collision between the holy and the human, this is exactly what’s happening all over the place at Church of Peace.
Through giving, we are putting ourselves in the path of the miracle, and you know Jesus. He’s coming right at us in order to bring us back to life. Now even though we’re afraid, you can believe he’s going to get our boat safely across the sea, and would you look at that…
Nobody goes home hungry. Everybody goes home holy. Thanks be to God.