What We Miss

What We Miss  |  Matthew 14:22-33

They weren’t meant to see. At least that is what Mark claimed in his Gospel, and he told the story first — “He intended to pass them by.” (Mark 6:48b)

Standing in Surf 2 4x6The tale of Jesus walking on the water is told in Mark, Matthew and John. Luke skipped it, who knows why. Mark plainly says that Jesus was not performing for the benefit of the group in the boat. He intended to pass them by. They weren’t even meant to see.

Mark left out the part about Peter nearly drowning. If tradition is correct and Mark was Peter’s disciple, writing from the recollections of that elder disciple, then we may well understand why Peter’s plunge into the water was left out.

Matthew gives us Peter in all his failure, but he doesn’t point out that Jesus never intended any of them to see him. Perhaps it is better to put it another way and say that Jesus was not trying to get their attention. If they saw him, then they saw him. If not, they would be missing a fine show.

Not everything God does is for our benefit. The universe does not center on us. If Shakespeare was right and the world’s a stage, then we might remember that we are in the play, not the audience. It is a fine show, but we are just part of it.

Worship is not entertainment. This is not the God Show, or if it is, we are only peeking around the curtains. We are not ushered to front row seats and given popcorn.

Nobody is.

We might want to keep our eyes open, though. Even if God is not performing for our entertainment, there are still amazing things on this stage. There are people who surprise us, sunsets and turkeys and squirrels and rain. There are children who tell us the truth. There are adults who might be more polite, or afraid, or disinterested, and who refrain from doing so.

Every day is full of things we do not expect to see, and will not, if we do not open our eyes. There is what we hear and see, and there are the things we know in our hearts. All of them require a certain amount of attention.

Otherwise we are like that bunch of disciples sitting in the boat. All they saw in the night was the storm and the sea and the water filling the bottom of the boat. They never saw what God was doing until they lifted their eyes to look.

They could have missed it. God, who is funny that way, would have let them.

On the other hand, Jesus didn’t really have to go walking out there on the water in the first place, did he? With all of the astonishing things these men and women who followed Jesus did see, it makes us wonder what else they might have missed.

It makes me wonder what we may be missing.


Cool Water

Cool Water  |  Matthew 10:40-42

God starts with us where we are, for not even God can start anywhere else.

I have written that thought before. It may not be true, given that God is outside of time and space and can therefore start, or finish, or dwell, at the beginning, or the end, or everywhere in between at once.

Still, God starts with us where we are. To put it another way, Water from fountainwherever we are, God is already there.

The two verses from Matthew are oddly worded. What does it mean to welcome a prophet in the name of a prophet, or a righteous person in the name of a righteous person?

Perhaps we are dealing with the ancient belief that names were the essence of a thing—knowing the name of something gives you a powerful connection. To act in the name of something or someone is likewise to connect, to identify, with that thing or person. To welcome a prophet in the name of a prophet is, in a manner of speaking, to be a prophet. To welcome a righteous person in the name of a righteous person is likewise to be a righteous person.

To give anything good and helpful in the name of a disciple is to be a disciple, even if the gift is only a cup of cold water. Small service is still service. A little faith is still faith.

I have to admit that when I hear the phrase “cold water”, I immediately think of the Sons of the Pioneers and the Bob Nolan song “Cool Water.” There have been many recordings by artists ranging from the Pioneers to Hank Williams to Joni Mitchell. The song tells of a man crossing a desert, longing for water. Hearing it, one has to appreciate the power in such a simple thing as water.

Small gifts, small faith, and still one remains a disciple. That changes the perspective on Jesus rebuking the disciples in Matthew 8:26—O you of little faith! Even with their small faith and small understanding, they remained the chosen disciples of Christ. Likewise, a cup of cold water is no small thing, not to someone in the desert.

Not all deserts are made of sand. Some are made of loneliness, or depression. Failure. Rejection. Mourning. Loss. We usually don’t know what people need when we see them.

It may be something as simple as a cup of cold water.


The Water Is Alive

Third Sunday in Lent  |  John 4:5-42

John writes of simple things. Light. Bread. Water. All of them speak to us of God, of this person Jesus.

In the noon-day heat of the story, Jesus sits by a well and tells a woman about water that is alive. Those who are raised in Christianity, who grew up surrounded by its imagery, will not even pause at the words—living water—being already steeped in such language.

OverlookingStream 002Living water.

It is an odd phrase, particularly in modern English. In Greek in the first century, the phrase meant water that moves. Living water comes from a stream or a gushing spring: it is water that is not still, unlike the water of a well. In John’s gospel, though, the words point to the source of life.

The woman doesn’t seem to understand. Jesus tries again. He claims that the water he could give would keep springing up inside the drinker, an odd thing. The woman, being of a practical mind, takes his words literally and so misunderstands, thinking only of freedom from hauling buckets of water from the well.

Jesus stops trying to explain the water. He finds other ways to open her mind.

We might see that like Jesus and this woman, God waits for us at the point of our need. When she arrived at the well, Jesus had arranged to be there. That gives us hope that when we find ourselves in the noon heat with an empty bucket, God is already there waiting.

Like the gospel writer, we might also pay attention to simple things. While God could make an appearance with trumpets and a chorus of angels, this gospel tells us that God is more likely to be present in a drink of water, the taste of bread, the sunlight. The evidence of scripture is that God prefers simple things.

Light. Bread. Water. These are the most basic things we need for life. John uses them to teach us of the nature of God.