Thompson’s Sermon from July 29, 2012

August 9, 2012

“God’s Un-Natural Laws”
John 6:1-21

1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages 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 among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus 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 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he 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 terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

I have the good fortune of living across the street from the notable journalist and author, Mara Leveritt. Every once in while we are out moving our yard-watering hoses at the same time, and I always enjoy engaging her in conversation. Some of you may know that they are currently making a movie based on her book, Devil’s Knot, which documents the tragic death of the three young boys in West Memphis, and the tragic conviction of the three slightly older boys which became known as the West Memphis Three.

Mara and her partner, Linda, recently returned from a trip to visit family in North Carolina, but they stopped by a small town outside of Atlanta where they are currently shooting the film. It was interesting to hear what it was like to be on the set. She said she didn’t get to visit with Reese Witherspoon, who is in the film, but she did get to visit with Colin Firth, who plays the role of the private investigator, Ron Lax, who played a really large role in the whole story.

I think you can see why I like to strike up conversation with Mara – she does interesting work. But what she does is really hard work. She told me that she was on some kind of board one time that our retired Bishop Kenneth Hicks was on as well. She said he made the comment one time that her work of providing a weekly article for the Arkansas Times newspaper was not unlike the work of a preacher – who has to come up with something to say on a weekly basis. And then he followed up his comment by saying that her work was harder because she had to rely on facts.

I responded by saying that that was very true and that I never let the facts get in the way of what I want to say. And I stand in a long line of other preachers, teachers, and Gospel writers who didn’t let facts get in the way of what needed to be said.

While today’s scripture may well have sounded like a factual account of what happened on a grassy hill and on a turbulent sea to the pre-scientific thinkers of the 2nd century, I’m guessing that John’s account of this miraculous feeding followed by a stroll by Jesus on top of violent waters does not strike the average American as being entirely plausible. I’m not saying I know what did or didn’t happen, but I am sure that this is not an easy story to accept at face value by people who don’t believe anything that isn’t verified by

But as I said earlier, I’m not inclined to let the facts get in the way of what I believe to be true, and I believe there is a lot of truth to these miraculous stories. I’m inclined to believe that because we are the creation of a gracious God who’s love and design for life is so far beyond anything we can imagine – un-natural things happen to us sometimes that give us a glimpse of eternal truths.

John may or may not be reporting events that could have been captured on an iphone for youtube, but I really don’t care what exactly happened. What I care about is the truth that moved John to tell these stories in this way. What I trust to be true is that God was at work in Jesus in such a way that people were profoundly nourished by his presence, they were saved by his words, and they were delivered by his touch. And I believe that sometimes those powerful experiences came about in some unnatural ways.

I’ve had conversations with three different people this last week who told me of things that have happened to them that were super-natural.
One person told of how religiously distressed he was during his late-teens, and how he went to hear an evangelist one night that was very heavy handed, and how he went home in tears. He said he avoided talking to his parents and went straight to bed because he didn’t want them to know how upset he was by what he had heard. And when he woke up the next morning he said he saw words on his wall that he can quote to this day. He said he really didn’t understand what the words meant, but they gave him a miraculous sense of peace, and they propelled him to continue to seek what it means to live in relationship with a loving God.

Another person told me of sitting outside one day, and experiencing their surroundings becoming very un-naturally illuminated. There were no words connected to this experience, but they had this sense of there being something really nice beyond the veil of this world.

I also heard the story of a woman who said she all but died from drowning in a pool when she was 12 years old. My friend told me she had been forced under water by another girl who wasn’t malicious, but who wasn’t accustomed to the water and didn’t know what she was doing when she held her underwater with her legs. My friend told me that she actually came to see herself rising above the pool and into a brilliantly peaceful light and that from her vantage point she saw the man who dove in to the pool to save her. She said the next thing she knew she was spitting up water on the side of the pool. She said because of this she has never had a fear of dying, but she still can’t stand to be grabbed when she’s in the water.

I don’t tell you these things as any kind of proof that God exists. I didn’t make up these stories, but I wasn’t on hand to verify any of these events. Nor do I have a story of a supernatural event of my own to top any of these stories, but I do have this sense that we live in a world that is not contained by what we think of as natural laws.

I’m not a good student of physics. I not only fail to understand much about quantum physics – I never even had a good grasp of Newtonian physics. When I took physics as an undergraduate student I always considered myself to have a good conceptual understanding of what it was about, but whenever a test would come around I came to realize that there were some gaps in my working knowledge of physics.

So it might be that my understanding of the metaphysical world isn’t hampered by my understanding of the physical world, but as I indicated earlier, I’m not a person who ever lets the facts get in the way of my beliefs. It’s not hard for me to believe that people were nourished in miraculous ways by Jesus. I believe he had such a profound understanding of God that he enabled the lines between heaven and earth to become less visible.

My faith doesn’t depend on Jesus being able to defy gravity and multiply bread and fish, but I do like it when I get a glimpse of something more than surface existence, and sometimes it happens. Unfortunately we live in a world that generally operates by some hard and fast rules that aren’t kind to most people. We human beings are very vulnerable to the way in which everything from the weather to the economy to the random eruption of violence and disease wreak havoc in our lives. We need a shelter from these storms of life, and John told this story to remind us of where to find it.

What miraculous stories convey to me is the truth that we aren’t as far removed from God as it often feels, and that what we often sense to be hard and fast rules aren’t as hard and fast as we think. This is not to say that we don’t need boats to get across lakes or to go to Kroger to get our groceries, but Jesus wanted us to see that food and water are not the most essential elements of life. And sometimes things happen that put us in touch with the more essential elements of life. Sometimes these miraculous revelations come through simple connections we make with neighbors, friends, or even our own families.

I would love to witness 5000 people being fed with 5 loaves and a couple of fish or to see Jesus walking out to a storm-tossed boat, but it doesn’t take that much to keep me going. I’m grateful when in the midst of this chaotic and frantic world I can have a conversation with someone who provides me with a sense of belonging and connection to God’s vast design of life. It’s easy to feel lost and alone, and it can feel like a miracle when the veil gets lifted and you recognize that we are not confined by the ordinary rules of mere existence.

Our lives don’t have to be defined by the godless pressures of life as usual. If Jesus tried to teach anything, he tried to teach us to live by the un-natural rule of love above all. It’s a hard rule to live by. I think the crowd wanted to make him king so he would establish love to be the rule of life, and it seems like it would be so much easier to follow this rule if everyone had to do it, but Jesus wanted us to learn to love regardless of what we encounter in life.

Jesus was the embodiment of God’s love, and we are not only called to believe this – we are called to trust this, and to make his way of living our way of living as well. The exercise of love can be as un-natural as walking on water, but it can be as simple as engaging a neighbor in conversation. The exercise of love is what will delivers us from the bounds of surface reality, and it puts us in touch with the One who makes the eternal rules.

Like Phillip, our vision of reality get’s frequently tested, and we are usually unable to see beyond the surface of life as usual. But sometimes the miracle happens and we are invited to see how much more there is, and how much better life can be if we will trust God and love well.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


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