Ephesians 3:14-21

John 6:14-24

I’m not sure why John left this story of Jesus walking on the water where it is. (Not being sure – that’s going to be a theme here, so stick with it.) We just transitioned into John’s gospel this week, after reading the story of the feeding of the 5,000 from Mark last week. But in both Mark and John, Jesus goes from feeding the 5,000 to walking across Lake Galilee. What gets me is that next – after this story – Jesus goes on for another 34 verses explaining the feeding of the 5,000. So John has Jesus explain the significance of the only miracle that’s important enough to be recorded in all four gospels, and he takes all this time before it for Jesus to walk across the water? We’re about to spend a month in this chapter of John because Jesus spends that long explaining the feeding, and we have to go across the lake first?

I think (and again, I’m no more sure than any of you) that John left this story here because it tells us what kind of explanation Jesus is going to give us. He’s going to tell us about God’s ways in the flesh, which is nothing we quite arrive at, just something we can move toward. That’s what Jesus shows the crowd when they go looking for him. He’s always one step beyond them, because the grace and truth that came into human flesh with him cannot be grasped for our purposes (like to enthrone a king who will make all our needs go away). Instead, they draw us out of ourselves and into a search: the search for God’s depth within our lives and God’s direction through the signs around us. That’s the truth as I understand it, and even so, it makes me uncomfortable.

It’s uncomfortable for us when we feel the need to have some more certain truth than we really do. I was at a funeral home for a visitation once, and the daughter of the deceased asked me to go answer her five-year-old’s question. He asked, “Is this heaven?” (He was close; we were in Iowa.) “Is this heaven?” Well, what a fantastic question! He knew Grandpa had died, and he knew that when people died they went to heaven. So then we got all dressed up and went to this fancy place, and there, wearing his best suit, was Grandpa. If Grandpa is in heaven, and if Grandpa is here, then this must be heaven. And we wonder whether kids are paying attention?

Well, this young man and I talked for a little while about heaven and where our loved ones go when they die. We talked about how we think of heaven being up in the sky, but it’s also inside our hearts, and now Grandpa is inside our hearts for us to hold on to forever. And I was more than a little self-conscious doing this, because I knew his mother was listening over my shoulder, and I wanted to be sure I kept with the answers she was looking for.

That’s the discomfort I’m talking about, the need to act like we know what in heaven’s name we’re talking about, when we clearly don’t. It was too uncomfortable for me to say out loud what I really understand about life after death, and not just because I’m not sure I understand it in kid-accessible language. It’s scary to say that I don’t picture heaven as a place where we all go sit on clouds and play our harps for the next trillion years or so. To be honest, I’ve never been able to put into good words what I do think about it. The best I can figure out is that our selves, the unique identities we’ve worn in this life, effectively vanish as we’re joined completely with the unmediated Being of God. Many other people have many other images of this, and they may frankly be more biblical than mine in a lot of ways. My understanding is what it is, it’s informed by what I take to be some deep currents within the biblical teaching, and that’s all I’ve been given to know. Man, is that hard to say out loud.

Well, my five-year-old questioner didn’t need me to say anything that complicated out loud. He also didn’t need me or anyone else to know exactly what we’re talking about when it comes to the truth that stands beyond the threshold of this reality. It’s his mom who needed to feel certain (and I did too, to be perfectly honest). What the boy needed was for a grown-up to tell him that even in the midst of this, God’s love persists and that’s enough. That’s something I could do as a pastor, but it’s just as much something any parent, grandparent, or church member could have done.

Certainty is a very grown-up thing to look for, and remember, Jesus had something rather positive to say about being like a child. It’s really tempting, in light of everything that goes on in the world around us, to give you certainty. Facts, or guesses presented as facts, as if we were truly certain of how life works. The people are hoping Jesus will give them that kind of certainty, but ultimately, we can’t have that. Every time we think we understand completely who and what God is, God slips through our fingers. It’s like holding a drop of water in the palm of our hand. If we carry it gently, we can take it anywhere, but if we squeeze it tightly, it slips out through our fingers. God is slippery like that.

The people imagine Jesus to be a king who can feed them forever, so they chase him all the way across the sea. And somehow, that’s the right move in spite of itself. The people follow their hunch about where Jesus is, even if they could have no idea how he got there, and they find him. Maybe they were seeking certainty and predictability, but they were still drawn on by something greater than that. They were drawn by the love of Christ, the same love we feel in this congregation. They knew something about Jesus’ way in the world after all, because they followed in the footsteps of love.

Next, Jesus will tell them all kinds of things that can’t be fully known, things about the breadth, length, height, and depth of his love. He’ll show them the deep reality that lives within the ordinary things of the world, things we can only see if we’re willing to embrace the mystery of the Holy in our lives. To embrace gently, not to grab hold, or else it will squirt out the sides.

That’s a beauty about this particular congregation of God’s people: here, your uncertainty, your crazy ideas (and I assure you, some of your ideas are crazy), your searching and exploration, are welcome. We don’t insist on understanding things the same, making the same sense of what God is doing in the world. Instead, we hold the mystery between us. We all have our approaches and understandings, and some of us hold them as tightly as we need, but we leave room for each other to hold on to something that looks different, trusting that it’s the same God who holds us all. Most important, we come back to this mystery again and again. We come back to this community, to this ritual, to this encounter with a Divinity we don’t put any single name on. We come back, trusting that the Love we encounter here will draw us farther into the depth, higher into the height, farther into the length and breadth, than we’ve ever been before. That’s what Jesus is getting at here, and it’s marvelous to be a part of it.