October 21, 2012: “That Sinking Feeling”

Posted on : Oct 18th, 2012 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Did Jesus Walk on Water or Ice?

That’s another question for the 21st century mindset.  Do you think I’m joking?  Read on:

Jesus walked on ice, says study led by FSU [Florida State University] scientist Doron Nof.

Doron Nof

The New Testament story describes Jesus walking on water in the Sea of Galilee, but according to a study led by Florida State University Professor of Oceanography Doron Nof, it’s more likely that he walked on an isolated patch of floating ice.

The study points to a rare combination of optimal water and atmospheric conditions for development of a unique, localized freezing phenomenon that Nof and his co-authors call “springs ice.”

In what is now northern Israel, such ice could have formed on the cold freshwater surface of the Sea of Galilee—known as Lake Kinneret by modern-day Israelis—when already chilly temperatures briefly plummeted during one of the two protracted cold periods between 2,500 and 1,500 years ago.

A frozen patch floating on the surface of the small lake would have been difficult to distinguish from the unfrozen water surrounding it. The unfrozen water was comprised of the plumes resulting from salty springs situated along the lake’s western shore in Tabgha—an area where many archeological findings related to Jesus have been documented.

“As natural scientists, we simply explain that unique freezing processes probably happened in that region only a handful of times during the last 12,000 years,” Nof said. “We leave to others the question of whether or not our research explains the biblical account.”   [For the full article, click here.]

Once again, as with last week’s biblical story, the “How did this happen?” question misses the point.

Last week after worship, John Berger told me something Kobie said in one of our Bible studies.  She said, “The point is not that the story is true, but the truth of the story.”

What then is this story’s truth?  Well, let’s start with the obvious.  This story is found in 3 of the 4 gospels:  Matthew, Mark and John.  I have no idea why it is not included in Luke, but I do know when a bible story is found in the first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and/or Luke, it means it was an important story of faith.  When it is also found in John’s Gospel, that was written much, much later, it means it is a very important story in the life and faith of the community.  So, this story of Jesus walking on water and Peter, “the Rock” [the solid one?] who leaves the safety of the boat and tries to walk on water coming towards Jesus, then starts to drown, has significant meaning for the life and faith of the followers of Jesus for at least the first 100 years after Jesus’s death!

Here’s why I think this faith story was so important both to the first followers of Jesus and to us today.   Most of us think of faith as the experience of being “safe and at peace in God.”  In the 20th century there developed a whole school of thought that spirituality was about inner serenity and calmness, peace with God, peace with yourself.  That’s true.  But, a lot of our life isn’t lived in that zone.  A lot of our life experience is more like being “swamped” or even wiped out by huge waves, a feeling that no matter what we do, we’re sinking, or trying to keep our head above water when the pressures of life keep overtaking us.

That’s what happens to Peter.  Everything starts out fine with him.  But then the winds and the waves – the elements beyond his control – start to overtake him and he loses it.  He starts to go under.  And what does this “Rock” do?  He cries out to Jesus to save him.

In our life and faith there are times when we are strong and able to comfort others, and there are times – and there are always going to be times –  when we are overcome and need to be supported.  This Sunday we’ll look at those times when we need God, when we need to be supported, lifted up, blessed by God’s forgiveness, love or grace.  We learn this, by the way, not from one who is weak, but from one who is Rock solid, none other than Peter.



~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Matthew 14: 22-31

Jesus insisted that the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side (of the lake).  Having sent the crowds away, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray, remaining there alone as night fell.  Meanwhile the boat, already a thousand yards from shore, was being tossed about in the waves which had been raised by the fierce winds.

At about three in the morning, Jesus came walking toward them on the lake.  When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they were terrified.  “It is a ghost!” they said, and in their fear they began to cry out.

Jesus hastened to reassure them:  “Don’t worry, it’s me!  Don’t be afraid!”

Peter spoke up and said, “If it is really you, tell me to come to you across the water.”

“Come!” Jesus said.

So Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.  But when he saw how strong the wind was, he became frightened.  He began to sink, and cried out, “Save me!”

Jesus immediately stretched out his hand and caught Peter.  “You have so little faith!” Jesus said to Peter.  “Why did you doubt?”

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