I was talking to a pastor friend of mine recently, a great guy who has lots of stories from his years in the ministry. And in this conversation, he told me a story about this woman who is always on his short list of people he prays for. See, it was some time ago when he was at a previous call that he was at a diner—the kind that was all reds and whites in Coca-Cola fashion—and he had a waitress named Jaime. While he was eating, my friend noticed that Jaime had a table of men who were the kind of customers that make you want to be nicer to your waitress, giving her a hard time and everything else. And he said that while he was there, watching this unfold, he got a sudden, distinct, very clear voice that said to him, “Pray for her for the rest of your life.” As clear as day, but he knew it was only him who heard it. So he’s been dutifully praying for Jaime every day since then.
Sometimes we, as people of faith, encounter things that we just can’t quite explain, except that we believe that God is in it. Some years ago, there was a movie, based on a book called Heaven Is For Real, about a boy who was medically dead for several minutes, and saw what he could only explain as heaven. There was a man in the congregation I went to in college who had a malignant tumor at the base of his brain which, as soon as the doctor touched it with a scalpel to extract it, it dissolved into nothing before his eyes. Hundreds of people every year travel to the small city of Lourdes in southern France to be healed by spring water blessed by an apparition of Mary herself.
Miracles, supernatural events, can have a really major effect on us. And I don’t doubt that probably everyone has, at one time or another, prayed for a miracle of some kind. We would love to have a Transfiguration-type moment with God, where we can see Christ’s glory and have the kind of solid event that helps deepen the roots of our faith.
But, maybe just as true, is that most of us won’t experience that kind of world-altering and obviously supernatural kind of miraculous event. Most of us won’t have a vision of angels, or see Jesus haloed in light speaking to us. And even when we do have some kind of miracle happen, an odd thing is that there’s usually just enough wiggle room in what happened to make it possible that it was just an ordinary event that we misunderstood. Perhaps there’s a rational explanation to it, if we think long enough.
Peter, James, and John had a pretty supernatural event happen to them today. Their rabbi, Jesus, took them up a high mountain where something amazing happened! Without any fanfare, Jesus was suddenly wearing dazzling white clothes, brighter than humanly possible. And then two figures were with him—how the disciples recognized them as Moses and Elijah we may never know. And Peter, whose solution to every problem is to talk more, blurted something about making shelters when a voice boomed suddenly from heaven declaring Jesus his Son, and that they should listen to him!
Then suddenly it was gone. No more cloud, no more dazzling white clothes, no more Moses or Elijah. And then Jesus instructed them not to tell anyone until after his resurrection. Only then would it make sense. But, did they really see what they thought they just saw?
Whatever did happen, those three were bound to see the events of the next several weeks differently. Everything Jesus would say would be tinged with that blinding light in the back of their minds. But also, even in those moments when they weren’t quite sure they saw what they thought they saw, Jesus was right there. This physical person, teaching and healing right in front of them, was with them day in and day out. Even if their certainty of whether that miracle was really real wavered, the presence of this real person didn’t. Jesus was with them, walking that long road to Jerusalem.
Sometimes it would be nice to have a little bit of supernatural happen to us, right? Some kind of amazing thing like the Transfiguration that would dazzle us into seeing the reality of Jesus the Christ would be a boon for our faith. Miracles would work wonders to help us in times when we wonder or doubt, right? But something tells me that we do experience miracles pretty regularly. We experience them, and they’re amazing, but then time passes and they become, well, ordinary in hindsight. They get crowded with rational explanations, and what should be super helpful for our faith becomes a maybe, perhaps kind of story.
But then we have events like this morning, where Rachel was brought to the church for this ordinary ceremony of baptism. There were no dazzling lights or angel choirs. The heavens didn’t split apart and Jesus didn’t descend. We didn’t hear a booming voice from heaven or have visions of long-dead forebears in the faith. But something happened. And it speaks loudly to how God reinforces our faith in the world.
This is ordinary water.
It is the same water that flows down rivers and streams. It is the same water that churns on ocean beaches. It is the same water that falls to water crops. It is the same water that hits our face in the shower in the morning. It is just ordinary water, and it is everywhere.
And in this water is a reminder that the physical, tangible, present-with-us reality is filled with God. We may long for the Transfiguration on the mountaintop but what we get more often than not is to walk with Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. God shows up in the day-to-day, the ordinary, and thank God that God has decided the sacraments are the way we know God is here.
Look at this water! Nothing extraordinary about it. Nothing unreachable or unknowable. You can’t doubt that this water is here! You can’t rationalize or explain that this water is something other than what it is! And this bread and wine—it’s nothing extraordinary. It’s just ordinary nourishment, staple food and celebratory drink. No one can tell you that this bread and wine isn’t here, or isn’t what we all can see and touch and smell and taste that it is. And God is in it. God is present in these ordinary places, these everyday objects, these rock-solid touchstones that our faith is rooted in. God sets these physical reminders among us because any time you touch water to your face you can know that you are forgiven and claimed as a child of God, and any time you put bread in your mouth or have wine in your glass you can know that eternal life is yours.
Celebrate miracles. They happen more often than we realize, and they strengthen our faith and deepen our hope. But God gives us something so much more reliable, steady, and certain that miracles on which to rest our faith. Look to these touchstones—the water and the word, the bread and the wine, the love of the community and the call of our vocations. God gives us the occasional Transfiguration moment, but we are called to walk with Jesus on that road to Jerusalem, to participate in the everyday, ordinary acts of faith. Rest your faith on the solid rock of Jesus’ everyday presence with you.
I promise you that the water will still be here to claim you. And the bread will still be here to strengthen you. And the wine will still be here to gladden your hearts with forgiveness.
Thanks be to God. Amen.