Saturday, August 9, 2014

More Jesus Factor

Matthew 14:22 –33

Last week, I talked about the Jesus Factor, which makes 5+2=8. Five loaves of bread and two fish becomes enough food for a multitude when we factor in Jesus presence and power. Today, we have another story in which the Jesus Factor appears.
Many of the first disciples were fishermen. I’m sure they were quite accustomed to the wind and the waves on the Sea of Galilee. However, that didn’t mean they liked sailing in rough waters. But, when Jesus told them to get in the boat and head to the other side, they did what he commanded. When the sea is rough, it’s harder to navigate, even with today’s technology. There they were, out in the middle of the water, being tossed about by the waves, in the middle of the night.
Jesus had taken time to be alone, to pray, to rest, to do whatever he needed to do. When it was time to rejoin the disciples, he found them in their stormy predicament. He chose to walk across the water to them, to get into the boat. It was the last thing the disciples were expecting. They were startled, and afraid. In those superstitious times, they assumed it was a ghost, an evil spirit. Jesus called out to them saying, “Hey, chill, it’s me!” They were not yet used to the Jesus Factor, where strange things, powerful things, can happen when Jesus shows up.
Apparently Peter thinks it would be fun to walk on water too, so he says, “If it really is you, let me walk to you.” Jesus says, “Sure, come here.” Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking to Jesus. He takes a few steps, then realizes that he is walking on water. Suddenly he thinks, “People can’t walk on water!” And, down he goes. He has already forgotten about the Jesus Factor. He calls out for help, and Jesus hurries to pull him out of the water.
Some people hear Jesus’ next words as a criticism: “You don’t have much faith – why do you doubt me?!” But I hear it as a tender word of encouragement, “Oh, Peter, you were doing so well. I’m sorry you forgot that with me you can do anything.”
Notice that the wind is still blowing, and Jesus doesn’t make it easy for Peter to get back into the boat. After they are in the boat, Jesus stops the wind from blowing so hard. The disciples now recognize that Jesus has power over nature, from multiplying food, to walking on water, to stilling the wind. They know only God has that kind of power, and they worship Jesus as the Son of God.
… One of my favorite verses in the Bible comes from Mark. A man tells Jesus about his son, who is tormented by a spirit. He and Jesus have a conversation about healing and faith. The father says, “I believe. Help my unbelief.”
I think this is the way we all are. We believe, yet it is hard for us to fully believe. It is in our human nature, in our DNA, to not believe what we cannot physically prove. Two thousand years after Jesus, we don’t fully believe in the Jesus factor. In our experience, people are not healed by speaking a word of faith. In our experience, bread and fish are not multiplied to feed a multitude. In our experience, people do not walk on water.  
We have witnessed too many times when God did not heal our loved ones – or ourselves. We have witnessed too many times when accidents happened despite our prayers for help. We have witnessed too many times when there was not enough money to pay the bills, in spite of our cries for help. We believe. Help our unbelief.
Yet, there have been times when healing has happened. There have been times when accidents have been averted. There have been times when a monetary gift has unexpectedly appeared in the mail. If we pay attention, we give Jesus the credit.
I have in my wallet a slip of paper from a Chinese fortune cookie. It reads, “You will inherit an unexpected sum of money within the year.” If that actually happens, I will not give credit to my joss, to my Chinese luck. I will give credit to the Jesus Factor. And to whoever remembered me in their will.
… The Jesus Factor is at work in our world today, through human hands. In Zanesville, Ohio, First United Methodist Church is a small congregation of 45 members. They have a parsonage that has been turned into a shelter for the homeless, called Putnam House. The congregation gets some help from other agencies and congregations in the area to manage the shelter.
Shannon Hunter and Guy Hilliard lost everything they had. Plagued with health issues, medical bills, lack of work, and some poor choices, they found themselves living on the street. While at Putnam house, the staff helped them come up with a plan that led to jobs and a new place to live. And they return to Putnam House to help others do the same.
Signs is a new restaurant in Toronto, Canada. Staffed almost entirely by hearing impaired workers, the restaurant has the clear mark of the Jesus Factor. For several of the wait staff, this is their first job; they have not been able to get jobs before because of their lack of hearing. The owner, Anjan Manikumar had been managing a pizzeria. He noticed a frequent deaf customer did not always get the service he deserved in the restaurant, and decided to learn ASL (American Sign Language) in order to help him.
Manikumar then decided to open his own restaurant, Signs. Customers are encouraged to order only in ASL, and some cheat sheets are provided to help them do so. The employees are delighted to be able to communicate the way they know best.
The Jesus Factor is evident in raising their spirits and valuing their gifts. It is also at work in helping hearing customers bridge the communication gap and understand the deaf culture.
The Jesus Factor is also at work providing basic dental services for the working poor and homeless in Citrus County. A grant from the Episcopal Church helps needy people get fillings and extractions at little to no cost. Most of the folks thank the people of SOS, and thank God for the blessing of some food and some dental care.
… Did you notice the Jesus Factor in the past week? In what way? Have you tried increasing your giving? How does it feel to give more? Do you miss the extra money?
I challenge you this week to look for more examples of the Jesus Factor. Try listening to stories at the grocery store and the doctor’s office and the restaurants. How has Jesus made something work out better than expected for someone you know or encounter?

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, help us see your activity in our lives and the lives of those around us. Help us notice how your power multiplies the ordinary into the extraordinary. Open our eyes and ears and hearts to see how you make so many impossible things possible. Amen