Sunday, July 29, 2012

Homily for Mark 6:45-56

            After He feeds the 5,000, the same Jesus who was in no rush to send away the crowds immediately makes His disciples get in the boat and go away.  With so many fishermen in the group, they never would have done this on their own.  They knew strong storms could whip up the Sea of Galilee at night.  This was the Lord’s doing.  He ordered them to go on ahead to Bethsaida while He prayed on the mountain. 
He wanted them out on the choppy water in the darkness, just as much as this same God wanted Noah bobbing on the waves of the flood in the ark with his family, 8 souls in all.  It was a regular zoo in there, with no dry land in sight.  You can imagine they got uncomfortable and anxious on board, with the rain thundering down for 40 days, and the wind and waves rocking the creaking boat another year or so past that.
            Go out to sea for a while, and you will remember you are a creature of the earth.  God did not create us until after He pulled the dry land out of the water.  The sea is a nice place to visit, but living there long-term?  No thank you.  We belong on solid ground.
Yet strangely, there is something about water that is not foreign to us.  Our kids love to play in the pool.  Perhaps because we all were born out of water, suspended in our mother’s wombs for 9 months until her water breaks at our birth.  And more than just at our individual beginnings, water is there at the beginning of it all – when God created the heavens and the earth, the whole world was covered with water as His Spirit hovered over them, and God’s creative Word echoed above them to begin the dance of life.
All of that is here in this miracle too – the water, the darkness, the wind, the LORD.  Jesus walks on water as if it were solid ground.  “The sea is His, for He made it.”  To their credit, the wind and wave obey the Lord better than we do.  Furthermore, the ancient people saw the deep water as representing Death and the grave.  Many also thought that Leviathan, a great sea dragon, lurked down there.  When Jesus walks on the water like He’s strolling through a park, it is as if Christ is treading the devil underfoot.  The old evil foe is judged, the deed is done.
Mark gives the detail that when Jesus gets near the boat, He just keeps on going, as if He intends “to pass by them” (Mark 6:48).  To be honest, I have no idea what that is all about.  The Lord is mysterious – maybe He is going on ahead of them to Bethsaida without the help of the boat.  Maybe Christ was trying to teach them to follow Him, even as we are to follow Him through death and resurrection.  We are powerless against the chaotic forces that threaten us, but Jesus is the Lord over all creation.
They thought He was a ghost.  When you are exhausted in the dark of night, the mind play tricks on you.  We all get scared when our safety is threatened.  They thought they needed to be saved from the Savior – even as we at times might be scared when we see God get to work on our life.  Have you seen His hand of help and mistakenly thought it would destroy you?  I have.  We might not believe in superstitions, but our fears are just as real when we wait for test results, or we have that close brush with Death. 
Seeing Jesus does not comfort them.  Only the voice of Jesus calms them down.  “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.”  It is the Lord, our God, come to save them. 
            He gets into the boat and the wind stops immediately.  They would have been safe if the Lord stayed out of the boat, but the disciples did not trust that.  Not yet.  “They did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened,” as slow to believe as we are.  Quick to panic, still not certain it is safe to trust God.
            For all the wonderful things going on in this miracle, as it reveals that Jesus is the God of Creation, the conqueror of chaos, the Lord who tramples the beast underfoot – for all of that display of divine power, the Disciples find no confidence, no comfort, no hope, no faith in it.  Many of the first readers of Mark’s Gospel had thought that if only they had seen Jesus do His miracles, then they would believe more strongly – just like you and I can start thinking that we would have a stronger faith if God would just give us some great sign.  Today, Mark lets us know life does not work that way. 
            It takes a lot less than a boat on a stormy lake at 3 am to push us into panic, doubt, disbelief.  The slightest thing disturbs our peace, and we begin to act like we have no God on our side, none of His promises to be with us and save us.  That is our old sinful nature at work, our inner sinner that refuses to take God at His Word or trust that the Lord knows what He is doing. 
            The disciples are confused.  They cannot connect the dots of the loaves and fish, the calmed wind and seas.  In the darkness, they cannot see that this Jesus is the eternal God in the flesh come to save the world.  We should not be surprised, not if we remember the Catechism – “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”  No matter how many miracles I see or how much of God’s goodness I experience, I could not trust in Jesus – except that the Holy Spirit works on me through God’s Word. 
            The Jesus who came as the Disciples’ Savior on the water, came in the Baptismal water to be your Savior.  That is where the chaos of sin and death come to an end, where your fear is calmed, your life restored.  That is where the new creation by water and the Spirit happens.  Baptism is our little lifeboat, our ark on the water with Jesus right there with us, holding us in His death, raising us in His life, keeping our lives safe and secure in ways we cannot.
            Take heart, dear brothers and sisters, in the midst of whatever chaos you face.  Remember how Jesus is for His disciples.  They were not in danger of dying, even though they thought they were facing a ghost in a storm.  Jesus could have kept on going on the water and the disciples would have survived it all.  But Christ goes the extra mile in what He needs to do.  He climbs in the boat with them.  His Word lets them know they are safe with Him in the midst of life’s discomforts.  And that lets us know we are safe with Him too – not just safe from the discomforts, but safe also from the sin and death that threaten to destroy us.  For this same Savior goes the extra miles to His Cross, to die for all our doubts, our fears, our disbelief, our sin, so that we would be safe with God forever.
            Our lives as baptized believers in Christ are to be ones of continual growing in what Jesus has done for us.  Just as the disciples were works in progress, so we too are maturing into who we are in Jesus and who Jesus is for us.  Jesus will send you off at times in your little boat so to speak.  He will let you row with all your might against the wind, and you will feel like you are all on your own in the dark.  God does it for no other reason than to exercise that faith the Holy Spirit has created in you, to work into you that trust in His promises, so that you would grow in faith, in knowledge, in love, in hope, in patient endurance and character.
            Paul's prayer in today’s Epistle for the Ephesian Christians shows this nicely.  Hear them as a prayer for you as I read it again:
 "I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

Friday, July 6, 2012

July 5 - Acts 12

Apostles James, John and Peter
Recently I had noticed that in the Gospels, whenever the Apostle James is mentioned, it is noted that he is John's brother (haven't checked yet to see if it is every time or just most of the times).  This struck me since I figured that the readers of the Gospels should have been aware of James, and not needed the extra words.  However, when I read Acts 12, I understood.  James was martyred.  The first readers of the Gospels still could go talk to all the other Apostles, except James.  They could only go speak with his brother to verify the account.  Which is about the only way I see this insight as applying to our lives today, other than it shows some maturation in my reading of the Scriptures as I did not just ask "Where does Acts 12 touch my life?" but clearly saw where it touched the lives of the first hearers.

The Collect references James the Just, but quite appropriate too is stanza 21 from "By All Your Saints in Warfare":

O Lord, for James, we praise You, 
Who fell to Herod's sword;
He drank the cup of suff'ring

And thus fulfilled Your word.
Lord, curb our vain impatience 

For glory and for fame,
Equip us for such suff'rings
As glorify Your name.