Monday, July 30, 2018

Walking on Water

In Nomine Iesu
St. Mark 6:45-56
July 29, 2018
Proper 12B

Dear Saints of our Savior~

Two familiar Bible stories frame this morning’s divine service. On the one hand, it’s all fairly basic. In our reading from Genesis, the Lord gives the rainbow as a sign and promise that He will never again destroy the entire earth with floodwaters. And in our
reading from Saint Mark, Jesus walks on water as if it were solid ground. The plain and simple message is that Jesus is God. It’s like we sing in the Matins liturgy: The sea is His, for He made it, and His hand formed the dry land. Jesus is God; and we’re not. We get it.

But if you take a deeper dive into the details of today’s Holy Gospel, you’ll find a lot of things that seem odd, strange, and just plain weird. First of all, did you notice that Jesus “made” His disciples get into the boat? Jesus insisted that the twelve set off in a little boat on a big sea, just as the sun is setting and darkness is creeping in. Furthermore, Jesus insisted that they row off into the sunset without Him. You boys just go on ahead and I’ll catch up. See you later. From there, Jesus heads up a mountain to pray while the disciples undertake a cruise beneath the stars.

If the disciples had any misgivings or hesitation about this, we aren’t told about it. But the experienced fishermen on that little boat—they knew that strong winds often whipped up at night on the Sea of Galilee. And sure enough, those winds kick up and the disciples are straining at the oars. Nine o’clock comes and they’re still rowing. Midnight, and they’re still rowing. Three AM and they’re still at it—their little boat bobbing up and down, wind in their faces, getting nowhere in the damp darkness.

Now, as if things couldn’t get any weirder, it’s right about then that Jesus comes to them. But Jesus needs no boat. He’s walking on the surface of the deep. The sea is His for He made it. And did you catch this shocker from Saint Mark: He meant to pass them by. Jesus wasn’t even planning on stopping to say “hi.” But then something caught the Lord’s attention. Perhaps it was twelve grown men screaming like little girls telling ghost stories around a campfire. Sure enough, the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost.

This account doesn’t play out the way we might have scripted it. To sum up, Jesus sends the twelve out on the sea in a boat, by themselves, has them rowing for six frustrating hours in the dark, battling wind and waves, then walks out to them on the water at 3AM, scares the living daylights out of them and says, “Hey guys, buck up! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” He gets in the boat with them, the wind becomes calm, and the twelve are left to stare at one another and scratch their heads without a word of explanation from Jesus.

One thing’s perfectly clear: this passage is not about the disciples’ great faith. There isn’t any. They don’t get it. They didn’t understand about Jesus feeding five thousand with just five loaves and two fish. They didn’t understand about Jesus walking on the water. In fact, St. Mark says plainly, “Their hearts were hardened.” In the Scriptures, hardened hearts are unbelieving hearts. There are no faith heroes in this boat—just twelve tired, frightened, damp disciples, without a clue.

But let’s not be too hard on the Twelve. After all, you can identify with them. No, Jesus isn’t compelling you to set sail on a dark and stormy night. But He is compelling you to follow His will and walk in His ways—to conform your life to His Word. Perhaps Jesus is compelling you to give up the addiction, the adultery, the idolatry. Perhaps Jesus is compelling you to stop the gossip or to end the envy. Perhaps He’s compelling you to forgive the one you refuse to forgive—to honor your parents, to submit to your husband, to love your wife as Christ loves the church. Perhaps Jesus just wants you to be content—to quit coveting how good everyone else seems to have it.

And as for you, well, you are trying. You know that in Jesus you are precious and holy—loved and died for—baptized and blessed. You’re trying; but you’re tired. You feel like you’re just rowing into a stiff headwind and you’re weary. The Christian life feels like running on a treadmill sometimes. Fatigue is setting in and you’re tempted to give up and give in. Perhaps it seems like your heart is hardening. And this is the whole point of all these strange events on the sea that night: Jesus was teaching the Twelve—and us—that no amount of rowing we do will fix things—no amount of strength on our part will be able to get us through all the temptation and opposition and persecution that just keeps coming our way. On our own, sin and death will sweep us away. Without Jesus, we can do nothing.

The same Jesus who strolled on the water of the Deep—who stilled the winds, who cast out demons and healed the sick—this same Jesus would hang helpless on a cross for you—to do what you cannot do. Jesus would become a corpse on a cross to conquer the darkness, the demons, sin and death. In today’s text Jesus gave His disciples a 3AM glimpse of His power and glory. But then He buried that power and glory in the 3PM darkness of His crucifixion cross for your deliverance, forgiveness, and salvation. This is how it’s done. Jesus uses death to accomplish life. He shows His strength in weakness. He overcomes sin by becoming our sin. He overcomes Adam’s curse by being cursed and hanging from a tree. In His cross you have life.

Jesus Christ will not pass you by in your time of struggle—in the weariness of your sin—in your fear and fatigue. “Take heart,” He says, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” Jesus did not pass by His disciples in their distress. Jesus joined them in their distress. Jesus joined them in the boat—climbed right in together with them. This is our Savior. He doesn’t command you to walk on water. He doesn’t compel you to climb your way up to where He is. Instead, God Himself joins you in Jesus of Nazareth. He jumps right in to your sinking, struggling life to save you. Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.

One day Jesus would send out these men in the boat as His apostles and ministers. He would be sending them out into a dark world of death and despair—into the strong headwinds of opposition and persecution. But because of what happened that night on the Sea, they knew that Jesus would come to them. Jesus would help them. He would be their refuge and their strength. Jesus would care for His church. And His church would be like a little ark of salvation, afloat in a flood of destruction. Jesus would be with them, even when their numbers were as few as two or three. Jesus would be with them always, to the very end of the age.

Jesus will always keep His church afloat. He comes to us as He did that night on the sea—in strange and mysterious ways that leave us marveling. He comes to us in the preaching of His Word. He comes to us in His body and blood, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” At the end of the great flood, God set a rainbow in the heavens as a sign. Never again. Never again would water be used by God as an instrument of worldwide destruction. But now, until the end of time, God uses water as an instrument of life and salvation in the cleansing waves of Holy Baptism.

Through these precious means Jesus Christ comes to you, bringing calm to your chaos, and peace in times of trouble, and forgiveness for your sins. He has placed you here, in the ark of His holy church. Here as baptized believers our lives are continually unfolding and growing into who we are in Christ. We are “works in progress.” And when you find yourself in the dark, in a little boat, making no headway against the opposition—it just might be because Jesus is exercising that faith that His Spirit has created in you—to deepen your trust in His promises—so that you might learn to expect the Lord to come to you in such times, in the last watch of the night, just before the break of day. He will come to meet you there—at your worst and at your weakest. “Take heart,” He says, “It is I. Do not be afraid.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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