Monday, April 4, 2011

Jesus, Storms, and Peace

Preached on April 4, 2011 (First preached: 3-7-99)

Scripture readings: Isaiah 43:1-2; Mark 6: 45-52

One Sunday morning, a small child was acting up during worship. The parents did their best to keep order but they were losing the battle.

At last, the father picked the child up and walked back up the aisle to go outside. Just before they disappeared, the child called out to the congregation, “Pray for me! Pray for me!”

We see something about prayer in the story we have read from the gospel.

Actually it tells us about several great needs that we have as God’s children.

It tells us that we need to pray, that we need an inner focus, a spiritual contact, or anchor, or foundation to keep us spiritually alive.

It tells us that we need to know that we matter, that we belong to the Lord: the certainty that Jesus cares about us in the storm, where life is not easy.

It tells us that we need to trust, to have faith in the Lord’s power; the Lord’s ability to provide for us and to help us.

Mark says that the disciples were amazed at Jesus walking on the water because they had forgotten about the loaves. What loaves? Those were the five loaves of bread that had gone with the two fish that Jesus had blessed and served in order to fee a crowd of more than 5,000 people.

And that reminds us that we have not read the whole story. We need to look back through this sixth chapter of Mark to see all the new experiences that were happening to the disciples; all the ways that Jesus was changing their lives.

What does it mean to be a Christian? It means to be a disciple. Remember what a disciple is. A disciple is a learner, like a student. A disciple is always learning. But it isn’t just book knowledge; although we do have a Book (the Bible) to learn from.

A disciple is learning about something practical. What Jesus gives us is both spiritual and practical at the same time. A disciple is learning to do something new. A disciple is learning to be something, or somebody, that he or she is not. We are learning to follow Jesus; we are learning to be his kind of person, and this gets very practical and concrete.

But, with Jesus, we are also learning something that is completely beyond our ability. Our goal is to be full of love, full of generosity, full of patience, full of the truth, full of faithfulness, full of forgiveness. These are qualities that belong to Jesus. Being a disciple means patiently letting the Lord, our Master, our great one, build his character, build his personality inside us. Being a disciple means being in situations where Jesus’ personality has to rub off on us, or dig deep in us.

At the place where we read today, Jesus is just beginning to put the disciples through their paces. Jesus is just starting to send them out to represent him. Jesus is making them messengers of the Kingdom. That is, Jesus was making them other people’s contact with the kingdom, and the power, the grace of God. Contact with Jesus makes it possible for other people to contact him through us.

Who of us is capable of making this happen? And so, sometimes, being a disciple, being a Christian, being part of the church (the Body of Christ) seems like really impossible work; or like a job that turns out to require way more effort than we ever imagined.

After the disciples were sent out, they came back to Jesus excited and worn out. They had so much to do that they didn’t even have time to eat. They needed to get away. Jesus said, “You need a rest. Let’s have some quiet time together, just you and me. Let’s get in a boat and row across the lake to a quiet place.”

They were rowing, but they were supposed to be resting too. They didn’t need to hurry, so they took it easy, and it seems that a lot of people saw them take off and decided to follow them on foot around the lake. The crowd gradually grew as they jogged through the villages along the lakeshore. When the disciples landed they saw this crowd coming toward them: more than 5,000 people.

Their plans for time off and some getaway time with Jesus vanished before their eyes. It became the crowd’s time with Jesus. But Jesus showed the disciples an amazing thing. First he told them to do an impossible thing. “Give these people something to eat.” “Where are we going to find enough bread for sale to feed this crowd? And what would we buy it with?”

So Jesus said, “Give me what you have.” They didn’t have anything at all, but the Gospel of John tells us that there was a boy in the crowd who had packed a lunch of five small barley loaves and two dried fish. (John 6:9)

And Jesus did the impossible. He fed the crowd. There were more leftovers, after they had eaten, than there had been food to begin with. The Gospel of John tells us that the crowd was so amazed that they were sure that Jesus must be the Messiah, the savior King.

They tried to make him accept the office of King. The disciples would have been excited by this, too, because they thought the same thing as the crowd.

There must have be a lot of confusion that afternoon, pretty much a mob scene. It was getting late in the day. The disciples got sent off in the boat. Jesus told them to go to the other side of the lake six or seven miles from where they were.

Jesus told the crowds to go home and he escaped up into the hills. And when Jesus was alone on the hilltop overlooking the lake, he began to pray: thinking about his purpose, what he had come to do; thinking about a whole world of people who needed him but couldn’t understand him; thinking about his disciples, his friends, whom he was teaching to be his partners. Jesus was making them a part of his purpose, part of his mission.

Jesus was making them people who could stand for him. But they couldn’t understand him either. They weren’t really listening to him. Jesus kept on praying from that hill top, where he had a view of the lake, and of the boat miles away, where his friends were struggling, rowing against the wind.

By the fourth watch in the night, about three in the morning, they had only gotten half way across, only about three miles, three miles in nine hours of rowing. Jesus prayed and watched and thought of them.

Jesus did alone what he had wanted to do with them. He prayed.

Jesus wanted to give his friends a time of peace, and quiet, and prayer with him. They had looked forward to it; but there were too many interruptions, too much to do. They felt cheated, and deprived, and angry.

And Jesus had sent them out to row against the wind. Their problem out in that boat might have made them pray, but I don’t think they prayed out there.

They had gotten a bad start and it only got worse. They had started out tired. They were frustrated. They were really trying to follow Jesus, but it was turning out to be hard, even though they had seen him do wonderful things. Those things had been for others and not for them.

They had thought that, if they put some effort into it, things would their way. They were supposed to be inspired and energized, but I don’t think they were.

It is not hard for us to find ourselves in the same boat. Nothing in this world blows our way. In this world God himself is a rebel. And he sends us into the wind. And we are rowing against the wind. And it is not fun. It does not make us happy.

Paul, in the eighth chapter of Romans says some beautiful, awesome, mysterious things about prayer. He says that there is something going on inside God, where the Holy Spirit is praying for us, and Jesus, the Son of the Father is praying for us, and this all has to do with our being changed, and growing, and becoming real children of God.

Somehow (within the heart of God) the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are mulling over their thoughts for us. The Lord is focusing on his desires for you and me. Jesus, on the hillside was doing this.

Real, life-giving prayer, the kind of prayer we need, asks to look into the heart of the Lord, to see his thoughts for us. Jesus was praying about how he, and his disciples, and the world all fit together in one mission.

The prayers, that help us to be renewed, are the prayers that ask how we can play a part in the Lord’s plan for his church and his world. The prayers that keep us spiritually alive are the prayers where we ask the Lord how it is that we can do something (do anything). How can we become something that is impossible for us without his help?

At this point, faith means knowing that we matter. The disciples were having trouble with this. Their work with Jesus was beginning to make them think that the crowd mattered more to Jesus than they did; or that the work mattered more than they did; or that being a disciple just meant being a slave, continually running around to face the work that needed doing.

But, even though they had missed out on that quiet, renewing time with Jesus, Jesus found a way to come to them in the middle of their tired, angry frustration. It almost looked like Jesus was going to pass them by. Whatever they were thinking, the sight made them cry out; and Jesus stopped.

“Take courage! Be of good cheer! It is I! Don’t be afraid!” (Mark 6:50)

I think it is possible for us to let Jesus pass us by; because when I am angry, or tired, I would rather complain and rage in my heart than pray. When I am afraid, I would rather worry than pray.

And all the time Jesus wants to tell me about courage, and joy, and most of all to tell me he is really there. When it seems impossible, Jesus is there, and that is what gives us courage.

We have to trust. Trust me. Jesus was building a pattern of trust in the lives of his disciples; as he does in us. He was teaching them to have faith. He was giving them a constant experience of testing and deliverance. (Alan Cole, Mark, p. 115)

He would present them with something impossible for them, and then he would do something about it. They had examples of this to hold onto, if they chose to think about them. They had the feeding of the crowd to look back on, and many other experiences; more than they could count.

Mark tells us that their hearts were hardened. They were just too set in their ways to learn very well. They were just too used to thinking like unbelievers, thinking without faith.

They were struggling and cursing under their breath, and all the while Jesus was watching, and Jesus was taking those steps to them across the water. Jesus was thinking of what to say to them when he caught up with them.

“Have courage. Don’t be afraid. I am here.”

It was just one more time they would all look back on and say to themselves. “Wouldn’t it have been so much better if we had only trusted and believed?” Someday, whatever is going on in our lives now, we will look back and say the same. “Wouldn’t it have been so much better (so much easier) if we had only trusted and believed?”

1 comment:

  1. The last line so very true I'm often asking myself that.
    I love your posts and the photos are so beautiful!