Monday, February 25, 2013

A New World: Believing Jesus

Preached on Sunday, February 24, 2013
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 calm him but it was losing battle.

At last, the father picked the child up and stomped up the aisle to leave the sanctuary. And just before they disappeared, the child called out to the congregation, “Pray for me! Pray for me!” (“Eculaugh” from Ray Kerley, Note Number 6506)

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

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

Photos of Walks between the Feather River and Live Oak CA
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. We need the certainty that Jesus cares about us when 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? They had forgotten the five small loaves of barley bread with which Jesus had fed over 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 to learn from).

A disciple is learning about something practical; something for life. A disciple is learning to do something new. A disciple is learning to be something, or somebody, that he or she is not; not in their wildest dreams.

We are learning to follow Jesus. We are learning to be his kind of person. In the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies there was a Christian movement among hippy types that was called “The Jesus People”. But this is more than a movement: it is an identity.

And, with Jesus, we are 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, full of wisdom.

These are qualities that belong to Jesus. Being a disciple means patiently letting Jesus be our Master. It means letting our great one build his character and his personality inside us. Being a disciple means being in situations where Jesus’ personality rubs off on 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 of God.

Jesus was making them other people’s contact with the kingdom, the power, and the grace of God. Contact with Jesus makes us into contacts for God.

Who is capable of doing this? So, sometimes, being a disciple, being a Christian, being part of the church (the Body of Christ) seems like real overwhelming work. It is like a job where we don’t always like our job. But it is much more than a job.

After the disciples were sent out to prepare the villages for Jesus, they came back 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 I. Let’s get a boat and row across the lake to a quiet place.

They were rowing, but they were supposed to be resting too, 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: over 5,000 people. 

What was supposed to be their rest and their time apart with Jesus was denied them. It became the crowd’s time with Jesus.

But Jesus compensated for this by giving his 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 John’s gospel tells us that they found a boy in the crowd who had packed a lunch of five small barley loaves and two dried fish. (John 6:9)

Jesus renewed their spirits by doing the impossible with them. He fed the crowd with those few loaves and fish, and there were more leftovers 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 been a lot of confusion that afternoon. It was pretty much a mob scene.

Finally it was getting late in the day. The disciples got sent off in the boat. Jesus told them to go to Bethsaida, about six or seven miles kitty corner off from where they were. Jesus told the crowds to go home and he escaped up into the hills.

When Jesus was alone on the hilltop overlooking the lake, he began to pray. He was thinking about his purpose; what he had come to do. He was thinking about a whole world of people who needed him but couldn’t understand him. He was 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 didn’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. They were 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.

He knew that 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. They had started out tired. They were frustrated. They were really trying to follow Jesus. And they thought that if they put some effort into it, things were supposed to go 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. (Romans 8:15-16)

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. (Romans 8:26-27, 34)

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. We see that he wants us to be the kind of people who call him Father, just as Jesus taught us to do. Jesus is always praying about how he, and his disciples, and the world all fit together in one mission.

The prayers that help us to be renewed 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 we can do something and become something that is impossible for us without him.

We need to know that we matter. Their work with Jesus was beginning to make them think that the crowd mattered more than they did, or that the work mattered more than they did, or that being a disciple just meant continually the demands of more work to do.

I knew a fellow pastor who had a saying: “Responsibility goes on and on.” But that saying tempts us to see that responsibility without seeing God’s grace.

Even though the disciples had missed out on that quiet, renewing time with Jesus, Jesus found a way to come to them in the middle of their tired and angry frustration. He came to them as a miracle. He was the answer to a prayer they had not prayed, but he had prayed it.

It almost looked as though Jesus was going to pass them by. Whatever they were thinking, the sight of him made them cry out, and Jesus stopped.

“Take courage! Be of good cheer! It is I. Don’t be afraid!”

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. All this time Jesus wants to tell me about courage and joy and, most of all, he wants to tell me that he is really there.

When it seems impossible, Jesus is there and that is what gives us courage. That is what renews us.

We have to trust. Trust me. Jesus was building a pattern of trust in the lives of his disciples. 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, and he would do something to help them. They had the feeding of the crowd to look back on. They had many more experiences they could not 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. 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.” 

Jesus walking on the lake was only doing what God had promised to come and do long ago, in the words of the prophet Isaiah. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2)

It was just one more time they would all look back on and say to themselves. “Wouldn’t it have been so much better, so much easier, if we had only trusted Jesus, and realized who he is, and believed him?”

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