Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sermon for 29 July 2012, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12B)

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Mark 6:45-56
Fear, Faith
Proper 12B, 29 July 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

In times of pain, frustration, or tragedy, one question echoes through our hearts and minds: Why? And we wonder to ourselves (or even aloud) why the Lord allows certain things to happen in our lives. “Why?” is a powerful question. Sometimes, we don’t get the answers we seek because we begin with the wrong question or the wrong assumptions. Often, we don’t have all of the information we need in order to understand, or even begin to process what has happened.
Consider today’s Gospel reading from the end of Mark chapter 6. After a time alone on the mountain to pra,y Jesus walks on water. No, He wasn’t ice fishing. We know this because the disciples were out in a boat on the sea. The little details of Mark’s account (and some missing information) will help us as we wrestle with the “whys” of our lives.
45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
They did not understand about the loaves in last week’s text. Jesus’ direction to the disciples to “give them”—the 5000 plus—“something to eat,” meaning “tell them about Me” went un-understood because their hearts were hardened. In other words, they lacked a strong faith in Christ. You can hear their terror in the first paragraph of the text.
Jesus comes to them very late: 3-6 in the morning. Or is that very early? The wind was against them, Mark informs us. And then they think they see a “phantasm,” and they think it is coming to get them. How wrong they were! Our question, “Why?” so often assumes that God is wrong. Isn’t that what we feel in our hearts? An accusation against God? How quickly we forget that the Lord creates in us new hearts, gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith, and that our God is the one who declares, “Do not be afraid.” How many times has He said it Himself or through His messengers? “Stop being afraid” may be a better translation.
They were utterly astounded. And even more disappointing is the fact that this wasn’t the first time the Lord had calmed a storm. Today’s Gospel reading is from Mark 6. Let’s rewind to Mark 4:
 35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” [1]
Back on the very day Jesus had taught them with all those parables, they get into the boat to cross to get to the other side. Jesus is asleep on a cushion in the stern while the disciples accuse Jesus of not caring about them. He says, “Peace, be still!” And all was calm. Except the disciples. They were filled with fear instead of faith.
TLSB on 4:35–41 When Jesus rebukes the wind and waves, the lifeless storm shows a greater recognition of His divine power than the disciples. Similar examples still abound, as the brute forces of nature invariably obey the Lord’s commands better than people, including God’s own children, obey them. But the Lord nonetheless continues to love and care for us, despite our dullness and doubts. He not only calms all of the storms in our lives but actually does so in ways that mature our faith and lead us to trust Him more deeply.[2]
Can you imagine being in the boat with the disciples the second time? Couldn’t you imagine them complaining about the wind and the waves and this unearthly supernatural spirit coming after them? Wouldn’t it be plausible for them to cry out in the same way they had before? “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” If God is good, and you know He is, you realize that this is a question formed by fear, not a question formed by faith.
In times of pain, frustration, or tragedy, “Why?” echoes through our hearts and minds: We wonder why the Lord allows certain things to happen. Too often, “Why?” is a question formed by fear, not a question formed by faith.
Ultimately, most “why” questions are unanswerable this side of heaven. Usually, the reason behind a tragedy belongs to the hidden knowledge of God, information God has chosen not to reveal in His Word. Why He allowed something to happen may be part of a greater good, a message we are unlikely to accept when our pain is fresh. Jesus calmed the storm when He was in the boat with the disciples back in Mark 4. In the Mark 6 text, Jesus allows the wind and waves to rage until He gets into the boat with them. They were utterly astounded, Mark tells us, but they do not yet believe.
Remember why Jesus does miracles. They always go hand-in-hand with faith. Jesus’ miracles are paired with His teaching and His very presence to create, nurture, strengthen, or renew faith in Him. When Jesus was at Nazareth, He didn’t do many miracles because the people didn’t believe what He said. If they didn’t believe what He said, why would they believe it just because He did something miraculous? The feeding of the 5000 plus could be misunderstood as “dinner and a show.” We dare not substitute doubt or fear for faith.
We now come back to the disciples. Jesus has now twice calmed the sea, but their fears remain.
Excerpt from TLSB on 6:45–52 Too often, our eyes are also blind and our hearts are just as hard. It is a good thing, therefore, that He who walked on the water that night also died in Calvary’s darkness to save us from our hard-heartedness.
Compare the unfaith of the disciples at this time with the faith of the crowds.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. [3]
Compare the faith of the crowds with the unfaith of the disciples at this time. They have been following Him as their Teacher, but have missed His lessons. Their hearts were hardened in misunderstanding about the feeding of the 5000 plus. Even a repeat of that, a feeding of 4000 plus, leaves them with unfaith so that Jesus has to ask, “Do you not yet understand?” They won’t confess Him as Messiah and Christ until Mark 8:29.
TLSB on 6:53–56 Not long after Jesus’ disciples failed to recognize an unmistakable display of His divinity, the people of Gennesaret show great faith by receiving Jesus and clamoring for His healing power. Even today, those new to the faith often exhibit more conviction than those who have known Jesus for a long time. It is good news, then, that Jesus remains devoted to us even when our commitment wavers or fails. His resolve to suffer and die for all is ample proof of that.[4]
Our Lord is patient with us. That is but another way He manifests his mercy and grace to us in Word and Sacrament. Amen.

In the Name of Jesus . Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mk 4:35–41). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[2] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible (1664). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mk 6:45–56). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[4] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible (1669). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.