Mark 6:45-56 (Ninth Sunday after Pentecost—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
July 29, 201
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our text is from the Gospel reading in Mark 6:
Immediately [Jesus] 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. 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.
No one likes to be ignored. And sometimes, being ignored can lead to problems. During the Revolutionary War, a loyalist spy appeared at the headquarters of Hessian commander Colonel Johann Rall, carrying an urgent message. General George Washington and his Continental army had secretly crossed the Delaware River that morning and were advancing on Trenton, New Jersey where the Hessians were encamped. The spy was denied an audience with the commander and instead wrote his message on a piece of paper. A porter took the note to the Hessian colonel, but because Rall was involved in a poker game he stuffed the unread note into his pocket. When the guards at the Hessian camp began firing their muskets in a futile attempt to stop Washington’s army, Rall was still playing cards. Without time to organize, the Hessian army was captured. Moral of the story: if you are a military commander, don’t ignore messages from your spies!
Now enter into our Gospel lesson today. Jesus saw his disciples in the boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. The wind was blowing opposite the way they needed to go and the Twelve were just tormented with rowing all night long. They were not getting anywhere fast. Finally, about 3 a.m. or so, Jesus came to them walking on the sea. Now, here’s the kicker. He wished to pass by them. Are you kidding me? Here is Jesus who heals the sick, casts out demons, feeds more than 5000 people with five loaves and two fish and He ignores the plight of His own disciples who are struggling to get the boat to shore! He wished to pass by them! Was this some kind of cruel joke? “Hey disciples, look at me! I’m having no trouble getting across the lake since I can walk on water!”
I highly doubt that our Lord would be so crass with such sarcasm. So why, when He saw and knew the struggle of His followers, did Jesus wish to pass by them? Wouldn’t it make more sense for Him to go right to the boat and offer His divine help? Maybe rebuke the wind as He had done before and make the disciples’ work easier. Maybe wave His arms and the boat would be on the shore instantaneously. But Jesus does neither. He wished to pass by them.
Do you ever feel that Jesus is passing by you in your moments of need? Have you ever felt that Jesus passed by you when you needed Him most? In the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, the sea, the waters, are often representative of chaos and evil. Kind of like life, don’t you think? Our lives are full of chaos and trouble. Evil and bad things happen like the horrific shooting in the Colorado movie theater. Sometimes what we go through personally day in and day out could be compared to us being in a small boat on the wind-tossed waters of the Sea of Galilee. The sails are useless. We row with the oars, but the struggle is hard. Our backs ache, our arms ache from the intense strain of just trying the move through the waters. In reality, it’s our hearts and souls that ache. We hurt for others. We weep. We cry out in pain and sorrow, in fear and concern. Life is so much more than we can handle at times. We are overwhelmed.
And we sometimes feel that we are in that boat all by ourselves. No one seems to understand. No one seems able to do anything to change the situations we find ourselves in. Not even Jesus, who seems to ignore us. Why doesn’t He climb in the boat with us and calm the storms of life? Why doesn’t He just get us out of the trouble, the pain, the sorrow, and put us safely on the shore where everything will okay? We’ve been rowing through the hurt, the fear, the worry, or the guilt for most of the night. How much can we really handle? How much more can we really take?
But then, during the very last watch of our dark night of struggle, we see Jesus passing by. If we thought Jesus was ignoring us, were have been wrong. Jesus’ passing by isn’t ignoring. Jesus’ passing by isn’t the same as going past us and not doing anything. It is not as if we are driving in the slow lane on the highway and Jesus roars past us in the left lane. No, this passing by of Jesus is something special. He passes by, before our eyes, to reveal Himself as the Lord of all. When Jesus passes by, He shows us His presence. He demonstrates that He is our Lord who is with us even, and especially, in the midst of troubles and hurt and guilt.
In the Old Testament, the Lord passed by Moses. We read in the Book of Exodus, “And [Yahweh] said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘’The LORD.’ . . . and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:19, 22-23 ESV) The Lord also passed by Elijah the prophet in 1 Kings 19, “And he said, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.’ And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1Ki 19:11-13 ESV) When God passes by His people, He is not ignoring them. Rather, He assures them of His very presence.
When our Lord Jesus passes by us, it is a moment of comfort, a moment of reassurance to us who are afraid, weak, guilty, and troubled. Jesus passes by, not to condemn, not to punish or to see us suffer, but to assure us of His presence, of His help, of His grace. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid,” Jesus says. As we are in the midst of whatever troubles are before us in the boat of this life, Jesus goes into our storms and passes by. As He does, Jesus shows us the marks of the cross where He won our forgiveness and our peace with God. He shows us the nail marks in His hands and feet, His spear pierced side. These holy wounds bled for our soul’s cleansing and guarantee that God is with us. Jesus is our Emmanuel. God is for us and nothing can ever be against us. The promise of Romans 8 is for real, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39 ESV)
In the moments of our struggles, in the times of sever temptation and testing, at the points of pain and sickness, fear and worry, Jesus passes by with His Word of love and peace, “Do not be afraid. I, the Lord your God, am with you always.” Jesus never ignore us. He reveals His presence to us in His holy Word and in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. Jesus is with us in all our moments with His protection and peace. He who walked on water that night on the Sea of Galilee was the one who died in Calvary’s darkness to save us from our sins, from our guilt, from all that would hurt and harm us. When we are assaulted by life’s storms and our hearts become darkened by doubt, Jesus calms the tempest with His presence of peace. He comes to us personally in His Word and with His Body and Blood to opens our eyes so that we might see Him who is with us always through all the storms. Amen.