Courage, Not Fear

“Courage, Not Fear

Mark 6-50 jesuswalkingonthewater

Mark 6:46-52 (6:50) – August 12, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

“O God, thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small.” So says the Breton’s fisherman’s prayer on a small brass-inscribed plaque. The plaque was given to John F. Kennedy by Admiral Rickover, and President Kennedy kept this plaque on his desk in the Oval Office.

When I started to think about this Scripture passage from Mark, the narrative where Jesus walks on the Sea of Galilee by night, this plaque came to mind. I suspect the disciples did feel afraid on that small boat as they faced the choppy waves, strong currents, gusty winds, and other weather conditions. Similar to that Breton fisherman.

I have never been to Israel, but I have read that the weather around the Sea of Galilee is particularly changeable. There are hills and even small mountains surrounding a portion of the inland sea. Sometimes, the weather patterns can cause rough weather to flare up with next to no warning. According to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6, the weather that night on the Sea of Galilee was windswept and the water was churning and choppy. The disciples were out on the water after dark. Some of them were fishermen, but not all. So, some of them were used to being out in an open boat in the middle of open water. Others of the disciples were not fisherman at all, and were probably extremely uncomfortable.

What was the general morale of the disciples? Jesus was notably absent—not with them in the boat. I suspect some of the disciples were fearful and anxious. Maybe even complaining about their sorry situation, out in the middle of the lake and with no Jesus. Just think about their desperate situation, and compare it to your own. From time to time, I am sure all of us have felt like we are adrift in choppy water, all alone, someplace like the Sea of Galilee. Heavy weather is on the horizon. Who can help us deal with our fear and uncertainty?

We need Jesus, that’s who. Just as much as the disciples did.

This scary situation on the Sea of Galilee did not just happen all by itself. This nighttime situation followed after a very busy day for Jesus. This was the day that Jesus miraculously fed several thousand people with a few loaves and fishes. When this all happened, they all were in a lonely place far away from any village or town, near the Sea of Galilee.

I want to be sure all of us understand. This feeding was not just a little miracle. Instead, Jesus did a huge miracle! Feeding well over five thousand people with just a boy’s sack lunch of a few little loaves and fishes? How astounding is that? The disciples were right there with Jesus, serving and distributing all the loaves and fish to all the crowds who attended Jesus’s after-lecture luncheon. Except, Jesus provided all of the food! Miraculously.

Listen again to the beginning of today’s Scripture reading from Mark, which follows the paragraph on the feeding miracle: “ 45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.”

At the end of a really busy day with a lot of public ministry, I can see why Jesus wanted to be all by Himself, not only to pray and rest and recoup, but also to spend some down time rejuvenating with His loving, caring Heavenly Parent. Wouldn’t you, if you were in a similar position? Resting and recouping after a long, challenging day of ministry, just about anyone would want to be reassured by the loving embrace of their Heavenly Parent. I know I would!

After Jesus withdraws to be with His Heavenly Father for some hours, it’s time for Him to rejoin the disciples. Let’s continue with the reading from Mark: “ 47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake.”  I would have loved to be with the disciples in that boat!

Just imagine all the exciting information we would hear about leadership and discipleship, serving and helping others, and getting closer to God!

Or, even more, I would love to have a film camera and crew on their boat that night! What a bunch of reaction shots! Shots showing fear, anger, uncertainty, anxiety—the whole range of emotions and reactions to the unexpected and miraculous appearance of Jesus, supernaturally walking on the Sea. Considering what huge miracle had just happened only a few hours ago, “what confidence did the disciples would have had to believe that Jesus would now help them in this terrifying situation?“ [1]

We’ve talked about this before, how the disciples sometimes had a problem believing what Jesus plainly said. Or, a problem seeing what Jesus had just clearly shown them. Or, a problem understanding an illustration or object lesson Jesus had just brought to them. This was one of those situations.

The disciples were a bit thick-headed. They just did not get the full ramifications of the huge miracle of the loaves and fishes. They just did not understand how Jesus—who was God’s son, fully God, and creator of the heavens and the earth—could possibly walk on water.

Jonah had this problem, too. He was a prophet of God, he heard the word of God regularly, but he just didn’t get the message clearly. It took getting swallowed by a fish in the middle of the ocean to get the cotton out of Jonah’s ears.

Listen to a part of Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the huge fish, from the 2nd chapter of Jonah: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and God answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.”

It took a miracle of a huge fish to get Jonah to see clearly. It takes a miracle of Jesus walking on the water, on top of the feeding-and-provision-of-food miracle, to get the disciples to see clearly. Yet, God is with them all, even through the darkness and the storm, even through being swallowed by the big fish or being buffeted by choppy seas.

“What does this story reveal about Christ’s involvement in our own trials? He is both aware of and concerned about our struggles and acts on our behalf. In addition to helping us in our plight, His deliverance reveals to us His supernatural power.” [2] another way of says it is that Jesus is God’s son. Fully God, and fully man. Of course, Jesus can walk on water! And, of course, Jesus can be with us, in and through and beyond our trials and problems. Having God incarnate as my—as our personal Friend and Savior is very reassuring, believe me.

Sometimes we do go through the storm, and even repeated storms. Sometimes we do have serious illness happen to us or to a loved one. Sometimes we travel through the valley of the shadow, and we need that reassurance that God is with us. Jesus can say to us just as much as He said to the disciples, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

These are the words of Jesus. We can take them to heart. These reassuring words are for the disciples, and for us, too. Alleluia, amen.

[1] Ivaska, David, Be Not Afraid (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 101.

[2] https://intervarsity.org/bible-studies/mark-6c

Mark 6:45-56: Confounded by Christ | InterVarsity

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Unless…

“Unless…”

Jesus and Thomas illustration John 20-24

John 20:19-31 (20:25) – April 8, 2018

Imagine a city under martial law. Soldiers prowling the streets, night and day—and especially at night. The occupying army and the city authorities come down hard on the civilian population. Sure, the army of invaders polices the city efficiently, but the civilians have very little freedom of movement, very little freedom of expression. This kind of oppressive living would be very difficult. I am thinking of various cities and regions in Asia, Africa, Central and South America. Also within recent memory, we can add places in Europe that were under martial law and forces of occupation. Scary stuff.

We enter the scene in the Gospel of John right after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, late that Sunday evening. We find the disciples cowering behind locked doors, as John tells us.  They were very much afraid!

Jerusalem in the first century of the Common Era was not quite as bad as some places we can imagine from our modern day. Israel was not under strict martial law, but there were many rules and regulations concerning freedom of movement and about public gatherings. I suspect the capital city Jerusalem was a big headache to the Roman soldiers in charge of maintaining the peace, especially at the times of year of big festivals. Including Passover.

As we eavesdrop on the small group gathered there in the Upper Room, we can tell most of them (if not all of them) are scared to death. Perhaps, they thought of what had happened on that awful Good Friday. Perhaps, they considered where each of them had disappeared to. We are not told, and we can just imagine their sad and frightened conversation.

When, suddenly—suddenly—Jesus appears. The Gospel record tells us, “Then Jesus came and stood among them.”  He does not even come in through the door, but just walks right through the wall. Or, the closed door. Locks do not matter to Him. Can you imagine how shocked and scared the disciples were at this sudden appearance? Of someone they had seen die and get buried only three days before?

This must have been a terrifying, mystifying, and joy-filled experience for those disciples in that Upper Room. We can hardly imagine the deep outpouring of all kinds of emotions when they saw their Rabbi Jesus, risen from the dead. Alive once more.

Notice that Jesus did not say “What happened? Where were you? What do you mean, running away and leaving Me all alone? You screwed up! You guys are losers!” No, Jesus did not say anything angry or shaming like that. Instead, He said, “Peace.” Can you imagine? Jesus wished all of His friends “Peace.” In other words, “It is okay. I understand. I forgive you.” Can you imagine how the disciples felt when they heard this marvelous expression from Jesus? [1]

Except…not all of the disciples were there to witness this visit, this post-Resurrection appearance of our Lord. One disciple was missing. Thomas. We do not know why, or where he was, or what he was doing, only that he was indeed missing.

Let us turn to the account from John 20, and listen to what happened: “24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

He did not believe. Cut Thomas some slack. Perhaps some of us might have been in the same situation as Thomas, if we had not been there either, immediately following the Resurrection. Thomas is called “Doubting Thomas,” and sometimes he is even scoffed at. But, I prefer to think of him as “Skeptical Thomas.” He did not want to believe in mere hear-say, or in false reports, or in wishful or magical thinking. No, he wanted to have firm evidence of something so serious and earth-shaking as his Rabbi coming back to life. And, can we really blame him?

I love what one of my favorite commentators says about Thomas. Carolyn Brown says that “no amount of explaining can make ‘doubter’ into a positive adjective – especially in this story.” She wants to describe Thomas as a curious person who wanted to see for himself what his friends had already seen. [2]

Did something similar ever happen to you? Did you ever miss a big event (for whatever reason), and then had to listen to your friends and acquaintances excitedly go on and on about that big event? So much so, you wished they would just cut it out, and stop chattering about the big event that happened? Do you suspect Thomas might have felt that way?

At least Thomas is honest! If we look further at the Gospel of John, we see that Thomas was the disciples “who cared enough to interrupt Jesus when he did not understand what Jesus was saying (in John 14:5). He really wanted to understand Jesus.” [3]

How many of us today can say that same thing? Can you relate to Thomas? How many of us really are trying to understand what Jesus said, and what He meant? Thomas certainly is straight-forward. He is skeptical, but he also wants to find out exactly what happened. Put his hand in the spear wound in His side, and his fingers in the holes in Jesus’s wrists.

This sounds so much like many journalists today. They want to find out, first-hand, and get all the straight information. Get the whole story. Perhaps Thomas might have made a great reporter, if they had had newspapers in the first century.

We can ask questions, too. It takes courage to ask questions. We can be skeptical of God, too. God knows we all have questions. There is no honest question Jesus cannot handle.

Children have wonderful questions for Jesus. Carolyn Brown is now retired, but before she retired, she was a Director of Children’s Ministry at a Presbyterian church. Children ask God some serious, penetrating questions, like: “Why didn’t you make me taller or prettier or smarter or…..?“ “How can God pay attention to everyone in the world at every minute?” “Why can’t I see you or at least hear your actual voice like people in the Bible did?”  [4]

There were some confused disciples and puzzled followers of Jesus after His Resurrection, too. But, Jesus does not answer us in long, drawn-out explanations. Instead, He shows us Himself. He showed Himself to Thomas, and showed his fresh wounds. He said, “Stop doubting, and believe!”

What was Thomas’s response? “My Lord, and my God!”

Thomas saw Jesus’s wounds with his own eyes, A skeptic like Thomas could work his way through honest uncertainty and come to a ringing statement of faith.  What is more, Jesus then said ““Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!” And that includes all of us, today.

Can you and I make a rock-solid statement of faith like Thomas, too? Please God, we can, and we will.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/02/year-b-second-sunday-of-easter-april-12.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 2, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)