+ In Nomine Jesu +
The message this morning, on this 9th Sunday after Pentecost, is from the Gospel of Mark, the 6th chapter. It is the account of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee to rescue His disciples.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
If faith were simply a cognitive process the disciples might have rested calmly on the tempestuous sea that night in spite their circumstances. They could have assessed their situation and reasoned as follows…We are out here on the sea in this little boat at 4:00 in the morning because Jesus told us to row to the other side. We are His servants. We are spokesmen for His cause. He sent us! That being the case, we will certainly be O.K.!
Hearing about the disciples experience on the sea that night and hearing Jesus rebuke them as having a "hard heart" we understand though that faith is really more than an exercise in mental gymnastics. Rather, it's a condition of the heart whereby a child of God trusts God even when his reason and the circumstances around him conspire to defy such trust. To put it into Biblical terms, "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
Thus, when the Book of Hebrews tells us about the patriarchs who died without having witnessed the fulfillment of God's promise that He would send a Savior, it says, "these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth."
Jesus sent His disciples out that night into the unknown to do something that was, for the most part, unheard of. Fishermen just didn't traverse the Sea of Galilee in the middle of the night. It was too dangerous. Still, He made them an implicit promise that He would see them on the other side. And then,"He MADE His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to Bethsaida."
What were the disciples to make of Jesus putting them into such a difficult situation? What are we to make of it? At another time in His ministry, Jesus encouraged His disciples to pray with confidence, knowing that He would only give them what is best for them. In that teachable moment regarding prayer, He said, "what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? Was Jesus now acting contrary to that statement? Was He putting His disciples in harm's way with the distinct possibility that they might all perish?
The whole incident on the sea was an exercise in faith. Faith is bestowed, it is given! It is planted into the heart, the core, the inner most being of the child of God through the power of His Word! And once it's given, it is then formed! It's molded! It's heated with fire that it might be purified! The Apostle Peter wrote, "you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory."
Like the disciples, we've all been through the cauldron of the tempestuous sea. For some of us it's sickness, for others its financial burdens, and still for others, its family concerns and a host of other worries. In the midst of the strife we aren't sure whether God lead us into it, or, if He simply allowed it to happen. Either way, we find ourselves frightened, fearing, perhaps for our very lives. We row and row exerting all of our energy trying to get ourselves out of the situation we're in.
At our lowest point, we aren't really sure what to think about God. Remember, when He came to His disciples that night on the sea they thought He was a ghost. Because our hearts, like the disciples, are hardened, we are willing to entertain the worst thoughts about God. And so, we ask questions like, "why Lord have you left me here in this situation?" Why haven't You intervened? "Are you even here with me? Are You listening to my cries for mercy? Do you even care about what I'm going through?
What is especially interesting about this passage from Mark's gospel is that it isn't until after Jesus calmed the storm and joined His disciples in the boat that we are told, "they were greatly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened." In other words, they had seen Jesus feed the 5,000 and they had seen Him calm the storm that threatened to engulf them and THEY STILL DIDN'T GET IT! THEY STILL DIDN'T BELIEVE IN HIM WITH THEIR WHOLE HEART!
What does God need to do? When will our hearts cease to be so hardened? Well, you know the answer to that question. Our hearts will cease to be hardened when we see God as He really is, when the sin that plagues us and when the evil one that seeks to oppress us are no more. "For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known."
In the meantime, we pray with the king whose heart was crushed by His own impurity. "Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which Thou hast broken rejoice. Hide Thy face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Thy presence, And do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, And sustain me with a willing spirit."
We take God's purity into ourselves in the eating and drinking of Jesus' body and blood and we cling to His promises that are new to us each and every morning. "Take courage (He says to you, right here and right now)! It is I! Do not be afraid!" Yes, in spite of your circumstances, in spite of the tempestuous sea raging all around you, He says, "I am with you always even to the very end of the age." "In this world you will have tribulation, but, take courage, for I have overcome the world!"
During World War II, in a bunker near Cologne, Italy, some men who were being hunted down had hidden. In the dark of the night they looked and found the following inscription written on the wall of the bunker:
I believe in the sun even if it is not shining!
I believe in God even if He is silent.
I believe in His love even if it is hidden.
Whoever wrote those words knew something about faith. Our God, however, has revealed to us in such a way that we can make an even more profound statement of our faith.
I believe in the light, for Christ is the light in the darkness;
I believe in God, for He spoke in Christ and is not silent;
I believe in God's love, for He showed me there is no greater love than His giving His Son in death for me.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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