Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Do not be afraid. It is I.... says the Lord.

Sermon preached for Pentecost 11B on Sunday, July 29, 2012.

The Gospel we heard this morning comes right after the feeding of the five thousand and Mark references this in His account. From the sparse beginning of five loaves and two small fish, they ended up with twelve baskets of leftovers – one for each doubting disciple to cart home to the fridge. Having fed the people with bread for their stomachs and the Bread of Life for their souls, Jesus heads off alone to pray. He sends the disciples ahead in the boat. Perhaps they were so focused on the miracle food they did not even pause to think how Jesus would get across to the other side. So Jesus goes off alone to pray but Jesus can never be alone. He is always accompanied by the fears, needs, and cries of His people.

Mark tells us that Jesus looked out on the water only to see the wind against the boat – making headway only painfully because the wind was against them. By the way, I wonder if this isn’t about the most apt description of Christian life in the whole New Testament – making headway only painfully because the wind is against us! So Jesus came walking by them – not intending to stop but unable to leave them in their fears and terrors. Neither can Jesus leave us alone as prisoners to our fears and terror. Then, as soon as Jesus got into the boat, the wind ceases. But they were not calmed. Instead they had more questions and more fears.

The disciples did not understand grace. They just did not get it. They understood getting something for nothing, food you did not pay for or prepare – but they did not understand grace. They understood their fears but they did not understand Jesus. They were focusing upon the works of Jesus when they should have been focused upon Jesus. Hardened by their fears, calloused by their disappointments, suspicious of good news, and cynical of hope, they were caught in the grip of their anxiety and uncertainty.

Neither did the crowds get Jesus or understand grace. They understood that they had been hungry and were now full but they did not get the who or what or why it happened. They loved the idea of food you did not have to pay for or prepare but they still did not translated this action of Jesus into grace. Perhaps we are not so different from those crowds. In our prayers we cry out for understanding, for explanations, and for reasons – both for the good and for the bad that happens to us. But grace is not about wisdom to understand or words that explain or reasons to put it all in context. Grace is the presence of God amid fear, the voice of God to comfort and console our hearts, and trust in what your senses and reason cannot fathom.

Jesus is the Giver of bread – Jesus knows our needs and is not oblivious to those needs. Daily and richly He gives us all things, says the catechism. Jesus is the Giver of Miracle Bread – the kind that comes down from heaven. Jesus knows our captivity to sin and the dominion of death in which we live out our lives. He knows this struggle first hand. Grace is the God who comes to us where we are and grace is the God who refuses to leave us where He found us. He comes to us with the Word that does that which it says, with the touch of water that cleanses, the voice of absolution that sets us free, and the bread and wine which feed us His body and blood, food for now and for eternal life.

We are like the disciples in the boat, making headway only painfully, in a world set against Jesus. We may cry out for answers but God gives us much, much more. He stands with us in our terror and His voice proclaims peace. He reassures our fearful hearts with the promise that He is with us and will never leave us. You do not need to understand this grace or explain it – just believe it. The Spirit is come just for that purpose – to teach our fearful hearts to trust in Christ the giver of grace sufficient for all our needs.

Christ is always there, walking on the waters of our discontent. Christ is always there, speaking to us and calling us by name in the midst of trouble. Like the disciples of old, we get our fears and we get our needs. We come together to pray that may trust in Christ the answer to our fears and the supply of all that we need.

When the wind is against you, cry out to Jesus and His voice speaks calm. "Do not be afraid. I am here." When the storms of life threaten you, cry out to Jesus and His voice speaks comfort. "Do not be afraid. I am here." When evil rears its ugly head, cry out to Jesus who is greater than evil. "Do not be afraid. I am here." He is always there. Walking on the waters of our discontent, upon the waves of our fears, and upon the stormy seas of our fragile lives. If we do not see Him, it is because we have allowed our fears, our worries, and our doubts to dominate our vision. If we do not hear Him, it is because our ears are too attuned to hurt, wrong, and fear.

Remember the promise made to you in your baptism into Christ. "But now says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."

Dear friends, the Word of God is not some lesson to be learned or some mystery to be unpacked and understood. The Word of God is the living voice that speaks to us over and over again: "Do not be afraid. I am here." The Lord seeks not our understanding or consent. He invites merely our faith and trust – not in the things He has done but in Him who does them, in our Savior, Jesus Christ. You get grace not by reasoning God out but only by trusting in Him. You see grace when you see the Lord standing with us amid our fears, getting dirty for our sins, tasting the cold darkness of our death, and rising to call us into fellowship and life in Him. We are here today just for that – for the voice of comfort and hope who meets us in the fearful wreck of our lives and says, "Do not be afraid. I am here." And here, He is. In the voice of forgiveness, in the fellowship of the baptized, in the communion of His body and blood. Amen.

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