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Sermon for 29 July 2018

FIRST READING Genesis 9:8-17

8God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”


PSALM Psalm 136:1-9

1Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever. 2Give thanks to the God of gods, for his mercy endures forever. 3Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his mercy endures forever. 4Who only does great wonders, for his mercy endures forever; 5Who by wisdom made the heavens, for his mercy endures forever; 6Who spread out the earth upon the waters, for his mercy endures forever; 7Who created great lights, for his mercy endures forever; 8The sun to rule the day, for his mercy endures forever; 9The moon and the stars to govern the night, for his mercy endures forever.


SECOND READING Ephesians 3:14-21

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.


GOSPEL Mark 6:45-56

45Immediately {Jesus} made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48And 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, 49but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. 53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56And 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.



The story is told of the two men in a boat who found themselves in the middle of a severe storm. As the waves rose and the boat threatened to capsize, the men knew that they needed help. Neither considered themselves religious men, but they decided that prayer was the only option left, so there in the teeth of the gale, one of them shouted the only prayer he could muster, “O God,” he cried, “you know that I haven’t bothered you for the past 15 years, and if you’ll just get us out of this mess, I promise that I won’t bother you again for another 15 years.
Unfortunately, that says way too much about our prayer life. Most of us call on God only when we feel overwhelmed. But, guess what? That’s not what this sermon is about. It’s about a storm at sea — in fact, it’s about two storms at sea. In today’s gospel reading, we read about the second time Jesus calmed the storm. Four weeks ago, again in Mark’s Gospel – Chapter 4 starting at verse 35 – Mark tells the story of another incident at sea.
Now to help gain a little perspective, the Sea of Galilee is 8 miles wide and 13 miles long. The distance from where Jesus was teaching, in today’s gospel lesson, to the land of the Gerasenes was about 10 to 11 miles diagonally across the lake. On average, boats used, during Jesus’ time, could be rowed or sailed between 2 and 3 miles per hour; so the trip to the land of the Gerasenes would take between 4 and 5 hours. Since this story takes place at the end of the day, the disciples were tired, therefre the trip would take a bit longer. Remember too, this sea crossing took place at night making navigation a bit more difficult.
In order to get away from the crowd, Jesus got into the boat with His disciples and started across the Sea of Galilee, settling down in the back for a much-needed nap. During this siesta, a great storm arose, and the small fishing boat was being tossed about. So much so, that it was filling with water and the disciples were near despair. Despite the storm, Jesus continued to sleep. The disciples, in a panic, awaken Jesus: “Teacher, don’t you care that we perish?” Very calmly, Jesus sits up, rebuked the wind and said, “Peace! Be still!” And the scripture tells us, “The winds ceased, and there was a great calm.” Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” This is the subject for today – faith.
I think it would be good to begin by recognizing that there’s a difference between belief and faith. There’s an old story that’s told a lot of different ways. The one that seems most authentic is the one that is attributed to the former Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Atlanta, Georgia, Dean deOvies. Dean deOvies grew up in England, and as a boy he used to catch sparrows for his mother to make one of those peculiar English dishes called sparrow pie. The cemetery was a particularly good place to catch sparrows, and night-time was an especially good time to catch them, because they would be roosting on the branches of the trees, and you could just walk up and take them.
One night, Dean deOvies was in the cemetery catching sparrows, and he fell into an open grave. The grave was so deep he couldn’t get out of it. He tried desperately to climb out, but the walls were just too steep and too high; so, exhausted, he finally sat down in a corner of the grave to wait until morning when somebody would come and help him. No sooner had he settled down when he heard footsteps coming through the graveyard, and someone whistling.
Now whistling in a graveyard at night back then wasn’t an unusual occurrence. The Dean recognized that it was his friend, Charlie, coming to catch sparrows for his mom. His first impulse was to cry out for help, but he decided instead to see what would happen. The footsteps got and closer, and then Charlie slipped into the grave. deOvies sat quietly in his corner of the grave while Charlie, frightened to death, tried desperately to crawl out. But he couldn’t get out either. After a few minutes of Charlie trying, deOvies thought he would have some fun.
In the deepest voice he could muster, he said, “Can you let a man enjoy his grave in peace? You can’t get out of here.” But Charlie did. Initially Charlie thought he couldn’t get out, but he discovered quite suddenly that he could. There is a sense in which that’s the difference between belief and faith. Faith enables you to do what you normally couldn’t do.
Some time ago there was a cartoon in a The New Yorker magazine that depicted Moses leading the children of Israel across the Red Sea. The waters were piled high on either side, and the Israelites were moving in a long line through the passage. As you look at Moses, you immediately notice that he has a very perturbed look on his face. He’s listening to the men walking next to him, and irritated, he responds to them by saying: “Of course the sand is soft when it’s dry, but it strikes me as a pretty petty complaint to be making at a time like this.”
There’s a difference between believing in Jesus and having faith in Him. Belief is what you have in fair weather; faith is what you need when the storms come. When we say the Apostles Creed, we confess that [we] believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, and in Jesus Christ His Only Son, our Lord. We can easily give an intellectual agreement to that, that’s pretty easy — that’s belief. Belief is a statement that you recite; faith, on the other hand, is staking your life and your future on what you believe. Jesus wasn’t asking them, “What do you believe?” He was asking them, “Why don’t you trust what you believe?” And isn’t that what we most desperately need today – to trust what we believe – to exercise faith: to lay our life on the line, believing that Jesus is who He says He is, and that He will do what He says He will do?
Our scripture lesson, the Sea Story from Mark 6, closes with these words, verses 51—52: “And he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” It’s a sort of puzzling word, even when we register the fact that this experience comes immediately after Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish and feed the 5,000. Why were the disciples astonished? Amazed that Jesus would come to them and deal with their fears? Mark says, “They did not understand about the loaves.” Mark is telling us that they could not put one plus one together in their minds.
The disciples couldn’t reconcile the breaking of the loaves and the dividing of the fish with Jesus’ capacity to come to them, on the water, in their time of need. The miracle of providing for the masses didn’t last as the basis of confidence for the dark hours on the stormy sea. The disciples couldn’t come to terms with the fact that Jesus, Son of God the creator, had power over all that was created through Him. But let me come back to that later; for now, I want to stay with the main focus of faith.
The disciples had seen Jesus’ power at work – just that afternoon – they had seen Him multiply loaves and fishes and feed the multitude. But their belief had not yet become faith, it had not gotten to the point of their own need to trust. There is a difference between belief and faith. Faith is staking your life on what you believe. The second point I’d like to consider is brought out in the descriptive phrase near the beginning of our scripture lesson. In verse 48 we read, “And he saw that they were distressing in rowing, for the wind was against them.”
It’s a suggestively loaded phrase, “the wind was against them.” That’s a statement I believe with which we all can relate. I’m not talking about just being out at sea in a squall, but the whole of life. Not much time passes in any of our lives when we don’t feel that the winds are against us. For example, you have the student who just isn’t making it in college. As exams begin to come around, they feel more and more worried and feel that perhaps the best thing for them would be to cut and run. They don’t have a plan, but they feel distressed in rowing. The pressure they’re under and the sense of their own importance is the wind that’s against them. Or, there’s a couple whose marriage has gone sour.
They started out together long ago, but they have moved farther and farther apart, almost without noticing it. Now it’s as though they’re living in two separate worlds. They wake up one day and find that they’ve lost touch with each other. They don’t know whether it’s easier to go through the struggle of working their way back together again, or just to give up. They seem to run out of resources and they already feel defeated. The winds are against them. We’ve all experienced similar things in life when we feel as if we’re rowing on the sea of life and the winds are against us. The truth is everybody hurts; everyone has struggles. But some will errantly forward that we, as God’s children, get to skip the storms of life.
Where did that myth come from anyway? — the myth that if we attend church, Sunday school and Bible study enough, or are Christian enough, or disciplined enough, or spiritual enough, or religious enough — that life’s troubles will simply pass us by, just isn’t true. Scripture certainly refutes this myth. The witness of the scripture over and over again, is that the rain falls on the just as well as the unjust (Matt. 5:45.) None of us are promised complete deliverance from the pain and problems of life. The truth is, everybody hurts; everyone has their struggles.
The second truth is, it helps to remember that we are human, not super-human. To be human, by definition, means to have limits on our life. No matter how much strength we have, no matter how practiced we are at rowing, sometimes the winds and the waves seem to be too much, and we’re going to experience difficulty in our rowing. We need to accept this and consider this as we approach life. We must accept the fact that we are human, and thus experience limitations. But we can also take comfort that Jesus promised to “never leave us nor forsake us” (Deut. 31:8.) Third, having admitted our weaknesses and that we are not in control, we need to acknowledge that God is. God is in control, and God will not abandon us.
German theologian, pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Gestapo, put in prison, and was later executed for his part in the conspiracy against Hitler. While in prison he wrote letters and notes to his family and friends, especially to Eberhard Bethge, his closest friend. His sisters and sympathetic guards smuggled these notes out of prison, and Bethge collected them, buried them in the back yard, for safe keeping until the end of the war, and then published them as Letters and Notes from Prison. One of those notes read, “I believe that God will give us all the strength that we need to help resist in times of distress, but he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not Him alone.” This is an important observation.
God is in control, and God isn’t going to abandon us. But God has a perfect time-table that may not align with ours. St. Mark wants us to know that. He and the other Gospel writers record the story of Jesus and the storm at sea to reveal who Jesus really is. He is “the only son of God the Father Almighty, the maker of Heaven and Earth.” In other words, He owns the place. He’s large and in charge, and we need to believe that. More than that, we need to place our faith in this fact. This leads me to one final truth, we can hold fast to Jesus’ statement in our gospel lesson for today, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.”
We need to let go of our emotions; hold on to Jesus. As a supervisor and trainer, I used to teach my young apprentices that being a great technician doesn’t mean you know all the answers, but it does mean you know where the answers can be found. A Christian isn’t a believer who can make it on their own, but a follower who knows the One in whom we can do all things, because He gives us strength.
Earlier I noted the fact that for the disciples, the miracle of the afternoon didn’t last as the basis of confidence for the dark hours on the stormy sea. This is true for a good many of us. We quickly forget what has gone on before, the deliverance we have known, how we have been literally saved from that which would undo us, how we’ve been comforted. We forget.
When Augustine was writing about this incident, he said, “He came treading the waves; and so He puts all the swelling tumults of life under his feet. Why are we so afraid?” It’s the simple fact of life, a fact which has been prove by countless thousands of men and women in every generation, that when Christ is there, the storm becomes a calm, the tumult becomes a peace, the undoable become doable. The unbearable becomes bearable, and persons pass through the breaking point and do not break. The disciples were correct in one thing: when the storm came up and they felt as if they couldn’t struggle any further, they went to Jesus. That’s the lesson for us.
Jesus sees when the winds are against us. He comes and speaks His unyielding word. “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” We believe that God is the creator of heaven and earth and that all things were created through Jesus. All we need is to have faith that all He created is under His control. One couple summed it up nicely some time ago. In the midst of an awful family crisis, they said, “We couldn’t make it without Jesus.” The same is true for you and me.

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