Sunday, February 23, 2020

Sermon: Mark 6: 45-56 Who is Jesus? Water Walker

It won’t be long until Jamie starts to do jigsaw puzzles. Starting with the small number of big pieces, and then with smaller pieces but more of them, he’ll build up the puzzle until he’s able to see the finished picture. At the start, there’s just a jumbled pile of pieces, but by the end, the picture is clear and obvious. Now, normally, when you’re building up a jigsaw puzzle you can see the picture on the box, but it’s much harder if you’re trying to build it without knowing what it’s meant to be.

That’s sort of what’s happening in this section of Mark’s gospel. The disciples have been asking ‘who is Jesus?’ and they’ve got lots of puzzle pieces, and they’re trying to piece together just who Jesus is. But they haven’t quite managed it yet.

They’ve seen Jesus heal people, and drive out demons, and teach, and calm the wind and the waves with a word, and raise a dead girl, and so much more. So they’ve all these pieces, all these clues, but they haven’t put them together yet. They haven’t joined the dots.

But I don’t need to tell you that it’s much harder to get things done when you’re sleep-deprived or even just very tired. Jigsaws, or normal everyday life, or thinking straight can be more difficult when you haven’t slept. And that’s what we see here in today’s reading. The disciples are getting more puzzle pieces to put together, more clues as to who Jesus is, but they still can’t work it out, and all the more so because of everything that’s been happening.

I’m sure you’ve had days when you get to the end of them and you think - did all that happen in one day? So much going on, so much you’ve been through, and it was all in twenty-four hours. Well, put yourself in the sandals of the disciples for a moment or two.

Earlier in Mark 6, they had been sent out by Jesus to teach and heal and drive out demons - the things that Jesus had been doing. And at the start of this day in question, they had come back to Jesus and reported all that they had been doing. (30). But there were so many people about that Jesus, caring for the disciples, took them by boat to what was going to be a quiet place to get some rest. Except, the crowds were there before them, and it was as busy as ever around Jesus. So Jesus cared for the crowds (as the good shepherd for these sheep without a shepherd), and then cared for the crowd using the disciples, as he fed the five thousand men (plus women and children) from just five loaves and two fish.

So if you’ve put your feet in the disciples’ sandals, they’re probably warm, and sore, and a bit sweaty, after you’ve been walking through this big crowd, catering for their needs, bringing them bread and fish until they’re all full. And there’s no break afterwards, as we see in verse 45 of our reading. Dinner has been served, and the clearing up has happened, and ‘immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.’

But they’re not on a cruise liner with good food and entertainment and sunloungers aplenty. They’re in a wee boat, in a big storm. Look at verse 48. Jesus is on the land, having been praying alone on the mountain, and he sees ‘the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.’ This isn’t row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. This is row hard, straining at the oars, trying to make progress against a strong headwind. After all they’ve already been through that day.

And then, around the fourth watch of the night (between 3am and 6am), they catch a glimpse of something seemingly walking on the lake. Tiredness might make you hallucinate, but they all see this figure, maybe a ghost? And they cried out, because they were terrified!

But it wasn’t a ghost. It was Jesus, walking on the water. Now that should be a big clue as to who Jesus is - because it’s just not possible for any of us to walk on water (when it isn’t frozen into ice). And it’s definitely not icy - the disciples were straining at the oars; but also, it isn’t calm and flat - the wind is up, the waves would be rough - and yet Jesus is walking on the water.

There are two other clues to Jesus’ identity in the way Mark tells this story. Look again at the end of verse 48. Did you notice this when it was read? ‘About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them...’

What’s that about?! Jesus is out walking on the lake, and he wasn’t even going to the boat, he was going to pass by them. That’s an echo of something that happened a few times in the Old Testament - to Moses and Elijah - when God passed by them; showing them his glory.

So in Exodus 34, the glory of the LORD passed by Moses, as God’s name and character were revealed to him - ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness...’ (Ex 34:6). And in our reading from 1 Kings 19, the LORD passes by the disheartened prophet Elijah, revealing his presence and recommissioning him for service. In each case, the encounter is marked by the LORD passing by, revealing his identity and glory. And that’s what Jesus is revealing, as he is about to pass by the frightened disciples.

But there’s one more clue, one more puzzle piece for the disciples, and that’s in what Jesus says to them in verse 50: ‘Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”’ Those are words of reassurance, of comfort - words that you often hear when God appears to someone in the Bible. But the middle phrase has a deeper meaning. You see, Jesus isn’t just saying, it’s ok, It’s me, I’m here. He is saying that, but he’s saying more than that.

You see, the words he uses literally mean ‘I am’ - the way that God introduces himself to Moses in Exodus 3 at the burning bush: ‘God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”’ (Ex 3:14)

Do you see the puzzle pieces they are holding in their hands? Jesus has fed people miraculously giving them bread in a remote place - just as God did in the wilderness in Exodus 16. Jesus has walked on the water - which is something only God can do. Jesus was about to pass by - which is what God did in the Old Testament. And Jesus uses God’s name as his own form of address as he says, ‘I am.’

The disciples have all the puzzle pieces; they have enough to put it all together and work it out; it seems so obvious. And yet they still don’t get it. They still can’t grasp who Jesus is. Why is that? Why might it be when you’ve talked to a friend, and you’ve told them about Jesus, and you’ve answered their questions and explained about who he is and why he came and how much he loves them, and yet they still don’t grasp it for themselves? Why do people sometimes not get it, even when it seems plain and clear and obvious?

‘They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.’ (51-52) The disciples had all the information they needed, but they still don’t get it because their hearts were hardened. It’s not that they couldn’t see - they just wouldn’t see. Even when they had been part of the miracle, and had seen Jesus in action up close, they still weren’t getting it.

Perhaps you are getting frustrated with the disciples by now. Or getting frustrated with your friends or family who aren’t getting it. Yet here we see that Jesus is patient with these slow learners. He doesn’t give up on them; he continues to show them who he is, bit by bit and step by step. And we ought to give thanks for that - because we can be slow to learn and slow to recognise Jesus too.

What pieces of the puzzle do you have? Which bits of Jesus’ identity have you seen and heard? And how do you put them together?Are you forming this picture of who Jesus is?

The irony of the very last verses of our reading today is that while the disciples still don’t recognise Jesus for who he is, the people of Gennesaret (who haven’t been up close and personal in the midst of the storm, and who haven’t seen Jesus walk on water) - they know who Jesus is. They recognise him and immediately run through the region to bring everyone who was sick. They recognise Jesus - if only as healer - while the disciples are still struggling to work him out.

Today, as we baptise Jamie, our prayer is that he will grow up to get to know Jesus, to recognise him as his Saviour, and God, and friend. And it’s our prayer for each of us gathered here today. We don’t need to have everything worked out, and every detail absolutely covered before we commit - hopefully the puzzle pieces we do have show us enough of Jesus to know that he is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, who came to save us. Who still speaks those words of comfort and assurance because he has paid the penalty for our sins, and died on the cross for us, and comes to us to say: ‘Take courage, I am. Don’t be afraid.’

Together we are getting to know Jesus better, as we encourage one another, and help one another to grow in faith in God, and knowledge of God, and love for God.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 23rd February 2020.

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