Date: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 26, 2015
Texts: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 136:1-9; Ephesians 3:14-21; Mark 6:45-56
Context: God’s promises can be trusted. He has a long track record of fulfilling his promises even when his creation does not deserve such goodness and love. While God may not always act on our timetable, or the ways in which we would like him to, we can take heart that his promise of love and forgiveness and hope for eternity are fulfilled in the empty tomb of his incarnate Son, Jesus of Nazareth.
Genesis 9:8-17 – The rainbow has been hijacked as a symbol. Here we have the origin of the rainbow, and it has nothing to do with diversity or anything centered in what we want or like or think is proper. Rather, the rainbow is a sign from God. Specifically a sign from God and for God, to remind him that when the waters pour upon the earth, He has promised not to let them become an all-encompassing flood that destroys all life. Evil persists in mankind – the first flood did not destroy it nor was it intended to. Such evil persists in us that we may be inclined to suspect that God will put an end to us unilaterally, but He has promised not to. Grace persists in the face of our continued evil and rebellion. Judgment is deferred until the time appointed by God. But we are to look to the heavens for God’s sign of grace, as a reminder of his power and love and promise.
Psalm 136:1-9 – The opening section of this psalm calls us to give thanks to God based on his steadfast love that endures forever, as manifest in various acts of creation and identity. God is good, He is the God over all other so-called gods and Lord over all other so-called lords. How do we know that this is his identity? Because God is the creator of all things. The heavens and the earth and everything in them. As throughout the Old Testament, this is the proof of who is or is not God. If you created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, you’re God. If you haven’t, you aren’t god and need to comport yourself accordingly. In this case, that means to give thanks and glory and praise to God.
Ephesians 3:14-21 – Paul is in specific prayer for the Ephesians (v.1). He wants them to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit (v.16), so that they might remain firmly in faith in Jesus Christ (v.17), which will root and ground them in love (v.17), so that they might have the strength to comprehend the vastness of God’s love for them, and to know the love of Jesus Christ which provides the fullness of God. Paul then concludes with a hymn of praise to the God that he is praying to on behalf of the Ephesians, because this God is capable of doing far more than the simple things we ask for. It is this God that has given us his Son, the incarnate Son of God Jesus the Messiah, who has atoned for our sin and given us hope and joy and peace with God the Father through faith in God the Son as created by God the Holy Spirit. You and I pray for many things and rightly so, but we should always pray in the realization that God has already given us immeasurably more than we could ever think to ask for.
Mark 6:45-56 – Once again the disciples encounter drama on the Sea of Galilee, just as they did back in Mark 4. Once again it is Jesus that provides them with protection via his presence. But here Jesus does not begin the trip with them. Seeking some personal prayer time Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him over the Sea of Galilee, so that when He concludes his prayers late in the night/early morning the disciples are out on the sea and having troubles. This time the wind is against them but we aren’t told anything else. This might be why Jesus at first is going to pass them by – they aren’t in jeopardy as they were in Mark 4, they’re just being slowed down. Perhaps He intended to suprise them by already being on land by the time they made shore.
But that plan is changed when the disciples see him and cry out in fear. Jesus is walking on the water so it isn’t a far-fetched conclusion to assume that He is a ghost or other non-corporeal apparition. After all, mere mortals do not walk on water! If the disciples were not terribly alarmed at their slow rate of progress, they are alarmed at seeing a ghost! So it is that Jesus changes course to intercept the boat. He calms them down with his words, but doesn’t need to say anything this time to the wind for the wind to calm and allow them to continue at a more suitable pace. We are told that the disciples are astounded, which is different than the terror they have in Mark 4:41. This time they are not afraid, but neither do they understand. Mark links this to their failure to comprehend what it meant that Jesus had fed thousands of people that day with just a few loaves of bread. Instead, their hearts are hardened, and the implication is that they have hardened their own hearts. They don’t simply lack understanding, they refuse to understand, refuse to connect the dots that would enable them to understand who Jesus is.
Refusal to see Jesus for who He is would be a dangerous situation to be in. We might recall a certain Egyptian pharaoh who also hardened his heart against the signs of God’s presence, to devastating effect. But Jesus does not smite or punish or even speak harshly to his disciples. Despite their refusal to believe or to understand, Jesus meets them with grace and peace.
We don’t often hear about the disciples asking Jesus for anything. But the crowds have no such reticense. They likely don’t understand Jesus to be the Messiah, but they understand that, at the very least, He is a healer. They come from far and wide to encounter Jesus and to receive his healing power. They do not refuse to see him for at least the healer that He is, while the disciples won’t even allow themselves to connect that many dots.
Noah and his family likewise depart the ark likely no wiser than when they entered. It doesn’t take long for Noah to be drunk and naked and his son to be mocking him to his brothers. Sin remains engraved in our hearts. But God grants Noah and his family grace, just as Jesus grants his disciples grace. The water that destroyed the earth and likely terrified Noah and his family remains a terror to Jesus’ disciples and to us today as we encounter great lakes or rivers or oceans and are quickly reminded of our insignificance in the face of such power.
We should have that sort of awe and reverence for God as well! Yet we can also approach him in confidence and love, not only because of God’s promise to Noah and the rainbow in the sky, but also because of God’s promise to Eve fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God who comes to crush the serpent’s head and to endure the serpent’s fangs and poison. Jesus’ victory over death in the empty Easter tomb allows us to come to God the Father in awe and reverence but also love and confidence and joy, knowing that He fulfills his promises to his creation, and that includes us.