Link to live-streamed service:
A Child’s Gift
Meditation on John 6:1-21
The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4 St., Coshocton
Pastor Karen Crawford
July 25, 2021
It’s finally here-after being postponed for a year! The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo have begun! Anyone watching the Olympics? The International Olympic Committee says that this is the first gender-balanced Olympics, with almost as many women as men competing! We do seem to be hearing more of the women’s voices speaking up about issues specific to female athletes.
More than a dozen mothers are competing at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics for Team USA (Today). The list includes gold-medal sprinter Allyson Felix and her talented teammate Quanara Hayes , marathoners Sally Kipyego and Aliphine Tuliamuk , soccer player Alex Morgan, Team USA basketball star Skylar Diggins-Smith, long jumper Brittney Reese , softball pitcher Cat Osterman, fencer Mariel Zagunis, and others.
Quanara Hayes said of returning to track after giving birth, “Coming back, it was tough. It was like I had to learn how to run all over again. I couldn’t come out of [the blocks], my stride was different.” Mariel Zagunis said that training was frustrating after giving birth. But with four Olympic medals under her belt, her 3-year-old daughter, Sunday, gave her a new sense of purpose as she prepared to compete in Tokyo. “Now I have a new motivation—doing this for my daughter and trying to make that work…I’m really excited to go to my next Olympics with her to show that anything is possible. If you put your mind to it, you can make your dreams come true.” (Today)
“Long jumper Brittney Reese won Olympic gold in 2012 and will be making her fourth Olympic appearance at the Tokyo Games, her second as a mom. Reese adopted her godson, Alex, before the 2016 Rio Games, when a friend was no longer able to raise him. … ‘He’s a good motivator,’ she said. ‘He’s at the end of the runway saying, ‘Let’s go, Brittney!’” (Today)
Alex Morgan, a U.S. women’s soccer star, “gave birth to a baby girl, Charlie, in 2020, just months before the originally scheduled Tokyo Olympics. She says that her daughter is one of the reasons she’s fighting for equal pay for women athletes. ‘I never want to become someone who puts down a dream whether it’s realistic or not,” she told Prevention magazine. ‘I had a dream when I was 7 years old of playing professional soccer, and there were absolutely no avenues to do that at the time. (My mother) encouraged me to live out my dream, so that’s what I want to pass along to Charlie.’”
What stood out to me in the account of the feeding of the multitude in John this week was that the inspiration for the miracle was provided by none other than the gift of a child! A child! How can this be?! Women and children were practically invisible in Bible times. We often encounter unnamed women and children in the Bible who rarely play important roles. This child is nearly invisible, but not quite. The passage speaks only of the 5,000 men in attendance—and nothing of the women and children—not until the unnamed boy is singled out for his generous gift! Scholars think that had John counted men, women, and children there may have been 10,000 people gathered for the meal of loaves and fish!
The crowd has followed Jesus because of the “signs”—how he is healing the sick. They follow him because of their need and Christ’s unusual compassion, not shown by earthly rulers. No wonder they want to make him their king, and he has to flee to a mountain for safety! They are hungry and have no food to eat or, presumably, the means to buy enough food so that they are full.
In teaching mode and posture—seated on a mountain with his disciples—Jesus asks Philip when he sees the crowd approach, “Where will we get enough food to feed all these people?” He says this to “test Philipsince he already knew what he was going to do.” Notice the assumption—that Jesus and the disciples have a responsibility to respond to the needs that they see.
Do you wonder why Jesus chooses Philip for this test? Raymond Brown says it was logical to ask Philip because he was from Bethsaida, and the scene probably took place in Bethsaida. Resident expert! But then, Andrew and Peter were from Bethsaida—and he didn’t ask them. I think he asked Philip because of his personality; he already knew what Philip was going to say –that he would be the voice of reason and logic. He would tell it just like it is. Do you know anybody like that? They are that one person who will quickly analyze the situation and, without declaring it impossible, will let the facts speak for themselves.
What he actually says to Jesus is, “Not even with 200 denarii could we buy enough loaves to give each of them a little.” Ordinary workers made one denarii a day; therefore, 200 denarii is the wage for 200 days of labor. Obviously, Jesus and the disciples didn’t have that much money on them, for they were ordinary themselves.
Philip, a fisherman with a Greek (Gentile) name, had answered the call to follow Jesus without hesitation. He didn’t need extra coaxing when he found Jesus in John 1:43, who said, “Follow me.” Next thing we know, Philip is reaching out to his friend Nathanael and saying to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
His remark now about how even 200 denarii—if they could ever scrape together that much money—wouldn’t be enough to feed the crowd moves Andrew to find his voice. Andrew was the first disciple to be called in the gospel of John; he had been a follower of John the Baptist when John says about Jesus, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” Andrew follows Jesus to where he is staying and remains with him the entire day before bringing his brother, Simon, to Jesus, saying, “We have found the Messiah.”
Now, responding to Jesus’ question and Philip’s unbelieving answer, Andrew, also a fisherman with a Greek (Gentile) name, turns the conversation to a little boy he has met. The unnamed boy must have overheard Jesus’ question and approached Andrew. He is ready to give away all the food he has brought with him to eat because he trusts in Jesus. He is anticipating a miracle. The boy’s gift grows Andrew’s faith. He says, “There is a boy here who has five small loaves of barley bread and two fish. But what good is that with all these people?”
Barley bread was less common than wheat bread, if you are wondering. “Barley loaves were cheaper and served for the poor.” (Raymond Brown) Luke 11:5-6 confirms that these three small loaves are the normal portion for one person: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’”
Jesus takes the bread into his hands, gives thanks to God, passes it to the people—and then does the same with the fish. And for perhaps the first time in their lives, everyone has plenty to eat!
And there’s still more, revealing a glimpse of the abundance of God’s Kingdom of which Mary sang in her song in Luke 1:52-53:
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things….”
This year, while I always look forward to the Olympics, the stories of young mothers on the USA Olympic Team have especially touched my heart. May they inspire us to never give up on our hopes and dreams for ourselves, our families, the church and for a more just and peaceful world, no matter how impossible that may seem. A world where no one goes hungry, and there is PLENTY for all.
That child who gave up his entire lunch wasn’t thinking he was going to starve! With his barley loaves, he was definitely someone who came from a low socio-economic background, but wasn’t thinking he was “poor.” He wasn’t counting the money that was needed, that he didn’t have, like Philip, for everyone to have just a mouthful. He was investing in the Kingdom with all that he had—because he had seen the signs—and knew Jesus was and is the Messiah for the world.
I leave you now with some questions to consider.
What would you do for our Lord—the One who walked on water and fed 10,000 people with a couple of loaves and fish —right now, if you believed in ABUNDANCE, rather than scarcity? If you had NO fear? What would you do for Jesus if you allowed yourself to be moved by the faith and generosity of a child to invest in the Kingdom, anticipating the wondrous works of God?
Let us pray. Holy One, we are inspired by the boy who offered all the food that he had brought with him to Your Son, so that a multitude could be fed! Father, give us the faith of that child. You know his name, Lord. Help us to listen to children, see them, and learn from them, encouraging them in the good things that they do. Strengthen us to let go of the things of this world that have their hold on us so that we might share with others so desperately in need—and all may be fed. Lead us to works of generosity and compassion so that we may truly live lives as witnesses to the Messiah and the abundance of the Kingdom Your Son ushered in. In the name of our Triune God we pray. Amen.
Meditation on Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
Pastor Karen Crawford
July 18, 2021
Below is a recording of our live-streamed worship service on July 18, 2021:
Here is a downloadable bulletin from the July 18, 2021 service:
It’s good to be back with you after having a weekend off to rest and hang out with my family and our dog, Mabel, and two orange cats, Liam and Seamus. We did plenty of eating and some projects around the house and garage. For fun, I have been enjoying evening walks, sometimes in the rain, and watching episodes of the ABC TV series, “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.” Have you heard of it? Here are some of the cast.
SHIELD is an acronym for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division; it’s a fictional federal peacekeeping and spy agency in a world of superheroes, aliens, and otherwise ordinary people with extraordinary “gifts” or powers, used for good or evil, depending on who is nurturing the gifts.
One of the most intriguing things about the show is the gradual transformation of the agents themselves, the revelation of surprising details about each one’s past and present, and their growing relationships and reliance upon one another and their director, Phil Colson. Colson, who died and was brought to life with an injection of alien DNA, leads them to do acts of justice and fulfill his call—protecting humankind from enemies without and within and keep the struggling agents going, in spite of all their hardships, losses and disappointments—which are many.
While the story is science fiction/fantasy and not particularly Christian, I hear echoes of our faith in the overarching themes of good against evil, life battling and winning over death, and love conquering hate. Those willing to serve risk their lives on dangerous missions and place their trust in their leader and the team that values their gifts and skills, but also loves them and cares for them as people, with all their flaws and weaknesses. There are many times when, between missions, the team is gathered on the specially equipped plane they call the bus, resting, recovering and getting ready for the next adventure so that the world may be saved.
The apostles have returned from their mission, not so unlike the agents of SHIELD. Notice the use of the word apostles— the Greek word apostolos meaning “those sent out” by Jesus in pairs to go to all the towns, villages, and cities proclaiming peace, calling to repentance, casting out demons, healing the sick, and teaching about the Kingdom of God. When they return, they gather around Jesus. They can’t wait to tell him all that they had done and taught. They want him to say,“Well done, good and faithful servants.”
And Jesus must be pleased at how they had gone out for His sake and the sake of the Kingdom and were welcomed into people’s homes, where they taught and cared for people in need, as Jesus had told them to do. But here we see him concerned about the physical and emotional health and well-being of his disciples. For he loved them all and called them his friends. He says to them now,“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” For many needy people were coming and going and the disciples “had no leisure even to eat.”
When Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest” – he doesn’t send each person off alone in the wilderness to pray—as he will do for himself on a mountain later in the passage. He is talking about the team coming together to share with one another, rest, eat and be strengthened for the work of ministry. They’re hungry. They’re tired. They have stories to share. So they get into a boat and go to “a deserted place by themselves.”
Only it’s not a deserted place when they get there. So much for their break! They only get the boat ride before the demands of ministry begin again. People see them going and “recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.”
Waiting on the shore for Jesus and his followers is a crowd that has grown larger than before as word got out about the healings. Jesus chooses to put aside his disciples’ need and desire for rest when he sees a “great crowd” and has “compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd ….”
The phrase has echoes from Jewish tradition. Moses and David, Israel’s greatest leaders, were shepherds. When Moses grows old, he asks the Lord in Numbers 27:17 to appoint a successor “so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.” Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel promise a future ruler who will guide the people like a good shepherd. (Jer. 23:4; Ezek. 34:23.)
Sandwiched between where our lectionary reading stops at verse 34 and picks up at verse 53 are two miracle stories– Jesus walking on the sea and the feeding of 5,000 men, plus women and children on the green grass. (In Palestine, grass grows in the desert only in springtime.) The “green grass” and image of the shepherd, as well as the satisfaction of wants—as all who eat are filled and there’s some leftover!—are allusions to Psalm 23!
Crossing over in their boat, after the miracle feeding that also satisfies the hunger of the disciples and the episode of Jesus walking on the sea, they arrive at the land of Gennesaret. This is not a town or village but a 3/1/2 mile long plain on the shore of the Sea of Galilee between Tiberias and Capernaum. Jesus and the disciples are recognized, again!
People run, bringing the sick on mats to wherever he goes. And Jesus walks everywhere; his compassion is for the people of the towns and cities, villages and rural areas. His love is for all.
Says William Placher, “Jesus acts with compassion and confidence. The people, sheep without a shepherd, take him as their shepherd. The disciples worry about scarcity and want to exclude; Jesus creates plenty and includes everyone.”
The faith shown by those who are sick is tremendous! What a contrast to that terrible day when Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth and was rejected by his own and prevented from healing but a few people because they did not believe in him.
But now, the sick and their loved ones follow Jesus around and beg for the healing that only he can give….. And did you catch the way they are healed? They believe they only have to touch the fringe of his garment. The fringe are the tassels that Jewish males were required to wear at the four corners of their garments to remind them of God’s commandments—and to obey.
Mark says, “And all who touched it were healed.”
The word translated “were healed” is literally “were saved.” For this is a healing of body, mind, and soul.
On Thursday night, we had our first Confirmation reunion for the class of 2020. I had been longing for a reunion ever since last October when we confirmed them during worship on Reformation Sunday. And what better “deserted place” than the country home of the Swigerts in Newcomerstown? Here they are—the four students—on Sarah and Matt’s front porch.
It was a time to eat, talk, and laugh. No agenda—except rest and fellowship for the students, families, and their pastor and her spouse. We had grilled hot dogs with homemade coney sauce, creamy potatoes, deviled eggs, fresh fruit, and other sides and drinks. For dessert, we had four different kinds of ice cream and triple chocolate brownies.
As we finished eating, it suddenly began to rain. It poured, soaking the children and youth who had gone outside to explore the woods on the Swigert’s property. We heard laughing and happy screaming! Ethan ran back to get the 4-wheel ranger and rescue the girls—and their discarded shoes. Sarah ran for some towels to dry off the kids and the dog named Boone.
Later, there was an impromptu game of tug of war on the front lawn. And lots more laughing, slipping and sliding. Some of us were relaxing on the front porch swing.
It was a time to build up relationships and prepare us for the ministry to come. For we are in a season of healing and recovery from the pandemic and the months of separation and isolation. We are all anxious to feel more and more like we are back to normal. But during this time of healing and recovery, God can and will still use us for compassionate ministry, if we allow Him. It’s in the serving and caring for others that we often find our own healing. Dear friends, so many people in our communities are like sheep without a shepherd, crying out in need.
I like to think of the children and youth of our congregation being like the secret agents of SHIELD. The church is our home base, like SHIELD’s plane, a place where we receive and share God’s love and encourage one another. We love our children and youth and want to help them discover and grow their faith and God-given gifts.
Christ sends us all out to conquer evil with good and overpower hatred with love, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our compassionate Lord sends us out to feed the hungry and meet other needs. And like the first apostles, we are sent out to bring the Spirit’s healing to bodies, minds, and souls.
But as we seek to be faithful to serve and care for others, let us also remember the importance Christ placed on spending time alone with God—to pray and be still—and to gather together with other believers—in large and small groups—for rest, food, and fellowship, like we did with our Confirmation class reunion. When we gather is when the Spirit works in and among us to restore, renew, revive, strengthen, and bind us together for the ministry God has planned.
May we be led to accept Christ’s invitation to come away to a deserted place– together, all by ourselves—and rest awhile— so that we might serve our God who desires the world to be saved.
Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for your love shown by your Son, who was concerned for the wellbeing of his followers when they were weary from their mission, and yet saw the crowds of sick and otherwise needy people and had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Thank you for sending your Son to be our Good Shepherd, who watches over us each day and guides us on our way, filling us with your love and grace. Lord, teach us how to be quiet and still and listen for you. Heal our hurts, Lord, so that we might be your agent of healing for others. And gather us together, Lord, with other believers for rest, food and fellowship so that we are strengthened to help you save the world. In the name of our Holy Triune God we pray. Amen.
Meditation on Mark 6:1–13
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
Pastor Karen Crawford
July 4, 2021
My husband, Jim, and I are celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary this month. We share an anniversary with Dick and Alice Hoover! July 15.
It can be hard to be a pastor’s spouse. Can I say that? I speak from my own personal experience as a pastor’s wife before I became a pastor myself and from witnessing all that Jim goes through as my husband and a pastor, himself. The needs and activities of ministry consume so much of the minister’s time, energy, and emotion. Sacrifices are made for the sake of the Lord and His Church. The boundaries of ministry time and family time are blurred, sometimes because of the intimate nature of the calling—the lives of faith that we share and the Spirit that connects each one of us.
I am getting better at carving out time for Jim and me. But I have some room to grow in this area. I am working on it, with God’s help.
It’s also such a blessing to be married to a pastor. Can I say that, too? I wouldn’t be who I am without Jim, my partner in ministry, my companion for life. We have some interesting theological conversations. They would probably be boring to you! Not to us!
The apostle Paul gives good advice when he says in 2 Cor. 6:14, “Do not be matched with unbelievers” or “unequally yoked,” as some translations say. An equal yoke conjures the image of two oxen, working side by side for the same purpose, pulling and sharing the same load, going in the same direction.
We are stronger together, Jim and me. We lift one another up, urging one another to be faithful and remember the responsibility that comes with God’s gifts to use for His purposes—and keep on using them! Just as Paul tells the Galatians in 6:9, “ So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”
Jim and I know that God brought us together for love and companionship—and for ministry. Just as it’s no accident that Jesus sends out his disciples on a mission two by two. slide This is an intentional pairing—I can just see him thinking about their personalities and who might work best together. He might even choose the ones who struggle to get along so they learn how to get along. He chooses the pairs and when they are ready to go. They don’t all go at the same time! Listen: “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two…”
They will hold each other accountable. And they will be companions, partners in ministry. Two are stronger than one and better protection from bandits on the road. When there’s someone walking beside us—to urge us on and keep us company along the way—it’s so much better. It’s easier when there’s someone to say, when we are tired of the struggle, “Don’t grow weary of doing right.”
For there will be rejection, something Jesus prepares them for with his own example when he returns to his hometown of Nazareth. The village of about 300 people at the time is, “the sort of place where everyone knows everyone else. Any Jewish adult male could be invited to speak in a synagogue, and Jesus, a local boy comes home, accepts such an invitation.” (William C. Placher). The synagogue may have looked something like this…
Ancient tradition, says columnists Daniel Peterson and Bill Hamblin, maintains that something called the “Synagogue Church” in modern day Nazareth stands atop the Roman-era synagogue where Jesus worshipped as a young man.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor and author, says of Christ’s rejection in our gospel reading today: He “enters his hometown, Nazareth, having just outdone himself in the miracle department: he raised a young girl from the dead. But he’s hardly been elevated to superhero or superhealer status—recall that in last week’s reading (in Mark 5), the people laughed at him. The rejection our Lord meets in his hometown is different from what he faces elsewhere only in degree…”
Many who hear him are “astounded!” They question the source of his power and identify him by his siblings and mom, who still live in Nazareth, and his occupation—tekton in Greek, with a meaning closer to “construction worker” than “carpenter” in today’s language. Jesus the teckton or “construction worker” is something that only shows up here and in the gospel of Matthew (13:55).
“And they take offense at him.”
Christ’s response reveals a very human Jesus, who expects more of his hometown and kin. He is “amazed at their unbelief.”
“Prophets,” he says, sounding defensive and angry to me, “are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kind and in their own house.”
I am sure that he offended his audience even more!
This rejection doesn’t hold Jesus back from doing what God has sent him to do. He doesn’t dwell in the failure of his hometown, where he can do no deeds of power, other than a few healings, because of their lack of faith. He moves on, just as he instructs his disciples to do when they are not welcome in a town. He leaves Nazareth and goes about “the villages” teaching, setting an example for the 12 when he sends them out two by two and tells them to TRAVEL LIGHT. Take no food. No bag. No money. No extra clothing! There are echoes of the Exodus story with what Christ tells them to wear and bring. Sandals, staff, and tunic are what the Israelites are told to wear and carry when Moses leads them out of Egypt (Ex. 12:11).
Taking nothing with them on their journey, they will be radically dependent on others—on strangers! If no one has compassion on them or has room to spare and food to share, they will have to sleep outside and probably go hungry for a time. On the other hand, without any possessions to worry about, protect from robbers and bandits, or be burdened to carry for long distances, the disciples will be able to focus completely on seeking people to share the good news and do wonderful deeds with the power and authority Christ has given them.
There are more instructions. Jesus warns them not to stay at more than one house in the same town. They shouldn’t be scouting around for the most comfortable places and wealthiest hosts that offer the best meals. This isn’t a vacation! And Christ is known to show preference to the poor with his message of hope. For repentance is a restoration of hope through the transformation of one’s core values—dedicating oneself to live for God’s purposes and turn away from sin, selfishness, despair and fear.
Author William Placher points out something funny: when a town is not hospitable, shaking the dust from your feet as you leave is testifying to the “failure of hospitality” since one of a host’s first duties was to see to the washing of the guest’s feet.
What scripture does this bring to memory for you, with talk of foot washing?
Jesus, being the greatest servant of all, a model of humble, self-giving host, washing the feet of his disciples on the night he is betrayed. He tells his followers in John 13:14, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Another benefit to staying in one house for their duration of their visit would provide time for the disciples to form a deeper relationship with their hosts. You can really get to know someone when you stay in their homes and eat their food! For the ultimate goal of the disciples is the harvest! To make more disciples—who will go out and share the good news of the Kingdom with the world.
The reality is this is a dangerous mission. Matthew adds more detail about the dangers they face when Jesus sends them out to proclaim the good news in word and deed: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (10:16)
Mark doesn’t tell us in this passage, but surely there were towns, homes, and people who didn’t welcome the disciples, just as Nazareth refused to welcome “Jesus, the construction worker.” What Mark emphasizes isn’t the rejection by the unfaithful, though, but rather the obedience and good works of the faithful, sent out in Christ’s name.
I hope today’s passage moves you to embrace the message of new, abundant life and healing through God’s Son! You have heard about it for a long time, but have you personally embraced it? The gospel isn’t a burden. This isn’t another work you have to do! The gospel sets you free from your burdens! Christ has freed us from sin and death.
God gives us the freedom to choose our own path. We aren’t puppets on a string. “I have decided,” as we sing in that old familiar hymn, “to follow Jesus! No turning back. No turning back.”
You have all that you need to do God’s work, to be obedient to the call, with the clothes on your back and shoes on your feet. Travel light!
You have faith and God’s Word. And you aren’t alone. You have the Body of Christ. Everything is better when you take a friend with you!
God is already preparing people’s hearts and homes for you to visit—if only you have the courage to reach out, make a call, write a note, knock on a door.
We don’t have to go far. Jesus walked to nearby villages and sent his disciples to do the same. Think Warsaw or Windsorwood. West Lafayette. Roscoe Village. Conesville or Newcomerstown. Or the family who lives next door. The doctor’s office! The grocery store parking lot!
Don’t be afraid of rejection. They rejected Jesus after all the miracles he did! In his hometown, of all places!!! Just move on. Shake your dusty feet and keep on walking.
Remember the responsibility that comes with God’s gifts to use for His purposes. Keep on using them!
“Don’t grow weary in doing what is right. We will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up!”
Let us pray.
Holy one, we want to follow Jesus. We want to embrace the call, respond to your Son’s invitation to proclaim the gospel in words and deeds. But we are fearful, worried we won’t have the right words to say, worried what people will think of us. Worried of rejection. Help us to remember the suffering Christ endured for our sakes and be grateful and courageous. Stir us to live our faith boldly, going out of our comfort zones, traveling with you and other followers for the sake of compassionate mission to our neighbors, sharing the hope of abundant and eternal life through your Son. In His name we pray. Amen.
Meditation on Mark 4:35-41
June 20, 2021
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
Pastor Karen Crawford
On Friday, we had the pleasure of a small gathering in our home. We shared a simple meal with one of our families from last year’s confirmation class. You remember that class, the one that started in person in January 2020, moved to Zoom by early April, and was back with masks and social distancing in the parlor in July.
It was a confirmation class like none we’ve ever had!
Because we didn’t get to have a final celebration, we are planning a reunion picnic/potluck at the home of the Swigerts on July 15. I hope all the students and families will be able to come so we can catch up on all that’s happened with them since then.
Hanging out with Ashley and her mom on Friday night, we mentioned the struggles of last year—just how hot it was for the students to be wearing masks in school all day without air conditioning. And how weird everything was for all of us. But we didn’t stay in the past. We talked about taking more high school classes, her pets, and Ashley’s 4-H project of showing a dog—and her love of cats—something we have in common!
The evening ended all too soon. But my heart was filled with joy and gratitude that these small gatherings are happening, again! Gatherings such as the ones we may be having today on Father’s Day.
We often talk about our Christianity as a journey—a walk of faith. We are always moving forward, pressing on, without looking back.
We have peace in the present and hope in the future—for all the generations.
Because we have Christ Jesus in the midst of our storms.
Christ’s original followers struggle to believe in him, at first. They are human, like us! They didn’t really know who he was! They have Jesus with them in the flesh—and I think that sometimes his humanity gets in the way of their understanding of his true nature as the Son of God, the Savior of the world! Maybe it’s because Christ can only reveal his true self to them, bit by bit, so that he doesn’t overwhelm them. Or maybe it’s all about God’s timing. It’s not time, yet, for them to know.
But look at what he has done so far in Mark’s gospel! He has cast out demons in the synagogue in Capernaum, healed many people at Simon Peter’s house, including Simon’s mother-in-law, in bed with a fever. He has cleansed a leper and healed a man who is paralyzed, saying, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Stirring up a controversy because who has the authority to forgive sins? Why, God alone!
Still, the disciples don’t know who Jesus is. “In Jesus’s day, there were many miracle workers,” says William Greenway, an Austin Seminary professor. “Special power did not settle the question of identity. Jesus’ opponents do not question his power but its source, calling him an agent of Beelzebub.”
In chapter 4, he begins teaching beside the sea in parables, ending with the Mustard Seed.
When evening comes, he says, “Let us go across to the other side.”
That must really stir up doubts in his disciples. They are going to travel.. at night… to the other side of the Sea? This would mean taking Christ’s ministry to the Gentiles, foreshadowing the work of the apostles in Acts!
On the other side, to the east, is the “country of the Gerasenes” or “Gadarenes” where Jesus will meet a demon-possessed man who lives in the tombs. He will cast out the unclean spirits into a herd of pigs (further evidence that they are Gentiles). The swine rush down a steep bank and drown in the sea. The terrified people ask Jesus to leave.
But here on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, everybody knows that traveling in a little boat across the waters at night is risky business. Set in the hills of Northern Israel, the “Sea” is actually 700 feet below sea level and more than 8 miles wide and 12 miles long. Around the sea are rocky hills, some that reach more than 2,500 feet in what is called the Golan Heights today or the Decapolis in Jesus’ time.
“The sea’s location makes it subject to sudden and violent storms as the wind comes over the eastern mountains and drops suddenly onto the sea. Storms are especially likely when an east wind blows cool air over the warm air that covers the sea. …. This sudden change can produce surprisingly furious storms in a short time, as it did in Jesus’ day.”—Ray Vander Laan, “That the World May Know.”
The disciples go along with their quick exit by boat because they are trying to get away from the crowd that won’t leave Jesus alone! But other boats come along with them. No sooner do they take off, that a great windstorm arises. The waves beat into the boat—until the boat is swamped with water. And where is Jesus while all this is happening??? Asleep!
To me, this is a sign of both his humanity and divinity. First, his humanity, because he is exhausted from ministry that goes on day and night and invades his home and family. But sleeping in a violent storm also speaks of his strong bond with His Heavenly Father and possessing a peace that goes beyond anything the world can give. This sleeping on a boat in a terrible storm conjures images of Jonah—taking a boat in the opposite direction when God calls him to preach to Ninevah. We know what happens after that, right?
As we read this passage in Mark about the storm, we recall Genesis. When, in the beginning, God created order out of chaos, spoke the world into being out of a formless void, when darkness covered the face of the deep. God is in the wind that sweeps over the face of the waters. The Hebrew word ruach is the Holy Spirit or God’s own breath, gathering the waters under the sky into one place, so that the dry land would appear.
Our passage in Mark emphasizes the weakness of human beings, even the first chosen followers of our Lord. That should encourage us! Because we are weak, too. What do they do before they wake up Jesus? With all their expertise and experience as sailors and fishermen, they try to fight the storm all by themselves. Only when they fail and are frustrated and terrified do they wake up him up.
Notice in Mark that they don’t cry out, “Lord, save us!” They say, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” Do you hear the hurt? “Don’t you care about us???” When trials come and we feel afraid, sometimes we want to blame God and other people for our problems, rather than just asking the Lord for His help, trusting in his love.
So, Jesus rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still.”
There is dead calm. And Jesus says to his followers, “Why are you afraid?” Not because there isn’t anything to be afraid of. Oh, there’s plenty of things to be afraid of in this world! But we don’t have to be afraid! The Lord our God is with us, just as he was in the boat with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee.
“Have you still no faith?” he asks, hinting at the faith that they will have. Someday. When the Spirit comes.
But not today—even though he saves them from a violent storm.
They are filled with awe and wonder. The miracle leads not to belief, but questions about Christ’s identity.
“Who then is this” they ask each other, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
“Mark’s audience lives in the shadow and light of the cross,” says Professor Greenway from Austin Seminary. The answer to the disciples’ question won’t come until the “one who can calm angry seas” will end up on dying on a Roman cross. “A Roman centurion, of all people, becomes the first human to say what demons have said from the beginning: ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ ”
We are moving past one of the greatest storms we have weathered in our life together as a congregation. A worldwide pandemic. It’s fitting to remember and give thanks to the God who has been our strength when we have been weak. The Lord who has been our rock, our refuge, when we are afraid. The one who has been our comfort all along. The Lord who has welcomed cries of dismay and questions, such as, “Lord, don’t you care about what is happening to us?”
It’s in that honest prayer that we encounter God’s love, grace, and power over everything in this world that threatens and frightens us—and not just violent storms.
I ask you now, have you, faith, yet? James assures us that trials lead to spiritual growth: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-3)
I ask you now, do you have the peace of Christ in every storm of your life? If not, ask for more!
Stop trying to do everything yourself! You can’t fix every problem in this world. And you can’t fix other people! We can only seek to help others and show love. We all want to be autonomous, do everything on our own, never needing or receiving help. Independent. That’s the American way! But it’s not Christian. We are a community of faith. Our shared mission in Christ—our calling and His yoke—are easy. Serve. Trust. Obey His Word.
Be still and you will know… the God of wind and sea.
Let us pray.
O God of all Creation, Thank you for your gift of peace with you through belief on your Son. Thank you for urging us not to be afraid, though the storms of life are raging all around us. Help us to remember what your Son did that day when he and the disciples crossed to the other side of the Sea—to bring hope and healing to the Gentiles, people like us. Remind us that we have the Spirit living inside of us, granting us the power and authority to speak to the chaos in our world, “Peace! Be still.” Teach us to boldly speak up for justice for the oppressed, as well and risk our own safety and comfort to help others. Thank you for all that you have done for us through the cross. Slow us down, Lord. May we learn to be still and listen to your voice and know you, the God of wind and sea, more and more. In Christ we pray. Amen.