What’s in the Way

Today’s reading is Mark 6:45-56Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Sam.

We’re going to spend some time just talking about how incredible Jesus is this morning. I’ve got no other agenda than that. Let’s just geek out about how great Jesus is.

This morning we join the disciples as they’ve just finished clearing up a meal for over 5000 people. You know those days where you get home and just drop yourself onto the sofa with a smile on your face. You’re absolutely shattered but it’s been an unforgettable day. When we lived in Winchester we’d travel up to London to see gigs and I remember after seeing Bruce Springsteen on a hot summer’s evening in Hyde Park, we got off the train, walked home and I remember collapsing onto my bed. Best. Day. Ever.

That’s the disciples as they get onto the boat. Jesus is like, you guys chill, head on back, I’m just going to finish a few conversations but I’ll catch you up. As the boat sails away, the noise of the crowd begins to fade and the disciples’ excited chatter fades too, as it is replaced by the beauty of the lake at sunset and a gentle content silence.

This sounds like the end of a story. The epilogue of an epic day. Fade to black.

But later on that night, Jesus is resting on the side of the mountain and he looks out across the lake, out there in the distance, he sees their boat still sailing.

These types of boats, you’re looking at around 4-6 knots with the wind in the right direction, and they’re not going far, just 6km up the coast. That’s like an hour, two hour journey. But it’s the middle of the night and they’re still battling the winds. You only get the oars out when it’s really desperate. And Jesus watches on.

And this is where it gets weird. Verse 48, he goes out to them. Now it’s not mentioned that he’s done this before, he never does it again but I guess he’s feeling confident because he steps out onto the water and walks out to them. Just walks out on the water.

Was he going to give them a push? Just checking in? Did he want to take a closer look at their rowing technique, maybe coach them along? The passage says that he was just going to pass them by. Of course he doesn’t because they spot him and get freaked out, understandably. I’d be tempted to tease them here, I might’ve brought a sheet with two eye holes like a scooby doo villain, but Jesus is far more gracious. Immediately he calms them down and gets in the boat. The wind dies down and they turn to each other. What. Has. Just. Happened?

I thought it was important to talk you through the story because I think the next line is most crucial and I want you to hear it properly.

“They were amazed because they had not understood about the loaves”. (Mark 6:51-52Open Link in New Window)

The loaves?

Oh yeah, the loaves.

Just this same afternoon, this same group of men stood before Jesus as he took five fish and two small loaves and fed an entire town. Who is this man?

My problem with the gospel is that I know these stories and I’ve become numb to them. I used to live in Exeter where my friend’s dad was the manager of the rugby club. When they built their new stadium, we went to the opening game. Capacity crowd, 12,500 people all roaring, it was incredible.

You may know but in the feeding of the 5000, that number is actually just counting the men, not the women and children who were there as well. So in reality, we’re looking at closer to 15,000 people.

Imagine me standing on the field at Sandy Park in front of that capacity crowd with a couple of fish finger sandwiches saying, don’t worry guys, there’s enough for everyone. It’s absolutely wild. Just unbelievable.

But Jesus did just that.

So why would we be surprised that he can walk on water as well?

This line, “they had not remembered about the loaves” is addressed as much to us as the disciples. This man, who we’re reading about in the gospels, has worked his way through the hill country of Galilee, healing physically and healing hearts, calming the storms, feeding multitudes with next to nothing. Then we get to a paragraph break and we forget all that, because suddenly it’s amazing to us that Jesus can walk on water.

Mark has been building a case for Jesus, he is completely in control of all of nature. He is completely human, hurt by rejection and reliant on rest and friendships. But he is also completely divine, completely unlike anything that came before.

His power over the water represents the ultimate power. It is no coincidence that water appears at every turn in the Bible. The Spirit hovers over the water to create in Genesis 1Open Link in New Window. The red sea provides salvation from the chasing Egyptian army. God provides water from rocks. Even in the little things, water shows Gideon proof that God is with him.

Water held this symbolism of power throughout the ancient near east. There’s a historical parallel that at the same time that God parted the red sea at Moses’ request in an act of grace to rescue the Israelites from Egypt, in Greek mythology, Agamemnon had to sacrifice his daughter to appease the vengeful god, Artemis so that they could sail safely to attack the Trojans.

We have this parallel of one spiritual force, God being gracious and controlling the seas to bring safety to his people, contrasted with another culture, where a different, evil spiritual force, uses the seas as a way to force submission from these people.

True or not, this Greek myth represents the world’s view of the gods and the waters. Jesus literally stomps all over that and proves he is one with the God they knew who is greater than the seas and forces of nature, and yet cares for them each personally as he walks over to the boat and calms the winds.

Jesus is amazing. Let’s refuse to lose sight of that.

But all this is great on a Sunday, we read these stories and allow ourselves to believe they might be true but then the reality of the week sets in on Monday morning and then we go back to relying on our own strength. Our own abilities are necessary to get us through.

I want to contend that the same guy who walks calmly across the roaring oceans is with you in your work, in your families, in your unexpected self isolation, in that conversation you’ve been dreading.

So why do we allow ourselves to forget that?

I think it’s to do with our scepticism of miracles and our competency as people.

Our jobs and our roles in society are often dictated by other people’s evaluations of our competency. The ceiling of our abilities often decides for us how far we’ll get in our careers, or the limitations on us in what education is available to us or the ways we are limited in retirement. We do this in so many things, even in church, in the roles that we assign to people or invite them to join in, it’s all based on competency and willingness.

But all this is based on the world around us and the messages that it speaks to us. It is based on a system that is risk averse and sees people as resources to reach an end goal.

And when we become entrenched in a system, we use it as the lens with which we understand God’s kingdom, the kingdom that Jesus spoke of overtaking the world. If I’m fully honest, I see it most clearly in my prayer life.

When I get around to praying, they’re often prayers in hindsight. God, bless the thing that I’ve already started. Or at their best, they’re prayers based on what I think is achievable. They’re often prayers reliant upon me being the answer to them. They’re prayers of someone from the kingdom of the world, not the kingdom of God.

But I used to pray for miracles. I don’t know when that changed. But years of disillusionment and maybe, if I’m honest, feeling let down by God not answering them changed how I pray.

And I see what’s wrong with this when I read these stories of a man who walked on water.

And I see what’s wrong with this when I read these stories of his Spirit, the very presence of God, being poured out upon his followers, upon us.

I don’t know why the hope of miracles is so quick to fade from me but I want to keep clawing it back. I think I need to keep coming back to these stories and the reality of this man who walked on the same planet that we do, doing things that cause me to stop in amazement. I need to not only come back to these stories but to come back to the person that they are about because he is alive and with us today.

I’ve heard that we don’t see miracles because we don’t have enough faith. That’s a lie. These people ran to Jesus and grabbed his cloak and were healed. Not once so far in the gospel has anyone even recognised that Jesus is God. They had no faith but they had something better; they had Jesus. They needed to ask for help and he was there.

I can’t tell you why miracles sometimes happen and they sometimes they don’t. As far as I can see, Jesus never explains that so I’m not going to try to.

But he does promise to be present to us in our asking. He promises to be close to us in our hurting. He promises that his kingdom is coming and sometimes we’ll see that here and now and sometimes it won’t be realised until he comes again but he promises that it will come.

And he invites us to reach out and grab his cloak and ask.

We think of miracles as the natural order of our world being interrupted and two worlds coming together. But that’s not what the Bible says; God isn’t breaking into the world to provide like someone reaching in to clean a fishtank. He’s not separate from us, we don’t have to plead him into paying us attention. He’s already here. He’s alive and present to us. The lord is here, his spirit is with us. And he’ll walk across the waves to get to us.

There will be a video version of the service.

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