Pentecost 9, Proper B12
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 6:16-21 Sermon
July 29, 2012
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NOTE: When there are five Sundays in a month, we have a "congregation's choice" hymn service, with an abbreviated liturgy. The following eight hymns were the selections the congregation made.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice)
TLH 200 "I Know That My Redeemer Lives"
TLH 237 "All Glory Be To God On High"
TLH 436 "The Lord's My Shepherd, I'll Not Want"
TLH 457 "What A Friend We Have In Jesus"
TLH 467 "Built On A Rock The Church Doth Stand"
TLH 653 "Now The Light Has Gone Away"
WOV 699 "Blessed Assurance"
TLH 552 "Abide With Me"
GOD'S POWER AND GOD’S GRACE
TEXT (vs. 16-20) "16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
I'm not one who normally starts out a sermon with a humorous story, but I'm going to break my normal pattern today and do so. This is an old joke that you most likely have heard before, but I'm going to tell it anyway.
There was this Catholic Priest and Lutheran Pastor who were good friends. They especially loved to go fishing together on their day off. One week as they were getting ready, they decided to invite the local Jewish Rabbi to go along with them. He accepted the invitation and went along with them to the lake to do some fishing.
As they were sitting in the boat out in the lake, the Catholic Priest says, "Oops, I forgot my tackle box." And with that, he gets out of the boat, walks out onto the lake and heads for shore. He gets his tackle box, walks back out onto the lake and gets back in the boat. The Jewish Rabbi is shocked at this sight, but doesn't say a word.
A little while later, the Lutheran Pastor says, "We're out of bait." And so he gets out of the boat, walks out onto the lake and heads for shore. He gets some more bait, walks back out onto the lake and gets back in the boat. Now the Jewish Rabbi is really puzzled, but still he doesn't say a word.
So a little while later, the Jewish Rabbi says, "I'm hungry. I think I'm going to go get a sandwich." And so he gets out of the boat, steps out onto the water, and immediately sinks like a stone. As the other two men were pulling him out of the water back into the boat, the Lutheran Pastor looks at the Catholic Priest and says, "Do you think we should show him where the rocks are?"
In our Gospel lesson for today, we are looking at two miracles, pretty much back-to-back. The first one is Jesus feeding the 5,000 men, which when counting women and children in the crowd, could have easily been 15,000 people or more. He does this with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. That's quite a miracle that his disciples witnessed! This is something that only God could do.
I'm going to refer to this miracle, but I am going to focus more upon the second miracle, which is where Jesus walks on the water. That's the reason I told that rather old joke at the beginning. And as we look at these miracles, we can see some good examples of God's power and God's grace.
When people look at miracles like Jesus walking on the water, so often they will do so with the question in mind, "Okay, where are the rocks? Jesus couldn't have possibly walked on the water. That's against the laws of nature. There must have been some other way. There must have been rocks just under the water, or some other logical explanation for it." A God who can work miracles and alter the laws of nature is just too far-fetched for them to believe.
This morning, I'm going to give you a good example of this, and this is no joke either. I'm going to quote some excerpts from an article in National Geographic that appeared in their October 28, 2010 issue. The title of the article is, "Jesus May Have Walked On Ice, Not Water, Scientists Say." I'll quote a bit from the article to explain what the reasoning is behind this statement:
"A freak cold spell that covered parts of a lake with ice could explain the biblical tale about Jesus walking on water, says a team of U.S. and Israeli scientists....A rare set of weather events may have combined to create a slab of ice about 4 to 6 inches thick on the lake, [making it] able to support a person's weight....[One scientist] bases his theory on a unique freezing mechanism he calls 'springs ice.' This forms when warm, salty springs flow into a freshwater lake, preventing the lake from freezing entirely in cold weather.... About 2,500 years ago, there was a cold period that was almost 10ºF lower than today. And our models show that there was also a cold snap at that time, which lasted a few days and drastically lowered the temperature. The two factors froze patches of the lake surface that were not salty....Our models show a strong probability that around 2,400 and 2,600 years ago, there were at least three or maybe four such cold snaps....It is possible to have ice next to open water."
This theory (if you even want to call it that) is outlandish for several reasons. The Bible tells us that there were strong winds and waves, and the boat had drifted several hundred yards away from the shore. The boat was really being bounced around by the waves. This couldn't have happened if there had been sheets of ice on the lake. And if you know anything about frozen lakes, it takes more than just a few days of below freezing weather to create ice on a lake, let alone ice that is from four to six inches thick. Anybody living in Minnesota could tell you that.
We are also told that Jesus walked to the boat from the shore. Because of the temperature in shallow water, there couldn't have been any ice. And then we also have to consider the additional information that Matthew gives us about this event. Simon Peter gets out of the boat and starts to come to Jesus, but then he begins to sink. What happened to the ice? Did it suddenly disappear? And what about Jesus calming the violent storm?
Then if we look at the account from Mark's gospel, his disciples were terrified because they saw Jesus walking on the water, and they thought it was a ghost. This was something way beyond any form of natural phenomenon. No normal person could be walking out there during a violent storm, even if there had been chunks of ice out there, which of course there wasn't. We've already established that.
The human mind is so skeptical, that faith really has no part of the logical process. This whole "ice theory" completely lacks any form of faith, and reduces God's power to a set of fortunate circumstances. Human reasoning has science looking for the proverbial "rocks in the water" instead of looking at Jesus' miracles through the eyes of faith.
Another troubling thing about this, is the huge amount of time, energy, and money that is wasted looking for those so-called "rocks." How much of that research money is coming directly out of the taxpayer's pocket? Why are people so dead-set on trying to disprove Jesus' miracles, that they will spare no expense on doing so?
That's the way the sinful human nature works. Modern science isn't the only casualty here either. If we look once again at Mark's account of this miracle, we find the following recorded in Chapter 6, verses 31-32: "...And [the disciples] were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. "
Just think about what the disciples were experiencing when we put this whole story together. They had all witnessed the feeding of the 5,000. Then they witnessed Jesus walking on the water during a violent storm. Then they witnessed Jesus rebuking the storm and making all things calm. Their minds were literally reeling with all of this.
Mark tells us that their hearts were hardened. In other words, they were too busy looking for the proverbial rocks in the water that they forgot about God's power over everything. They were looking at this series of events through the eyes of human logic, and not the eyes of faith.
I was reading an article the other day that said we focus too much upon God's grace, and not enough on God's power. That may be partially true, in that we often forget about God's omnipotence. But God's grace is the key factor in every aspect of theology. God's undeserved love for humanity is the overriding influence of everything else. That's where we need to maintain our focus, and we'll get to that in a moment; but first, let's consider God's ultimate and complete power over everything.
If you watch our service on television, there's a church service that comes on right after one of our broadcasts. In the animated opening introduction, the narrator says: "God can do all things that are logically possible. So he can create galaxies, and sub-atomic particles, and rain forests, and you. But God cannot do what is logically impossible. He cannot make a square circle or a one-ended stick. So can God make a rock so big that he cannot lift it? No."
Can you see the problem here? First, let's see what Jesus himself says in Mark chapter 10, verse 27: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” What I read to you a moment ago was an attempt to reduce God's ultimate power to fit the confines of flawed human logic. Jesus says that all things are possible, not just what is humanly logically possible. So if God wanted to make a square circle or a one-ended stick, it's definitely within his power to do so. And then comes the age-old question: can God make a rock so big that he cannot lift it? God, in his ultimate power can create a rock of any weight, and lift a rock of any weight. That's the only answer there is for that question. And when it comes right down to it, any miracle of God's is a logical impossibility according to human reason, because it goes against what we call the laws of nature.
Ultimately there is one thing, and one thing only that God cannot do: he cannot deny his own existence. That's what the Bible tells us in 2 Timothy chapter 2, verse 13: "...he cannot deny himself."
When we consider God's power, we have to remember that God does not act in an arbitrary manner. He does not exert his power simply because he can do it. He does it according to his grace, according to his undeserved and unearned love for us. This is why our focus is on Jesus Christ, and him alone. This is the motive behind the miracles Jesus did amongst the people.
If we go to chapter 6 of Mark's Gospel, verse 34 reads: "...he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them...." The compassion Jesus felt for the people was more than just a simple, "aw, that's too bad." He was very deeply moved both emotionally and physically. He loved the people with a type of love only God could demonstrate.
So in an immediate sense, Jesus feeds the 5,000 men and their families. And then after today's incident where he walks on the water and stills the storm, he goes to Gennesaret, where the people literally mob him to be healed. Even those who touched his garment experienced healing from Jesus. He is exercising his divine power according to his love for the people.
As we look at ourselves, we are victims of faulty human logic, not that much different from what we see the disciples doing on that boat. We forget that God has ultimate power over everything in this world. Nothing is impossible for him, and we have to believe that, even when it goes against all forms of human understanding and reason.
The compassion of Jesus is brought down on a personal level to you and me as individuals. He knows our sinful condition. He knows our weaknesses. He knows our skepticism. He knows our frustration.
And so he tells us, each and every one of us, the words of comfort recorded in Matthew chapter 11, verses 27-30: "28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
When we put our faith in Jesus our Saviour, we know that our sins are forgiven, and that he has restored us to life, which will take us into eternal glory. Even though the disciples on that boat didn't understand the ultimate power Jesus displayed, we can learn from their lesson. When the disciples were terrified, Jesus gives them a very simple yet profound answer: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Remember that we live in a world full of skeptics, and we certainly can number ourselves amongst them. People will try to convince us that God could not create a world in six days, or try to find answers to miracles that will fit into the limited confines of human logic and reason. Instead of believing that Jesus did in fact walk on the water, people will waste their time looking for the rocks, or the pieces of ice, or whatever would explain away God's almighty power.
But when we look to God alone, we see what his power has done according to his grace. The God who created a world in six days out of nothing by the power of his word is the same God who has planted the seed of faith into our souls by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Saviour who walked on the water, is the same Saviour who has given us new birth through water and the Word, so that we will be delivered from this sinful and skeptical world to the mansions of heaven that have been prepared for us. That love of God and that gift of faith is the miracle we have experienced through Jesus Christ our Lord.