10 March 2019 Walking on Water Martin Baker
Our reading this morning starts off with the words ‘now when Jesus heard this”
So let’s remember what Jesus heard. And you almost need a white board and arrows to follow what has happened. In the verses just before our reading today, Jesus has heard the news that his relative John the Baptist had been arrested and executed by Herod.
Herod was the representative of the Roman Government in the area. And John the Baptist was the one who had told everyone to prepare for the coming of Jesus. John was the son of Elizabeth who was a cousin to Mary the mother of Jesus.
We remember way back when Jesus was born. This is where it gets a bit confusing. Herod the Great had instructed that young children in the area be found and killed. Jesus’ birth was presented as a threat to the enormous power of Herod the Great.
So the Herod we hear about in the Christmas stories, was Herod the Great. Amongst his many building achievements, historical records tell us that he was extraordinarily brutal ruler of the region on behalf of Rome. He had some of his wives, some of his sons and many of his officials executed, at various times, for threatening his power.
One of Herod’s sons was also called Herod. He was not a very nice person either.
Herod married the wife of his half-brother who was also his niece. To make things a little more confusing, her name was Herodias.
John the Baptist was very critical of this marriage. Herod was a Jew as well, and John the Baptist said that his actions were contrary to Jewish law. Eventually John gets arrested and it seems that at a birthday party Herod promises Herodias’s daughter, Salome anything she wants. In a bizarre move, she requests John the Baptist’s head on a platter. And so John is executed.
So the story of John’s execution is the story that Jesus hears just prior to our reading today.
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." 16 Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." 17 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." 18 And he said, "Bring them here to me." 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. 22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." 28 Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29 He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God.
Let us pray
I’m with city people and they say isn’t it a wonderful summer. Warm and it hasn’t rained for weeks.
And I am with country people. And they say the land is looking very dry. And our water tanks are getting too low. I hope it rains again really soon.
You see things in different kinds of ways depending on where you are standing.
A lot of the time that is not so important.
A couple of weeks ago we visited the Thames mining school museum. Fascinating. The people there have a passion for rocks and can spend hours talking about rocks. You walk straight out of the museum and there’s one of those model railways. And there were people there who love driving those miniature trains around and around on those little tracks. And they too can spend hours talking about their passion.
We have different views about a lot of things. What we like to do in the weekend, what we like to eat, wear, watch and play. Almost all those things are good things that add to the colour and diversity of our lives.
But our gospel story today isn’t about these kinds of differences.
The stark comparison in our reading today is between the Herod story and the Jesus story. The Jesus view and the disciples view.
In setting these contrasts the Gospel is asking us a question. How are we seeing things?
If we are overwhelmed by fear, that is going to change how we see many things.
If we have a lot of money and power, that can change how we see things. If we are poor and pushed to the edge, that can change how we see things. If we are hungry, or unwell or find ourselves in a dark deserted place. If we think we are not going to get our share. If we are sinking.
Where we are standing, how we are seeing things, those are the questions that run through our reading this morning.
How do Herod Herodias and Salome see things?
How does Jesus, his disciples and the crowds that follow him, see things.
Different options. Different choices. Contrasts.
Both Herod and Jesus host lavish banquets, but one is an exercise in the murderous debauchery of human rulers, the other in gentle care for hungry masses in the wilderness.
If you were in one banquet or the other. Would the people at Herod’s banquet be laughing, nodding, agreeing with each other. Good to be around. A man with all that power. He can just order the execution of some crazy God man. One banquet ends in death and one in life. We can all speak, act, think, use our money in different ways. What does that say about where our faith is located?
Our reading starts off with Jesus hearing about what has happened to John the Baptist. In response, Jesus goes to a deserted place by himself.
We are told that the crowds followed him on foot from the town. Jesus saw a great crowd and he had compassion on them and cured their sick.
He had compassion on them and cured the sick.
The word for compassion in Greek is splack ni zomai. It comes from a word meaning guts. It’s not a head response. It’s not like saying Jesus felt sorry for them. It’s much more a sense of the gut rendering response that compels you to action. It’s an uncommon word in our scriptures. It is used when the father sees his prodigal son returning. And welcomes him home. It is used when the Samaritan sees the beaten and naked man on the side of the road and stops to help and heal and restore. Doing the thing you must do that changes the future for another.
So we have Herod with all his power on his birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”
And then this other profoundly different world view. Jesus with all his power is followed by the crowds away from the city, he has compassion on them and cured the sick.
We are being invited to stand in these different worlds. To see through these different eyes.
It is not an accident that these stories are located one after the other.
And then after the healing of their bodies, in the evening these crowds follow him into this isolated place.
For the disciples the evening in the wilderness is a problem - they tell Jesus to “send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
Their advice may seem prudent, it’s logical, thoughtful, but their perspective is resolutely human. They are thinking in terms of scarcity and self-interest.
But remember this story is about something different. It is about abundance of God’s kingdom.
, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." 16 Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." 17 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." 18 And he said, "Bring them here to me." 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled;
So again we have these contrasts.
The disciples see a problem. Deserted place, crowds, night time. They provide a simple answer. Send them back to the towns. Let them find food for themselves.
And Jesus says, they need not go away. You give them something to eat.
We see a problem which we understand in terms of scarcity.
We see a problem, there is not enough, it’s dark, where in a deserted place and our solution is a reaction to our fear of not having enough. And our pragmatic solution is to send the crowds away.
Think of the decisions we make when we start from point of scarcity. Of fear, of not having enough. We don’t have enough money. We don’t have enough time. We can’t see how that’s going to work out. Think of the different decisions we make when we start from a point of view of blessing and abundance. The generosity of those who have the least and the meanness of those who have accumulated so much.
The decisions you make.
Battered by the waves, far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."
"Lord, save me!" 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God.
Drunk on power and affluence and the terrible decisions that follow.
Finding the practical solutions that seem reasonable but really speak of our insecurities and our sense of scarcity.
The places of fear that can so often see the world as a threatening dangerous place.
Lord, save me!" 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.
So this morning where are we located? Where are we standing? How are we seeing things?
And sometimes it’s a hard thing to see beyond the doubt and the grief. Sometimes all we can see is limitation and sacristy. But the Gospel tells a new story. The fish, the bread. We are the receivers of such abundance. We can risk. In the wilderness. In the dark places. In the storms, even when you start to sink. Have courage. Take heart, it is I; Jesus says. Do not be afraid. Have faith. And even when you start to sink, hold out your hand. Jesus is there. AMEN
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