Do not be afraid
Psalm 14; John 6:16-21
Today the assigned gospel reading moves from Mark to John, written much later, after years of tried and tempered discipleship and reflection.
We’re going to embark on several weeks of reflection on our own discipleship through John’s eyes, deeply theological, more contemplative, and less narrative than Mark’s
Mark tells stories, John adds meaning for a people distanced in time from Jesus’ life.
Todays story follows the well-known tale about Jesus feeding 5000 people with five loaves and two fish, and it’s followed by a long teaching about the metaphor of bread, that Chris will be focusing on the next couple of weeks. The miraculous feeding story is the only miracle to make it into all four gospels; but each of them also has some version of the storm on the sea of Galilee. In John’s gospel the two are connected. This little five verse incident interrupts the whole bread image. Why? I wonder.
Here’s the connecting link: verse 14-15
When the people saw the miracle, they said, This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
The connection is an issue of identity. Who is this Jesus? Is he a prophet from God, which we sorely need? Or the one who’s going to free us from Roman oppression as our new king?
The way John puts together his gospel suggests this Jesus is much more. And I think that might be why he puts this little storm story in where he does. It challenges me to wonder, just who IS this Jesus we say we’re following?
Let’s first go through the story using our minds….
(Bible) When evening came, the disciples went down to the sea, got in the boat and started out towards Capernaum. Jesus has gone off by himself to pray—when things go awry Jesus turns to God. They’re left to their own devices so they do what they know how to do, get in a boat and head home.
It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. Remember, this is written for people who had been waiting for Jesus’ return to earth ever since he’d left, and they were wondering why he’d not come back the way he’d promised.
The sea became rough because of a strong wind; they rowed about three or four miles. That’s a lot of hard work. I wonder if it means that when things go awry, disciples turn to their own efforts and just row all the harder? Or if it’s an affirmation of the importance of working together to face the hard stuff?
They saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat. Ah here’s the question - who is this Jesus we say we’re following? This is someone who can walk on water, who can tame the wild element of what’s known in ancient times as “the deep”, who can trample on the dwelling of monsters that can engulf people with its strength.
This is not just a meek and mild Jesus who feeds us and fixes us and comforts us when we’re hungry or sick or lonely.
This is not Jesus the healer, this is not Jesus the feeder. This is the Cosmic Christ. No wonder they were terrified. They are confronted with something much bigger, more awesome, more powerful than they ever imagined.
And it’s confirmed when Jesus says, It is I, do not be afraid. Now here’s something interesting. What the Greek that John writes in actually says is ego eimi. I am.
Now throughout the gospel of John there are “I am” statements galore, but always with a noun. I am the bread of life, I am the door I am the good shepherd and so on. But here, just “I am”.
Those of you who know something of the Bible will know that in Hebrew that’s the given meaning of the Divine, the unpronounceable name of God, transliterated Yahweh. No wonder he can walk on water. John is letting us know that we disciples have chosen to associate ourselves with something much bigger than someone who runs a soup kitchen or offers free health care.
And that’s not too comfortable for me. When we are confronted with something of the awesomeness of the divine, it can be scary. But even then, do not be afraid says Jesus.
And as soon as they realize that it’s the same person, they want to invite him into the boat. But somehow or other – another miracle – they’re already safe by the shore.
So there’s some of the head stuff about this story.
Now let’s try something a little more meditative—getting out of our heads and into our souls. Never mind the details of the story, let’s more fully and imaginatively enter the story, open ourselves to what God might be saying to our souls, not just our minds.
You might want to close your eyes, or look at the image on the screen, but try to put yourself in the same boat as these disciples.
You know the Jesus who feeds the hungry and cares for the sick. You know he sometimes seems close and sometimes seems to leave you to your own devices. And you go about your life with questions about what following him really means, sometimes they’re in the forefront of your mind, at other times pushed back in the face of darkness, or the winds and storms of life, when it’s all you can do to keep going forward.
The sea became rough and a strong wind was blowing. What winds are you rowing against?
Jesus had not yet come to them. Do you sometimes wonder where God got to? Left you alone to battle life?
They saw Jesus walking on the water and coming near the boat When has Jesus come unexpectedly to you? In our psalm today we are assured that God is always looking for those who’re looking for God, even in times of despair. So Jesus comes near.
and they were terrified. Is there a sense that Jesus coming close to your boat is frightening? What about this Jesus you follow is scary? Just what does it mean for your life to know who Jesus beyond the comforting and comfortable?
It is I; do not be afraid. Jesus tells us that the same Jesus we know and love is also much bigger than we think, but that isn’t cause for fear; rather it is a source of power. (music)
do not be afraid of the wind or the storm, Jesus comes close.
do not be afraid of the holy, Jesus comes close, with power
do not be afraid to follow, to invite him into your boat
do not be afraid, the God of the cosmos, is with you.
(song) do not be afraid I am with you