"Boat Stories"

June 24, 2018 + Pentecost 5B


There are three “boat stories” in the Gospel of Mark.  They are stories about adventure and taking risks, stories about fear and faith, stories about you and me and God, and the kingdom of God that is unfolding today in our very presence.


The first story is found in today's gospel reading.  Jesus has been teaching in parables to the crowds, and as the day ends he decides that it's time to move along, to cross the sea of Galilee.  So, they board a boat and set out for a new destination.  As they begin their journey Jesus finds a comfortable place to lie down and get some sleep.  After a while, a great wind storm arises and soon the water is rough, real rough.  The boat is tossed about the violent sea and begins to take on water.  The disciples become afraid, they think that they are about to die, so they begin to shake Jesus, they want him to wake up, "Do you not care that we are perishing?"  Jesus wakes up and speaks to the wind and the sea, "Peace! Be still!"  And suddenly there is a great calm.  Jesus then asks the disciples,"Why are you afraid, where is your faith?" 


Two chapters later they are ready to set sail on the sea again.  Once again Jesus is speaking to the crowds.  This time he teaches them until late into the day, and they get hungry.  So, Jesus decides that they should all be fed, - all five thousand plus.  The disciples quickly protest, "We don't have enough money to feed all these people?"  Jesus asks, "What food do we have?" The disciples look around and gather up what they can find, "Just five loaves of bread, and two fish."  Jesus then takes the bread and fish, and looking up to heaven, he gives thanks.  He then begins to break off bread and pieces of fish, and hands them over to the crowd. And all are fed, all five thousand, and when all have finished there are twelve baskets of leftovers! 


Jesus then puts the disciples on a boat and sends them to the other side of the sea.  He tells them to go ahead and that he will meet the later.  So, the disciples put out to sea.  And things are going well until evening sets and a strong wind rises up and they find themselves with some tough rowing.    All night they fight the wind and the sea, but they are making little progress.  Then early in the morning they look out and see this figure walking towards them - on the water.  They quickly decide that it must be a ghost and they become afraid.  Who wouldn't be?  The ghost continues to come toward the boat, the disciples are getting worried, and then the ghost speaks, "Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid."  Finally, the disciples realize that it's no ghost, it's Jesus.  Jesus climbs into the boat and the wind ceases.  And this story ends with the curious line, "They were astounded, they did not understand about the loaves, their hearts were hardened."  They seem to have forgotten about the wind, the rough seas, and the ghost.  They are consumed once again by the miracle of the bread, they do not understand the abundance of the kingdom of God.


And one more boat story in Chapter Eight.  (My favorite story!)  This story begins much the same as the last one, Jesus is teaching the crowds somewhere out in the wilderness desert, away from homes and food.  The disciples ask Jesus to send them all home before it gets too late, because there's not enough food for everybody.  But once again Jesus wants to feed them all.  And once again the disciples are worried and complain, "But how can we feed all these people here in the desert?  All we have is seven loaves of bread."  So, Jesus takes the seven loaves, and a few fish that are found, looks up to heaven and give thanks, and then begins to break off pieces and hands them out to the crowd.  (Does this sound familiar?)  And once again, all ate and were filled, and after the meal there were seven baskets of leftovers.  All together 4,000 people were fed that day.


After the crowd leaves, Jesus and the disciples get on a boat and head out to sea, setting sail for a new destination.  All of the sudden the disciples are worried about something. It seems they had forgotten to load the boat with supplies, and get this, - they only have one loaf of bread. Whatever are they going to do? How will they eat?  There's not enough for everybody!  (They have really short memories) Eventually Jesus becomes aware of their worries, "Why are you talking about having no bread?  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes that cannot see?  Do you have ears that cannot hear?  Do you not remember?  When I broke the five loaves and fed five thousand, how many baskets were left over?” The disciples answered, "Well, twelve."  "And when I blessed the seven loaves and fed four thousand, how many baskets were left over?" The disciples answered, "Uh, Seven."  “Why are you still talking about having no bread?  Do you not yet understand?  Don't worry, remember and be filled with faith!"  Don't be afraid, remember and be filled with faith!"


These boat stories from the Gospel of Mark certainly don't flatter the disciples. Their response to the Word of God and to the ministry of Jesus never seems to overcome their worries and their fears.  Their hearts are hardened, they can't believe it, they just don't get it.  In the midst of the abundance of God, in the midst of all the leftovers, in the midst of everything literally overflowing, they are always still worried about “having enough.”  I suppose they might have thought that their eyes have played tricks on them, that their ears had heard wrong, that's it's all just too good to be true.  Whatever the case, worry and fear always seem to find their way into their life.  It seems that “Fear” is always easier to hold onto than “faith.”  


So, what about today, what do these “boat stories” have to do with us? Well, I suppose we too are on an adventure, following Jesus into uncharted territory, by paths yet untrodden, through events yet unknown.  And we too have fears that perhaps there just isn’t enough, enough resources, enough space, - enough to include the other, the homeless, the immigrant, the stranger.  And even though God has brought us this far by faith, it’s still hard for us to take “leaps of faith,” not really knowing where we are going, and what it might look and feel like when we get there. And even though we have stories of faith to which we can cling, even though God has brought us through life’s storms before, even though God has stayed faithful to us, and even though God has always been present throughout all of life’s changes, even though God always provides; sometimes it just doesn’t make the storm that surrounds us now, the circumstances that challenges us now, and the inevitable change that is before us now, any easier.  


Once again it seems that “fear” is always easier to hold onto than “faith.” Just like the disciples, how quickly we forget, how quickly we forget the good graces of God.  Even though our eyes have seen it before, even though our ears have heard it all before, and even though our heart has been touched profoundly; in the midst of the storm, in the face of a challenge, at the beginning of a new adventure, we find ourselves wondering, “Is there enough bread for the journey?”  “Is this boat big enough to stay afloat in these large waves?”  “Is Jesus still with us?”  


Suddenly the stories about those, ever slow and bumbling disciples found in the Gospel of Mark are not just stories from a long time ago.  They are all too familiar.  “Their story” is indeed “our story” too!  And their story is also God’s story because God never gave up on those disciples.  God doesn’t write them off and move on to a new group of people, but rather God keeps calling them, inspiring them, and reminding them.  And eventually they got it, they found courage in the face of fear, they were blessed with faith in the midst of doubt, they found more than enough bread, and they went out and they helped changed the world.  They embraced a new day, the Kingdom of God at hand, the day of salvation.  And as we gather today, the fullness of their story continues to be our story, in the words spoken by Jesus, "Do not worry or be afraid, but remember and be filled with faith!"  


Remember!  Remember the promise of your baptism.  When times were hard Martin Luther would make the sign of the cross and remember his baptism, he would remember that he was nothing less than the beloved of God.  And – in, with, and through, that promised identity he could face and endure every trial and temptation.  Luther remembered that ultimately, he was loved, and that made every difference.  “Remember and be filled with faith.”


Remember!  Remember those times when scripture, song, and fellowship became that Living Word of God that spoke to the very depths of your heart, inspiring faith and courage, giving you meaning and purpose, blessing you with hope and peace, opening up the very Kingdom of God to you. “Remember and be filled with faith.”


Remember!  Remember those times when storms were stilled, bread was multiplied, and the hungry were fed.  Remember successful “ventures past” in order that “ventures before us” might be met with trust and courage.  Remember the past not for the details but for the confidence.  New adventures are made up of all things becoming new! “Remember and be filled with faith.”


Remember! “Do this in remembrance of me.”  Gather into that faithful community where God is present with “faith-filled people” doing “faith-filled things.”  Re-member the body of Christ, the place and occasion for all good gifts to be put into practice for the sake of those in need, for our own sake, for the sake of the Kingdom.  Re-member by investing in unlikely friendships. Re-member, take the bread and the cup which is poured out for many - for the sake of all the world. “Remember and be filled with faith.”


Remember!  Don't worry about the storms that seem to surround us, don’t worry about this old boat, and don’t worry that we only have one loaf of bread.  The winds will cease, the boat will outlast the waves, and the bread blessed by Christ will be more than enough for the journey.  Remember the boat stories.  “Remember and be filled with faith.” 


Let us pray.  Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths yet untrodden, through events unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Mark 4:35-41


35 When evening had come, (Jesus said to the disciples,) “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”