Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 6:45–6:56
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Ephesians 3:14-21; Mark 6:45-56; Genesis 9:8-17
The Olympic Summer Games have begun over in London, an event that must have required untold hours of preparation – not just for the hosting nation, but for all those athletes who are competing. In the gymnastics events, I’m amazed by the skill of those who do routines on the balance beam. They’ve got about 16 feet of a four-inch-wide surface to work with for everything that they need to do. They spend years honing their abilities, putting one foot in front of the other, always keeping focus on where they stand in relation to the beam that’s holding them up. If they should lose their footing – have their grip slip – they risk not only a loss in the competition but the potential for serious injury. It’s a good thing, then, that they all can train on a standard-size equipment, so that they don’t have to divert their focus towards figuring out where they’ll have to stand or land every time they mount a different balance beam. They are able to demonstrate phenomenal control in their routines because, in part, they have a reliable foundation. But could you imagine if they didn’t? How much harder would it be if the size of the beam kept changing, or if there were gaps in it? How could you even put one foot in front of the other if you don’t know where it’s going to land?
Chaos abounds. It comes with confusion and disorder, destruction and collapse. Chaos might spring up on you suddenly, as it did at a movie theater in Colorado a week ago. In moments, lives there were stolen away or profoundly changed, with families and civic communities looking for solid footing. In other places, chaos slowly but steadily mounts for years and years as its presence becomes more widely felt. It can happen on the global stage, as regional conflicts or economic declines spread to involve larger players, but it’s just as like to be going on in our homes and workplaces when unresolved tensions or selfish actions escalate the disintegration of those relationships or institutions that bring balance and stability. As our country is gearing up for another presidential election, the political scene looks to be more about tearing down than building up. The past few weeks, in particular, have displayed challenges and downright opposition to the free expression of ideas that once was a foundation for the American way of life. There doesn’t seem to be any limit to the chaos in our world. It can happen anytime, anywhere.
Where’s the chaos in your life? Its origin might be in the choices that you are making, just as easily as it comes at you from outside sources. Whatever it might be and whatever its cause, chaos leaves behind an emotional, physical, and spiritual environment that can feel unstable and uncertain. Chaos from within or without can stagger you and leave you grasping for something solid. So what can you do about it, especially when the chaos is so often outside of your ability to control?
Hear this good news: God is greater than chaos! Each of the appointed readings today is pointing us ahead in some way with that word of encouragement. Look back at Genesis 9: God isn’t just making a promise to Abraham and his sons, but to all people and creatures on the land that need solid ground to survive. The Lord had driven back the waters that had cleansed the world in the Flood, and He would keep them in check. In the ancient near east, the great waters of the ocean were an embodiment of chaos: ever-changing, the ocean held the constant threat of danger. The people considered it to be the dwelling place of evil. And turning to the Gospel text, we hear Mark’s account of how Jesus literally stomps chaos underfoot. He can walk on the water of the windy Sea of Galilee because he is the God who put that sea there in the first place. When his disciples see a figure on the water and mistake him for a sinister spirit, Jesus calls to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Another way of translating that would be “Take heart; I AM.” Jesus points to his divine identity as Yahweh, using the name that God revealed to Moses from the burning bush: I Am Who I Am. God is at work, in action. In their weariness from fighting the wind and the waves, in their confusion from seeing Jesus feeding at least 5,000 people earlier that day, and in their hard-heartedness, the disciples missed it. They failed to comprehend just who Jesus is. Even still, God acted for them against the chaos of the world.
God gives courage against chaos. With Noah, we hear how God repurposes the rainbow to encourage, making it a sign of His covenant with the world. It’s a reminder amidst the rain that falls that God will be faithful to His promise to sustain and preserve – especially since the rainbow can’t appear independent of the rain that once flooded the earth. The rainbow would henceforth point the people to God’s hesed, His covenant faithfulness. That’s the same “steadfast love” that Psalm 136 speaks of in its refrain. God’s faithfulness to His promises endures forever, even as everything else in the world might be uncertain. [I happened to see a colossal, unbroken rainbow stretching across the horizon after a storm this week out near Warrenton, and was reminded as to how God continually provides for us!] On the Sea of Galilee, Jesus passes by the disciples to encourage them and strengthen them in their weariness. It’s not that Jesus meant to sneak past the men in the boat and they accidentally caught sight of him; rather, he was going near them expressly so that they would see him and know that God was there for them. As God passed by Moses on the mountain to encourage him, so Jesus went out to his close companions to build them up. Throughout Mark’s Gospel, we see God in action and Jesus, God-With-Us, lives up to his identity.
Living in Christ Jesus, then, you can live in a chaotic world. This is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians, a word of encouragement to remind them –and you and me, too– to look to Jesus in all our living. Paul points us to how we can now put one front in front of the other to move ahead in life because we have a firm foundation in faith. You can depend in Jesus, I AM, who has shown his power and willingness to sustain over and against chaos. You can live rooted and grounded in love. God’s love isn’t just a noun, but an action. Like His name, Yahweh, I Am Who I Am, God’s love is self-giving action and not selfish as ours is inclined to be. In God’s loving, you can have a root, nourishment for building up your faith and for surviving through a world that would seek to drag you down into chaos. Grounded in love, you have a foundation that lasts. In his covenant faithfulness against chaos and our sin, Jesus takes on your confusion and disorder, your destruction and collapse, and he bears it on the cross. Even more so than a rainbow, you can look to the cross for a reminder of God’s faithfulness. There, you can start to comprehend the scope and nature of God’s love. There, you have a firm footing and solid grounding even though the rest of the world shift and change.
The Lord answers Paul’s prayer and our prayers for encouragement and strength, for Christ dwells in the hearts of his people through faith. Chaos cannot drive him away, because he stomps chaos under foot. Your God is not distant. He is passing by for you. This weekend as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is passing by to give us what we need in a world where chaos abounds. Rooted and grounded in God’s love, you can put one foot in front of the other in confidence, for God is faithful. The Lord who created the heavens and earth is greater than chaos, and His steadfast love endures forever.