sermon by Pastor Fred Kinsey
The Land Toward Which They Were Going
And immediately, the boat reached the land toward which they were going. So ends today’s gospel reading. …the boat reached the land toward which it was going. Jesus had fed the large crowd, and as they were about to take him by force to make him king, he went back up to the mountain again by himself, while the disciples got into a boat and started across the sea to Capernaum, home of Peter and Andrew, James and John. It was dark, and the sea became rough.
Nine summers ago, Kim and I boarded a car ferry with Kim’s sister Pam, a somewhat larger boat than Jesus’ disciples were in. We were in the little town of Galilee, in the littlest state of Rhode Island, by the beach they summered on as kids, on the very southern tip of the Ocean State, about to head out on the open ocean to Block Island. It was a particularly gloomy morning, that yet held promise for a fair afternoon.
Kim loves the ocean breeze, and led us out to the front of the boat to experience the rush of wind, and the thrill of the journey. But, as we left the protected cove, the swells were up 8, to 10 feet, and her usual joy was overcome by seasickness. Green at the gills, she headed for maximum stability, which was the humid, dark, airless stall of the head, in the middle of the boat, in the middle of the sea. There she gripped the bowl and kept repeating last Sunday’s gospel word, the last word we had shared with our Michigan congregation of 20 years, before leaving them in transition to find new life in Chicago:
“and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
And immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going…”
For the rest of the Ferry ride, she found herself repeating this promise desperately, to the bob of the swells, and then blessedly, the boat reached the dock on Block Island, the land toward which it was going. The motion ceased, and graciously, the sun came out.
If any of you are feeling seasick today, a little landless, a little unsettled over open waters, it’s understandable! It’s summer in Chicago, and though we want to be outside, things like gang-related shootings can make you feel queasy; Social Services closing down here in our neighborhood, can strike fear in the hearts of its clients; not enough jobs, or good paying ones, breeds hopelessness. There are any number of things which can send us down below, to hang on for dear life! We wonder toward what land, the little boat of our churches, is going.
It’s an unsettled time of change in our country, in our churches, maybe in your life. That’s how it was for Kim and I, in the time in-between calls, with no real place to call home, out at sea in the 12 foot swells, clinging to a promise. To Jesus’ promise. Toward what land are we going? What are the signs, giving us direction?
When we get into this boat with the disciples today, on John’s Sea of Galilee, we’ve already had a busy year swinging with Jesus’ life-giving promises, riding the swells, in times of trouble.
But while they were there, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, in territory considered hostile, there was a hillside, newly green and grassy. It was just before the spring feast of Passover. Just about the time for the feast that celebrated the new life Israel received, when death passed over them, and set them free from slavery. It was the time which recalled their journey towards the Promised Land, the land toward which they were going and God’s walk with them in the wilderness. Now, no wild animals would come upon them during Jesus’ meal. No bandits would come to snatch their possessions. They could eat at leisure, enjoy the meal in safety. They were satisfied.
But when Jesus realized the crowd was about to come and take him by force to make him king, seeing the Messiah in his feeding miracle, he disappeared into the mountain wilderness by himself, because it was not yet his time, and because he was not anyone’s personal food dispensing machine.
They had skewed the miracle of the bread and the fishes into something it wasn’t, and did not yet understand where the abundance came from. That the goodness and newness, came from God. The satisfaction of our basic hungers and thirsts, come from God. The safety, comes from dwelling in God’s presence; from sitting ourselves down in trust with outstretched hands, in need of God’s gifts, invited to the Promised Land, to which we are going.
Could they come to understand that the means by which God cares for the world, comes from our spirit of sharing, being one with Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, as stewards of generosity, knowing that what we have, has come from God, and that we are going toward the land God promises?
When evening came, and his disciples went down by the sea, they got into a boat, and started back across the sea, to Capernaum, their home. They didn’t know where any of this was headed. Darkness had come, they were landless, and Jesus had still not come to them.
The sea – as Lake Tiberias can – suddenly became rough; a strong wind was blowing. They rowed. And rowed. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus, walking on the sea. Now, the Sea was not water. Not life-giving, renewing water. No-- the Sea was a wild place. Full of untamed chaos and unpredictability. Yet in this story, Jesus did not tame the waves. Jesus did not still the storm. He moved in it. Through it. And the disciples were terrified. They did not know where Jesus, this Jesus who moved through the storm, had come from.
Don’t be afraid, Jesus said. It is I.
The disciples wanted him, in the boat! Who wouldn’t want Jesus in their boat, as we row, row, row on the sea of life, journeying through the wild sea to the promised land?! The land toward which we are going.
Did they understand? About the living water? About the abundance of wine, their fill of bread, when they hungered and thirsted on the way?
How hard it is to understand, in the turmoil of troubles, in the midst of the storm – to understand the healing graces, or the awesome glory. How Jesus can make use of even meagre gifts, for the life of not just those in the boat, and on the hillside, but bless these offerings to the world God loves.
But somehow, as they leaned hard into the promise, into Jesus, they must have known, as we must know, that these are, our signposts on the way to new life, on the way to the place that Jesus leads us. Goes before us. Walks beside us.
Don’t be afraid, Jesus said. It is I! Jesus moves in the storms, through the storms, with us. And immediately, the boat reached the land toward which they were going. They reached the shore they were bound for.