A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on July 30, 2006.
Based on Mark 6:45-52 (Proper 12, Year B).
If there is one thing we learn from that well-known parable of the Good Samaritan, it’s that we should stop. It’s that we should not pass by those who are in any kind of need or trouble. It’s a pretty basic tenet of the Christian faith and it’s just general good citizenship.
Now I realize we didn’t just hear the parable of the Good Samaritan. And it doesn’t come up again in our Sunday cycle of readings until next July. But I bring this up because in this morning’s passage Jesus doesn’t appear to practice what he preaches: he doesn’t stop. Immediately after feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, he sends the disciples into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. While they’re out on the water, a gale-force wind kicks up. And the next thing we know, Jesus is walking on water.
But what’s intriguing about this encounter, what’s been ringing in my ears all week, is the line, “He intended to pass them by.” Which seems to go against everything we know about Jesus. He’s supposed to help those in need. He’s supposed to be the Good Shepherd. He’s supposed to help the Samaritan on the side of the road. He’s supposed to stop. But in this case, “he intended to pass them by.” Which seems somehow out of character.
But only until we examine the story in a bit more detail. Jesus’ constant presence with us is not only one of his defining traits, it says much about the very nature of God. And the point Jesus is making to the disciples is that his physical presence is irrelevant. He is always with them. Whether he is in the boat or out of the boat or walking towards them or intending to pass them by. The presence of God is bigger than all of this. Jesus is with them, and with us, no matter the circumstances. That’s the true miracle here. Something more miraculous even than walking on water. Precisely how Jesus’ presence in our lives can transcend all time and space and proximity is pure mystery and pure miracle. But the reality is that Jesus is always present with us. Forever offering us love and comfort and relationship.
So Jesus’ intention to “pass them by” has something to do with trust. Because it was the disciples who felt they were in danger, not Jesus. Jesus knew things would be fine, that they would survive this tempest and perhaps even gain some confidence in their ability to weather the storm. But they don’t trust Jesus. They don’t trust Jesus’ ability to care for them unless he is physically in the boat with them. They let their fear get the best of them.
And of course we do the same thing. Despite the miracles, despite our past relationship with Jesus, when the next storm comes, and it always does, we cling to one another in fear rather than trusting Jesus. I’m not sure why we do this. Maybe it simply has something to do with being human.
In a way, you can understand the disciples’ confusion on this issue. For them, Jesus’ physical presence was a great reassurance. Jesus lived with them and walked among them. But at a certain point, Jesus needed to teach them that even though he wouldn’t always physically be with them, he would never leave them; he would never forsake them. They couldn’t always cling to the physical Jesus like a security blanket. They would have to let go – the crucifixion would make this painfully clear. But even death on a cross couldn’t change the indissoluble bond between Jesus and his disciples. He was still with them, even to the end of the ages.
After the resurrection, Jesus says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” That’s for us. We’re the ones who have not physically seen Jesus. We never ate with him or saw his miracles first-hand; he never washed our feet or spoke to us. And yet he does. And yet he is just as present with us as he was with the first disciples. Which, again, is the miraculous mystery of faith.
Jesus’ promise is that he will always be with us. And so as real as our fear feels when we encounter the storms of this life, it is ultimately unwarranted. Because Jesus is always present with us through it all; and he never passes us by.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2006