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Worship Theme: How does God protect us?

Sermon Theme: Take Courage! Don’t Be Afraid!

Tony was staring at his MacBook with squinting eyes and sweating brow. As he frantically scrolled up and down on the screen, he kept thinking, “This can’t be right! How could this have happened?” He could feel his panicked heartbeat as he weighed whether he should wake up his wife. How could it be that Tony, a financial professional, got it so wrong in his investments? How could they have lost so much money? How could they now enjoy their soon-coming retirement? How could he have been so foolish! He should have known better! Embarrassed by his mistakes as a professional, he sat quietly, sulking in shame and fear all night.

Katie was staring at her phone, desperately searching for something to make her feel better. But no funny TikToks, no Googled blogs, no silly Instagram posts seemed to help. When I say Katie barely made it through high school, I mean she barely crawled across the finish line. Every day of school was a chore, battling anxiety and feeling like a mental break could happen at any moment (especially in a full year of COVID). Knowing she was about to go to a huge college with all new people at a time when COVID might be surging back made Katie feel like she was swimming against a riptide in the ocean. She was tired and terrified.

Amaya was staring in the rearview mirror at the stoplight. Her hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly as if her grip would help hold back the tears. In the mirror she saw her beloved children. She would do anything for them. She did do anything for them. But why was yet another doctor’s visit setting her off the edge? Maybe because her husband worked so hard and faithfully to support the family and she scrambled to cart around the kids so much that they rarely ever communicated. Maybe because she felt so alone even though she had a house full of family. Maybe because she was so exhausted and exasperated and she felt like she was drowning.

Craig was staring at his doctor in disbelief. His lips were moving but he couldn’t seem to formulate the question, “What do you mean stage 4?” Craig was only about halfway across the sea of life at age 40. He thought he had a lot more rowing to go on his journey, but now he had a sinking feeling realizing that his ship was going down, so to speak. “Doc, do I have any hope at all?” he managed to ask.

If it weren’t so awkward, I’d ask you to turn and look around at the people next to you and near you in church. Here we come each week, prim and proper, rowing along on life’s journey. But we all live in a world broken by sin, which means each of us has a story. Each of us has hurt. Each of us has a reason we feel like we are just spinning our oars, getting nowhere, or like water is pouring into the boat and we’re drowning. What is it that frustrates you, that hurts your heart so much? What storms have you feeling tattered and battered, so tired, so weak, and so worn?

The gospel today from Mark 6 is no allegory or parable. It’s a real-life story and event that really happened. Yet what the disciples experienced is so typical to us all, isn’t it? It had been a day. How could they even sort out their feelings? Last week we heard that thousands had swarmed to Jesus. Jesus used the opportunity not only to feed body and soul, but also to teach his disciples. They were ignorant when Jesus asked them to feed the crowd and they were dumbfounded when they collected leftovers after five loaves of bread and two small fish fed more than 5,000. What a miracle!

Now they were on their way across the Sea of Galilee as Jesus took some time alone to pray. But on their way, a storm broke out as happened so often on that sea. A trip that should’ve taken 2-3 hours was now stalled out completely. The other gospel accounts tell us that they were only about halfway across the lake (roughly 3-3.5 miles) and that by this time it was somewhere between 3am and 6am. Today we heard how they were “straining at the oars” because the wind was against them. After all they had been through that day—and even bigger picture than that—after dropping everything to follow Jesus, they must have been so tired, so weak, so worn as they were tattered and battered by those waves.

The story is strangely quiet about the disciples. Wouldn’t you think that after Jesus fed over 5,000 with a few leftovers just hours before, wouldn’t you think that at least someone would say, “It’ll be OK brothers. Jesus will help get us through this. He told us to go to the other side, so we’ll make it there!” Wouldn’t you think that we would hear about the disciples encouraging each other. Maybe the professional fishermen—Peter, Andrew, James, and John— would’ve turned to their left or right and encouraged the landlubbers like tax collector Matthew or Simon the Zealot patriot. “Hey guys, God gave us knowledge in this area. We’ll tell you what to do so we can get through this.” Or wouldn’t you even think that when Jesus walked out to them, they would breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Ah the Lord or is here! Phew!” Instead, they all cried out in fear because they thought he was a ghost. Really? After all those guys had seen and heard so far, it didn’t occur to one of the 12 that this could be Jesus? It’s no wonder Mark tells us this, “for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” No kidding. It’s not that they were unbelievers. It just really didn’t sink in yet who Jesus was and what he could do. They lost their focus and forgot about Jesus.

And that, my friends, is what is so relatable. When I am straining against the oars in this life, when I am tired and weak and worn, when I am exhausted and I’ve had enough, when I feel like I’m drowning in life, I must be reminded that I have a much bigger problem. I’m not just drowning in life; I’m drowning in sin. My heart can be so hardened, too. Don’t I get it yet? Don’t I see who Jesus is and what Jesus can do? How could I doubt his knowledge of all things, his control, his perfect plans, his love? Jesus doesn’t come walking to us on water, but he surely comes to us in his Word and in worship. How can we fail to see it as a solution? How can we fail to help and encourage one another as we strain at the oars of life? How can we lose focus and forget?

How good and gracious is our Savior, that he would come to rescue sinners drowning in the sea of life and drowning in a sea of sin and say, Take Courage! Don’t Be Afraid! Why can we have courage? Why not be afraid? I want you to consider several points of God’s unfathomable grace in this story.

For two weeks I’ve been thinking about this story and one phrase that is stuck in my brain is in the very first verse. It says, “Immediately [after feeding the 5,000] Jesus made his disciples get into to the boat.” Jesus told them to go. I find that incredible. He’s God. He knows all things. He knew exactly what would happen. Just like when Jesus asked them to feed 5,000 people and he knew they would be stumped and he knew he was going to show them something, so also Jesus knew there would be a storm. He knew they would be stuck. He knew they would be exhausted and terrified. Yet he sent them because he knew they had something to learn about him. Their hardened hearts needed to see Jesus not just as a miracle man, but as true God and true Savior.

How often do we pause in our tired, weak, and worn moments to think about this? Jesus knows. Jesus knows what you’re going through right now. Jesus knows what you’ll be going through tomorrow. Jesus knows what’s best for you and he knows that sometimes we need to be straining and exhausted and rowing in circles in order to remember who’s really in control. Our tough times in life remind us that Jesus isn’t our good luck charm or a good habit for Sunday mornings. Jesus is our true God and true Savior. Take Courage! Don’t Be Afraid! Because Jesus knows.

Secondly, we should note this phrase in verse 48, “He saw the disciples straining at the oars.” Remember that Jesus was on land praying at the time. But he is true God and he saw. Jesus knew what was going on and he saw what was going on. He knew the disciples needed him.

What comfort for us! Jesus sees you in your need. He sees you wrestling to balance your schedule and keep up with your kids. He sees you tossing and turning in your bed with an unsettled and anxious heart. He sees you and hears your fervent prayers begging for help and begging for healing. Take Courage! Don’t Be Afraid! Because Jesus knows and sees you in your need.

All of that would be fine and good, but quite honestly it wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans unless Jesus actually did something about it. What comfort would it be to you if you had a God who knows your trouble and sees you in need, but did nothing but sit on his heavenly recliner binging shows on Netflix? This is what makes our God so different than any other so called god on the planet. 1) Our God is real, and 2) Our God comes to the rescue for us.

So, the disciples, who seemingly forgot about and lost focus on Jesus, were weary and worn, tired and terrified in the middle of the sea, but what did Jesus do? He knew, he saw, and he saved. “Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down.” Jesus came to the rescue!

Of course, the point of all this and of every miracle is not that Jesus will simply calm your every storm, feed your empty belly or heal your every disease. Jesus certainly can do that. But each miracle of Jesus proves to disciples then and now that Jesus is who he says he is. He is God here in human flesh to rescue us, not from storms but from sin.

What a gracious God! He knew our sin. He saw us drowning in our guilt, but then he came to save us. As the torrents of sin threatened to drown us, Jesus washed the sin away with the flood of his own blood. As the winds and waves of guilt battered against us, Jesus didn’t stand up and say, “Be still.” Rather, he calmed that storm as he hung on a cross and said, “It is finished.”

And even still today Jesus graciously comes to the rescue. His words ring just as clearly and powerfully in the Holy Scriptures. His rescue is just as certain in Holy Baptism. His presences and forgiveness are just as sure in Holy Communion. Take Courage! Don’t Be Afraid! Jesus knows, Jesus sees, Jesus saves!

Friends, it is the confidence and peace of knowing that Jesus rescued us from drowning in sin that gives us the strength to carry on through the storms of life. Your investments might fall apart. COVID might be surging back. Your family life might be exhausting. The doctor might have bad news. But when you hear Jesus say Take Courage! Don’t Be Afraid and when you remember that Jesus knows and sees and saves, that’s when you can have the confidence and courage we heard from the apostle Paul today. Paul was sitting in prison and soon to die, yet he said, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” Whatever comes my way, Jesus will rescue me. Maybe he will heal my hurt. Maybe he will cure my disease. But regardless, I know that he will rescue me and bring me safely to heaven. That is why I can take courage and I am not afraid.

Quick church trivia to conclude. Do you know what the official architectural term is for the place where you all are sitting today? That part of the church is called the nave. Nave comes from the Latin navis which means ship. How appropriate! Note how in God’s house we find rescue and deliverance from the flood of sin, like Noah’s family rescued in the ark. Note how each week we sit side by side in the ship, not only rowing together in in the winds and waves of life, but also side by side so we can encourage and help and support each other on the journey. And one more thing to consider as you sit in the nave, the “ship.” Note something else our forefathers did so well in this design. *Looking to the front* Our eyes are fixed on Jesus. Each time you sit here is but a reminder that as we row through this life, fix your eyes, your ears, and your heart on Jesus. Then you will clearly see him and hear him say, Take Courage! It is I! Don’t Be Afraid! Amen.

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Milwaukee, WI 53202