My first sermon at Christ Church, Stouffville: I AM. Do not be afraid.

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 17
Focus Text: 2 Samuel 11:1-15; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
www.stouffvilleanglican.ca

Good morning. It is good to be here! Thank you for the very warm welcome we received in June, for your prayers, for sharing in my anticipation. I am so unbelievably excited to be serving among you and to be working with Jason! This church is a lot of FUN! Golf tournaments, frolicks, corn boils, barbecues, pantomimes. This is going to be a blast. I’ve spent a quiet first week and every once in a while I go, oh, yeah, this is my place now.

We will get to know one another over the next little while, so I am not going to give you a whole biography today and explain who I am because we would be here until September. Instead, I want to begin right now with Paul’s prayer which we read in Ephesians, offering glory to the God who dwells in and among us, who brings us together, walks in the water with us, and moves us forward.

Almighty God, from the riches of your glory, through the Spirit, strengthen us in our inner selves. Through faith, let Christ live in our hearts. With strong roots in love, let us have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers, that we will know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge, so that we will be filled entirely with the fullness of God. Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.

One thing you will figure out about me and my preaching pretty quickly is I LOVE stories. Especially the stories of our tradition. This morning, we have three incredible stories, stories that are so easy to get sucked into; the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus walking on water, and David, Bathsheba and Uriah. I love to play with the stories, ask, “What if?” or “What would I do?”. And all three of these stories are SO GOOD! We’ll spend a little bit of time with all three. We’ll start with our Gospel and then, yes, we will talk about David’s exploits.

Over the next 5 weeks, we are leaving the gospel of Mark to enter into a particular passage of the gospel of John. It’s a bit of a mind warp, I find. Mark is so concise, to the point, black and white. John is the exact opposite. Dozens of phrases are repeated and loaded with parallel meanings. He takes his time making his point, and takes a long time to get there. Where Mark is prose historian, John is epic poet. God forbid we ever yank a verse of John (let’s say chapter 3 verse 16, just to pull one out of the air) and proclaim it without context. That can land us in a heap of trouble and, what is worse, we can lose so much of the beautiful good news he has to share.

Jesus and his disciples are traveling throughout Israel, on their way to Jerusalem. In John, it’s all about getting to Jerusalem. The disciples have witnessed the healings and miracles. So had many others, and everywhere Jesus went, the crowds grew. Why they are following him we will get to in the next few weeks, and what Jesus has to say about that, but for now, suffice it to say they are following him, and Jesus has compassion for them. He turns to Peter. “Where will we buy food to feed these people?” Now, John tells us Jesus already knows what he is going to do. So, why not just do it? First, this is a teaching moment. Second, he refuses to do it alone. The disciples have been watching. Now it’s Peter and Andrew’s turn to step up.

Some say the miracle was the act of a young boy sharing his bread and fish to inspire others to share their food. Maybe. I think this is more like the Eucharist. Every Sunday, we gather together, we break a single bread, we are all souls are fed; a communal miracle. We see that miracle happening here with loaves and fishes: The people are gathered, Jesus is present, all are fed with leftovers to spare.

After this miracle, the disciples return again to the Sea of Tiberius to journey on to Capernaum. Verse 17 says, “It was already getting dark and Jesus hadn’t come to them yet”. So, where was Jesus? Did he got caught washing the baskets? Good old Jesus always chipping in. When John writes things like, “it was dark” or “Jesus had not yet come”, those aren’t geographical or weather statements. John uses those phrases like Mark uses, “Where is your faith?”, to tell us that the disciples haven’t gotten it yet. Jesus is working on it. And this is one way he does it.

As the disciples set out, a storm comes up and the disciples can’t control the boat. They are being forced further and further out into the lake, about 3 or 4 miles out. While they are all working to keep control of the boat, they see Jesus, walking towards them on the water. And that’s what scares them. Let’s give them a bit of credit, they aren’t afraid of the storm. They are freaked out because they see a guy walking on the stormy water!

In what we read this morning, Jesus responds, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” But there is another way to translate what Jesus is saying. It could be, “Hey! It’s just me. Don’t freak out.” But more than likely, Jesus is saying, “I AM. Don’t be afraid.” I AM, is the old testament name for God. When Moses asked God for a name, God said, “Tell them I AM”.

And so, Jesus says here, “I AM. Don’t be afraid.”

I AM the one you know as Jesus

I AM the one who multiplied loaves and fish

I AM the bread that comes down from heaven

I AM the one who can control the seas

I AM…God.

I AM…here.

I AM.

As the journey continues, the disciples grow in their understanding of who Jesus is, from a miracle worker and teacher, to finally recognising that Jesus is not only a Saviour, but the Son of God.

In the past two weeks we have witnessed horrible acts of violence, the shooting at a movie theatre in Colorado, the shooting in Scarborough and the news of the fine against Penn State University reminded us again of the horrible acts committed against young children there by one of their football coaches. Some are praising God for saving those who survived. Others are shaking their fists at God wondering why He didn’t do more.

Jesus’ answer: I AM. Do not be afraid.

A fair response would be, “So what? You are here. Do something!” The disciples try to get Jesus to come in the boat with them, but before he can, they realise that, in fact, they have already reached where they are going. They are at the shore. They are safe. And they are with their Lord.

It appears as if Jesus delivered them from the storm, even brought them safely to the shore. I think, though, by seeing Jesus on the water, by their side, they simply stopped being afraid. Where God is, there is no need to be afraid. The moment they recognised that Jesus was, in fact, alongside them as their Lord and Messiah, they didn’t need the storm calmed anymore, because they knew they were safe. In fact, they were already at the shore.

Knowing that Jesus is walking along in the water beside our tossed boat can be little comfort when the boat is sinking. Sometimes, in the gospels, Jesus seems really aloof. Sure, he can walk on water, but he can’t help me through this divorce, or protect my kids from the big bad world. Ah, but that’s why the story of David and Bathsheba is so important.

In the beginning of Matthew, there’s a list of names you probably usually skip over. In fact, we don’t even cover it in the lectionary. It’s the genealogy of Jesus. David is in there, we know that, because the prophecies say the Messiah will come from the line of David. But guess who else is in there. Bathsheba! That’s right. Jesus does not come from the line of David’s legitimate marriage to Michal, but from this affair that he has with Bathsheba. Let me be clear. This does not excuse David’s actions. God did not call David to seduce Bathsheba and murder her husband. God brings redemption  that is not permission  for us to follow David’s example.

In fact, that whole genealogy makes my family look like the Cleavers.  The point is, there is nothing about our lives, the situations that we are in, that Jesus doesn’t get. In fact, he knows more about it than we ever will. And yet, in every moment, he walks with us, not because he can conquer it, but because he loves us, and doesn’t let us walk alone. The people in the theatre in Aurora were not alone, nor were the people in Scarborough, nor were the children in Pennsylvania. First, because the Christ who was born from a teenage mother and overcame the worst of violence dwells in each one of us, bringing us peace, telling us not to be afraid. Second, because God dwells in each of one of us, called to do something about the violence and secrecy that allows these acts to happen.

And even that doesn’t seem like enough. In the garden of Gethsamene, Jesus didn’t think it was enough, that he was enough. But he was. And it is. Five loaves, two fish and the gathering of the faithful are enough to feed five thousand. “Do not be afraid” is enough for us to recognise we are already on land when the storm is raging around us. It seems too easy. Living without fear is never easy, but the absence of fear let’s us do things beyond anything we could possibly imagine. We become less afraid when we understand that we are not alone. In the feeding of the 5,000 and as Jesus walks on water, he is saying,”You can do this. I am with you. You can share your food. You can live through the storm.”

A summer project could be to read through John,

  • Pick one passage and read it a few days in a row
  • Flip through and find passages that interest you
  • Read the whole gospel
  • Ask yourself, “who does Jesus tell me he is?”

As we journey together, we will be tossed on stormy seas, sail in the sunshine, and, hopefully, a lot of playing in the waves. To do that faithfully, more than we can ask or imagine, we remember always that Christ is in the water with us, and we need never, never, be afraid. AMEN.

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