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Learning to move with the wind, not strain against it
Jesus walks on water, by Ivan Aivazovsky (1888)
Growing in Jesus, moving with the Creator, being filled with the Spirit is natural. Natural isn’t always easy. Sometimes it is easier to just use the chemical alternative, right? But the natural way, which might be tougher in some ways, is God’s way.
I want to settle on this point for a moment. Because there are many pressures that may move us in one direction or another. And it can be hard to tell what is “true” and not. In an era where the government and corporations seem to be the ones defining reality, we can either submit to their version of socially constructed reality, or we can create our own. I think you can be the author of your path, and I think that very well may be natural and right, too. You know what you need to do. But I think God is a co-author alongside of you. And I think I am, too. Not just as your pastor, but as a member of the community right here. We are doing something together.
The pastors around Circle of Hope tried to answer this question this weekend as we invited others to follow the wind of the Spirit and advance their pilgrimage: “What are the first steps of faith you are called to take?” For those of us farther along the road it is, “Now that you are here, where is the Spirit taking you next?”
Jesus and his disciples are working through their next steps in chapter six of Mark.
At the end of Mark, unlike the other Gospels, Jesus is suffering by himself. All of the disciples have vanished. And for many Christians, this kind of isolation was common. Jesus experienced a kind of rejection from the very people that should have instinctively followed him: the Jewish people. The disciples in Mark, some might say, symbolize the Jewish people abandoning their Messiah—and that is the purpose of Mark, to showcase Jesus as the Messiah, the savior.
I think Mark is telling that story on purpose. Marks’ audience was probably people in little house churches right in Rome. They might feel alone and suffering, surrounded by the Evil Empire. Moreover, though we can be comforted by it in seasons where we feel alone and are suffering by ourselves, God is with us.
Jesus is suffering. Earlier in chapter six one of his best friends and cousins, John the Baptist—the one disciple that led the way for him and didn’t stray the course, the other hero of the Gospel of Mark—is beheaded. And the torch is kind of passed to Jesus. The way the Gospels are written, after John dies, Jesus’ ministry really gets going. After John dies, Jesus goes to find some rest. And the crowds found him. Despite his suffering and his fatigue, he felt compassion for them and taught them. They were hungry and so out of his own nothingness he multiplied loaves and bread and fed them.
I am trying to get you to relate to the suffering, and even reluctance of Christ—the Messiah to give when he may not have even felt like he had something to give. He wasn’t dominated by his feelings and his experiences. In fact, what felt “natural” to him, was not. God was calling him to something truly natural.
Finally Jesus gets a break.
The story of Jesus walking on water is amazing and has been told throughout the ages. It appears in the Bible three times, in Matthew, Mark, and John. That it appeared in John kind of shows us that it was told frequently and regularly after Jesus’ life, because John probably didn’t copy it out of Matthew or Mark. He just knew the story.
Some people, who aren’t so processed and kind of need a rational ending to everything, say that Jesus only appeared like he was walking from the disciples vantage point. Or it was at a point in the Sea where the land was a bit higher. You can do that if that helps you, but I think you might be missing the point.
Anyway, Jesus finally breaks from the crowd, dismissing them in honor, and he goes up to the mountain to pray. Jesus is moving with God, not just being tossed to and fro by the waves of the world, but being carried by the winds of the Spirit. As I noted above, his instinct is being redone even as he feeds people in spite of his fatigue.
He moves with the wind. In contrast, his disciples are straining because the wind is against them. You could see this as the wind of God against his disciples. It’s hard to know who is resisting whom. But there they are, the disciples straining against the wind, straining against what’s “naturally” happening.
You know, in our context, we don’t strain that much anymore. When I’m riding my bike, I kind of get back to my roots a bit. I feel the wind against me. I feel the power of gravity as I go up hills. But once I pop into my car, I don’t feel it anymore. I don’t even feel the heat, I just use the air conditioning. We have vessels that fly 30,000 feet in the air as hundreds of miles an hour. There isn’t much to strain against. Or, the winds are so strong it feels futile to resist them.
Jesus is safe on the land and the sun is rising, he moves onto the water, and is going to pass by his struggling friends. He’s going about his business, following his own Father’s will. It’s very interesting, Jesus doesn’t stop when he sees them struggling. He stops because they are afraid. They think he’s a ghost. And they start screaming.
And of course they would; speaking of unnatural—a man walking on water is truly unnatural. Or maybe, in the new creation, it is the only thing that is natural. But for the Jewish people, they are afraid. His disciples are afraid of the water—Jews, in general, are not seafaring people. So they are worried about the wind, and they are even more startled to experience this man who seems to have power over wind and water.
Jesus tells them not to be afraid, to take courage, it is their Messiah and Savior.
At this point, just like in the Way of Jesus, the disciples are moving into the “wind stage.” They know Jesus is their savior and that actually changes them. They have a little seed of faith planted in them and it is growing. But the mysteries of the faith still haven’t been made clear to them. Jesus is trying to make it plain to them in some ways, but they aren’t seeing it, experiencing it. And even when they do, as is the case with the wind, they strain and resist it.
Jesus is moving with the Spirit. Moving with the flow. Moving with creation and the Creator. He climbs into the boat and the wind dies down. It gets calm again. They were amazed.
Circle of Hope may amaze you. The evidence of faith among may compel you to do more than just “know” God. It may compel you to follow Jesus.
The wind stage is like getting focused. It is easy to know “God,” harder to follow Jesus.
Take a step to follow Jesus beyond your mental assent. I think you can take a step with the wind, even though the wind of the community might be intimidating. You can be fearful too. It’s OK. Your first meeting like this can be frightening, you first cell, its first multiplication. For about fifteen of us last weekend, sharing our stories and entered into the covenant was scary.
It can feel unnatural to join a community in a world that’s so isolated. But I think we belong in a family. And I think you can join us too, even if you are amazing at how any of this works, even if you stumble. Jesus is with you and will suffer alongside of you. Following him will save you from sinking.