Don’t Be Afraid

Pastor Kim Gilliland
July 25, 2021 Pentecost 9
SCRIPTURE: John 6: 16-21
When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.”
John 6: 19-20 (NIV)

Last week we talked about how the world seems to have become divided. And that concerns me and still does. But we also discovered that Jesus breaks down the barriers that divide us and brings us together. We are one in Christ.
Today, I want to touch on something similar: not division but fear. During this last year, the world has become a more fearful place. I think a good part of that has to do with Covid-19 which has affected us all. Do you recall back in March of 2020, we experience panic buying in the stores. Certain staples were missing in the grocery stores. Do you remember how hard it was to find toilet paper and facial tissues? Cleaners sanitizers were nowhere to be found. Flour, rice, sugar and other food staples were in short supply. Why? Because people were afraid that we were on the verge of distribution breakdown so they were stocking up just to make sure they could survive an impending apocalypse. None of those items, of course, were ever in short supply. There was lots to go around if people had not hoarded them. And eventually things got back to normal. None of us starved and everyone managed to find enough toilet paper and Kleenex.
And then there were those who were afraid to go out and they cloistered themselves in their houses. I have more sympathy for these people because Covid-19 was a real danger especially to those with underlying health conditions. People were dying: 9,300 in Ontario, 26,500 in Canada, over 4 million worldwide and the numbers are still rising. This was no joke. This was real and people had legitimate reasons to be concerned.
And then the vaccines started rolling out. And that caused more fear for some people were who afraid of them. There were concerns that they were not safe, that they hadn’t been properly tested, that they had been released too soon. And I get that. The Covid-19 vaccines were developed in record time and that was very unusual. But two things have to
be kept in mind. First of all, the reason why these vaccines were developed so quickly was because the money was made available to do it. It is amazing how rapidly things can happen when the funding is for all intents and purposes unlimited. And we also have to remember that all of the Covid vaccines that have been approved for public use went through – and successfully went through – the same three phase clinical trial system that is used for every other vaccine on the market. No scientific steps were missed before the vaccines were approved. And keep in mind also that of the over 100 vaccines being developed, only a small number of those have been approved.
I understand people’s fears because some people have had very adverse reactions to the vaccines and some people have even died. But that is also true every other vaccine that has ever been used. No vaccine is risk free. Because of that, I know lots of people who are afraid to take the vaccines. Some of those people are part of our church. But they have made their decisions and I respect that. I also understand that it is not job to try to change their minds. But I will say that I when I had the chance to get vaccinated, I went ahead and got it done with no hesitation.
Nonetheless I think we can all agree that there is a lot of fear in our world.
The story that we are going to read today from the Gospel of John has its share of fear. It is John’s version of the story of Jesus walking on water which also appears in Mark 6. In both versions, the story occurs fairly early in Jesus’ ministry, immediately following the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.
That’s important because the feeding of the 5,000 is a pivotal story in the New Testament. It was not the first miracle that Jesus performed. Previously he had turned water into wine at the wedding feast and he had healed a few people. These, however, were relatively localized events, the news of which was limited to those who witnessed the healings and perhaps some of the people at the wedding who enjoyed the good wine.
The feeding of the 5,000, however, was different because, for the first time Jesus had done something spectacular that showed the world that he was no ordinary man. This was a very public miracle witnessed by thousands of people and it cemented Jesus as someone special because feeding that many people with a few loaves of bread and some fish was something that no ordinary person could accomplish. For Jesus, there was no turning back. He, now and forever, would be a very public person.
So, it’s been a very exciting day but it’s also been a very long and tiring day. Jesus sends his disciples across the Sea of Galilee to the town of Capernaum where ostensibly,
they will be able to get some rest. The Sea of Galilee, by the way, is the lowest fresh water lake on Earth at 700 feet below sea level. Like Lake Erie, it is also very shallow and like all shallow lakes, storms can cause waves to rise up very quickly. Let’s read what happens on the journey across the lake, reading from John 6:16-21 (NIV):
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
It seems that Jesus has sent the disciples on ahead without him. You might wonder why. Why did they not question Jesus as to why he was not getting into the boat with them? The reason is because they weren’t really going across the lake – at least they weren’t going to the opposite shore. Scholars have debated about where the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 actually occurred and, while various places have been hypothesized, they all have one thing in common. The miracle happened on the western shore of Sea of Galilee. The disciples are heading toward Capernaum which is on the northwest shore of the lake. It really isn’t that far away and it is quite conceivable that they simply expect that Jesus has chosen to walk to Capernaum rather than take the boat.
Verse 18 tells us that a strong wind starts blowing. It stirs up the water and makes it rough. This, in itself was not a problem for some of the disciple. Remember that at least four of them are fishermen who make their living working this lake and they are quite used to its way. So the fishermen are not concerned because if are they can easily turn the boat to the left and head for the safety of the shore. But they don’t do that. They keep rowing to their destination. They are not afraid.
But the ones who aren’t fishermen – that is probably a very different story. I expect that the wind and the waves are unnerving them. The Sea of Galilee may not be very deep but it’s deep enough to drown and not everyone is comfortable in a boat on rough waters.
That sort of reminds me of the church. I want you to think about the church as a boat. In that boat are disciples of Jesus. The church has a mission. As Jesus sent the disciples to Capernaum, so he send us to do his work and his will. That’s our mission and our destination as we row along in this boat called the church.
But getting to that mission does not always mean smooth sailing. Sometimes the winds pick up and sometimes there are headwinds that slow us down. And sometimes the winds create waves that make the seas rough and the boat unstable. I think it’s safe to say that we’d prefer smooth sailing as we do our work but I think it’s also fair to say that a church that is seeking to fulfill its mission also will find its share of rough waters.
Some people are okay with rough waters and headwinds. Some people just put their heads down grab and oar and keep on rowing confident that we will get there. I might take a little longer and we might have to work a little harder but we will accomplish what God has in mind for us.
But not everyone is like that. Some people are frightened by the winds and the waves. Some people are unnerved when things don’t go like we thought they should, when the mission of the church gets knocked off kilter.
One of the things that scares a lot of people in the church right now is that we don’t know what the church is going to look like when things get back to some sort of normal. We haven’t been normal for almost a year and a half. We haven’t had been able to sing. We haven’t been able to have any significant children’s programming. In person worship has been, at best, sporadic. Sure we’ve become much better at online stuff and we’ve adapted to changing situations. But one of the things that we’ve said often in the last few months is we have no idea yet who is even going to be around the church when we are able to open with a full range of programming and services. And that scares people.
I was reading an article in Christianity Today that addressed this very topic. It was entitled “Things Will Never Be Normal – and That’s Ok”. The basic premise of the article is that most churches are going to look very different because things are not going to ever be normal again.
The article identifies three groups of people. The first group of people are those who are never coming back to church. They were nominally connected and when they stopped coming to church, they didn’t notice a significant loss of anything meaningful. They’re doing fine without church and though they may not have told anyone yet, they aren’t coming back. That might scare some people.
The second group are those people who like online worship. They get up, fix their coffee, sit together on the couch and watch online. It works for them. They enjoy worshipping in their pajamas. It’s easy and less stressful on their family. They may come to church for the big stuff, Easter and Christmas, but other than that, they’re not coming back. That might scare some people too.
The third group, of course, is on vacation. It’s summertime and Canada is experiencing its annual worship hiatus. We all know how worship attendance plummets during vacation season but vacation might be extended this year because people have been cooped up for a year and a half and, now that they can go places, they might just take advantage of it. But are they going to return to worship when the school gets back and the weather gets colder? I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out but I know that scares some people too.
But I want you to remember this. We are all in this boat together. Some of us are quite comfortable with whatever the future holds. They are like the fisherman in the boat on stormy waters. They can deal with it because they have their oars in the water and they’ve put their backs to the task and they are going row and row until the mission is accomplished. Don’t we all wish we could be like that? But we aren’t. Lots of us are like the non-fishermen who can get unnerved by the wind and the waves. They don’t like the uncertainty and the unknown. It causes them worry and stress and they yearn for the day when some stability will return.
To those people I say, “Take heart. Stability will return. It just may not look like it did before.” But we will still have a mission and God will still call us to do his work in this world. We may just have to do it differently and we may miss some people who aren’t coming back. But on the other hand, we may just be ready to welcome other people who have decided to give us a try.
Here’s the good news. Jesus has a way of doing miraculous work with whoever shows up. Look at the first disciples. Not one of us would have hired any of them. Yet, Jesus chose them and they changed the world. Jesus still does miraculous work and he will do it with whoever is in the boat. So let’s not be afraid of what the fall will look like because Jesus will work with whoever shows up.
Some of the disciples are okay in the storm and some of them are edgy but none of them are expecting what happens next. Verse 19 tells us that they see Jesus walking toward them across the water – in fact on the water – and this unnerves them all. It doesn’t matter whether they are fisherman and land lubbers, no one is expecting this. No one expects to see someone walking across the water.
In Mark’s version of the story, it says clearly that they did not recognize Jesus as he approached them on the water but rather thought they were seeing a ghost. John doesn’t give those details but I think it’s reasonable to assume that Mark was correct in what he
wrote. They see someone walking toward them on the surface of the water and it frightens them. Why not? It would probably unnerve everyone here too.
But then in verse 20 he says, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” And then they recognize him and welcome him into the boat. There are two thing that I want to say about this. The first one is that when Jesus comes to us, he drives out the fear and brings peace and serenity.
The boat that we call the church is going to face some stormy seas. It is going to face headwinds and I don’t care who you are, each of us at some point is going to feel unnerved by all of that. We act that out in different ways. Some of us get discouraged. Some of us get angry at our brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of us yearn for the past. Others dread the future. But no matter how you respond to the waves and the headwinds, know that Jesus is there. He is with us in the storms and he is with us in the waves and he is with us in the headwinds that threaten to blow us off course. He is always there.
Our challenge is to recognize him when he comes to us. The disciples at first thought he was a ghost. He wasn’t. He was the real deal come to them in the storms that rocked the boat. But please notice this, that Jesus would get into the boat until they welcomed him in.
The same is true for us. Jesus is there always. It’s our job to recognize his presence and welcome him aboard. It reminds me of the famous verse in Revelation 3:20 (NIV) where Jesus said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” There is a famous painting of this scene. In it, Jesus is standing at a door in a garden and he is knocking. He wants in but there is no door handle on the door so he can’t enter unless someone on the inside opens the door for him and invites him in.
The same holds true in this story in John. Jesus is there walking on the water beside the boat but he will not get into the boat unless he is invited in. Jesus does not force himself on anyone. He makes himself available to all of us but we need to welcome him. When we do that, he comes aboard.
The second thing I want to highlight is found in the last verse of today’s reading. John 6:21 (NIV) which says: “Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.” It’s that last phrase I want to highlight. The one that says that when they welcomed Jesus into the boat, it immediately reached the shore where they were heading.
The wind and the waves are all against them as they try to row the boat to Capernaum. Are they making headway? Yes, probably a little but the going is tough. But when they welcome in Jesus, immediately, they get to where they are going.
This is the miracle that we so often miss. It’s the miracle that when we invite Jesus into our live he takes us where we need to be. On our own, we can struggle. We can experience fear and uncertainty. The storms of life can cause us great angst. But when we allow Jesus to get in the boat and be on the journey with us, he takes us where he wants us to go.
Are you struggling? Are the storms of life threatening, causing you unease and fear? Are you concerned about the uncertainty that awaits you in the future? Today’s story of Jesus walking on water reminds us that we are not alone. Jesus is out there, in the storm, waiting get into the boat with you. He wants to be by your side. He wants to journey with you. And he wants to take you to the destination that he has already planned for you.
So let him in and do not be afraid. Jesus is with you always.
God of All Creation, we offer thanks and praise for your never ended love and compassion. Despite our most grievous shortcomings, you continue to stand with us. We can never thank you enough for your faithfulness towards us.
We praise you and give thanks for all you have done for us. In every situation and circumstance we will acknowledge that you are good and your mercy is forever, new every morning. Help us today, in all that we do and say, to bring joy to your heart.
We give thanks for the summer which surrounds us. We thank you for warm sunshine and cooler evening breezes. We thank you for vacations and summer holidays, for visits from family and friends and for travelling mercies on the roads.
We also give thanks for the Olympic games in Japan. As signs of mutual cooperation, they remind us of the necessity of putting differences aside so that we can coexist in peace. Keep the athletes and fans safe from harm’s way and help everyone to do their very best.
We also pray for those who need your healing touch this week, especially Carol, Rachel, Richard, Angela, Mark and Gary All of us need your healing touch, O God. There is not one of us who is completely whole. We pray your Healing Spirit upon all of your children.
Holy God, enable us to trust in your unfailing love. Even in those times when we begin to feel worry or panic, help us to rest confidently in your word and promises. It is a great comfort to know that you are with us. Thank you for your unfailing love and faithfulness. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
July 25, 2021 / Pentecost 9 / Proper 12
2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; John 6:1-21; Ephesians 3:14-21
ONE: Rejoice in the Lord always and come into God’s presence with singing.
ALL: God joins us in worship and honours our praise.
ONE: Let us give thanks to the One who sets our feet on higher ground.
ALL: Let us rejoice in Christ our Saviour.
Speak to us, O God, in the joy of our celebration. We come to you with open hearts and ready lives. We know that you will not disappoint us but will meet our every need and satisfy our righteous desires. You have promised to prosper those who turn to you. Fill us with your Spirit and the knowledge of your everlasting presence. We honour you. We praise you. We worship you. Amen.
Like the prophets of old, your Word reminds us of our sin. Forgive us when we fail to turn to you in all things and try to fix our lives in our own narrow way. Forgive us for pleading ignorance when we hurt others. Forgive us for thinking better our ourselves than we ought and for comparing ourselves favourably to our brothers and sisters. Remind us that, apart from Jesus Christ, we are all condemned but that, in him, we can come before your throne with the confidence of your gracious mercy. Amen.
The joy of faith is the assurance of God’s love and mercy. When we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us and adopt us as sons and daughters of the Kingdom. We rejoice in our God, who provides abundant blessings and grace.
Out of our wealth and plenty, we offer back to you a portion of our resources, O God. But this is not all that we give. Enable us to be so faithful that all of what we have will be used for your glory. Every moment, every morsel, everything that we have is yours. We offer our thanks along with our gifts, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
As we go from our worship, let us always remember that there is nothing in all of Creation that is greater than God who made all things and sustains all life. There is a world hungering for the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is our gift to share. May we be bold in God’s message even as we are compassionate towards others.

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