Date: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost ~ July 25, 2021
Texts: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 136:1-9; Ephesians 3:14-21; Mark 6:45-66
Context: God is the Creator of all things. This means God is master of all things. There is nothing that happens without God’s either direct will (the Flood) or permission (Job). This is how we are to see everything that happens in this world and in our lives, acknowledging God’s presence and power and wisdom, trusting that He will work all things for good, even if it must be in spite of and through the sin and brokenness and pain and suffering our sin inflicts on ourselves, one another, and the rest of creation. To say we trust in God is one thing. To fall back on that trust when our own plans and preferences have come to nothing is quite another. Elie Wiesel, who survived the Nazi Holocaust, talks in his book Night about how he lost faith in God during that time, because he could not reconcile the suffering and death all around him with a good and loving God. Wiesel could not imagine that God could use even this blackest sin as ultimately a demonstration of his power, wisdom, glory, and love. We must resolve ourselves through daily meditation and prayer on our baptismal grace, so that if and when we are faced with similar catastrophe, we might stand faithful in the gifts of our loving God, even if it means the end of our lives.
Genesis 9:8-17 – Noah and his family have just witnessed the destruction of human and animal life on the planet by the floodwaters unleashed by God. Now they are called to place their trust in God’s promise to never again do such a thing. Noah’s life prior to the flood was marked with obedience to God, so that he was deemed by God to be righteous (6:9). Now Noah and his family had to decide if they would continue to be obedient to God, trusting his promise of mercy and grace just as much as they trusted his message to them of coming destruction and short-term instruction (6:9-22). Like Noah we are called to trust God in all things, even when things don’t seem to be working out in a way we would consider pleasing to God. Faith is not just a feeling, it is a decision as well, an insistence on persisting in a certain way of thinking or living even when alternate options are more desirable or even appear to be safer or better by worldly standards. Noah serves as a powerful example to us when things are difficult to remain anchored in the promises of the God who also brought us every blessing we have ever experienced, and promised us eternally more in his perfect will and timing, through faith in the sacrifice of his Incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ.
Psalm 136:1-9 – These verses are what the insistence of faith I just referred to looks like. We give thanks to God in all situations, insisting that God truly is good and loving and holds all power over all things and situations. This requires we admit that we are not gods ourselves, and that it was not our understanding that made the heavens or spread the earth above the waters. God alone has that perspective on time and creation, and God alone is able to know what is best and how to work in and with and through and despite our flawed and sinful natures to bring about his greatest glory. There is nothing subjective in these verses – the power and glory of God and therefore the just and proper recipient of praise is based in creation, not in our subjective experience of that creation in an incredibly finite time and place. We are called here, in a sense, to acknowledge our finite experience of creation, and perhaps to ponder briefly the absurdity that we should find God at fault for a particular event or sequence of events considering how limited our field of vision is! We are called to trust that the eternal Creator of the finite and limited truly does love us and intend the best for us even if our particular moment of time is not what we would want for ourselves or others.
Ephesians 3:14-21 – To best appreciate the beauty of Paul’s words here, we should also include v.13 in the reading. The Ephesians are concerned for Paul because of his struggles and suffering. This suffering might include the riot at Ephesus that might easily have cost Paul and his companions their lives (Acts 19). It might include Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 about how they would never see him again. But perhaps most likely this suffering is Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem in Chapters 21 and following. Yet despite this suffering, Paul bows his knees in prayer not regarding himself but on behalf of the Ephesians (and all the other Christians he has nurtured). Paul no doubt is unhappy about his suffering, but also can recognize there is a larger picture at play, in which his suffering is in fact for the glory of the Ephesians and Christians down to you and I today. That is not a perspective possible not only with a god, but without the God of Scripture who is the loving Father seeking constantly after all of his wayward and rebellious sheep.
Mark 6:45-66 – The final words are instructive here. The disciples are astounded by Jesus walking across the water to them and calming the raging winds. This is because they didn’t understand what Jesus had done in the feeding of the 5000 because their hearts were hardened. I don’t interpret that to mean God the Holy Spirit was hardening their hearts, but rather their hearts were hardened by their own ideas and assumptions and interpretations. They could not yet acknowledge that Jesus might be the promised Messiah. They were still working to explain his incredible actions by some other means. Jesus in his loving patience continues to demonstrate his power and authority to them, leading their hearts to eventually soften so that Peter can proclaim him the Messiah (Mark 8:27-29). But they aren’t there yet. It isn’t that they aren’t seeing miraculous things, but that they can’t accept those events for what they are and interpret them properly.
So still today people misunderstand (or just miss) God’s workings in the world around us. They presume that just because a surgery or a medicine healed a serious illness or injury it wasn’t God at work – as though God was not the provider of the skill and wisdom and ingredients! Many (Christians, even!) are more apt to talk about coincidence than they are to daily remind themselves God is not absent, sleeping, or silent. When we remind ourselves daily that God is the source of all things in creation, we are better able to see his hand in all things, even when mediated by human involvement. All of this should be towards the glory of God, and our thankful and faithful hearts that not only appreciate his love here and now, but actively look towards the return of his Son and our Lord to usher in an eternity of joy together.