Cruise Ship ?
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God the Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It might seem that when Jesus called Peter and Andrew and James and John to leave their fishing nets in order to follow Him and become fishers of men, that this calling involved now using their boats in order to operate a ferry service on the Sea of Galilee. After all, in the Gospel readings from St. Mark, appointed on the church calendar over the past month or so, on four separate occasions do we hear of Jesus and the disciples getting into a boat and crossing over to the other side of the lake:
– when He rebuked the wind and calmed the raging sea and so revealed to them that He was much more than a teacher or a miracle-worker … but the Creator Himself, the One who by His Word made the sea at the very beginning;
– when He crossed the sea in a boat and proceeded to heal a woman with a discharge of blood and restore to life the dead daughter of one of the rulers of the local synagogue;
– when He and the disciples went away by themselves in a boat to a desolate place for some much-needed rest and relaxation … something that many people today are also doing during these “dog days” of summer;
– and then, when after His miracle of feeding the 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two small fish, we hear today these words: “Immediately, He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd. “And one cannot but wonder if there is something of significance in all this.
Jesus, after He dismissed the crowd “went up on the mountain (by Himself) to pray.” For is not that what would take place 40 days after His resurrection from the dead-the day when He took physical leave of His disciples and ascended into heaven and where, as St. Paul says in Romans, chapter 8, “He indeed is interceding for us”?
But while Jesus is up on a mountain praying, the disciples are in the boat, and once again they are being tossed to and fro by the waves, “making headway painfully, for the wind was against them”-a striking picture of the church from the time of Jesus’ ascension until His return on the Last Day as judge of all. But, quite frankly, a picture that, in the times and in the society in which we are currently living, has been replaced with a different one; namely, that of the church as a cruise ship leisurely sailing along on quiet and calm waters, pampering and indulging those who are onboard, providing people of various age groups with all kinds of fun and exciting activities to suit their fancy. To which, however, St. Mark would reply and remind us by means of today’s Gospel reading: “It’s Not a Cruise Ship!”
For in this account of the disciples being tossed about in a boat out on the stormy Sea of Galilee, we are given a vivid picture of our life here and now. Every single person, in effect, is on a journey through this mortal life to eternity. And since in this life’s journey we are all exposed to the wind and the waves, the storms and the tempests, we need to be in the boat. For if there are perils while in the boat, outside the boat there is only certain death and destruction. Whatever strength and ability a person might have to swim the open sea, no matter how many Olympic gold medals he or she might have received for various swimming events, even that person will eventually grow weary and sink down into a watery grave. How necessary, therefore, in the midst of the stormy sea of this life, that you be in the boat, in the church. So, the Reformer, Martin Luther, expresses it in these words from the Large Catechism: “In the Christian church there is nothing but continuous, uninterrupted forgiveness of sin. But outside the Christian church, that is, where the Gospel is not, there is no forgiveness and no holiness.”
Now, as the boat that was carrying Jesus’ disciples was being tossed about on the raging Sea of Galilee, so the church today is tossed to and fro by the waves of greed, endangered by the violent storms of lust, threatened by the stormy gales of false teachings, battered by the waves of persecution, shaken by many of the same things that also afflict those outside the church: sickness, unemployment, family problems, economic uncertainty, senseless and tragic deaths, terrorism, wild fires, a summer drought, flash floods. The list is almost endless.
And the contrary wind, that is, the devil, the world, and, yes, even our own sinful nature, strives to hinder the church … strives to hinder each one of us … from arriving at our place of eternal rest and peace, tempting and enticing the church to simply turn around and go in whatever direction the prevailing winds are blowing, to change its teachings and practices in accordance with the spirit of the times-to, yes, become nothing more than a cruise ship, rather than a fishing boat that seeks to catch souls for eternity with the message of Christ and Him crucified, rather than a life boat that would rescue drowning, dying sinners, with the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus.
And that is why, in the appointed Epistle reading for this day, St. Paul prays these words on behalf of and for, not only the church in Ephesus of the first century, but for the church today here in the 21st century: “For this reason” he says, “I bow my knees before the Father, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
“And about the fourth watch of the night Jesus came to them, walking on the sea.” Now, the fourth watch of the night is the end of the night. Each watch in the ancient Roman world consisted of three hours: the first from 6 to 9 p.m., the second from 9 to midnight, the third from midnight to 3 a.m., and the fourth from 3 to 6 a.m.
And what is this “fourth watch of the night” for us today? Why, it is what the Bible calls “the last days” … the end of this present age. So, St. John says very clearly and very simply in his first epistle: “Children, it is the last hour.” And although the boat, the ark, that is, the church, is being tossed about by the storms of temptations and false teachings and persecutions; although as the apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy, chapter 3: “In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” … do you know what? The Lord Jesus is still walking on the waves of the sea; for, as St. Paul says in Ephesians, chapter 1: “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, seated Him at His right hand, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church.” Yes, in this storm-tossed sea through which we are journeying, in the fourth watch of the night of this present age, Jesus comes also to us-comes to us for this purpose, as we read in Hebrews, chapter 9: “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.”
“And about the fourth watch of the night Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw Him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw Him and were terrified.” And today, as well, for many there are, even within many a church, who say that Jesus is only a ghost, a phantom-that He was not really born of a virgin; that He was only a religious teacher, a moral philosopher, who taught us to love one another, but not actually true God; that He did not die on a cross as the atoning sacrifice for your sins and the sins of the entire world or rise bodily from the grave on the third day. But when, however, people will see Him coming to them in the fourth watch of the night, “coming on the clouds with power and great glory,” they will then know that He is not a ghost, not a phantom, but the Lord and Creator and Judge of all, the Ruler of the wind and the waves . . . and, as the Scriptures say, “they will mourn and wail because of Him.”
“But when they saw Him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw Him and were terrified.” And is not that the very same reaction that the disciples would again have on that first Easter Day? Remember how the evangelists record it? “On the evening of the first day of the week, Jesus came and stood among them. But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a ghost.”
“And He said to them, ‘Peace be with you. … Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Touch Me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.'” And so also out here in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in the midst of the wind and the waves in the fourth watch of the night. “But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded.”
And what was it that removed the disciples’ fears? Why, the voice of Jesus, His Word of peace to their fearful and terrified hearts-the same Word of peace, of sins forgiven, that He still speaks to us today, and by which He would remove our fears. What was it that calmed not only the wind and the waves, but also the disciples’ fears? Why, the very presence of Jesus in the boat. The One who got into the boat with us when He was laid in a manger and nailed to a cross. The One who gets in the boat with us still today in accordance with His promise: “Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I in the midst of them,” and who calms our fears and strengthens our hearts by His Word and His presence.
“Take heart; it is I,” Jesus thus says again this very day to you, to me, to those who are in the boat, in His church. “Take heart; it is I-wounded for your transgressions, bruised for your iniquities, delivered up to death for the sins of all people. Do not be afraid.” “Take heart; it is I – My body given for you; My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Do not be afraid.” “Take heart; it is I-for I am with You always, to the end of the age. Do not be afraid.”
No, the church is not some cruise ship sailing aimlessly about in this life and in this world, merely entertaining those on board; but, rather, it is the ark, the only boat whereby, as we traverse this stormy sea in the fourth watch of the night of this present age, we are being brought safely to the other side, to eternity. And in light of which we thus join our voices with the hymnwriter in declaring: “When at last I near the shore and the fearful breakers roar, twixt me and the peaceful rest, Then, while leaning on Thy breast, May I hear Thee say to me, ‘Fear not, I will pilot thee.'” Amen.
“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
This message from Rev.Timothy Teuscher is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project , You can read more at The Lutheran Hour Sermons