10th Sunday after Pentecost
July 29, 2018
“Who is Pushing the Swing?”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the first half of the Gospel lesson from Mark 6 involving Jesus, the disciples, and the boat.
My dear friends,
Children love to swing; that is a universal truth. Who doesn’t? There’s nothing like it. Thrusting your feet toward the sky, leaning so far backward that everything looks upside down. Swinging on the swings is great! Recently I went to Okeechobee for my granddaughter Abbey’s birthday party and even though it was a hot/humid June day, the three of my grandkids wanted to swing on the swings; little Eli just LOVED it! Children just love to swing, right?
I learned a lot about trust on a swing. As a child, I only trusted certain people to push my swing. If I was being pushed by people I trusted (like Dad or Mom), they could do anything they wanted. They could twist me, turn me, stop me mid-swing…I loved it! I loved it because I trusted the per¬son pushing me. But let a stranger push my swing (which often happened at family re¬unions or down at our cabin in NE), and it was hang on, baby! Who knew what this newcomer would do? When a stranger pushes your swing, you tense up and hang on in fear.
Most of us now, because of our age and the condition of our bodies, wouldn’t even THINK about getting onto a swing. I’m a lot closer to 60 than I am to 6 and I fear what a trip on the swing might do to my back and knees these days. The fear of the unknown, and what might happen, that’s what keeps us off the swing. We are afraid to get on because we’re afraid about what might happen especially if someone else pushes. And just who is “pushing your swing” these days? Joy or worry? Peace or apprehension?
Let’s talk for a moment about fear, about confusion, about anxiety, shall we? In today’s Gospel lesson we get all 3 and then some. Jesus sends the disciples into the boat to go across the Sea of Galilee towards their next destination, Bethsaida. The disciples quickly find themselves in an anxious and difficult situation. They are trying to row, but the wind was against them not to mention it’s now the middle of the night (4th watch or 3-6 AM). The disciples are exhausted and on edge. The conditions, the wind and waves, are no match for Jesus though as He simply walks on the surface of the water in the dark. Much has been made over the years about verse 48 and the phrase that Jesus “meant to pass them by.” There are lots of theories as to what that might mean, but that’s not what I want to focus on. I’m more interested in the disciples’ response.
In verse 49, the anxious, afraid, wet, and exhausted disciples look out into the night and things quickly go from bad to worse. They see Jesus, but they think He is a ghost or apparition; the Greek word is the same word from which we get our word “phantasm.” Should we be surprised that they fail to see Jesus? Mark reminds us that they also didn’t understand what had just happened in the feeding of the 5000 (6:52), so why would they recognize Jesus now? In much the same way, we too rarely see God walking past in our lives or we fail to recognize His bountiful, blessing presence for us amid the storms of our life. But that can be a different sermon for a different day.
They see this frightening image and they, as Mark specifically wrote, “were thrown into confusion.” Mark doesn’t use the word for “fear” as Jesus will in verse 50. The boat may have been pushed by the wind, but the disciples are being pushed by confusion and fear. To maintain the imagery from earlier, it’s like they have no idea who is pushing the swing. Jesus, however, calms their fears by climbing into the boat and telling his closest followers, “Take heart. Do not be afraid. It is I,” or in Greek, Jesus calls Himself “I AM,” His divine name. in response, the disciples are “exceedingly amazed,” and they keep rowing with now-calm waves, but also still-hard hearts.
We live in a stormy world. Morality and common sense are at an all-time low. Everyone is always offended by someone else. Love for God and neighbor are long-forgotten, out-dated concepts. Families are coming apart at the seams because of sin and sinful behaviors. Not only that, but everywhere one takes the time to look, private storms of sin occur. Family struggles with illness, death, and grief, strained marriages, broken hearts, lonely evenings. Fear and anxiety abound. People are doing their best to hang on in this tense, confusing, and anxious time we live in. Fear, it seems, has taken a hundred-year lease on the building next door and set up shop. Oversize and rude, fear is unwilling to share your heart with happiness, so happiness complies, packs up, and leaves. Do you ever see the two together? Can one be happy and afraid at the same time? Joyful and afraid? Confident and afraid? No. Fear is the bully on the playground who gets you on the swing and does terrible things. Fear may fill our world, but it doesn’t have to fill our hearts.
Fear never wrote a symphony or love poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a relationship or marriage. Fear never drove a church’s ministry. Courage did that. Faith and hope did that. Love did that. People who refused to cower to their fear and anxiety did that.
Paul wrote in 2 Timothy that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (1:7). What was it again that Jesus said once He got in the boat? “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Know when else this same encouragement is given? In both Matthew 28 and in Mark 16, the angel tells the women who have come TO THE EMPTY TOMB to not be afraid. Why not? Because Jesus is risen from the dead, that’s why. Don’t you see? We are Easter people, and that doesn’t mean we only worship 1-2 times a year. We are sin-forgiven, baptized, redeemed children of God. We are people of hope, not fear. We are people of grace, not anxiety. We are people of love for God and neighbor, not worry. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross and because of the now-empty grave, we are driven by the power of God and His life-giving Word, faithful love, and self-control and not the confusion and fear the world tries to lay on us.
Friends, especially in these difficult days we remember who is pushing the swing. We put our trust in Christ Jesus. God in Christ won’t let us fall out of the swing. Don’t be afraid to take a risk for the kingdom: share the Good News of the Gospel with that neighbor, invite that friend to church, make that life-changing decision, challenge your financial giving, stop that destructive, addictive behavior, get into God’s Word on a daily basis.
I end with the same question I started with. Who is pushing your swing? In the right hands – the pierced hands of our Lord Jesus – you can find joy and love and grace and hope and peace…even in the worst storm of fear and anxiety.