Take Heart

Sometimes when we read the Word of God, we see quite clearly it is a grand story of God’s incredible sacrifice to bring reconciliation between the divine and the profane, the holy and the fallen. We see highlighted in the Word the realities of sin. We see the disobedience and shame which are the ethos of our lives. Like a plumb line it measures each movement away from the pure and upright. Yet, there are other times when it seems to address the separation and loneliness of mankind more clearly. It highlights our longing and inability to draw near to our Creator. So, from one perspective it is the unfolding story of God reaching down into the lives of men, God doing what mankind could not do by themselves to seek and save the lost. Although, from the perspective of mankind it often reads as a story of longing, a story of waiting, a story of uncertainty and distant hope, where cries go unanswered, and tears never cease to flow.

Think, if you will, of the example we have from the story of the great flood, Noah and his family, eight souls in all. Imagine the immense loss of life, the separation felt between the Creator and His creatures. Think of the cries going up in hopes the water would cease, that the rain would relent. Or even from Noah’s point of view, imagine as the days, weeks, and months rolled on. Imagine him wondering if perhaps God had forgotten about them. The only living things left, as far as he knew, were on that boat and yet they hear nothing, no direction, no instructions from God as to what they were to do next. God remained in control. God had a plan and purpose to the whole event, and He saw it through. But for a while there, Noah must have certainly struggled to trust Him.

When Noah is finally told to get out of the ark, when he set his foot on dry ground for the first time, he offered sacrifices of thanksgiving to our God. And God made him a promise. He promises He will never again wipe out the earth by a flood, He will never again cut down all He has made, and He offers them a sign. He directs Noah to the rainbow, the beautiful effect of sunlight breaking in through the last vestiges of rain. It was a sign God had not forgotten His people, that God is merciful and good, that God will bring restoration and hope. I find it incredibly interesting how the rainbow, which for centuries has been the visible reminder of the promises of God, has most recently been associated with the gay pride movement. The San Francisco based artist Gilbert Baker designed the pride flag in 1978 as a symbol to rally around. Now, people may lament that this ancient symbol of God’s promises was coopted in such a way, but I think it is perfect. They may assign different meaning to the colors and the symbol of the flag. But it is not the upright and holy who clamor for the promises of God but those who cried out without an answer, those who long for healing and are lost, those that need what our Lord so richly gives. So, whether they know it or not, they wave an ancient symbol of God’s mercy and promise.

We need reminders of our Lord’s promises and presence. We need to know we are not left alone to struggle and strain without hope. We learn something important about our Lord in the story which unfolds right after Jesus feeds the 5000 with the five loaves and 2 fish. He sends His disciple across the sea as He finally gets some time by Himself to pray. The visual here is powerful. Jesus goes one way, and the disciples go the other. They are separated from each other. While they are separated a storm rises on the sea. The Disciples are struggling. They are fighting against forces they have no control over. Now they have already faced the storm before. Remember when Jesus was with them, when He was asleep in the stern as water began to come over the bow? But He is not there this time.

How often does your life feel like this? How often do the movements of your days and weeks flow together and you get so bogged down in dealing with the difficulties which come with the daily grind of life that you feel cut off and separated from what brings peace and hope to your life? At some point things can get so overwhelming you feel like your world is coming apart. You can feel alone in your struggle, no one to talk to, no one to share in the pain, and no one to understand. Some people respond by turning further in on themselves, while others explode outward. But the storm rages on and it gets more and more difficult to strive against it. We long for some peace, real lasting peace. We long for some hope, some assurance everything is going to be okay. In the end, we long for a God who is not far off and aloof but a God which comes near, a God who hears our cries and answers our prayers.

We receive a beautiful word from Mark’s Gospel when he says, “When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and He was alone on the land. And He saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them” (Mark 6:47-48). They were separated but He still saw them. He saw their difficulty and their struggle. How awesome is that! Now, as the text plays out, we learn that seeing the disciples does not simply mean He knows they are struggling. No, when the Lord sees it means He is involved, that He cares about them and so will not abandon them in their struggle.

So, notice what happens next. Jesus sees them and heads out to meet them. Walking on the sea in the midst of the storm Jesus comes to His disciples. The text actually says He meant to pass them by. Now that is a curious bit of information. It does not seem like He intended to really come to them, to get in the boat and calm the waves. No, He simply comes to them so they will know they are not alone. They are not abandoned in their struggle. The One who calms the wind and waves, the One who fed the 5000 still sees them. The storm is not the abandonment of their Lord.

This, I think is what you are meant to learn from this text. The storms of life are real. The struggle and the uncertainty are real. Quite often, from our perspective, we can be like Noah wondering when the rain will cease or like the disciples fearing we are left alone to battle the wind. But the whole time He sees, He knows, He cares, and will not leave you alone and afraid. In fact, it just might be that it is during the fight, during the terror, God draws closer to you. Though truth be told, it is often difficult to see Him, to recognize His presence and promise in the midst of trial and struggle.

When the disciples see Jesus walking on the sea, they are terrified. They think it is a ghost. Perhaps they think it is the cause of the storm, the demon in the midst of the wind and waves seeking to finally do them in. The drawing near of the presence of God can be scary. In fact, if He remained silent there would probably be little difference between the presence of God and the despair and turmoil of life. But he does not stay silent. The Word of God is heard over the sound of the wind as our Lord mercifully says to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Take heart, there is hope. Take heart, there is promise and life. Take heart, for you are not alone. You are not abandoned in the storm.

So, today your Lord draws near to you again. We gather in fellowship around His gifts. We listen to His Words and receive His blessings. We are reminded of ancient and ever-present promises sealed in the blood of Christ. We marvel that whatever storm you are currently battling He still sees you. In fact, He comes right out to meet you. He comes right into the midst of your life, in the midst of your struggle and says, “Take heart, for you are loved. You are the children of God. You are forgiven all of your sins. You are saints of the Most High God. You are precious treasures which I will never abandon.”