No Time for Informality

Text: Mark 6:45-52
Date: Pentecost VIII (Proper 12) + 7/26/09
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

We live in a day when informality is “in” and formality is “out,” maybe more than ever. More places of business than you might think have so-called “casual Fridays” when all the employees are allowed to “dress down.” I, for one, have never believed that it is a universal genetic truth that men per se are uncomfortable in shirt-and-tie, but rather, it is a learned trait. It used to be, “back in the day,” that people would normally dress up to go to church on Sunday, but these days not only is informal dress acceptable, but even the slovenly (at least by some)!

Why and when do people feel the need to dress up? Well, just ask the people at Men’s Warehouse® or President Tuxedo® who supply all those weddings where a lot of guys who maybe have never even worn a suit before are fitted and decked out in what at least looks like the finest in formal wear if not the fittest. (That’s one thing about weddings that gets me, by the way, when the groom’s and his attendants’ shoes are shinier than mine!)

So people dress up for weddings. Why? I guess because the marriage ceremony is still viewed as a supremely important event in life. It’s maybe the same for funerals. Sometimes formality has to do with supremely important people, the dignity of the guests as at a dinner event for a high political official, the Queen of England, or maybe the Pope. (I always love the practice of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. where, for Easter, instead of choir robes, the choir men dress in tuxedos and women in formal dress.) Other than that it seems we prefer informal dress. It’s more comfortable. It’s less demanding, more understated, less critical, less ostentatious.

In our continuing question in the beginning chapters of Mark’s gospel, “Who is this Jesus?” the evangelist gradually reveals the answer. Mark
began his gospel with the announcement that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, a title that can only be known, believed and confessed by faith. Then his Gospel gradually reveals our Lord’s true identity through various signs and events. First, Jesus is called “one mightier than John the Baptist,” then, at His baptism, He is the one proclaimed by the voice from heaven as “my beloved Son.” In the wilderness, after his temptation by the devil, He is ministered to by angels. We hear the demons called him “the Holy One of God” but He silenced them. He showed Himself to be a preacher and healer. He is called Rabbi and teacher. Then He even called Himself the Son of Man and lord of the Sabbath! Great crowds followed Him seeking healing from their illnesses. On the other hand, some of His enemies called Him a devil. Some thought he was “only” the son of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth, and took offense at Him.

Once He calmed a storm making His disciples ask, “who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” They didn’t know who Jesus was, yet. Herod heard about Him and thought He was John the Baptist come back from the dead to haunt him. Five thousand people began to get the idea that He was some sort of “bread king.” That brings us to today’s Gospel.

It was after the feeding of the 5,000. And instead of going with His disciples He made them get into the boat without Him to go to Bethsaida on the other side of the lake, while He dismissed the crowd. Then He went up on the mountain to pray. When evening came, the boat was on the sea, and He was alone on the land. Whether from afar to His human eyes or with His omniscience He saw that the disciples were making their way with some difficulty. Here St. Mark wants you to notice that they were not in trouble, this wasn’t an emergency. The disciples, being experienced boaters, were not fearing for their life or anything as during a threatening storm, it was just difficult. It happened also to be about the fourth watch of the night, that is, between three and six a.m. It was then that Jesus came walking on the sea. Mark adds the detail that Jesus kept walking as if “He meant to pass by them.” At that moment they thought it was a ghost and cried out in fear; fear—not at the storm but at the sight of this guy walking on the water, “for they all saw him and were terrified,” freaked out. But he immediately spoke with them and He said, “Be of good courage, I am He. Stop being afraid.” And He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped.

Now what is it that just happened? What was the point? It was not, as before, Jesus demonstrating His ability to calm a storm on the sea. That’s not the issue. This is not a sermon about God’s help amid the storms of life. It wasn’t a storm. There is something else going on here. In fact, I suppose Jesus could have done this walking-on-the-water thing on a calm and clear night. The point is not the wind or weather. The point is His appearance to them in a completely unexpected way. That He appeared to or meant to walk by them, passing them by brings to mind the rare appearances of God in the Old Testament, as when He appeared to Moses, but Moses was to see only His “back side” perched between the rocks, as the Lord said to him, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33:19-20). This is what is called a “Theophany,” this appearance was to demonstrate His divine nature. The proper response to the question “Who is Jesus?” after this event is, He is God! More specifically, He is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity,

“begotten of His Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father,”
and, above all,
“by whom all things were made.”
Jesus is God the Creator of all things.

If this is so, He is the most supremely important person in the world, just because of Who He is. But even more, He has also done the most supremely important act in the world, namely, nothing less than reconciling God and man by means of His sacrificial death on the Cross.
“And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of the Father.”
Therefore, it is time to put on the tuxedos and throw the most formal event, worthy of His presence. More important and impressive than the most important and impressive human being or event you can mention—more important and impressive than the Governor of the State, the President of the United States, the Queen of England or the Pope, more important and impressive than the landing of man on the moon or even the adoption of the Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution.

But now notice, and here is the point of it all. Did the disciples “get it”? Did they understand what they were seeing? Note what St. Mark says, “they began to be astonished, for they did not understand about the loaves, but rather their hearts were hardened.” There is something about their misunderstanding His feeding of the 5,000 that blinded their minds also at this demonstration of His Deity. No, they didn’t “get it,” they didn’t understand. So what does Jesus do? He does not abandon them. He does not rebuke them. He gets into the boat with them—“with them!” This is “Immanuel,” the “with us” God…with us and not against us; the God who so loved the world, Who did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

So, on the one hand, we are called today to recognize, acknowledge, believe and confess that Jesus is no one less than true God, begotten of His Father from eternity, worthy of every honor and of all worship, and, at the same time, true man, born of His mother under God’s Law in order to redeem us with His blood. While we can sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus,” He is, at the same time, not merely your best friend or buddy but is also always “my Lord and my God.” It is He, after all, who is coming “again with glory to judge both the living and the dead,” and “whose kingdom will have no end.” What this incident says to us is that, in Jesus, God does not abandon us even when we don’t get it, even when we misunderstand, when we are ignorant. He still graciously reveals Himself in His Word and especially in His Body and Blood given to us in the Holy Sacrament. He still “gets in the boat” with us and promises never to leave or forsake us.

Hold on to Him who will not let go of you.

Entrust your days and burdens
To God’s most loving hand;
He cares for you while ruling
The sky, the sea, the land.
For He who guides the tempests
Along their thund’rous ways
Will find for you a pathway
And guide you all your days. [LSB 754]