First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, November 24, 2019)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Isaiah 43:1-7; John 6:16-21
A Lutheran, a Methodist, and a Presbyterian Pastor are out in a boat fishing, well off the shoreline. The Lutheran minister says to his fellow fishermen, “I have left my cell phone in the car; I had better get it.” With that he stands up, steps out of the boat, walks on top of the water to the shore, fetches his phone, and walks back to the boat, again on top of the water. There is no reaction from the Methodist, but the Presbyterian Pastor nearly falls out of the boat.
They continue to fish and soon the second Pastor, the Methodist, remembers the pills he forgot to take which he left in his coat pocket in the car. So just like the Lutheran before him, he stands up, steps out of the boat on top of the water, walks to the shoreline to his car, retrieves his pills, and returns to the boat, walking on top of the water. And just as before, the Presbyterian Pastor looks on in disbelief, while the Lutheran does not even turn his head.
They fish for several more hours until finally the Presbyterian Pastor, who has been desperately thinking of a reason to go to shore, remembers he has left his lunch in the car. So confidently, not willing to be outdone by a Lutheran or a Methodist, he stands, steps out of the boat and onto the water, and quickly sinks to the bottom of the lake. The Lutheran Pastor leans over to the Methodist Pastor and asks, “Do you think we should tell him where the stepping stones are?”
Let me say right from the start that John 6:16-21 is a miracle story. It is that plain and that simple. This is not a story about Jesus’ knowing where the rocks are. This is not a story where Jesus actually was swimming and the disciples, who had never seen someone swim before, thought he was walking on water. It wasn’t foggy, causing the disciples’ depth perception to be askew. This is not a post- resurrection story where Jesus was actually an apparition. It is a story about Jesus walking on water. It is a miracle, or as John would call it, “It is a sign.”
The Setting of the Fifth Sign
The account of Jesus walking on water is one of my favorite Bible stories. I want to tell you the story, even though it may already be familiar to you. It was just after the five thousand had been fed. Jesus sent His disciples away, aboard a ship, to the other side of the lake; the Sea of Galilee. Jesus dismissed the crowd and went up into a mountain to pray.
As the disciples were sailing to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, to Capernaum, the sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. Halfway through their struggle against the storm, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But Jesus said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Jesus got into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going. Two lessons as we consider this Fifth Sign this morning; the first has to do with navigating our rough seas, and the second with Jesus being our anchor and our sure foundation.
First: Navigating Rough Seas
The gospel of John 6:17 states, “By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them.” Have you been there before? Have you ever been by yourself in the dark? Most of us don't like the dark. As kids sometimes we liked playing in the dark. Hide and seek. Sardines. Flashlight Tag. Sharks & Minnows. Playing games can be fun but unfortunately there's a worse kind of dark that some struggle with. Darkness of grief: Darkness of depression. Darkness of being alone. Darkness of feeling alone even when you're surrounded by others. Darkness of despair. Darkness of uncertainty. In darkness, all we want is a flicker of light that lets us know the way we need to go.
The disciples found themselves in a life threating situation. They rowed in a storm for about three or four miles. They are tired, exhausted, frustrated, discouraged, and afraid. As your Pastor, I can tell that many of us right now are battling a tough storm. This could be a serious illness, or financial problems or job loss. Yes, sometimes we have to travel rough roads. Some of you right here today are rowing as hard as you can. And it is very hard work and I admire your perseverance.
Second: Jesus, the Anchor of our Souls
What is actually the point of this story? Was it told by John simply to add to the list of miracles performed by Jesus as a testimony to His divinity? Most likely it was, but there is more. For me, the true power of the story for the church is this: the adversity that we are working through is always more manageable when Jesus works through it with us. When we find ourselves rowing against whatever it is in our lives that is churning up the waves, having Jesus with us will make the rowing a lot easier.
I am not saying this with the intention of its being just another churchy cliché. I truly believe there is a calming presence that Jesus Christ brings to us in the midst of our adversity that makes navigating that adversity much easier, regardless of the nature of the outcome. Again, there are some of you who know exactly what I am talking about. Jesus came and said, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Jesus will do the same for you.
A diagnosis of cancer is never good. You have two options. You can face the adversity alone and row against the waves all by yourself, or you can ask Jesus to help you work through the adversity and to give you the strength to do whatever you need to do to come out on the other side, whatever “the other side” means.
John Wesley tells a story when he was on a ship crossing the ocean going from England to Georgia in the Colonies. Wesley had never been on a ship before. They were 7 days from land and it was the third and most violent storm. They were worried that the ship is going to be lost in a storm at sea. Wesley wrote, “The sea spilled over the ship, split the mainsail, and poured between the decks as if the great deep had already swallowed us up.” The English passengers screamed in fright; the German Moravians calmly continued singing the psalms without intermission. Wesley was impressed with their faith in the face of death. He saw the difference in the hour of trial, between those who truly knew Jesus Christ and those who didn’t. The Prophet Isaiah wrote in 43:1-3, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
I like the way John wraps up this story. John 6:21 states, “Then they were eager to let Him in the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.” One moment they are in the middle of this lake, that stretches 7 miles from one side to the other, battling darkness, strong winds, and powerful waves. The next moment Jesus comes walking to them, they say get in the boat, and the next thing they know they have reached the shore. It’s amazing what Jesus can do and will do when we let Him in. Amen.