RISKY WATERS // Sara Wolbrecht // August 16, 2015 // Mark 6:35-42
I have a friend, we’ll call her Emma. Emma met a guy, we’ll call him Mike, through a mutual friend. Emma works in the same office as this friend of hers. It was one of those situations where Mike and Emma had met before, at a few gatherings, watched a few Seahawk’s games with a group of other friends, and they weren’t really into in each other – mostly because they both thought the other was so different then they were. But then, one time, when they hung out, earlier this year, something seemed to click for Emma, and she started to see Mike differently. And she found herself thinking about him a lot – and started Facebook stalking him – like you do. She had had Mike’s cell number for a while, but Emma actually started texting him a bit more regularly – putting herself out there a little bit. And then finally, there was a decisive moment when she actually asked him to meet up for a drink on a Saturday night …and Mike said yes. And they have been dating for about five months now.
Now Mike could have said no, she could have had a bit of rejection there, it could have made things a little more awkward between them at the next Seahawk’s game. But she took a risk with all of that. Why? The answer to why Emma took a risk and why we do too is something that points us toward where we’re headed today. And it begins with Emma and with a statement about all of us on this planet when it comes to love and belonging and how we’re wired. It is this:
We all want more love, joy, authenticity, vulnerability, and belonging. Not only is this true for romantic relationships, but also our friends, our partner, our parents, our families, even coworkers. Also true of our longing for new friends. We never reach the place of saying, Yeah, you know, I think I’m good. I’ve got enough love, joy, belonging in my life. I’m done. There is the opportunity to deepen, develop, evolve even the existing relationships, to be more deeply known. Would you agree with this statement? And would you say, yeah, that’s me, too? I know it is for me.
Knowing that this is true, have you wondered – I know I have – how is love, joy, belonging – how is that birthed within us and within our lives and in our relationships? Can we make it happen?
There is a woman who has done research on this over the last 15 years. Her TED talk exploded across the internet in 2010. Her name is Brene Brown. And according to Brene, the key to accessing the love and vulnerability we long for? Can you guess what it is that we can do?
If you think of my friend Emma for a moment – she was able to begin developing more intimacy and belonging with Mike – and that happened because she was willing to do what? She asked him out, she took a risk, a risk of being hurt, a risk of rejection. In doing this, Emma did the one thing that leads to more love and joy and belonging.
The one thing? To be more vulnerable. To receive more vulnerability and love, we must be more vulnerable. That’s it. And incase you’re unclear about what vulnerability is, Vulnerability: Capable of being wounded or hurt.
That’s the one thing. Ugh! That sounds awful! Can’t we just work harder on something? And MAN is that hard. Brene names that struggle this way: “In our culture, we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.” Dr. Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability,” www.udemy.com
Taking the risk of hurt, then, is the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love. Birthed in the letting down of our guard, the walls, the safe exterior that we build around ourselves, the show we put on, all the things we pretend to be, and actually revealing the soft, squishy center of who we really are underneath it all.
A few weeks ago Mike and Emma took another step into deeper authenticity when Mike took a risk – he was the first one to say “I love you” to Emma – which was incredibly vulnerable, risky. But in doing so, Emma was able to name that she reciprocates that love, and their relationship, because of that risk of vulnerability, is deepening.
I bring all of this up for us to be in touch with as we turn to Mark’s gospel. Today, Jesus walks on water. And I find this picture hilarious – I’m not sure which is more miraculous – Jesus actually walking on water, or how someone in this picture is holding the feet of this Jesus character… As we do every week, I want us to look at this text wondering what is says to us about who God is, who we are, and noticing new things that speak to us in our lives – our vulnerable lives where we all long for greater intimacy and love. We never have all the answers about any of this, but we take our best, educated guess today, with what we see, today.
Last week, Jesus fed 10,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and two fish – and we named how God meets us in our own places of hunger and sends us home with the leftovers. So that scene ends, then – as is Mark’s practice – we notice how they IMMEDIATELY move on to the next thing. We’ve already experienced Jesus and his disciples on the water, in the storm – and how Jesus said, “Peace! Be still!” and stopped the storm. Well, here we go again, the disciples get scared, Jesus is not in the boat. This may be familiar to you – Jesus walking on water. As always, I invite you to really engage and visualize what this what like, to get into the words you hear – and I invite you to notice what it says about the disciples in the last sentence.
Mark 6:45-52 (NIV)
Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
Jesus leaves to find a mountain so he can pray. Later, the disciples are out in the water. They’re rowing hard against the wind, it’s getting close to dawn. Jesus walks out, they think he’s a ghost. He moves as if to pass by – but then speaks to them, to not worry, then comes and hops in the boat. The wind stops.
Then there is this interesting sentence at the end. We’re going to talk about this sentence: The disciples were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. Mark 6:51-52
Why does Mark, who writes this, share this detail about their hearts that are hardened? You may recognize that there are places like this in the gospels where we hear how in some way the disciples are just not getting it – and this is the first place in Mark’s gospel where Mark writes something like this – this indication that the disciples are not understanding what is happening – we’ll see a whole lot more of this when we head into chapter 8 in a few weeks.
On the one hand – I always love these moments. Because we go, phew! I don’t get it, either, guys. I also have uncertainties, doubts, and questions. So do these guys – and they’re with Jesus! But we also see them with Jesus and wonder – guys don’t you get it?
Well, I want to suggest that in their hesitancy and hard heartedness and not understanding is the very real dynamic that we know, too – for them, in these moments it is so hard to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is underneath this. That’s (at least part of) why their hearts are hard.
BECAUSE: it would be risky for the disciples to willingly connect the dots to all that they have seen Jesus do. It would be risky for them to actually understand the meaning of the loaves as Jesus fed 10,000 people. Because that would mean that they would stick their neck out, and say the vulnerable thing that Jesus is actually who he claims to be. That would be risky.
Risky, because there are people out to kill Jesus, would their own lives be in danger, too? Risky – because what if Jesus isn’t the Messiah, and everyone sees them as naïve and foolish and this all goes south? And risky, because to say Jesus is the Messiah would be the vulnerable word that would take them into deeper love, joy, intimacy, and belonging with Jesus.
And so for us, we always put ourselves into the texts we read in the Bible to look around and see what it’s like to be there, too. And so for us, we also stand with the disciples in these moments of risk, of potential deepening intimacy with God. And we know it can be risky. I know there are so many questions and hesitancies for us as we consider this life with God, and fears about being seen as naïve and foolish to say we believe that God came to us in this person of Jesus.
And yet. We also stand with these disciples in these moments and see them as moments of wild invitation, seeing in it an opportunity to be and see differently, to rise up into a freer and deeper way of being in the world. Because for us to take the risk and say we believe in Jesus, to align our lives with his, will take us into deeper love, joy, intimacy, and belonging with Jesus. The very thing we long for most. Oh, and that is risky, too. Because the love of God will also confront us with transformation and becoming who God has created us each to be. That is risky, that is vulnerable.
And yet! Of all the relationships we have – this is the one where there is no real risk! At least not the kind like we experience in most relationships. What we see throughout the gospels, Jesus demonstrates the boundlessness of God’s love and acceptance for us. To take a risk with someone you’re in a relationship with – like being the first one to say I love you to someone you’re dating – there is a absolutely a risk of rejection there. But to say YES to Jesus, to the life of God – this is the one relationship where there is never a risk of rejection. Jesus shows us he is the one who comes to us (like the disciples) when we are rowing hard against the wind – and he does not pass by but climbs into our boat, our struggle with us. Jesus shows us he’s the one who reaches out to heal the places of deepest pain and addiction and grief and abuse and all the ways we feel isolated – just as he does for the crowds who have come to him. Paul writes it to the Christians in Rome – nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing. Never rejection. Even unto death – that is the lengths God goes to for the sake of His radical love, acceptance, belonging, and joy for us. And yes my friends – isn’t this indeed great good news?
And so today we simply ask ourselves – is there a place in our life where God is inviting us into more vulnerability, more love, more belonging? Maybe yes, it is in your connection with God, in wrestling with the life of Jesus – maybe this is a day to say, yes, God, I want to go more deeply with you. Or maybe it is in a friendship where you have been hesitant to go in too deeply, maybe it is time to share more fully who you are. Maybe a neighbor, a coworker, your parent. Maybe your spouse or partner. Is there a longing in you for more love, more joy, more authenticity? Well, how might you open yourself up, soften your heart, and ask God for the grace and power to be more vulnerable and live more fully into the love of God and the love of other dear ones in your life?
I know, I know, it is no fun to be vulnerable. And yet, we can understand what those disciples did not – we can understand that in the loaves, the feeding of so many hungry bellies with so little food – that we have a God of abundance, overflowing abundance that meets all of our deepest hungers, and yes, most certainly, our hunger for love and belonging. And by the grace of God and the power of the spirit, we are enabled to rise up, to risk, to be real with ourselves and others to find the belonging we long for. Where is your hunger for more love at this time?
Let me pray for us – God, we thank you, that you are God who comes to us – who walks across the waves and chaos of our lives so that we may know your faithfulness. Teach us today to trust more fully your faithfulness – to see what you have done in the past as signs of your faithfulness sin the future. And God, meet us in those deepest, rawest mometns when we long to know and be known, to be loved and even liked by others. Show us how to take the little steps to be real and honest with others. That your love and authenticity would be birthed in us at those moments.
And for us today who want to open our hearts more deeply to you, we do that now – simply by saying, yes, God, Yes. I am yours, you are mine. And your deep, deep love is where I will dwell with you now.
Thank you for your abiding love. Thank you for each other. And Thank you for Jesus. Amen