9th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 12) LSB #’s 908, 553, 375
Text – Mark 6:51-52
And [Jesus] got into the boat with them, & the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
I was surprised when I did the research, because I thought that cancer had become the #1 cause of death in the United States. However, heart disease is still the highest cause. In fact, it takes the life of one person in the US every 36 seconds. That’s 655,000 Americans per year, or 1 out of every 4 deaths. And that is just the physical side of the issue.
Heart disease is also the #1 killer of souls. If you’re wondering what a hardened heart is like, listen to this report from Thursday of last week. It highlights a hardened heart by contrasting it with a heart that is still alive & well. It was written in the New York Daily News, by Nelson Oliveira.
“A Florida man was introduced to two very different kinds of neighbors this week. One of them is being hailed a hero for possibly saving his life as he convulsed inside a car – which rolled down into the lawn of a family who, instead of helping, yelled at them to get off their property, authorities said.
‘Get off our lawn,’ the homeowners reportedly said. ‘Get the man out of here, have him die somewhere else.’ The shocking incident happened Monday as a lawn worker identified only as ‘Tony’ was walking to work in a Palm Beach County community, according to the local sheriff’s office.
The man spotted a neighbor having a ‘serious seizure’ inside his vehicle & immediately rushed to help him, going as far as trying to stop the moving car with his own hands, authorities said. ‘Without thinking twice, Tony ran up to the rolling car on Dunes Road & grabbed the fender to try & stop it from rolling down the street further,’ deputies wrote in a Facebook post. ‘It ran over Tony’s foot, but thankfully he had steel-toe boots on!’ The car finally stopped on a neighbor’s lawn, but the driver was still ‘in terrible shape’ inside the locked vehicle.
Tony screamed & begged the neighbors to help him, but the homeowners were apparently more worried about their grass. ‘A very sad moment for Tony, but he kept at it!!’ deputies said. Tony, recognized the driver from the neighborhood, ran to his home & alerted the man’s wife. Emergency workers arrived at the scene moments later & treated the driver.”
Back in Michigan, it’s fairly easy for us, in that story, to recognize the characters with heart disease. Yelling out, “Have him die somewhere else,” is an obvious symptom of a heart gone bad. In our minds we can easily label them as bad people, feel better about ourselves, & then move on. We can easily minimize the tension of that story.
In Mark’s Gospel we have problem though, because it’s the disciples of Jesus who are revealed as having heart disease: “And [Jesus] got into the boat with them, & the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” It’s not so easy to just write them off as bad people to ease the tension we feel.
By walking on the water, Jesus is revealing Himself as the almighty Creator of the land & the sea, the planets, the stars & the entire universe. It’s the same thing Jesus was doing ten verses earlier in Mark 6, when He took the five loaves & two fish & fed 5000 men with them. But the disciples didn’t understand that anymore than they understood His walking on the water.
Then Mark tells us, they did not understand because their hearts were hardened. And if the 12 men that Jesus chose personally had hardened hearts where does that leave you & me? Are we in the same boat? Is it God’s intention that we should write ourselves off as bad people? That is what some people conclude & they give up all hope of being saved. Jesus revealed Himself as the almighty God, but the disciples will not draw that conclusion. In fact they are not able to because their hearts are diseased & hard. Jesus reveals Himself in this way, not so they understand right now, but in order that, once Jesus has risen from the dead, they will be able to look back & understand it then.
Even that will be something the Holy Spirit has to accomplish in them, & Jesus promises that He will: “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things & bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25-26 ESV)
And if anyone refuses the Holy Spirit they cannot be saved. Though it does, it should not surprise us that so many people in our nation today are rejecting all of Jesus’ teachings that challenge us or convict our hardened hearts. Even the 12 chosen ones were not capable of understanding until the Spirit descended on them at Pentecost. Judas never made it that far.
However, you & I are not the 12 chosen ones. We do not have to wait until after the resurrection in order to understand. We already live after the resurrection from the dead. The everlasting work of the new creation has already begun. And the Holy Spirit has already been working in the new heart given us at Baptism, to bring us to the understanding that Jesus is Lord.
That Jesus is Lord has consequences. Depending on which part of you is responding those are good or bad. You see, the sinful nature in us sees everything about Jesus is Lord as bad. That’s because each of us wants to be our own God. It’s no different than Adam & Eve when they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. They were tempted by the desire to be god.
Sure, Satan told them they would be like God, but the reality is they thought it would be nice to make their own decisions.
On the other hand, our saintly nature recognizes that everything about Jesus is Lord is
good for us. That is because God is good, in fact, God is love, & not a self-serving love. God’s love is giving as Jesus demonstrated so clearly on the cross at Golgotha. He gave everything there to the very last drop of His blood, sweat & tears. Jesus did not need to earn the right to be our Lord, but He proved that He is & lovingly so.
On the cross, the heart of Jesus stopped beating not because of disease, but because of His unfathomable love for us even while we were yet sinners. Our heart disease in effect caused Him to die. Now, in every moment of our day, Jesus is working to recreate our heart into the perfect image of God’s love. Our sinfulness makes that an extremely difficult task.
This episode in the life of Jesus & His disciples is a good illustration of the life of discipleship as a constant experience of testing & deliverance. In this case, it was not through stubborn self-will, but through direct obedience to the Lord’s command, that the disciples found themselves in this plight.
Thus, the storm in no way showed that they had deviated from the path of God’s will: God’s path for them lay through that storm, to the other shore of the lake. It was not that the Lord intended to leave them on the sea. It was because of their need that He had come; but they must be brought to realize the need for themselves.
You & I must be brought to realize our need as well. It takes testing & deliverance to learn that lesson in this broken world. Otherwise, we twist & corrupt every single blessing that God gives to us, even the blessing of good health, if & when we have that. Actual physical heart disease is but a reminder that without Jesus death is our due. The old creation will die.
Through the feeding of the five thousand with just five loaves of bread & two fish Jesus demonstrated that He is completely able to provide us with everything we need. Through His walking on the water & calming the wind, Jesus demonstrated that He can make the climate change for the better. Even the sea must obey His command, but He wants us to return to Him, not out of fear or command, but out of love & respect & submission to His ultimate goodness.
Christ’s purpose for times of testing is to benefit His people. Messiah is willing & able to deliver us from that which will destroy us – ultimately from sin, death & hell.
God brings his children into difficult & even fearful situations to strengthen their faith in His presence & faith in His power to deliver them from ultimate peril. Our sinful nature will always doubt that testing can have any good purpose. That is our diseased heart at work.
Yet, just as Jesus demonstrated to His disciples His presence with them in time of trial & His power to save them, so also Jesus has demonstrated this supremely in His death & resurrection. Through them He rescues us from the curse of our sin. Through them the Holy Spirit creates a new heart within everyone who does not turn away from Jesus.
As St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 3: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven & on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” (3:14-17 ESV)
If you ever notice yourself yelling, “Get the man out of here, have him die somewhere else,” please recognize that it is a sure sign of a diseased heart. Then turn back to God to receive a new one. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
O Christ, our hope, our heart’s desire, creation’s mighty Lord, Redeemer of the fallen world by holy love outpoured: How vast Your mercy to accept the burden of our sin & bow Your head in cruel death to make us clean within. But now the bonds of death are burst, the ransom has been paid; You now ascend the Father’s throne in robes of light arrayed. O let Your mighty love prevail to purge us of our pride that we may stand before Your throne by mercy purified. Amen. LSB 553:1-4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet