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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Today’s Reading | John 6:15–21

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going. (NRSV)

Whenever I sit with this text, I am struck by two things. First, I always stop at the phrase “take him by force to make him king.” While we claim that Jesus is our Sovereign, he has always refused to be our Ruler the way we might wish he would be. We might wish he would take the world by force and make everyone act with justice, generosity, and kindness. And yet even in the beginning of his ministry with his disciples, he has always resisted our efforts to make him follow the job description of Emmanuel as one might write it. As my former seminary professor Ben Campbell Johnson once taught, “God has a profound respect for human freedom.” God will not make us do anything or force God’s self upon us or upon our lives. Jesus embodies that holy decision.

I am also struck by the first words out of Jesus’ mouth when the disciples see him walking on the lake. “It is I, do not be afraid,” he says immediately. Again, those might not be the first words we would expect. Perhaps we would expect something like, “Do you not get it yet? Do you not know who I am after all this time?” But that is not how he responds to their wondering and doubt. Rather, he responds with gentleness and with the instruction that because of who he is, because of the way he has chosen to be our King, our Savior, our God, we do not need to be afraid. And that is another holy decision for which I am eternally grateful. What might we do if we really lived out “Do not be afraid?”

O Gracious Savior, open us to the way you are at work in our lives, even though it might not be the ways we would expect or even desire. Give us the spirit of “do not be afraid.” Empower us to lean more into your courage than into our fear. And grant us the will to make those our decisions this day and always. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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