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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, February 1, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 6:47–56

When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (NRSV)

Composer Stephen Paulus is probably best known for the magnificent choral work Pilgrim’s Hymn. It begins with the words “Even before we call on your name, to ask you, O God, as we seek for the words to glorify you, you hear our prayer.” It comes from the opera The Three Hermits, which is adapted from a story by Leo Tolstoy. On a fishing boat voyage, a bishop overhears pilgrims talking about three hermits that live on a remote island, seeking the salvation of their souls. The bishop asks the captain to go to the island. The bishop meets the hermits, who in turn ask to be taught to pray. After much frustration trying to teach and learn the Lord’s Prayer, the hermits finally, in a halting way, remember the words.

The bishop leaves the island and bids the hermits to continue to pray the Lord’s Prayer as he has taught them. As his boat makes his way across the nighttime seas, the bishop notices that the three hermits are running across the surface of the water. They catch up to the boat and inform the bishop that they tried to remember but kept leaving parts out and then could not remember at all. Humbled by the hermits, the bishop realizes they are men of great faith. He states the hermits’ prayer will reach God and he is the one who has much to learn about faith.

In our passage from Mark, Jesus sees the disciples struggling and sets off, walking on the sea. “Don’t be afraid,” are his words to them. And the sea calms.

There are many days in our lives when all we need is to hear the hymns, the prayer, the voice that says, “Do not be afraid,” that calm the turbulent seas of life. And he comes to us through the most unexpected and most humble ones, the ones of great faith. He comes with care and compassion. Indeed, indeed!

Please come to us, O Jesus, with the words that set our fearful hearts at rest. Grant that we will get out of the way—with our agendas, our worries, our absolutes—and know that you come to us with surprising grace and instructive love. Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

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