"Wind and Sea Obey"

9 September 2012 – Rally Day!

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Prayer.

Boats.

For centuries one of many symbols for Christianity has been a boat.

Though used in other ancient settings

Boats, from a Biblical context,

Sets loose our imagination.

We remember Noah and the great boat he built – an Ark, big enough to fit two of every animal.

We think about Jonah attempting to escape the reach of God

Only to find himself in a storm tossed boat about to be pitched overboard.

We think of Jesus calming the storm today,

And in other stories from the Sea of Galilee

Jesus stepping out of the boat to walk on water,

Teaching the crowds from a boat,

And calling out to Peter in a boat who was about to make a miraculous catch.

In the Acts of the Apostles

We follow the exotic cruises and tours made by Peter and Paul,

Canvasing the Mediterranean to spread the Gospel

Eventually being arrested and moved by boat to prison in Rome.

In time, early Christians began to think of the Church as a boat;

An important metaphor that I would like to advance today.

Let’s take a look at some of the more notable characteristics of a boat

As it relates to the Church of Jesus Christ.

1. Boats are more efficient than swimming

I can imagine that first person who looked at water that had to be crossed

Stripped off their fig leafs

And started to learn to swim.

It would not have taken long to figure out that

It is nearly impossible to carry anything while you swim,

Carry on a conversation with anyone else while you swim,

And that even the dandelion seeds carried in the wind

Floated faster over the water than any stroke that could be mastered.

A sail! Was a good answer to catch the wind;

Even better when it was mounted on a floating log.

Tie a few logs together, and with a sail,

One could carry others, carry goods, and slide across the water faster than anyone could swim.

Thus, you have a boat.

The goal is to get to God.

That’s where we are going.

I suppose it is possible to take up solitary swimming.

You’d get there eventually

- If you don’t drown first -

But when life’s journey is ocean’s width

The only practical solution

Is to get out of the water and get into the boat.

Everyone is welcome to climb aboard this boat known as the Church.

2. We are in this together

With the exception of kayaks, dingys, and sailboards

Boating is a community experience.

People are held together by the confines of the hull.

Personally, as an introvert, this can be a little unnerving.

I can only be social for so long.

Yet, in time, the pace and the rhythm of boating life

Becomes more familiar and easier than when you first get your sea legs.

Some are perpetually sea sick.

Others are always grumbling and complaining.

Regardless, we’re in it together, so we might just as well make the most of it.

The Church is the Ecclesia, the people of God,

Even the Body of Christ,

Exhibiting some very human

And some simply divine characteristics.

The Church is not the building.

The Church is the people we have;

And each Sunday we put into port,

The Church includes all the new passengers who we welcome aboard.

The Church includes all the people in the boat;

Who reach out to the last, the least, and the lost,

Simply because that is what Jesus did

And this is the pathway that leads directly to God.

We have a common destination

And being together means we will share experiences.

Shared experiences allow wisdom to flow from one generation to the next.

Common experiences strengthen the fibers of love and understanding.

Encouragement is given and received.

We learn to pull together.

Leadership skills can be practiced and tuned.

Even in our disagreements,

Being held together by the hull and the loving embrace of God,

We can learn ways to work it out

Provided we have the commitment to stick to the ship.

3. Boats are about a journey

Boats are not meant to be tied to a dock or perpetually moored in a port.

Boats have to get out,

Get moving,

And make progress!

When I think about our little motorboat at the cottage,

The saddest time comes at the end of the day and we have to put the cover on.

The boat is meant to be used.

It is meant for people

To come together

For a slow tour of the lake

- making for a wonderful opportunity for conversation –

Or for skiing and tubing

- having fun with a shared experience!

The Church as a boat is all about the spiritual journey.

Individually, we are moving our lives towards God.

Never perfect,

Often with occasional times of backsliding,

Our soul is moved forward in our life’s journey towards God.

John Wesley would call this “moving on to perfection.”

Individually, our brokenness is healed

Our suffering is enjoined with Christ

And the cross effectively takes it away,

Perfecting us in grace.

Collectively, we are all traveling in the same direction as our fellow sister and brother.

The Church is never perfect;

So get over this pie-in-the-sky expectation.

It is always grounded in the human nature of Jesus Christ,

Yet, it is always seeking to improve itself

To become the perfectly divine incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Salvation is our destination,

But that is already assured.

So give up the anxiety about meeting God,

And lend yourself individually and collectively to embracing the journey.

4. The biggest boat best weathers the storm

The last place you want to be in a hurricane

Is paddling in a one person canoe.

I remember my father telling me about being in a Pacific storm

Riding it out in a battleship,

Feeling sorry for the sailors who had to endure it in a much smaller destroyer class ship.

The waves were so huge,

They completely eclipsed the destroyer

Causing the flaps on the smoke stacks to momentarily close

And to be fully submerged.

The Church has much more size and capacity than we’ll ever know.

We may think we are limited by our seating capacity

Our parking lot size

Or the limitations of our budget.

It just isn’t so.

When it comes to our God and Heavenly Father,

The Church becomes the necessary source for our every need.

And God has already provided that which is necessary.

It is big enough to welcome in people with differing opinions.

It has the capacity to gather in cultures, languages, and orientations as diverse as there are colors in a rainbow.

Every imperfection is welcome and invited to come aboard.

It is only when we attempt to limit our size

And make attempts to justify our judgmental and Pharisee like actions

That we find ourselves in a boat that is truly imperiled by the storms

Of life, politics, and culture.

God can’t be limited.

Neither can His Church.

5. The boat needs maintained and the bilge needs pumped on occasion

While the Church may be a life boat reaching out to the last, the least and the lost,

And the Church may be the means to share the good news and welcome new passengers aboard at every port

There are some basic chores that have to be done to make certain the ship functions

Efficiently and effectively.

When the mast or rudder is broken,

They have to be repaired.

When grit and grime start to build up,

The decks need swabbed.

When the bilge gets full,

It has to be pumped.

So, like it or not,

The Church requires some administration,

Though, like a well-run non-profit,

Administration should never require more than 10% of the effort.

90% of our efforts as the Church of Jesus Christ

Needs to be in disciple making

And outreach to those in need.

The point of a Leadership Council to support the missions that

Christ calls us to support

With our time, talents, and treasures.

The point of a Building Committee like a Board of Trustees

Is to ensure the property supports the fulfillment of God’s will for the Body.

Make the quilts; let the Trustees worry about making certain the furnace is on.

Plant the flowers; let the Leadership Council raise the money to purchase them.

Serve the hungry; let the UMW buy the turkeys.

Support mission trips and missionaries by allowing the District and Conference to coordinate efforts.

6. There may be other boats out there, but this is the one we’ve got

It is hard to be below deck all the time,

To not come up on deck,

Look out over the wide ocean,

And to occasionally wonder about other ships.

I would never attempt to limit God.

There is far more of the mysterious that we don’t know about God

Than the limited bit that we’ve come to know and experience.

I know God created the Church,

Called us together,

And longs for us to sail towards Him.

What I don’t know,

And I would never presume,

Is that we are the only ship that God created and set sail.

Indeed, I’d be rather disappointed if we were the only one!

But instead of always seeking other ships and other seas,

Or outright dismissing them because our infantile need for exclusive divine attention

Let us pay attention to the boat that God has already given us.

We are the Church,

We’re the boat,

Let’s make the best of it.

In closing,

I’d like to leave you with a story that Lynn and I heard at Annual Conference

From the preacher of the day, CRCDS President, Rev. Marvin A. McMickle.

Thankfully, it is a well published story that I could easily find.

It is called “The Little Boat” by Arlo Yap.

There was a little boy who lived by the sea and the one thing he loved best was to carve out little boats from the pieces of driftwood that came from that sea. One day he found washed up on the shore a solid block of wood so perfect for sculpting that he told himself, "This is going to be the best boat I'll make!" and so he proceeded to carve it, making sure that the details were perfect. After sculpting it, he sanded it and painted and lacquered it. He'd then take it wherever he went, always showing it off to his friends. 

One day, he waded into the sea, put his little boat on the water, and watched it bob up and down on the water. He was very proud of his boat. But suddenly, a great wave descended on him and the little boat, and the wave engulfed the little boat until it drifted far, far away from the boy and disappeared. The boy ran to his father, crying, and his father tried to comfort him, to no avail. 

The days went past, and became weeks, then months, but the boy still missed his little boat. One day, while he was accompanying his father to town, he wandered into a store, and there, among the other souvenirs and merchandise the store was selling, was his little boat! He then approached the owner, and asked him where he got the little boat over there by the shelf.

"Well now," said the owner, "someone came into the store just last week and sold me that little boat, and since it's a fine piece of craftsmanship, I thought it was a good deal."

"Sir, you see, I was the one who made that little boat." the boy said. "I carved it, sanded it, painted and lacquered it. It's the best little boat I ever made, and it got lost at sea and I've searched and searched for it and now I'm so happy to have found it. Can I have it back please?"

The owner looked at the boy, shook his head, and said, "I'm sorry son, but I paid for that little boat, and if you want to get it back, then you'd have to buy it ." The boy, who didn't have any money on him at the time, said, "Okay. I'll be back soon. Just keep it in reserve for me, okay?" Then he took one last look at his little boat, and ran to join his father. As soon as they came home, he went to his room, took his piggy bank, broke it, and counted the money in it. Alas, he came up short! He sat there, tears rolling down his face, and his father came in the room. "Son, what's the matter?," his father asked. So the boy told him what happened, and his father said, "Son, why do love that little boat so much? There are so many pieces of wood that wash up daily from the sea. You could make another little boat, or even more if you wished. " 

The boy replied, "Father, I loved that little boat so much. I couldn't eat nor sleep, wondering what had happened to it all these months. And to have found it after all this time! Father, I don't care how much it costs, I'm going to work hard so I can save up to buy back my little boat." His father lovingly looked at his son's sad face, and said, "Okay, my son, I understand. Here, I'll give you the money to buy back your boat," and handed him the money. The boy hugged his father tightly, whispering, "Thank you, father." and ran off towards the store, and bought back his little boat. He took it home, cradling it in his arms, and showed it off to his father, his mother, and the rest of his family. From then on, he never let it drift too far at sea, and always kept it at his side.

Jesus is that boy, and you and I are that little boat. He molded us, polished us, cherished us so much, and when we drifted off where he couldn't find us or reach us, he became so sad. And, after having found us again, he did not hesitate to pay whatever price in order to redeem us. With Jesus, he paid for us by giving up his life. When you have someone who loves you that much, and you sometimes feel that nobody in this world really cares whether you come and go, take heart; somebody cares, and will never, ever let you out of his sight ever again.

Amen.