Sunday, August 9, 2020 11th Pentecost
Now may the words of my mouth the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord our Rock and redeemer.
Today I’d like to talk about boats and belief. Partly because we’ve got this great story in our bible readings today of Jesus walking on water toward the disciples boat but also partly because our congregation and council are talking about the hard decision of going back indoors for worship. What’s worshipping indoors have to do with boats and belief.
Well, you may be aware that there are different areas of the church building and they have different names. There’s the place where we gather for coffee following church. In this big hall we sit down. talk and visit, building friendships, reminding ourselves we are a fellowship of believers. So oddly enough it’s called the “fellowship hall!” Then there is the area at the front of our worship space that has a big table with candles, a bible, and often our communion stuff on it. We call that big table our “altar” and oddly enough we call that area of our worship space, the altar area.
But you know we have real funny name for where the people gather to sit and participate in the worship service. You’d think it might be something like, the pew place or stands (cause so often we’re standing) but in church terms it’s called the “nave.” Did you know because you’re here in the parking lot to worship we’ve just created a new space- you’re not just in cars in a parking lot, you are now in our new “nave.”
Why do we use that term to refer to where Christ’s followers sit and gather? It goes back to the time when Christianity first started, and Greek was the common language. In Greek “nave” is the word for boat. Today when we refer to the branch of our military that serves on the high seas, we still use that word- we say they serve in the Navy- they are “boat people.” The early Christians pictured themselves as being “boat people.” They were on the high seas of life’s adventures in Christ’s boat. It was a way to remind people when you are a Christian you’ve left the shores of sin to sail to a very different land of salvation. You need to get “on board” with Christ. So quite literally they referred to where they worshipped as getting on the boat with Christ- the nave- reminding folks if you’re a believer you’re boat people.
Speaking of believers and boat people there’s a story of a priest and a Lutheran pastor who invited the new Baptist minister in town to join them on the lake for a day of fishing. The fishing was very good that morning, they were doing more “catching” than fishing which put them all in a good mood. The Baptist minister began comparing all the fish God was sending his way to the many people he’d been able to bring to the Lord. After a while this began to wear on the priest and Lutheran pastor whose parishes were significantly smaller than the Baptist church. They decided they needed a break and headed for shore to relieve themselves.
Before getting to shore the priest threw in the anchor jumped out of the boat and walked on the water over to shore, did his business and walked back to the boat and jumped in. Then the Lutheran pastor did the same thing, hopped across the water, relieved himself and skipped back to the boat none the wetter. The Baptist minister not to be outdone jumped out of the boat and sank like a rock, while he was sputtering and splashing the priest, with a wry smile, leaned over to the pastor and asked him “Think we should tell his holiness where the rocks are?”
Speaking of Baptists and boats I have another one: Guys, do you know how to keep a Baptist from drinking all your beer on a fishing trip? – Invite two Baptists! Sorry couldn’t help myself. So before I get too off course I’d like to get back to my theme for today about being God’s “boat people.” Specifically I want to focus on how to behave like we are God’s boat people. It’s what I like to call “believer boat behavior” or 3B. (repeat)
So, let’s look at the first “B” in the believer boat behavior. We’ve all seen that cartoon with the unicorn and dinosaur watching the ark float off into the distance with the dinosaur telling the unicorn- “guess we missed the boat!” The first “B” in believer boat behavior is “B there.” Don’t miss the boat. A lot of people are missing the boat. They think “I’ve got a ticket but I don’t need to be there.” What does it matter if I worship God on church grounds, or picnic grounds, or golf courses, or ball fields?
The simple response is it’s much easier to drift away from God when you’re not getting in the boat with God. I’ve seen this drifter behavior a lot of times in a lot of ways. I’ve had many a young family who arrive at church shortly after the miracle of their child’s birth, intent on thanking God for the miracle of their child by promising to raise their kids in the church. They look at couples at church who they respect with kids slightly older and say, “I can’t believe they let their kids play whatever sport on Sunday!” Yet when their kids get that age that’s exactly what they do- they skip church for XYZ sport!
There are lots of miracles that God blesses people with, that bring them into the church, make them want to be on God’s boat. Perhaps it is the blessing of a birth, or the blessing of freedom from an addiction, a marriage or a restored marriage, the blessing of a faith filled family or the blessing of a church college scholarship, or the blessing of a remission from cancer. Whatever the blessings are, they often bring us to be in the church boat, saying, “I’m with you, God!”
The problem isn’t that you can’t worship God any place other than church, that’s not what I’m arguing. The problem is we are forgetful people and we don’t remember to praise and thank God when we’re not in church. And pretty soon that forgetfulness results in a relationship that is forgotten as well. Eventually, we’re not in the boat, and we’re hard pressed to remember where the ticket is to get on the boat. So as to “believer boat behavior” or “3B,” the first B stands for “be there.”
Second, “B” of believer boat behavior, is to realize this isn’t going to B a luxury cruise. Some folks believe that if I jump in the boat with Christ, if I sit in the nave of such and such congregation my life will become simplified and glorified. Jesus told his disciples If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9: 23) “Believer boat behavior” means realizing you’re not on a luxury liner where everyone is there to serve you. Rather As one former military chaplain put it, welcoming new members into his parish, “You’re in the “Nave-y” now!” You are in this boat to serve a greater mission, you are there to serve not a President or country, but your savior and king and his kingdom, the kingdom of God.
Our first scripture reading has Elijah ready to throw in the towel. Now this is Elijah, a guy who was “all in” with God. He’d beaten 50 high priests of Baal in a show down ceremony and yet he was ready to quit. Page 5 of your bulletin verse 10 “I’ve been very zealous for the Lord… the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left and they are seeking my life.” He couldn’t believe how hard it was to be a faithful servant to God. He was ready to throw in the towel.
The second B in believer boat behavior is “it won’t Be easy.” Things that are easy are seldom worthwhile. The second B reminds us not to abandon ship just because the storms of life come. Elijah was ready to abandon ship but then God reminds him that he hasn’t lost control, that Elijah is not alone there are a full 7,000 people in Israel who, like Elijah, have kept the faith. God has a plan! It will come to fruition for the faithful.
The disciples in our story were doing their best to stay afloat even though they were seasoned veterans of sailing. Sometimes God is distant for a time even when we’re in his boat. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t watching or that God won’t be there in our moment of need. Turn to page 7 of your bulletin and our gospel reading. I find it interesting that the scripture says in verse 24: “by this time the boat battered by the waves was far from the land for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified…they cried out in fear.”
Two things here, first -The disciples despite being battered by the waves kept watch for Christ. Why?! They knew they were too far from shore for him to easily hop in the boat. What were they expecting?! Someone to row him out to them on these stormy waves tossed seas? Yet, they actively and eagerly watched for him to come. I commend them for keeping watch, and like them we should be keeping watch during the storms of life. We, who are in the boat, need to keep watch and wait with anticipation and hope. We need to actively keep the boat afloat with the skills God has given us in our head and hands but even more importantly keep the boat afloat with the hope that Christ has put in our hearts. They expected him to show up, they’d come to expect that Jesus would show up even when the odds were against him.
Do we expect God to show up even when we’re convinced the odds are against him? The disciples did. Perhaps the second B shouldn’t be it won’t be easy- which is somewhat negative perhaps I should phrase it in the positive- “Be active.” Actively be hoping, actively be serving, actively be the person God wants you to be. Don’t sit quietly in your cave, or hide in the bowels of your boat. B alert, B watchful, B active being in Christ’s boat is not the luxury cruise liner life, it’s a life of the cross where we lose ourselves because we’re looking to Christ.
The final B- of believer boat behavior. Is Be Bold. Both Elijah and Peter stepped out in faith when most people would hide in fear. Elijah has just barely escaped the rage of a mad king and evil queen and yet because of God’s call, God’s still small voice, he stepped out of his safe cave… into the world with God’s call for faithfulness, justice and peace. Peter was safe in the boat and yet stepped out onto the waters in response to Jesus simple call “to come”…come to him.
That means sometimes we’re going to have to step out of the safety of our boat, our “church life,” and do something brave in response to God’s call. It’s important to note that Elijah kept his eye on the prize and his ear attuned to God’s still small voice. All that God promised, with that still small voice, … the various rulers God asked Elijah to put in place, it all came to pass.
It’s important to note that Peter did something miraculous too, until he took his eyes off Christ. It’s not easy to be bold and brave to attempt the miraculous if we take our eyes off of Christ. It’s not easy to be bold and brave if we don’t listen to God’s still small voice.
So, lets go over the 3B’s of “believer boat behavior” we get from scripture today- Be There. Be Active (BE-cause it won’t BE easy!) Be Bold. As you sit there in your cars in the parking lot, I hope you know that you’re not just parking lot potatoes you’re in the Nave-y now. You are God’s boat people about to launch from this dock in the parking lot onto the high seas of life, so practice your believer boat behavior: Be there, Be active (because it won’t “B” easy), and Be Bold for the Lord your God is with you! Amen.