St. Paul’s – Proper 12 – 7/25/21
How many of you like boats? Cruises? How many of you have been on a boat or a ship?How does it feel? Exciting? Adventurous? Exhilarating? Anticipatory? Do you feel happy? Free?
For many people, there’s something amazing about fresh salt air, the wind on your face, the sails glistening in the sun, the misty rain.
How many of you love the feel of that boat ride?
Let me tell you a secret. You’re sitting in one right now. The architecture of the church is built upon the vision of a boat. In fact the word for the seating area of the church is called the nave (which in Latin means ship). So,I want you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine you are on a boat. Your pews are the benches. Above you is the sky and around you the deep, blue sea. In your hands are the oars. And ahead of you in the horizon, adventure beckons. And who is with you in the boat? Why, Jesus of course. That’s always where you want Jesus. Right there with you in the boat. Because when Jesus is your navigator, you can get through anything. Any storm, any tumult, any amount of waves, any challenge, any adventure. You will always run into adversities, challenges, and adventures, but you will also always get to the other side guided and driven by the winds of the Holy Spirit.
Today, you are taking a trip on the good old Gospel ship.This sense of adventure you feel right now, this anticipation of what lies ahead, the joy of the salt air and open seas, the starry skies above, the wind and the waves. This is the church’s definition of mission and what it means to be an apostle of Christ.
Many churches have forgotten what that feels like, that sense of adventure. Some churches today may feel more like an abandoned shipwreck on the shore rather than a hardy ship on the open seas. But this is who you are. You are adventurers. You are seafarers. You are discoverers on a mission in the world to chart new ways of being the church in alien places with unknown people and non-Christian cultures. And you don’t even need to go far.
Anyone see the animated film from 2010, Moana.
In the film, a young adventurous woman named Moana has the desire to go out to sea, but her father keeps preventing her, saying it’s too dangerous. Her father had experienced losses in the past that had made him wary of the sea. In response, he cultivated a society that only stayed on inland in the safety of the shore. But gradually, the population began to die out. They forgot who they were. Of course, in the story, Moana rescues the people by going out to sea on her own with a few helper friends. After many adventures, she returns and restores the community and reminds them who they are: seafarers and adventurers.
This is the story of the church today.Discipleship has never been about seeking safety, security, and hugging the harbor. Discipleship, apostleship, is about taking to the open seas, never knowing quite what lies ahead, embracing the adventure of being on God’s mission in an unknown and uncharted world, and feeling safe and secure because Jesus is your navigator, and the Holy Spirit is the wind beneath your wings.
Do we know what lies ahead? Do we know when we will succeed and when we will fail? We will do both sometimes. Do we know what will happen? No, we don’t. But being the church is about taking risks. It’s okay to take risks when Jesus is guiding your boat.
Boats or ships represent a journey, a crossing from one place to another, a grand adventure or exploration. When we become disciples of Jesus, followers of God’s mission, we become adventurers and voyagers. We cross over from the restrictions of our old lives into a new life of following the Holy Spirit into unknown places and situations. In this, we are freed. No longer will we play it safe strategizing our own way and seeking our own solutions. The Christian life is based on listening for the voice of Jesus and following the Holy Spirit’s call into the places where are most afraid to go.
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will tell you about the future (John 16), and I will be with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28).
You are adventurers. You are explorers. You are God’s apostles, voyagers in mission, fishers of people.
The boat in ancient Christian art is never tied to the harbor but is nearly always seen transgressing stormy, choppy waters. Buffeted by waves but never sunk, the ship as symbol of the church, with Christ aboard, prevails and always comes to the other side.
Ships or boats navigate unknown waters, the places where the mysterious deep meet vast skies. The sea is an unpredictable, unfathomable place, as are the unknown horizons that lay ahead on a ship’s quest or voyage. As the church is tossed on the sea of dangers, Jesus quiets the soul aboard and brings them safely through.
In scripture, the sea and boats occupy significant saving stories, such as Noah, Jonah, the apostles, and even Paul, who survives a shipwreck to be safely upon the shore.Disciples and apostles as voyagers give us a unique understanding of what the early Christians understood about the mission of the church.
Do we have doubts? Fears? Hesitations?
Of course we do. That’s part of engaging in anything new.
But the rewards are great, Jesus tells us. And peace, joy, and fullness of heart will go with you wherever you go.
In our scripture for today, we see one of several scriptures that show us Jesus’ disciples in a boat. And I want you to notice a few things about this scripture.
First, the disciples couldn’t wait for Jesus to finish praying and started out without him. Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough, because a strong wind was blowing. They were afraid. Cautious. They guarded the boat. They became suspicious, fearful, and couldn’t move forward.
When they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, at first, they were terrified! In another gospel, we learn, they thought he was a ghost, or perhaps a sea monster from the deep. The sea was a terrifying place for them out there in the dark alone. In one gospel version, Peter doesn’t even want to let Jesus near the boat, or in the boat, because he believes he is a foe.
Only when they recognize who Jesus is do they hurriedly invite him into the boat. Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and just then the boat reached the land where they had been heading (6:21 CEB).
As soon as they bring him aboard with them, the winds calm, the storm ceases, and the boat reaches the other side, the land toward which they were going.
Let’s hear that story again. Disciples alone in the boat? Stormy, fearful, guarded, isolated.
Jesus in the boat? Adventurous, calm, assured, given direction.
True discipleship is not simply a joy ride, a cruise, a random risk. True discipleship is when you board the gospel ship bound for unknown horizons, navigated by Jesus, driven by the winds of the Holy Spirit.
That may be about the best thing we can say of the disciples. They do not yet fully comprehend Jesus, yet they are growing step-by-step in their understanding of his true identity. They want to take him into the boat. They want to take him with them and thereby they reach the safety of land. And when they leave the boat, Jesus goes with them, and along with Jesus comes a new, expanded, deepened understanding of Jesus.
This is the main purpose of the church. This is what we do what no other human institution does. This is the main thing, and woe unto us if we get distracted from the main thing. It’s about being with, listening to, learning from, and worshipping Jesus as Lord, as God with us, the great I Am.
This morning, gathered here in our congregation, you are much like the first disciples. You come here, thinking that Jesus is your good friend, or that Jesus is a wonderful teacher of spiritual wisdom, or perhaps Jesus is a worker of wonders who can help you miraculously escape the fix that you find yourself in.
Yes, but he is more. He is none other than as much of God as we ever hope to see in this world. He is not just a spokesperson for God; he is God with us. He is more than a sign pointing us toward God; he is God.
Let’s bring him in the boat with us. Let’s sail with him wherever he takes us. Jesus, the great I Am who loves us enough to get in the boat with us and never leave us until he brings us home.
Church of Christ, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, it’s time to get your boat back into the water. Don’t be afraid. All we have to do is make sure Jesus is in our boat.
Just invite Jesus into your boat. Jesus, the great I Am who loves us enough to get in the boat with us and never leave us until he brings us home.
The winds are ready. Adventure is calling. God is waiting for you to fulfill your mission as apostles of the risen Christ –here and now—on the good old gospel ship! Close your eyes, grab your oars, trust the Spirit, and get ready for mission.
For this is who you are.
You are voyagers. You are adventurers. You are apostles.
God be with you.