Sermon Text: Boating
I may not be much like Jesus, but I do love boats, and so did he.
As a young child, I loved boating with my grandparents on the St. Lawrence. And then here at St. Mark’s, some of my church friends got me involved in kayaking on the rivers around here. I love boats, and so did Jesus.
Now, John Cleese has some feelings about boats. He was a member of Monty Python, the English comedy team. He once said, The one thing I remember about Christmas was that my father used to take me out on a boat about ten miles offshore on Christmas Day, and I used to have to swim back. Extraordinary. It was a ritual. Mind you, that wasn’t the hard part. The difficult bit was getting out of the sack.
So maybe I should quote Martin Luther King, Jr. instead of Monty Python. On the Martin Luther King holiday this past Monday, I read these words of Dr. King’s: We may all have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.
And I am also fond of the old Breton fisherman’s prayer: Dear God, be good to me. The sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.
I love boats, and so did Jesus.
When you read through the Gospels, you often find Jesus in boats and near boats. He apparently enjoyed fishermen and sailors. Today we hear the story of him calling four of them to become his students, his friends, and his messengers.
These images of Jesus and boats are a special part of our symbolism here at St. Mark’s. Our altar is shaped like a boat, with Christ asleep in the storm and yet safely holding his fisherman friends in his love. And our church building is shaped like an upside-down ship. If you look up, you can see the inverted keel. You are now sitting in what is called the “nave,” a word related to navy ships.
Our stained glass windows are tied to the church year. The season of Epiphany is a “green” season, a season of what is called “ordinary time.” The Gospel stories we hear are from the beginning of the new ministry of Jesus, and he is often in or near a boat. So the Epiphany window here at St. Mark’s has a boat in the center.
In Christian tradition, a boat is a symbol of the church, and a boat is a symbol of our very lives. We’re in the same boat now. Dear God, be good to me. The sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.
In the past, when I’ve reminded the congregation of the symbol of the boat, I was asked by one of you, “So, Fr. Mark, if the church is a boat, and Jesus is the skipper, does that make you Gilligan?” And my only reply is (to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island), Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see. I don’t mind being Gilligan.
Jesus loved boats, and so do I.
One time when I went white-water rafting, I was told that there are three primary rules. And these are the rules of river rafting: Rule 1 — stay in the boat. Rule 2 — stay in the boat. Rule 3 — stay in the damn boat.
Pretty good rules. I’d apply them to our lives as followers of Jesus in his boat. Stay in the boat. Stay with Jesus. Stay with the community.
It’s not easy, I know. It takes time and discipline.
And there are all the other distractions from being here in the boat: a desire to sleep in on Sunday morning...sports activities that appeal to us...another church member who is unfriendly or unkind pushing us out of the boat...
But I hope you’ll stay in the boat with me.
Today is our annual parish meeting. It’s required, and it’s important, because we have certain ways of being a church community as Episcopalians. It’s also fun, because we eat together and celebrate together and remember how many blessings we have as a parish church.
So I hope you’ll stay in the boat.
When you look at this altar, shaped like a boat, remember this.
When you look at our roof, the inverted keel, remember this.
When you look at our stained glass window for Epiphany, remember this.
I know it’s hard.
I know there is a cost.
I know it doesn’t always make perfect sense.
But remember this.
Stay in the boat.
Stay in the boat.
Stay in the blessed boat.