hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.[a]
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not bring us to the time of trial,[b]
but rescue us from the evil one.[c] 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. -Matthew 6: 9-15 23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. 27 They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” -Matthew 8: 23-27
October 26, 2014
Years ago Phil and I went whitewater rafting in Colorado with some of our family. We paid our money, signed away our right to sue, got a 5 minute tutorial on how to row, put on a helmet, and then found ourselves on the water. It was fun. It was exciting. We were working hard, taking direction from our guide, enjoying the spray of the water. About 20 minutes in, our guide shared this little tidbit. He said, “It’s going to get harder.” And he was right. The boat began getting tossed about. The water crashed over us. Our guide began shouting, “Lean left!” We leaned left. He shouted, “Row!” We rowed. Then we hit a rock. He shouted, “Move forward!” but most of us didn’t hear him because we were busy flying out of the boat. Yes, the boat flipped. Each of us got tossed into the rushing water. Phil even got caught under the boat. [Note: exhibit A on why Phil will never go rafting again.]
I’ve not often seen someone move as fast as that guide did. I was one of the first he pulled out. Even back safely on the boat, I was not calm because, in that moment there was no “me” that mattered. There was only “us.” For one thing, that was my family in that water and we weren’t saved until we all got back in. And for another thing, I knew there was no way just a couple of us could navigate the boat the rest of the trip. We needed all hands rowing. Worry for myself was down river with our sunglasses because we were all in the same boat.
The Church has a long boating history. A simple boat is one of the earliest symbols you will find of Christianity. Along with the cross and the fish, sketches of boats have been found in early catacombs and the first churches. Churches even took some of their architecture from boats. This front area is traditionally called a nave as in naval as in boat. And church ceilings often conjure the image of a boat turned upside down. The Church gets its boating history from passages like Noah’s Ark and like our Matthew 8 passage from today but the Church also gets it because of the “us” of boating.
Pastor Mark Ralls wrote a piece for Duke Divinity School explaining the difference between the Church as a boat and the Church as a ship. It will never be a ship, he writes, because ships are where passengers sit on deck chairs and watch the action. The church is a boat where we are rowing and all hands are needed on deck; it is a boat, not a ship because there is no “me” and “you”, there is only us. Which is why, when the waves were coming into the boat on that stormy sea so long ago, Jesus’ disciples cried out, “Save us Lord!” They knew that, without his help, they would drown. They also knew whatever trouble they were in, they were in it together. And what they were in was bad. It was the worst. In ancient times the sea was considered the most frightening of places. It was something God was continually having to hold back. While we feel that water is peaceful, they felt it was chaos, even evil. In John’s Revelation the beast of end-times rises out of a churning sea. That is what the disciples are facing. They face, not only a storm, but an attack, a trial, evil itself.
This is what our Lord’s Prayer remembers. What began with “our Father”, ends with “save us.” Save us from the time of trial and the evil one. Save us from the storm that is not simply a storm but an attack on your people. We are tempted to make it about ourselves; about the trouble I face today. Lord, save me from my troubles and my trials. Save me from evil. But this part of the prayer is not about you or me. To find that, we have to go back to the part where we pray for our “daily bread”. That is where our own needs are considered, where we pray that God will give us just enough for today: just enough food, just enough courage, just enough faith. But here at the end, it is only about us together.
Jesus has called us into this same boat and, in this boat of the Church we are not promised clear skies or calm waters. In fact, we are promised the opposite: our life of faith may toss us right into the heart of rushing water, right in the middle of a raging storm. Because evil is real and it would love to drown us. It thrives on chaos and fear and it uses those weapons to often have its way with the Church. No, being in this boat does not ensure an easy journey. We constantly are under water and crying out, “Lord, save us! Save your church. Do not let it be torn apart or taken down. Instead, take it safely to the other shore.”
As fearsome as that cry is, as scared as we are in the storm, nothing terrifies us more than when we cry out and then we hear…nothing. We wonder: is Jesus asleep? Does he simply not hear, or not care? He has put me in this boat with his people and will he now ignore our need?
It has been a fear for a long time, even while Jesus walked this earth, and the answer has always been the same: he hears us, he cares, he will answer, he will save. For those of you who are reading Max Lucado’s book, he talks about the promise that God will indeed heal you. He writes, “God may choose to heal you immediately, or gradually, or ultimately.” He goes on to say we would all love the immediate option or even the gradual, but the ultimate option is by far the most important and ultimate healing is what we know God can and will do. The same is true for saving us. We would love an immediate salvation from every storm the church faces, from every trial God’s people endure. We would even accept gradual saving. And either of those can and may come. But the most important salvation we seek is the ultimate one and it is the one we know Christ can and will do. We must never forget that this boat we are on has one more passenger on board. As we get tossed and turned and seek our way through both calm waters and stormy ones, Jesus is on the same boat as us. What we will face together is powerful and frightening, but did you notice, it doesn’t even deserve a name, neither on that sea or in our Lord’s Prayer, evil does not even get a name because Jesus as our guide ensures that any battle is already won.
We are in this boat together, you and I, and Jesus has cast us onto the water in his name. We listen for his call and strive to do what he says. And when the storm rages, we pray together, “Lord, save us!” because our rowing together has made us a family and we know we won’t reach our destination the way we would like unless we are together. This is how our Lord wants it to be. When he said, Let me teach you the most important prayer you could ever pray, he began with “our” Father and he ended with save “us” because he knows we are all in the same boat. Amen.