Sermon

Rowboat Faith:
Finding New Shores

 As we seek the farther shore of God’s love and mercy and justice, let’s think a moment on the role of vision in moving toward that shore.

Mark 6.48-56
When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

This Sunday we will look together at the second installment of our short series, Rowboat Faith.  Last week, we talked of facing backward to move forward.  In a rowboat, that is exactly what one does when handling the oars.  As a metaphor for faith and life, the rowboat idea reminds us that we look to our past not as an anchor, but as a guide into the unknown waters of the future.  Last Sunday, we also reflected on the fact that two people in a rowboat make the journey easier: one person faces backwards to row, while the other faces forwards to help stay on course.  When we work together like this, we will find our journey through the waters of faith and life much easier and more satisfying.

Today as we think of rowboat faith, we are speaking of finding new shores.  When Jesus sailed with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, or Gennesaret as the lake was known in Mark’s time, he was a calming presence in stormy seas and a reminder of abundance when scarcity seemed to be the order of the day.  Jesus also led the disciples away from the shore and the safe waters, right into the deep waters that lead to a farther shore.  He took them from the small, safe confines of status quo—the familiar shore—towards the kingdom of love and mercy and justice—the farther shore.  They learned to seek together the love of God in a world that largely rejected it.  We inherit that process and that farther shore is still unrealized.  Yet, continuing to row our faith and life boat in Christ-ways, the direction is sure and hope remains alive.

As we seek the farther shore of God’s love and mercy and justice, let’s think a moment on the role of vision in moving toward that shore.

As we row a boat to a farther shore, we may have a vision for the direction we think is best, but we may well not be able to see the farther shore even as the safe harbor we left fades on the horizon. 

Having a vision does not mean we see to the end of something, we can only hope for how the farther shore will be.  Our journey surely will take us to unexpected places.  If we remain open to God’s nudges, we will remain on course.

I ran into Ernie Hernandez yesterday at the coffee shop.  He told me about a special project he and his fellow food truck leaders had just completed.  They arranged for several food trucks to go to Loaves and Fishes to serve lunch to the many homeless there…for free.  The owners of the businesses on wheels unselfishly provided needed assistance to the homeless individuals and families that depend on Loaves and Fishes for survival.  That’s a visionary project.  And they hope to expand it some.  They have a vision and can see next steps, but they can’t know where their project might lead in the future…they are headed for the farther shore. 

It so reminds me of Jesus feeding the multitudes with five loaves and two fish.  In the prelude to today’s scripture, the disciples’ hearts were hardened because they couldn’t understand why Jesus would want to try to feed five thousand with such meager resources.  Their hardened hearts blocked the reality that Jesus was feeding them love and mercy and justice.  The disciples wound up on a stormy sea and feared for their lives.  Then the saving began as Jesus calmed their hearts even as they continued to be afraid. 

In this church, we say all are welcome, all are part of our ministry, all share in the vision of Christ.  We are led into the deep waters of inclusive mission and service by the One who saves and guides us. 

Staging a Miracle, Community Breakfast, Family Promise, Narcotics Anonymous are examples of what Bishop Schnase calls risk-taking mission and service, as is our upcoming opportunity to join the Reconciling Ministries Network.  We cannot meet every need, but by meeting some we do our part to keep the rowboat of faith and life moving forward toward the kingdom of God.

When our Leadership Team worked last year to discern our vision—the farther shore they could imagine at this point in time—they came up with this: enriching lives, engaging hearts, and energizing faith.  To reach that farther shore, the Team thought about how we might get there—what constitutes the journey?  Knowing, loving and serving God and others.  To take that journey well, we will need to row into the deep waters and sometimes struggle against storms of doubt or conflict.  But if we stay the course, God will do something wonderful for us—a new thing, a blessed thing, a gracious thing. 

Yes, the journey to the farther shore requires vision.  Vision is needed to overcome fear, to keep from turning back, and to set the course into a brighter future and a higher calling.

You know, when we travel in the rowboat of faith and life together, we often find ourselves telling stories.  Story is a container for ancient knowledge.  Remembering the past, as we noted last week, is important to making meaning of today. 

Stories, though, don’t remain static when vision operates the rowboat.  Stories evolve, adding layer upon layer to collective memory.  In these layers, we see the hope for tomorrow and courage for today.  Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest, puts it this way: we evolve from “life about us” to “we are about life.”  It is when our stories make that transition that we are able to move away from the confines of yesterday into the shining light of tomorrow. 

Jesus helps us to transform our stories from “life about us” to “we are about life.”  Jim Hall from Dayspring points out that we can choose to act out our own authentic story, one about self-giving love and compassion.  In the pursuit of Jesus, we will always be moving from our own self-serving story to a self-giving story…that’s living a love story as we shift from “life is about us” to “we are about life.”

I felt that shift so strongly in my life when God called me into pastoral ministry.  Years of struggling to make sense of life had preceded this moment.  I often sought meaning in business, in family, in relationships, in vocation…all with the focus that it was all about my own personal fulfillment.  What would make me happy?  What would bring peace and security?  Narcissistic, you might say…but don’t we all live out of that focus…at least for a time? 

When a period of unimaginable loss gripped my life in a stranglehold of doubt and guilt, Jesus reminded me—through scripture and prayer, through authentic relationships and reaching hands—that life was best focused outward toward farther shores, toward abundant living, toward being a part of the larger story of life and love and mystery.

It was then that God’s claim on my life became real to me.  Ever since, I have been grateful to row my boat into deeper waters toward the farther shore, a shore of love I cannot see but that I trust is there because Jesus has promised it.  And when I fall back into self-serving thinking, Jesus forgives me and moves me toward a self-giving life.

Paul reminds us in his letter to the church in Philippi:
Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

When Paul says to forget the past, he does not mean to forget the stories that direct us into the future, stories of love and mercy and justice.  He is asking us to let go of stories of failures, anger, guilt, shame…the stories that keep us tied to the near shore. 

I was with our District Superintendent Schuyler Rhodes this week for a Circuit Leaders Retreat in the Bay Area.  He focused our time on what Paul calls “straining toward what lies ahead.”  He called us to a “new enthusiasm and unbridled passion for the future of God’s Church, where the word “can’t” is banished from our lexicon and the words, “dare,” “courage,” and “empowerment” replace it in order to build communities of hope, faith, and justice.

We are well on that journey in a church that is 164 years young in the center of Sacramento.  We are well on that journey into the deep waters where Jesus is leading us.  We will not arrive to the farther shore, but we press on following God’s nudges to give ourselves away for love, mercy, and justice—to give ourselves away to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

If you haven’t actively joined in this rowboat adventure of faith and life, perhaps now is the time to participate in building a community of God’s Good News.  During our song, I invite you to come forward to commit or recommit yourself to Christ’s work in our church, our community and our world and be anointed for that journey to which God calls us—the farther shore.

Commands