"Rockiní the Boat"

May 17, 1998 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon Matthew 14:22-33

I remember the first time I ever got into a kayak. Now, at this point in my life I was familiar with canoes. Our family had one of those and I was pretty good at maneuvering it on a river. A kayak, however, is a bit different. Whereas a canoe has a keel running down the middle, which helps it not tip over too easily, a kayak has a smooth, more rounded bottom. Furthermore, the top of this strange looking craft is not open, except for a hole in the middle in which youíre supposed to sit. In fact, except for this opening, the top of a kayak is not much different from the bottom. Sitting in that hole, you propel the boat with a double-bladed paddle, alternating strokes from one side to the other. Too shallow a stroke and the kayak turns. Too deep a stroke and it goes upside down.

I was a teenager at the time, and there were females present, so I didnít want to look stupid as I slipped into this boat. "I know what Iím doing," I conveyed with my body language, even though I hadnít a clue. I managed my way to the middle of North river without mishap. Then my "macho" side took over. Leaning on my canoe training, I performed a perfect deep "J" stroke. It was on the left side, if I recall rightly. Such things as this we vividly remember, you know. I should have shot down the river with grace and ease. Instead, I found myself underneath the kayak, upside-down underwater.

I managed to get out of that little hole and come up for air. I hadnít learned the art of righting the kayak while still in it. With a bruised masculine ego I swam the craft back to shore amid the snickers of my supposed friends. Yíknow, Iím not sure Iíve been in a kayak since.

There was another fellow named Peter, a disciple of Jesus. He and his pals were out in a boat in the middle of a big lake. In the distance they saw a strange sight. Someone was walking toward them. As he drew closer, they recognized him as their Rabbi, Jesus. He was walking on the water - thatís what the story says. Letís skip through some of the other details for now and look at what this Peter character then did.

"Master, if indeed it is really you, call me to come to you on the water," Peter said to Jesus as he approached the boat. Jesus responded, "Come ahead." With all his buddies watching from the boat, this fellow who was familiar with the ways of the sea (he had been a fisherman, after all), boldly jumped out of the boat. Was it pure "macho" or was it by faith that he actually made it part way to Jesus, walking on water? To be honest, I donít know any men today who can walk on water, even if they are the "manliest" guys around. Even Michael Jordan canít. Of course, his specialty is flying - but thatís a different story. You know, I also donít know of any women who can walk on water either, though sometimes we try to make them.

Letís not, however, get sidetracked about whether or not such an act is possible. In this story, Peter attempted the impossible, almost impetuously. Yes, he did it by invitation. Jesus did say, "Come ahead." However, Peter kind of invited himself, like kids sometimes do when they want to go to a friendís house. Halfway to Jesus, though, Peter got in over his head, so to speak. He didnít do a perfect "J" stroke and upend the kayak like me. He just looked down, and started to sink. "Save me, Jesus," he cried out. The outstretched hand of our Lord led him back to the boat and safety.

Earlier in worship we alluded to the fact that a home is like a boat. No, weíre not talking about the physical structure of it, though as there are many kinds of boats (canoes, kayaks, fishing boats, skipjacks), homes likewise take on many sizes and shapes (two parent, single parent, blended, no children, one or two children, many children). There are also larger vessels, whether we are talking about an extended family, including all sorts of blood relatives, or this interesting household called the church. No matter what size or shape, a home is like a boat.

Maybe itís always been this way, but it seems like the seas upon which these vessels travel are particularly troubled of late. Now, letís get one notion out of our heads from the start. If we desire tranquil, placid waters upon which to float, the chances are such conditions happen, but not every day. In fact, the wind blows up waves with regularity. Storms come and go. If we want calm all the time, maybe we shouldnít get in the boat.

That said, the waters have been quite turbulent of late, or so it seems. The boat is really rockiní. Domestic violence is a real problem. That very term may shelter us from reality, for we donít think of ourselves as "domestic," do we? Violence is not just in the water outside this boat called "family." The rockiní is happening from the inside, often hidden from view. In some cases it becomes very obvious, like when a young girl is abused over a long period and murdered in her own home, and the trial becomes a sickening part of the evening news. Norman earlier connected us with a counseling group at the Family Crisis Center, where men are trying to come to grips with their inner violence that has erupted in spouse or child abuse. I rejoice in his response to an inner call from God to become involved not only there, but to work at prevention before the fact - discovering and sharing tools that help us maneuver this boat called family.

I remember something Norman said last Sunday night in relation to his motherís illness and death, that presence may be more important than content, i.e., just being with another through it all may matter more that anything that is said. Hmm. Thinking about Jesus and Peterís jump into the water and gradual sinking beneath the waves, it was the presence of our Lord that mattered, wasnít it? A hand extended and held was what saved this disciple from drowning. We live in such a busy age, when perhaps the thing that is needed most is the hardest to give, even within a family.

Violence is not just a part of other boats "out there" on the sea. If we are honest with ourselves, abuse happens even in Christian homes. I recall my disillusionment when I heard of a respected seminary teacher I personally knew whose adult daughter finally confronted him with things he had done to her as a child. Violence, whether we are speaking of a violation in the sexual area or of physical abuse, violence doesnít just happen in somebody elseís boat. We need to take seriously the inner violence to which we all are prone.

Another myth to be dispelled is that this is just a menís problem. Though we have become more aware of abuse on the part of husbands and fathers, studies have shown over and over that violence is no respecter of sex. Women also physically abuse husbands, and not just in self-defense. Spousal murder rates run nearly 50-50. Child abuse is likewise a growing problem, and something perpetrated by both fathers and mothers. Now, we can fight these statistics - or we can admit the truth and seek remedies. The truth is, violence begets violence, abuse begets abuse. Children who witness or experience it have a good chance of continuing unhealthy patterns when they become adults, unless the cycle is broken.

Perhaps the first step is confession. I, for one, know I have struggled with my temper. I tell a story from the first year of our marriage that I donít think Karen even remembers. We had been having an argument, over what I have no recollection, and she (for some reason) up and walked out of the room through a sliding glass door. I was so mad I grabbed the closest thing at hand, a sofa cushion, and threw it at her. As it turns out, that probably was a pretty good idea - venting hostility in a way that would not cause harm, though I must confess that had something else been in reach I might have hurled it instead. I vividly remember Karen turning and facing me through the glass door just as the pillow was leaving my hand. As she then told me, she saw the violence in my face and it scared her, which then scared me. Maybe we all need to be scared into awareness of the violence which lies within us, as Paul Tournier and many others in the mental health field emphasize, and discover alternatives that channel this energy.

When it comes to children, we may differ when it comes to discipline, some believing that spanking has a place and others not, but we can agree that a line must be drawn between discipline and abuse. I confess to struggling here, as my children would probably agree. You know that there are other ways of violating a member of our family, those who travel with us in this boat. Verbal assault of a spouse or children can be just as damaging, though the wounds it leaves are not as easy to detect. Do you struggle in any of these areas?

Back to Peter in that boat with the other disciples, they were a fearful bunch on the water. The sea was supposed to be a place of escape from the crowds which increasingly surrounded Jesus. He went up a mountain to pray, and sent his disciples off in the boat. During the night the winds and waves picked up. And then Jesus came walking on water, which was to them not a comforting sight. It scared the begeebers out of them, like Casper the friendly ghost. "Take heart," he called out across the water. That is, "Courage! Itís me, donít be afraid." It was at this point that Peter rocked the boat and invited himself into the sea.

You know, sometimes rockiní the boat is the answer. In a family that is floundering with a problem, everyone is trying out of fear to keep the boat steady so it doesnít capsize - which isnít a bad idea. However, that often only hides the problem, and it gets worse. Such a sense of "peace" is not really peace. For all his faults, Peter stood up, and stepped out by faith, rocking the boat in the process. Yes, he stumbled. Yes, he looked down. Yes, he started to sink. Yes, he cried out in desperation. But it was a positive step in the right direction.

Speaking of positive steps in the right direction, did you have a chance to look at that one insert in your bulletin, the "Family Pledge of Nonviolence?" Why not read it over as a family. If you do commit yourselves in this way, make sure itís with more than just a signature on a piece of paper. As it states, "making peace must start within ourselves and in our family." It begins in this boat, not somebody elseís. Now, a caution, weíre not called to walk on water like Peter did. Sometimes we get in trouble because thatís what we expect of each other. Weíre only asked to "come on!" Keep stepping out by faith, friends, even if it rocks the boat. Keep looking in the right direction, toward the One who calms the storm. Keep reaching out to the hand which is outstretched. Jesus pulls us back in the boat and gets us underway. Amen!

©1998Peter L. Haynes

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