First, You Have Row a Little Boat
By Dr. Keith Wagner
One time I was in the Chesapeake Bay on a sailing trip with several friends. We chartered a 35 foot boat and my friend from South Carolina was the captain. One afternoon we were sailing through Kenton Narrows and we had to navigate through a draw bridge. About two hundred yards from the bridge, my friend who was the captain said, “Keith, you take the wheel.”
I had no time to make the argument that I didn’t have confidence to steer the boat through such a narrow passage. But, I could tell by the tone of my friend’s voice that he believed I was capable of making the passage. So I took the wheel, waited for the draw bridge to open and steered the boat through. It was scary but I made it in spite of the fact that the water currents were very active and there were other boats waiting to come through the passage on the other side.
It can be frightening to try things you’ve never done before. That moment for me was significant because it gave me confidence to repeat the event in future sailing expeditions. It also added to my confidence to eventually charter boats myself which I have done the last three years.
The inspiration for this sermon comes from the book, “First you have to row a little boat,” by Richard Bode. In his books he states, “If we want to write, we need a master who speaks to us in a voice that bears a kinship to our own. If we want to paint, we need a master whose vision of light, form and color appeals to our inner eye. If we want to compose, we need a master whose music touches our soul. If we want to sail, we need a master who knows right down to his fingertips the subtle balance among wind and sea and sail.” And I would add, if we want to be persons of faith, we need to listen to the master and follow his call.
When Jesus told Peter to take his boat into deeper waters he was skeptical. They had been fishing all night. They were experienced fishermen and to go again seemed futile. But, Peter trusted in Jesus enough to give it a try. They did as Jesus suggested and ended up catching a boat load of fish.
These were experienced fishermen. You would have thought they would be skeptical about going into deeper waters. They knew how to fish since that was what they did for a living. Why would this time out be any different?
Jesus was challenging them to try something different. Sometimes we get complacent and used to doing things a certain way. We don’t like to fail. We don’t want to get hurt. Like the disciples, we are afraid. To try new things means we have to take risks and trust that there will be success.
Peter trusted in Jesus and that trust led him to become the “Rock” upon which the church has been built. My friend trusted in me that I could steer the sailboat through the narrow passage. When I took the wheel I had to trust that God somehow would be with me.
Trust means we move forward but yielding to a power greater than ourselves. We don’t know what the outcome will be but trust in whatever happens. For me, taking that 35 foot sailboat through difficult waters gave me the confidence to lead my own charters in the future. It changed my life.
I must make a confession at this point. I am not a novice at sailing. I have been sailing for about 15 years. My background also includes navigation and piloting experience in the Navy. That being said, I was a little rusty, but my friend knew that I had the skills and experience to handle the boat in that situation. I just needed a little push.
Peter and the other disciples needed a little push. They knew fishing but they needed to be challenged. Jesus wouldn’t have taken the disciples into deeper waters if they didn’t know the ropes. Before you can think of chartering a sailing boat in the Chesapeake you have to have basic seamanship, including how to read nautical charts. More importantly, you have to know how to be a leader and be in command.
God knows we have to row before we sail. In other words, we have to have some experience before we can be expect to be in command. God doesn’t send us into deeper waters until we are ready. But, this story is not about fishing, or sailing or doing something where we don’t have the skills we need. This story is about Jesus, challenging us to follow him and going places we’ve never been. It is about trust. It is about being focused on people and building relationships.
It has always troubled me that Peter and the other fishermen left their nets and followed Jesus. But, I don’t believe they gave up their careers nor do I believe they abandoned their homes and their families. I think this was a moment where they took Christ seriously and accepted his challenge to go in deeper waters.
Just as I lacked confidence to take that sail boat through the draw bridge, Peter was feeling unworthy to be successful at catching fish. The fishing expedition made Peter realize how powerless he was. He was humbled at how the presence of Christ made a difference. The experience was therefore an affirmation that he could always trust in whatever way Jesus would lead.
Peter was overcome with his own human inadequacy. At the same time he was overwhelmed with the power of Jesus. He was humbled because he failed to believe. But Jesus didn’t let Peter fall. He picked him up and told him that in the future he would be catching men and women. I believe that meant that he would have it within himself to restore other people to wholeness and bring lost souls into the life of the church.
I may be a fairly good sailor at this point in my life but there were times when, like Peter, I had to be humbled. One time I was sailing a Sunfish in Michigan. I had trouble controlling the wind which was building and the sailboat and I ended up in shallow water. I had to walk the boat back into deep water. About that time an officer spotted me and towed me back to deep water. I was humiliated as my friends watched me be blown off course. It was a most embarrassing moment.
Peter was not called because he had any special qualifications except for the fact he made a choice to go where Jesus led him. He was also called in the midst of his daily living. It didn’t take place in some holy place like the temple. For sure, his willingness to “follow” would change his life, reversing some of his normal priorities and changing the lives of others too.
One uncharacteristically awful afternoon during the 1950’s, the Yankee superstar Mickey Mantle struck out three times in a row, and he was badly depressed. “When I got back to the clubhouse,” he remembered, “I just sat down on my stool and held my head in my hands, like I was going to start crying. I heard someone come up to me, and it was little Tommy Berra, Yogi’s son, standing there next to me. He tapped me on the knee, nice and soft, and I figured he was going to say something nice to me, like ‘You keep hanging in here’ or something like that. But all he did was look at me, and then he said in his little kid’s voice, ‘You stink.’” (from More Real Stories for the Soul, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
That is how Peter felt about himself but Peter would still continue to be a fisherman. From then on his life would have a difference purpose and yield different results. He was both afraid and unworthy but followed Jesus which required both risk and trust.
Peter trusted, as did the other disciples, and they hit it big. However, they will hit it even bigger when they put their efforts into relationships. Jesus needs followers who are “people focused” and not “self focused.”
What God needs to keep God’s message alive is men and women who care about other people. I don’t mean just our own families and friends and brothers and sisters of the faith, I mean everyone. This story of Jesus taking the disciples to deeper waters means he wants those of us of the faith to extend our faith beyond known limits. The deeper we go, the greater the results.
As you know, the Internet has really made the world smaller in the last decade. Since I have created my sermon site I have enjoyed having dialogues with ministers all over the world. Sometimes I have theological discussions across the seas. Recently I received a letter from Omogui Izekor from Lagos State, Nigeria. They apparently found my name and address on the Internet. They have a school there and they are in need of resources which our church is now supplying. I was apprehensive at first about connecting with a total stranger in a foreign country. But the dialogue has brought us great joy.
The disciples had nothing to fear since in the future their lives would be enriched with new relationships. They would watch the church grow and experience the joy of people coming into the faith. Our lives can be enriched too, when we humble ourselves and trust in the ways that God leads us.
Copyright 2004 Keith Wagner. Used by permission.