Together in the Boat

by Sunday, June 20, 2021Sermon

Last Sunday morning I woke up to the howls of my toddler Abe coming through the baby monitor. I rolled over to check the clock – it was barely 5am. The birds had just woken up and the sun was just thinking of about rising. I went to his room and picked him up from his crib. Nightmares begin around age 2, and it was clear Abe was having one. I held him, rubbed his back, and whispered assurances to him.

And in that moment, groggy and tired, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus in the storm in our Gospel for today. Resting in his own slumber, awakened by the cries of his disciples as their boat tossed around on the rocky sea. He wakes up to their panic, calms the storm, and then once the terror has passed, He addresses their fears, asking, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

It can be tempting to read Jesus’ reply to the disciples as some kind of accusation. And indeed, this passage can easily be used to shame people for not having enough faith in the metaphorical “storms” of their lives. If you just trusted more in Jesus, you could weather whatever it is that terrorizes you.

But of course, if we look at the reaction of the disciples, We quickly see that the story doesn’t end with their finding some triumphant level of faith. They don’t summon some new-found courage or inner strength. If anything, the ensuing interaction with Jesus just intensifies their fear and confusion: “Who is this then, that even the wind and sea obey him?” they ask.

This miracle story isn’t about the disciples, and it isn’t about us at all. It’s about God showing us that God has dominion over all things in heaven and on earth. Over crashing storms and demons alike. And it’s a story about God’s presence with us, which is unceasing.

Today we’re gathering as a worshiping community to baptize four new people into the Body of Christ in our first service of public baptism since November 2019. Today we’re welcoming a variety of people into the faith, All the way from a toddler to an adult. As the clergy prepare our candidates and their families for baptism, We always cover some of the basics of what baptism is and isn’t.

It’s easy to fall into some of the same traps in baptism that we might fall into with this Gospel reading (Mark 4:35-41).

It can be tempting, especially when baptizing an infant, to believe that we’re obtaining some kind of “holy fire insurance.” If we baptize this baby, then we’re ensuring protection or blessing for them. This of course comes from church teachings that promote this exact kind of belief: That if something were to happen to your child before they were baptized, their eternal fate would be unsure.

But this isn’t what Baptism is principally about.

As you hear and reaffirm the promises of baptism in just a few moments, you can listen for what its true meaning really is. It’s about making disciples – followers – of Christ. Nowhere is there an assurance that your life will unfold with only good things, Or that you will find unceasing ease in your relationship to God. In our covenant we name the reality of failure: “Will you persevere in resisting evil,” and then when you fail and fall into sin, “Will you repent and return to the Lord?”

So baptism isn’t holy fire insurance. So then what is it? Why get baptized at all?

This is what we teach candidates that baptism is all about: It’s a sacred and ancient assurance that you’ll never be alone.

You’re baptized into the Body of Christ, not the just the Episcopal Church, but into all of Christianity. This means that you’ll forever have a home in the church, whichever institution or denomination you choose.

And even more than that, baptism’s an assurance that you’ll always have the presence of God with you. God initiates this baptism, not you, or the parents, or grandparents, or godparents. “Through baptism, people are bound to God and God will not let go Ever. In fact, that bond, made by water and the Holy Spirit, is ‘indissoluble.’ It cannot be dissolved.” (Preparing for Baptism in the Episcopal Church, page 6) That means, thankfully, that it has really very little do with us or our faith. Again, it’s not about us. It’s ultimately about God.

As I think back to Abe’s nightmare last week, I think of the response we’re often so tempted to give to each other in the face of any kind of unrest: “There’s nothing to be afraid of, don’t worry,” we might want to say, whether to a child or any friend as they cry on our shoulder.

But as one pastor wrote:

The easy part of the truth, which every child figures out sooner or later, is that some things that frighten us are real and some are not. But the rest of the truth, the deeper truth that only faith in the God who raised Jesus from the grave can teach, is that even though there are real and fearsome things in this life they need not paralyze us; they need not have dominion over us; they need not own us, because we are not alone in the boat.

Feasting on the Word, Year B, p. 168

Consider this as we watch our fellow believers take the plunge into baptism that so many Christians have taken before: Despite our inabilities to perceive it, despite our lack of courage and our lack of faith, there’s no point in our lives when God is absent or even distant. As Debie Thomas wrote: “In that vulnerable boat [we heard about today], surrounded by that swelling, terrifying water, the disciples are in the intimate company of Jesus. He rests in their midst, tossed as they are tossed, soaked as they are soaked.” (Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus)

Jesus will be with each of our baptismal candidates, and each of us, in whatever calm or storms may come our way. This is the comfort we can offer to each other without reservation: Jesus will be present. Bound to us in ties, not of our own making, that cannot be dissolved, Through promises that cannot be broken, by a love that cannot die.