Sea Crossings

Back in 2008, when St. Andrew’s did the big $2.5 million church and parish building renovation, we decided to take out a line of credit from the Bank of Tampa.  Well, when it was time for officers of both corporations to sign the papers, the bank informed us that we could save a considerable amount of money by signing said papers in international waters, rather than in the State of Florida.

Being good stewards of St. Andrew’s assets, we agreed to the idea.  So we all gathered at the pier on the chosen date and boarded a very nice boat owned by a friend of a parishioner.  We then sailed west in our quest for international waters.  It was a glorious day – bright sunshine and a nice ocean breeze.

I had never been out on the ocean before.  While I had canoed on lakes and fished in small boats along the coast, I had never ventured too far from land.  But here I was, steaming west, with no land in sight.

The bank officers and our vestry representatives were having quite the nice time, enjoying soft drinks and various munchies. Me? Well, I was getting a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. The ocean swells could not have been more than 1-2 feet in height, but soon I was on my knees at the back of the boat.  Dreadfully sick. I despaired of life. I wanted nothing more in the world than that the skipper of the boat would turn about and head for harbor. I didn’t care about the future. I didn’t care that St. Andrew’s could save money by signing this bank deal out in international waters. I didn’t care if I saw the face of my dear wife or little boy ever again. I only wanted and fervently prayed that the good Lord would take me home to glory and remove me from my misery.

Of course, I made it back, weak and weary – and utterly ashamed.

I’ve never set foot on a boat that left the sight of land again.

Not everyone is as spineless as me. Maria Coffey and her husband, Dag, paddled their folding kayak around the Solomon Islands, along the Ganges River, across Lake Malawi, and down the Danube, a story she tells in her book A Boat in Our Baggage: Around the World With a Kayak. They journeyed all around the earth in a collapsible double kayak.

Would you really want to be traveling on the ocean in anything that was “collapsible”?

Imagine now, what the Israelites were feeling when they stood at the shore of the Red Sea. They were feeling trapped, with the sea in front of them and the Egyptian army at their backs. The Israelites were like cats – not a water-loving species – and when they looked to the sea they saw nothing but the waters of chaos, the place where danger lurks, where good things do not happen.

“Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” they cried to Moses, their voices dripping with sarcasm (Exodus 14:11). How they wished at that moment that they were like the neighboring Phoenicians, accomplished navigators and sailors who made voyages throughout the Mediterranean for the establishment of colonies and commerce. If only the Israelites could have picked up some tricks from these successful seafarers who voyaged across the Mediterranean, outside the Straits of Gibraltar, into the Atlantic, and down the coast of Africa.

But at that moment, at the edge of the Red Sea, the Israelites had nothing. No vessel, ship, boat, canoe or raft. Not even a collapsible, double kayak.

Then God said, “There’s no way but Yahweh.” All they had was the power and presence of the Lord. And that, of course, was more than enough. Exodus tells us that “The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left” (14:21-22).

Then the pursuing armies went after them with horses, chariots and chariot drivers. But the Lord threw them into panic, clogged their chariot wheels, and then, as a final death blow, flooded the entire army of Pharaoh with the waters of the Red Sea. “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians,” concludes Exodus; “and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore” (v. 30).

We know the famous story of this crossing. And we give thanks that God worked so powerfully in this event to save the lives of his chosen people. But we also know that in our own lives, we can’t always count on a miracle to come along and get us out of a jam. Just ask the folks down in the Keys and Marco Island. When we find ourselves with a sea in front of us and an army at our backs, there is no promise that the sea will open up for us, that dry ground will appear, and that our enemies and opponents and pains and problems will be swallowed up in defeat behind us.

More often than not, we have to get in a boat and start rowing. And when we do, God makes a way when there seems to be no way.

When we face sea crossings in our personal lives, it is so important to put our trust in the same thing that the Israelites did: the power and presence of the one Lord God. We make a fatal error when we try to row across the sea ourselves, or put too much faith in our own cleverness and ingenuity. It’s best to be honest about our human limitations, and to make a crossing in the style of Hannes Lindemann, who, in 1956, sailed solo across the Atlantic, putting up handmade sails to catch a power beyond himself, and who pulled raw fish like daily manna from the sea.

The promise of God to us is clear: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you” (Isaiah 43:2). The Lord gives us the assurance that he will be with us in all of our perilous passages, working to protect us and guide us and preserve us. The love of God for us is undeniable, and Scripture promises us that many waters cannot quench this love, neither can floods drown it (Song of Solomon 8:7). There is nothing in all creation, nothing on land or sea or air, that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

So we, like the ancient Israelites, can count on God’s power and God’s presence and God’s steadfast love when we face our own sea crossings. The Lord promises to bring us through the water – through the water of chaos, and danger, and even great beasts – and to see us safely to the other side. God promises to be with us when we face:

  • The sea crossing of a fresh school year, with unfamiliar teachers, classmates and subjects.
  • The sea crossing of a new job, with unexpected challenges and responsibilities.
  • The sea crossing of a lost relationship, with feelings of regret and uncertainty and self-doubt.
  • The sea crossing of a serious illness, with sadness and fear and exhaustion and pain.
  • The sea crossing of a death in the family, with shock and anger and confusion and grief.
  • The sea crossing of a new relationship, with feelings of excitement and hope and ever-present anxiety.

The sea crossing of a hurricane, with its fury of wind, water, and rain.

Through all of these crossings, the Lord promises to be with us, giving us nourishment for our spirits. All God asks is that we stay as close to him as he is to us, and that we trust him to be always at work for good in our lives. We should recall that in another famous sea crossing, Jesus and his disciples were in a boat being threatened by a terrible storm. Waves were swamping the boat and the disciples were panicking, and then Jesus woke up and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”

When the wind ceased, Jesus asked the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:35-41).

These are good questions for us, as we face our own sea crossings in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Do we have faith that God will preserve us from destruction? Do we trust that the Lord will give us courage and victory in the middle of our struggles? Do we believe that God will see us through the storm, and deliver us safely to the other side?

The sea is large and our boat is small. But with God we never sail alone.