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Riding the Waves
November 2, 1975

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

PSALM 107:25-27

How many of you have ever been on an ocean voyage? Raise your hand.  Oh, a lot of you. That blows my whole sermon! I thought I could be an expert because I’ve been out on it once and that was twenty years ago when I went to Japan as a missionary. I went on a freighter for  two weeks. I was sick at least half the time, but my cabin mate who was a sailor returning to report to the Navy never left his berth the whole trip. He was like the man who was out on the deck when another man came up to him and asked, “Hey, what are you doing, watching the moon come up?” He replied, “Oh, does that have to come up too?” Whoever wrote the 107th Psalm had also been out on the sea. Listen to these verses, 

For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,

which lifted up the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;

their courage melted away in their evil plight;

they reeled and staggered like drunken men

and were at their wits’ end.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble.

An ocean voyage provides a beautiful parable about life. When Jesus was presenting abstract truths, he used the medium of a parable, drawing upon the experience of the people. When Jesus tried to tell people about God, what the kingdom of God is like, what life is all about, what is neighbor love, all these abstract things, he used a parable to explain what he meant. 

One analogy that is a parable of life is the ocean. As far as we know, Jesus never went on the Mediterranean Sea. The Jewish people were an inland people, but he did sail on the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is frequented by storms, terrific storms, about which we heard in the New Testament lesson this morning. Storms would come up suddenly with the wind howling out of the hills and really frighten people. But as far as we know, Jesus did not go out on the ocean. 

So we will make up our own parable this morning. Coley Jay came by one day and we started talking about his experiences on the ocean. He is an old Navy man, fifty years in the United States Navy, active reserve and retired. He knows a lot about the ocean. We talked about how to live successfully and decided that successful living is like a successful ocean voyage. 

First of all, number one, you must leave the port. Did you ever think of that? You must leave the harbor. There are a lot of people trying to live their lives frightened, afraid to leave the tried, the true, the familiar, afraid to get away from the land because they cannot see the destination. They can’t see the goal, all they see is water. And they only venture out so far that they can turn around and see the familiar, the tried and true. It takes great faith to venture out into the unknown. It takes a lot of faith to go beyond where I’m sure, where I’m confident. It takes faith, which is risk, to live one’s life to the fullest, to the utmost. And some people never leave the port. 

I remember Jim. Jim was in one of our Minnesota churches. I was his minister from his eighth grade years through his high school years. Jim was a Mama’s boy. His mother dominated his life from telling him what to wear in the morning to when to go to bed at night. He had no friends. He didn’t know how to relate to people. He was a loner. He was unathletic. He was asthmatic, he was allergic. He was all tied up in himself. His opening up to the world began at camp. I took him to camp with me one year where we stayed in tents, a new experience for him. We were only there one week, but we weren’t there two days till his mother came to visit him. Have you ever been been to camp when a mother comes to visit her junior high age boy? It just isn’t done! But Jim didn’t know that, he enjoyed seeing his mother. But gradually through that week, one thing got to him. He discovered volleyball. Jesus came to him in volleyball. He discovered volleyball, discovered that he could play it, that he enjoyed it, that he could put himself into it, let himself go and really play volleyball, really compete with the other kids. Soon he had something to talk about with the other campers. He had a good week.

 Another time, we were on a weekend youth retreat. We assigned different occupations during the week. He was on the cleanup detail one evening. Well, he had to go to the restroom. And he had to go here and he had to go there. Soon we realized that he had hardly helped at all. So we said, “Well, we’ll just leave what’s left here for Jim to do.” When he came back, he was rudely awakened to the fact that he had to go out in the kitchen all by himself, wash the dishes, wipe them, put them away and clean up the kitchen. He didn’t even know how to do it. His mother had always done it. And of course, whenever he got into difficulty at home, his mother bailed him out, finished his tasks for him. But we wouldn’t finish his task for him—because that’s life. It was 11:00 at night, and he was still out there all alone, cleaning up the kitchen. But he did it. 

We took him on a canoe trip in northern Minnesota—out in the wilds, out in the wilderness, no radios, no roads. There’s no one. There were no 7-elevens, no candy bars, no chips. We ate what we cooked, or went hungry. And of course he didn’t like this, he didn’t like that, he didn’t like the other and he got very hungry. But by the end of the week, he was eating everything! He forgot about most of his allergies. He came home ruddy. He came home with enthusiasm. It was a great time watching him leave the harbor and go out into life. He became State President of the DeMolay. He became an executive in the Young Republicans of Minnesota, traveling all over the state speaking, holding meetings. He was accepted by the University of Minnesota in the Law School. He left the harbor! The first principle in successful living, like on an ocean voyage—you must leave the harbor. 

The second principle to live successfully—you must have a destination. That’s logical. You don’t want a ship going around in circles, or wherever the wind happens to blow it, or the captain everyday changing his mind, “ I think we’ll go to Tahiti today.” And the next day decide, “No, I think I’d rather go to Manila.” He must have a destination in mind. It must be clear, and he must be able to chart the course to get there. There are a lot of people trying to muddle through life with destinations all foggy, all hazy, depending on how the wind blows, depending on what happens to them. They are victims of the elements. They’re victims of life because they don’t know where they are going. Do you know where you’re going? If I stopped right now and we went around the church, could you tell me what your destination is? Is it clear what you’re living for, where you’re going? Is it clear? Because if it isn’t clear, you’re muddling, you’re drifting, you’re aimless. Each of you is tremendously gifted, talented, creative. There is only one destination that’s worthy of your time, that’s worthy of your attention, that’s worthy of your life— the kingdom of God and God Himself. If the kingdom of God isn’t where you are going, the trip isn’t worth it. Why don’t you just quit and go back to the harbor? Any lesser destination when you get there, when you achieve it, will not satisfy you. You will not be fulfilled. You will feel you have wasted your time. Nothing less than God Himself can satisfy the inner heart. Nothing less than God Himself is worthy of your devotion. And with God, you will work out intermediary destinations, ports along the way that will bring you to the ultimate destination. To live successfully like an ocean voyage, you must leave the harbor, you must have a destination in mind. 

Thirdly, you must keep on the course. Some days are lovely and serene. The sky is blue, the clouds are white, fluffy. Some days it’s possible to stand on the deck and hear the waves just gently lobbing against the bow. It’s so peaceful, so beautiful. so serene. Smell the salt air. Breathe in deeply. Life is like that sometimes. And then there are the days when the sky darkens. The wind comes and gets stronger. The waves get steeper, the ship rocks and rolls, pitches. And you can’t keep your balance. I was jealous of the crew. No matter how much we were rocking, they just walked along. I had to hang on, sliding from side to side. Sometimes it’s very frightening. The storms come but the ship that keeps on its course will get there; although sometimes the course has to be adjusted to compensate for the wind. Sometimes you have to be flexible and adjust the course. But the successful voyager knows where that course is and can come back to it. 

Sometimes the wind blows us clear off course. Sometimes life hits us with blows that knock us clear off course, that lay us low—crises, illness, deaths, problems, financial, family. Storms will come in our lives. There’s always storms on the ocean. And we will get hit, but successful is the person who has the course to come back to and then on to the destination. Taylor Caldwell in the book Captains and the Kings has written, “We all choose what we wish to be. No one impels or compels us. We may delude ourselves that it is so but it is not. The same wind which blows a ship on the rocks could blow it into safe harbor. In short, it is not the wind. It is the set of the sail. A man who denies that is a weakling who wishes to blame others for his life.” Keep on the course to be masters, individually and collectively. 

I was at East Union High School twice this past talking with marriage and family classes. One of the points that came out repeatedly was that a successful marriage, like an individual person, has to have a destination, must have a goal. A family that has no family goal, a marriage that has no goal to which they are all working for, striving for, aiming at is a marriage that will flounder. A marriage, a family that’s inverted and ingrown, with no outside goal, with no outside destination, is a family that will be a victim of the elements, at the mercy of the wind and storms that come along. Every individual must have a destination and keep on the course. Every family needs a destination and keep on the course. Every church needs a destination. Every community and every country needs a destination and the desire to keep on the course. 

Those are the three principles. But there are a few other things that we need in order to achieve these principles. A ship to reach its destination must also have port stops for rest, for relaxation, to take on fuel, take on food, get repaired. And a life must have a port stop. You need physical rest. You need a Sabbath. You need a day of rest and relaxation and fun. You need worship, weekly worship to rest your spirits, to relax in his presence, to be rejuvenated. A ship that takes a long time getting to the destination, getting to its port, and finally does stop the sailors are stir crazy. You should see them on leave—rowdy, violent, just too much is pent up. Sometimes our bodies, sometimes our spirits, sometimes our minds have to say to us, “Hey, I need a rest.” A successful ocean voyage regularly takes port stops. 

There’s also something else very essential for a successful ocean voyage, and that’s a captain—a captain who knows how to run the ship, a captain who knows how to organize the crew to keep them working harmoniously, a captain who knows where he’s going. Every life needs a captain. I commend to you that you have the opportunity, you have the privilege, the great privilege is yours to have the best captain there is—Jesus Christ will be our captain. Successful is the person who has Jesus as his captain, for Jesus not only knows the way, he is the way. He will provide guidance to us as we live our lives. In the New Testament lesson read today, when the storms threatened the disciples, Jesus calmed the storm. Jesus will calm our storm. In Jesus we find a serenity, a calmness, a strength that helps us endure all the storms that come. 

A good captain is also the last to abandon the ship when it gets in trouble. A struggling, sinking ship is last abandoned by the captain. And Jesus never abandons you. A struggling, sinking life is never abandoned. He said, “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. Lo, I am with you always to the close of the age.” That’s the kind of Captain to have. 

To live successfully, go out on faith. Keep the destination in mind. Keep on the course and invite Jesus to be your captain.

© 1975 Douglas I. Norris