St. Martin’s Episcopal Church
Baptism of Trevor Edward Jones
by The Rev. John C. Morris
Has anyone here swum across the English Channel? Only 811 swimmers have done that. Sixteen of them did a two-way swim (over and back). Three of them did a three-way swim (over and back and over again!)—it’s exhausting just to think about that.
The English Channel is about 350 miles long. It is about 100 miles wide at its widest point and 21 miles wide at its narrowest. It is about 200-300 feet deep in most places. Its waters are rough because water from the North Sea is colliding with water from the Atlantic Ocean in the channel.There are frequent windstorms on the channel, similar to the storm on the Sea of Galilee described in today’s Gospel reading. We’ll get to that story in a few minutes.
I’ve been thinking about the English Channel for the past few weeks. On July 2, here at St. Martin’s, we baptized Hazel Theresa Fleming. During that baptism, I asked people to reflect on the Tour de France and the fact that it is actually a team sport. The superstars, such as Lance Armstrong, get most of the media attention, but they know that they couldn’t succeed without their teammates. Some of the team members ride in front of the star to break the wind. Some of them ride alongside the star to protect him from collisions. Some of the team help set a good pace for the star. The star needs that support system in order to do well.
After thinking about the Tour de France four weeks ago, I began to wonder: is there a comparable sport, in which one person gets most of the attention but is always dependent on a definite support system.That’s when I started thinking about the English Channel and my friend, Cheryl, who swam across the channel on July 28, 1997. (Amazingly, Trevor Jones’ father, Scott, was on a Coast Guard training ship in the summer of 1997 and was sailing in the English Channel at the same time as Cheryl was swimming across it! I am eager to talk with Cheryl to see if she remembers seeing a three-masted boat named The Eagle while she was swimming.)
Cheryl has told me that she couldn’t have done the crossing without a lot of support. For example, her father and a friend were in the boat that accompanied her. They gave her food, water, and continuous encouragement. Also, two pilots were guiding that boat and keeping Cheryl headed in the right direction. Before the actual swim, Cheryl received a lot of help from colleagues who coached her and swam with her as she trained. Then, before she headed across the ocean for the swim, she received a big “send off” from family and friends who would be cheering her on from home.
Cheryl says that she couldn’t have done what she did without this “support system.” In the same way, living life as a Christian is not a solo act. It is a ”team sport.” Without the companionship, support, encouragement, nourishment, and guidance of the Christian community, we would flounder and “go under.”
Who are those people in your life? Who has been in the boat giving you support as you have paddled through life? I hope you give thanks for those people?
As Trevor Edward Jones grows up in the Christian faith, he will certainly give thanks for many of you in this room. Many of you will be his support system.
Today, we are giving Trevor a “send off” into the Christian life, similar to the one Cheryl received when she embarked on her journey to the English Channel. Trevor doesn’t have to do any swimming today and we will be using only a little bit of water. (Yesterday, when I was meeting with the parents and godparents, I shared my dream of someday having a baptism across the street in the water fountain on the golf course. Scott said, “Why stop there? Go to Lake Morey!” Someday, maybe…..) But the little bit of water in the font still symbolizes the Christian life into which Trevor is being immersed.
It is important to remember, though, that beyond the support system of the people here and the people Trevor will meet in his new church home in Travers City, Michigan, there is the ultimate support of the Presence of God in Trevor’s life and in all our lives. And that is what takes us to the Gospel for today. As Mark describes it, Jesus’ disciples were out on rough water in the Sea of Galilee. They were struggling with “adverse winds.” (Has your life ever been like that? ) Then Jesus appears and gets in the boat with them and calms their fears.
Did Jesus literally walk across the water to get to the disciples? That’s an interesting question to discuss. Years ago, some scholars suggested that, based on Mark’s description, maybe Jesus had hiked around the edge of the lake and when the disciples got caught in the storm they were actually near shore and Jesus was just walking on the beach toward them. Recently, a scientist in Florida did some research on weather patterns in first century Galilee and suggests that there might have been some real cold weather which caused part of the Sea of Galilee to freeze over, enabling Jesus to walk “on the water.”
Whenever I ponder this story of Jesus coming to the disciples in the boat, I recall the story of the two fishermen who went out fishing together on a regular basis but never took their spouses along. One of the wives finally prevailed upon her husband to let her go along. Reluctantly, he agreed, but he and his companion were very grumpy about the situation. They got to the fishing spot, got into the boat and began rowing out into the lake, One of the men began casting his line, but suddenly found that his line had snagged on a branch that overhung the water. The woman said, “Wait a minute. I can get that.” She hopped out of the boat, walked across the surface of the water, unsnagged the line, and then walked back to the boat. As she returned, the man with the fishing rod said, “Look at that! She can’t even swim!”
We can wrestle with the question of whether anyone can walk across water and have gravity be temporarily canceled, but in this story from Mark, the real “miracle” is not the walking-on-the-water. I think the real miracle is the disciples learning to live without fear. Jesus says to them, “It is I; do not fear.” That is the true life of faith—living fearlessly, especially in a world like that of 2006, in which there are many “adverse winds” and much to be terrified about. But the Good News is that even in this kind of world, we can live without fear, trusting in God, who is beyond fear and adversity and upon whose grace we can depend.
That is what we hope for Trevor, and for all of us. As we send Trevor and Mary Lou and Scott off today, I encourage all of you to take home a copy of the following prayer (which you will find on the Prayer Table at the back of the nave). Use this prayer regularly as one way of supporting Trevor in his new life in Christ: “Gracious God, be present with Trevor and Mary Lou and Scott as they journey to their new home and new church community. As you comforted the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, so now give to the Jones family the strength and encouragement they need in this time of transition. Sustain them each day with your grace and give them grateful hearts for the support they can receive only from you. In Jesus’ name.