Sermon: “When a Boat Swings”
Rev. Glenn G. Grant
Kirkridge Presbyterian Church
Transcription from July 3, 2022
Sermon transcription is automatically generated. Please forgive any grammatical errors.
This being 4th of July weekend, I was having a few flashbacks to old past fourth of Julys. Uh, doesn't help that Debbie was going through pictures last night and came up with some pictures from a crab party that we used to do with our neighbors. Basically, around this time every year, because we had an opportunity to go stay at a place out on the Atlantic ocean. And as we were coming back home, we would pick up a bushel of crabs and then have a block party in our neighborhood. And everybody brought things.
So that's one memory. But another memory goes back to 1975, 1976, 1977, when we would gather with some of those folks that we graduated from college with around the tidal basin in Washington, DC for the fireworks.
And in 1976, the bicentennial year, you could have walked from our apartment in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac river to the tidal basin and never got your feet wet without walking across a bridge because of all the boats that were tied together and rafted up in the Potomac river. But those are just good memories, of 4th of July.
But that took me back a little bit further because those friends that we had in college, many of which were fraternity relationships, but also there was this other group of friends, and it was the crew team. And there was a little bit of an overlap between those. But the thing about the crew team really came back into my mind recently because I read a book called the boys in the boat. I don't know, has anybody else in this congregation read that? The boys in the boat is about the 1936 Olympic men's rowing team, that went and competed in Hitler's Germany and came back with a gold medal.
But it starts back with those same young men when they were a freshman in college, when they were a freshman, when the whole group of 'em were freshman trying out in college. It parallels the development of the boat and how they got together and how, what it took for 'em to finally get together.
And today's scripture passage from Galatians ties in with all of that. Now I will be the first to admit that when I was rowing, it never struck me that it was a spiritual experience. And yet, when I think back on it, in ways it was. And if you don't know the story, there's somebody else in this room that was in that boat, because Debbie was the coxswain.
But when you are rowing in a crew shell, you have eight people facing back in a boat that is 24 inches wide and 62 feet long. And each of your oars is about 12 feet long. So think about those dimensions and what it would take to keep that boat balanced, not too bad. If you're on a nice flat mirror, like a lake.
But if you have any chop on the water at all, it gets very difficult and you have a lot of people that have to do everything just right, because if one person doesn't get their oar out of the water clean, they catch a little bit of the water with the oar. And the next thing, you know, either they're swimming or the whole boat has come to a stop.
And the church is like that, you know, we can have everybody working together or trying to, but if all you're doing is worrying about what you are doing, the boat's not going to work well, the boat's not going to work well. The reason there is a ninth person in a crew shell is because you have eight people pulling on oars nobody's steering, not of those eight. You need somebody else to steer it. And that's a little bit like the church as well because in the church, if everybody is just going through the motions and doing the work, but they don't have a reason or an objective or a target or some other force it's keeping you going in the right direction. Then all you're doing is wearing yourselves out. So, for the church, the coxswain is, is supposed to be Jesus.
Or maybe we can stretch that and just say, God, the triune God, because Jesus’ spirit, God, that's who's supposed to be in that seat. Problem is, is we like to steer it ourselves. We like to steer it ourselves. We'd like to say, ah, we need to go, we need to go that way and my yours over here, I'll pull harder. The only problem is if we pull harder and we're not in sync with everybody else, all we're gonna do is mess up everybody.
There is a point in that book that George Pocock who was a boat builder extraordinaire had come over from England and actually was making the boats for the university of Washington crew team, which is where these young men were all from.
But he observed that when the boat swings, it's almost effortless. When the boat swings, it's almost effort effortless. Now that also speaks a lot to the church because when the boat swings, what that means is that when everybody in the boat is in perfect sink sync, the boat, the oars are going in the water at the same time. You're pulling it. The, the hard part of the stroke is at the same time, you're all bringing the oars out of the water at the exact same time. You're turning the oars at the exact same time. The beginning and the end of the stroke is the same. The length of the stroke is the same and it takes hours and hours and hours of practice to get to that point.
Now on that team as freshmen, they blew away their competition, to the point where they were beating the varsity boat in practices on a fairly regular basis. So, the next year they came out and the coach kept them together and soon decided that he was going to make that boat, the varsity boat in spite of the older Oarsman who had more experience, but it didn't work.
It didn't work. They lost it. They could no longer win a race. They could no longer keep up to even the second or third boats. And what had happened was that they had gotten it into their heads, that they were the best, and they started working for their own glory because in the 1930s crew got more people to watch than the football games did.
And they got it into their heads, that they were the best. They were the big men on campus, so to speak and they forgot about rowing for the good of the boat.
And they lost any possibility of progressing. So, the coach went and made some changes and moved things around and sometimes, you know, it's like moving people around on session. But the coach moved people around and eventually got to where this main character in the book, wasn't part of the varsity boat anymore.
And now the varsity boat couldn't do anything right. Neither could the number three boat or the number two boat. And it wasn't until they swapped out the main character in that novel or in that book for person in the varsity boat, which put 'em back with 90% of the original crew, at which point they started to get their heads together. And if you'd like another crew analogy here, heads together has some meaning to it. Because if you look down a row of people that are rowing a crew shell, and if you see heads this way, they're never going to get across the finish line first. When you look from the stern of the boat or the bow of the boat, you should only see a single line of heads.
So, when they got their heads together and they started rowing, not thinking about what the other boats were doing, not thinking about their piece of it, but just purely rowing for the boat. That's when the boat started to swing.
The other piece about that is that most crew teams may get that swing in the middle part of a race. You start off a race with a sprint, then you relax, you take the stroke right down, and then you pick it up again at the end for another sprint. Most crews. Only get that swing in the middle of the race, but that 1936 crew in the Olympics with their stroke person, the person that sets the pace ill and passing out in the boat to the point where he was not responding to commands from the coxswain who was sitting right in front of him. They were able to keep that swing, even with him semi out of it. And at the end of the race came from fifth to first steadily increasing the pace all the way to the finish line and never losing the swing.
in the church we go through periods where we have this sprint, and then we have this long downtime and we have another sprint. Maybe we had a couple of places in the middle where we tried to pick it up, to make up a little ground on another boat or to get things moving.
And too often we are looking around and trying to figure out where everybody else is or trying to worry so much about picking up the pace. We forget about staying in the boat, continuing to do things for the boat and we lose our swing.
Paul writes to the people of Galatians. If anyone is detected in transgression, you who have received the spirit should restore such a one and a spirit of gentleness take care that you yourselves are not tempted, bear one another's burdens. And in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing, think they are something they deceive themselves all must test their own work. Then that work rather than your neighbor's work will become a cause for pride for all must carry their loads.
Now, Paul is trying to get the church of Galatia to swing telling them that they need to take care of each other's burdens, telling them that they need to be working together for the good of all. And it's true for us today. If we aren't ready to swing, if we're not ready to swing, then the church is never going to progress.
And that is a tough lesson because each one of us likes to think that we're more important than the other person, you know, our role is the important one. Not true, not true. In a crew shell number eight and number seven seats, which are the ones furthest to the back of the boat, they're the ones that set the pace at the coxswain’s command. They have to have this internal metronome.
6, 5, 4, 3. That's your motor. Those are your power guys, but you know the power guys, if they're not rowing at the same pace is number seven and eight… It's just gonna screw everything up.
Then you've got number two seat and bow seat. Frequently those guys are a little bit smaller, a little bit lighter maybe than the rest of the boat, but they're your best technical rowers because they're the first ones that are cutting into the water and they have to be clean. That part of the boat's probably riding a little bit higher, so they have to be conscious of how deep their oars are going.
They can't do it without the motor and without the pace. There is no one in that boat that can work without the others. And none of 'em can succeed without the coxswain that is going to steer that boat and keep things on track. And the other thing there is, coxswain has to know what the abilities of their crew is. And know when they can ask for more and when they can't.
And that's the church. God knows when we can be asked to do more. And when we can't, God keeps us on course, if we follow God's commands. But we have to be swinging.
So how do we swing in the church? We swing in the church when we hear a new idea and we say, you know what? I'm not sure about that, but I'm willing to put my all behind it for the good of the church.
We do that when we start thinking about each other in the congregation, or even in the larger church, when we start thinking about each other, instead of just ourselves and our part.
That's when the church gets better. And you know, that's also the example that God wants us to be setting for the rest of the world, because if the rest of the world is looking at the church and the church is saying, Hey, look at us, we've got it all right. And what they see is a boat that's not swinging. Then they have no reason to want to become part of the sport. They have no reason to become part of it. If what they see, isn't a body that is working together for the good of all.