First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
231-547-9122


Touching Bottom

~ Sermon ~ June 24th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

“Touching Bottom”

Mark 4:35-41

Did you hear about Jerome Jordan walking on water last week?

You didn’t!  Well, maybe it didn’t happen exactly like the gospel account of Jesus;

or even as it has been retold a dozen times over at Joe’s Barber Shop, but still a pretty good story non-the-less!

Let me back up a bit. 

This past winter the Rev. Samuel Hartford, director of the Outer Island Relief Society was a guest preacher at Old First Church on the Common.  He shared heartbreaking as well as heartwarming stories about the hardships of life on the outer Islands and how the Relief Society seeks to meet the needs of those remote island fishing families as they deal with the isolation, substance and physical abuse, medical emergencies and lack of educational opportunities for their children.

In his Power Point presentation during coffee hour, Rev. Hartford had photos of an old lobster trap shack on Great Seal Island that the island high school youth (all 4 of them) were attempting to convert into a computer lab.  The Relief Society had helped them with a grant to get satellite internet to the island but only to one location.  The school such as it was, is located such that the satellite signal would be obscured by the high ridge to the south. So the kids decided to mount it on the old trap shack which because of its shoreline setting has an unobstructed southerly exposure.  The youth have been working to weatherize it, new roof, shingles, windows, and finish it off inside and purchase computers and routers, printers and scanners. 

The youth of Old First were of course interested in this seeing as it was right up their bailiwick, computers, internet, Wi-Fi and all that.  But they were also amazed at how difficult life must be on Great Seal Island without the technology they took for granted!  

So several of the youth got together, Bobbie Flanagan and his sister Elsie, Banda McIntyre, Billy Hollman, a Walton youn’ un or two, the Jordan kids and they approached church member, Peter Warren, a teacher at the alternative high school in Pembleton to see if he would he be willing to help them organize a trip out to Great Seal Island to help the kids there finish their computer lab.

Well, within a week those kids had hit up just about every business in town and amazingly had raised enough money to purchase insulation, tongue & groove paneling, two of those assemble yourself computer desks and a couple of iPads for the Great Seal student computer lab project. 

Their success at fund raising is possibly the more amazing part of the whole story and perhaps the real miracle.  You see, historically there has been no love-loss between the outer islanders and the mainlanders.  The islanders can be an odd lot (not that us mainlanders are all that sociable at times) but islanders keep pretty much to themselves.  What happens out there stays out there.  Except some 50 years ago something happened between two of the old families, the Bailey’s from Great Seal and the Teagues from Rockhaven.  Threats were made, traps and gear sabotaged, storage sheds burnt, boats sunk.  This bad blood spread and the islanders retreated to Great Seal and Little Lookout Islands.  To this day islanders will take their boats across the exposed open waters of Englishman’s Bay, an extra 25 miles to Machias, rather than do business in Rockhaven, even though the only living descendant of the Teague clan in Rockhaven is Buster MacMillan, a great nephew of old Tiger Teague one of the antagonists in the “lobster war” as the dispute is known today. 

Day of the trip Peter had enlisted the adult help of Jerome Jordan, Bertie Dixon and Abby Reynolds, the church secretary.  They met down at Longmeadow Wharf at 7 a.m. where Peter had thought he had secured the service of two 35 ft. lobster boats through Wally Poindexter of Wally’s Fish Market and Bait Shop.  Only instead of two 35’ wide beam lobster boats, tied to the piling they found three little 20’ footers with what Peter thought of as “vintage” 20 hp Evinrude outboards!  “They not vintage.”  Bertie informed him “They just old!”   

And to top it all off, one of the boats boasted the very sloppily hand-painted name, “S.S. Minnow” after another boat infamous for a three hour tour that lasted three seasons and three movie sequels!  Not a good omen! Jerome drew the short stick and loaded his gear into the “Minnow.”

Well, they had no time to find alternative transportation, the tide was in their favor and the wind light, eerily light, Bertie Dixon noted.  So they divided the supplies and passengers up as evenly as they could into what amounted to little more than oversized tenders and got the ancient Evinrudes fired up and put out into the bay working their way in and around moored sailboats and small motor yachts.  All the lobster boats were, of course, out for the day.  They worked for a living. 

Great Seal Island was just a dark ragged line on the horizon.  About half an hour into their motoring Bertie could see a change in the water color out just beyond Great Seal.  He knew how the tides and the wind could play tricks on mariners when a summah sow-westerly would push against the tides in the narrows between Great Seal and Little Lookout Island, a scrub covered rock of about 200 acres.  Within minutes the seas could become a choppy, turbulent, mixing bowl of whitecaps and deep troughs.  And the only navigable harbor on Great Seal was up through the narrows.           

As luck wouldn’t have it, just as they rounded Pilot’s Point on the east end of Great Seal, they came about into the full fury of one of Mother Nature’s occasional tantrums.  It was only a mere two miles through the narrows to reach the shelter of the breakwater off the landing on Great Seal but the winds were making the old Evinrudes struggle.  And occasionally the outboards would scream as they lifted completely out of the water!

Jerome worked to manage the throttle on his outboard as they shot up the swells, over the crests and plunged into the depths.  Abby, in the same boat as Bertie, kept her eye on the lighthouse of Little Lookout Island and could tell that they were gaining some headway but it also looked like the lighthouse was getting a bit closer with each swell they climbed! 

Panic was beginning to come across the faces of the youth aboard the S.S. Minnow, as Jerome Jordan nursed it over a steep side swell.  And just as the old Evinrude came out of the water it let out one last roar as it over-revved and came to an knocking halt.    

Jerome called for Banda and Beverly Walton to grab the paddles that were stowed along the gun’ales of the boat.  By this time there was sheer terror on the faces of the youth!

The best Jerome was hoping for was to use the paddles to get them to move in the general direction of a small pebble beach on Little Lookout Island know as Jasper Cove.  The other boats seeing what had happened and being carried by the out-going tide themselves closer to Little Lookout decided to stay with their friends in trouble and see if there would be anything they could do to help. 

At some point a rogue wave hit the side of the floundering Minnow and sent Banda flying, his paddle shooting overboard.  Grabbing it before it floated out of reach, Jerome took over helping Beverly get their boat righted around and pointed roughly in the direction of Jasper Cove. 

Meanwhile Peter, Bertie and Abby looked on helpless from the other boats.  Bertie thought of the story of Jesus and the storm of the Sea of Galilee and said something about it hoping to calm their fears.  

To which Abby, always the cynic, quipped, “Maybe Bertie, but I’m looking around and I don’t see a sleeping Jesus in any of our boats!”

After about 15 minutes Jerome could see that they were actually making headway toward the beach in Jasper Cove and so he shouted to Beverly “Give it all you got!”

She and Jerome dug deep both within for strength and into the depths of the stormy sea.  They topped the first crest, plunged into the trough.  Paddling in desperation up the next one and quickly dropping.  So quickly in fact, Jerome was still paddling when they hit the low point and wham his paddle hit bottom!   And suddenly he realized that even though they were still a good distance from shore the water there was only maybe 2 feet deep 3 at the most! 

A few more strokes and a couple more crests and troughs and Jerome grabbed the bow line and without a word jumped over the side of the S.S. Minnow and felt his feet quickly hit the pebbly bottom.  Standing there suddenly the waves didn’t seem as high and the troughs as low, in fact most of the time he could see over them.  With the bow line over his shoulder he began making his way toward the beach perhaps 75 yards away. 

Peter and Bertie at first couldn’t believe their eyes!  First, that he jumped out and then, from where they were it looked like he was walking on water!     

Abby, the skeptic perhaps finding faith, muttered “Well, I’ll be God-dazzled.”  (except she was dazzled!)

Seeing this, the others motor in a little closer, shut off their faithful Evinrudes and Peter and Bertie, each taking the bow line in hand, walk their loaded boats to the safety of Jasper Beach where they wait until evening when the sou’wester dies down and the tide runs with the wind!

Paul Bunyan in his classic allegorical novel  The Pilgrim’s Progress tells about Christian, Bunyan’s archetype of a person struggling to lead a life of faith.  Christian with his friend, Hopeful, is reaching the end of his symbolic journey.  But to reach the end will require crossing a mighty and fearsome river. 

Christian is desperately afraid .  Together with his friend Hopeful, he wades into the water with trepidation. 

Christian cries out, “I sink in deep Waters; the Billows go over my head, all His waves go over me.” 

Hopeful replies with what may be among the most grace-filled words in all of literature, “Be of good cheer, my Brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good . . .”    

 

Now I don’t know about you but I haven’t found that I can walk on water.  More often than not though, I’ve found that there is a bottom, something solid under the storm or within the storm, and find in that, something to stand upon which helps me move forward.  

 

It was later that evening, round a campfire safely ashore Great Seal Island  for some strange mystical reason, a little sea shanty came to Peter’s mind so he sang,

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip. . . ”

Enjoy the Audio Version of this sermon by selecting “Download File” below, enjoy!:

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