My wife’s aunt and uncle from Brooklyn, New York had driven to Fergus Falls, Minnesota to help us celebrate our newborn’s baptism. I thought it would be nice to take uncle Olaf and my father-in-law Palmer fishing. So I did.
It was a hot, very windy August afternoon. We left Palmer’s dock full of expectations of a nice catch and a tasty meal. I thought I knew where the fish might be hiding. Since my in-laws’ cabin was on the calm side of the lake, I didn’t realize what a strong August wind could do to three guys in a small under-powered boat. I would soon find out.
With our small craft bobbing up and down and Palmer complaining about being splashed on, I probably made every navigational error in the book. Suddenly a big wave came over the side of the boat and we began to sink—to sink in the middle of the deepest part of the lake. My first thought was, “This is not happening.” Brilliant!
Palmer and Olaf stayed with the boat as it went down and then came back up again upside down. My new tackle box, two rods and reels, and prescription sunglasses went to the bottom of the lake. My Puma sneakers would be interred with them.
I drifted off by myself, clutching my new coast-guard approved boat cushion. I held it close to my chest with my left arm. An oar floated by and I tucked that under my arms as well.
Every third wave came over my head. I drank a lot of water that day. At first I tried to swim toward the nearest shore, using my free right arm. After about a half hour I realized I was getting nowhere. I knew then I would have to be rescued. I would have to be saved by someone else. I couldn’t save myself.
The rescue came one hour and twenty minutes after the accident. A young lake dweller who was on summer break from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland jumped into his dad’s power boat. Braving the wind and the waves, he came out and found us. I was helpless and weary from the struggle. It was so good to be saved!
I’ve reflected a lot about that experience and the lessons I’ve learned through it.
One, the Lord doesn’t necessarily void the consequences of our own recklessness or stupidity. There were boat safety warnings on a metal plate attached to the back of the boat. I read them after the accident! At that point I learned that I had overloaded the boat by 100 lbs. Also, I placed the heaviest man up front. What’s more, I was taking the waves at the wrong angle.
But I also learned that that coast-guard approved boat cushion would save me if I just continued to embrace it. What a beautiful picture of faith, clinging to the promises of God’s Word, no matter what! So between that precious flotation device and the rescue boat, salvation came to me—and for me. I gave up trying to save myself because it became clear that my strenuous efforts were not working.
As I think about the Church of the Lutheran Brethren, I realize that we are very diverse. We have people from large churches, people from small churches, churches from the east coast, churches from the west coast, young pastors, old pastors, city churches, rural churches, people who like their coffee strong—dark and roasted—and those who like their coffee weak—like water. We are a very diverse group.
But above our diversity there is unity, beautiful unity, unity produced by the Holy Spirit. All of our pastors, all of our delegates, all of our denominational leaders agree about one thing: the Word of God. We are people who cling to Scripture, we embrace it, believing that the good news it proclaims can save us from our sins that crash over us like waves stirred up by the wind threatening to drown us. We believe in a Savior, a rescuer, who was crucified for us, who comes to us. We believe we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.
We celebrate God’s gracious salvation as a family, bound together by the blood of Christ, united in proclaiming God’s saving purpose to each other, to our countries, and for our world. Amen!
Rev. John Kilde was Professor of New Testament at Lutheran Brethren Seminary from 1973-80, 1987-2008. He now serves as Associate Pastor at Victory Lutheran Brethren Church in Jamestown, ND.