This scripture guide is adapted from the Summer Settings sermon guide Oceans II. For more Summer Settings sermon guides, click below.
Summary of the Text
One of the earliest symbols for the church was a ship. This was a significant departure from the historic non-association of the Hebrews and Israelites with the sea and seaborne trade. Their images were a mount and temple, their sacrifices livestock, birds, and grain, their feet on solid ground. Yet they did not shy away from oceanic imagery in their pondering of God. Psalms, poetry, and wisdom refer to waves, depths, leviathan, and casting bread upon the waters. As mentioned last week, they even include shipping as a medium for bringing glory to God and wealth to God’s people (as a testament to that glory).
Still, there is a big difference between using the sea as a medium, motif, and metaphor and using a ship (and fish) as a logo, identity, and vessel. The earliest Christians often perceived themselves as an extension or graduation of the Jewish faith, but their imagery and practices show them to be a very different people. Followers of Jesus were willing—and called—to set upon the waves, to travail across the sea rather than to ponder it from the shore.
Today’s passage comes from the late chronicling of Paul’s ministry—though presumably before some of his letters—but we see the transition coming earlier in Acts. When Peter, who was among the slowest to depart from Jewish customs, went out from Jerusalem shortly after Paul’s conversion (Acts 9), he went to the coastal villages of Lydda and Joppa, interacting with the kind of diverse people who live in such places. That passage has people with Hebrew names, Greek names, and both (Tabitha/Dorcas).
The coast has always attracted an eclectic group. There are wealthy vacationers with beach estates, surfers, bikers, spring breakers, hipsters, artists, campers, retirees, kids, navy personnel, etc. You can find just about any type of person at the beach. Not all of them get on boats, but plenty of them do. Whatever part of the country you’re in, you can probably find a diverse group on the local ferries, tour boats, and cruise ships. That much was true for both Jonah last week and Paul this week.
But while we can see the ship logo as a symbol of aspiration, courage, and calling, it has other implications. The beach may have a lot of different people who are there for their own reasons, but when you put them out to sea together it gives real meaning to the phrases, “we’re all in the same boat” and “all hands on deck.” If the boat runs into trouble, the biker with the MAGA hat and the surfer with the Coexist shirt are going to find a way to work together pretty fast.
Hence Acts 27 and Paul’s shipwreck, in which Paul took charge and the people—crew, prisoners, Roman officials—joined together to make it the most optimal wreck they could make it. That may sound strange, but that’s what they did. They had already jettisoned much cargo and eventually tossed out their grain so that the ship would sit higher in the water, allowing them to run aground as close to a shore as possible. They took soundings, dropped anchors (casting off weight while also slowing momentum), and cut the lifeboat after Paul’s stern warning (pun intended).
Amidst all of this, Paul did not break character. He even blessed and broke bread. More of Paul’s leadership can be seen in the verses that precede this passage (story shortened in this preaching aid for brevity)—including a classic Pauline “I told you so” (v.21)—and in the next chapter as he heals the eccentric people of Malta, evangelizes, and survives a snake bite. In Paul’s work in this passage, we have a few considerations:
Paul’s anchor was not below, but above
Paul’s lifeboat was his trust in the Spirit
God’s help came from among them for the sake of being saved together (Paul), rather than from outside them on account of one individual (Jonah…although parallels can be drawn between Jonah’s self-sacrifice and Jesus’s own)
the others’ salvation came by the grace-filled witness of a prisoner (Paul), not as collateral in the smiting judgment of God (Jonah)
In the mission of Jesus, you’re never really shipwrecked. You simply wash up on a new Kingdom beachhead.
Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee is obviously a good reference as well, but that can also be saved for the “Lakes” portion of this series since the Sea of Galilee is more of a big lake, certainly in the way we interact with lakes vis a vis oceans today. Finally, with reference again to Paul’s resilience and character, we can ask who we are when we go to the beach, or anywhere on vacation for that matter. Are we different people when we are in a different setting? When things are relaxed? When things are tense? Paul’s intrepidity reminds us that no matter where we go and by whom we are surrounded, we have the opportunity and call to be on God’s mission. Whether we are on a voyage or whether we are like the “townies” in Malta who have always considered themselves helpers and friends to those in distress on the waves, God is on mission and we are His missionaries.
Allen Thompson is senior pastor at Fairview Presbyterian Church in North Augusta, South Carolina. Allen attended Pittsburgh Seminary (M.Div.) and Fuller Seminary (D.Min.) His wife, Kelsey, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, and they have two children.
Allen enjoys golf, hiking, camping, cooking pigs, ice climbing, and live music. He loves to imagine being in the story and culture of the Bible, wondering how we might have responded to God then and how we can follow Jesus now. As an “ideas” person, Allen is passionate about working with others to find out how God is calling us to use the many gifts and resources the Holy Spirit provides.
Allen holds a Doctor of Ministry (Fuller Theological Seminary) and a Master of Divinity (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary).
Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.
-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
The sight of any trouble strikes terror into the heart of those who do not have faith, but those who trust Him say, “Here comes my food!”
Hardships Force our Roots to Go Deep So When Struggles Come, We Are Prepared
A. Parnell Bailey visited an orange grove where an irrigation pump had broken down. The season was unusually dry and some of the trees were beginning to die for lack of water. The man giving the tour then took Bailey to his own orchard where irrigation was used sparingly.
“These trees could go without rain for another 2 weeks,” he said. “You see, when they were young, I frequently kept water from them. This hardship caused them to send their roots deeper into the soil in search of moisture. Now mine are the deepest-rooted trees in the area. While others are being scorched by the sun, these are finding moisture at a greater depth.”
Our Daily Bread