There is something totally different about Cambridge, and when my son, Simon, was at university there, Libby and I really enjoyed going down to see him, especially in the summer. The River Cam runs through the town, and one of its real attractions is punting.
A punt is a shallow longboat with a short platform at each end. The punter is not the guy who goes and places a bet on the horses for you while you go in the boat! The punter is the one who makes the boat move. He stands on the platform at the back of the boat, and pushes it along with a long pole. It takes a bit of time to learn, but once you master it, you feel great. You glide through the water and the only sound is the drip of water as you pull the pole up out of the water, move it forward and push into the bottom of the river with it again. If you are daft, you can also sing “O Sole Mio” and think of Cornetto ice creams.
I was quite proud of my punting skills, and we used to go on long journeys out of town. If you travel into the town, it can get quite busy on the river, and it gets a bit messy as there are often a lot of learners. There is no rudder on a punt, so the pole is not just for propulsion, it is also to steer with. That is where the problems arise and the river can often get blocked by people who have not yet learned that bit.
One day the river was really crowded with “learner drivers” and nobody was going very far. But along I came, with Libby and Simon and others in the boat. I was gently steering through the carnage when I suddenly saw a gap. I knew that with one good push on the pole we would be through the mess, so I mustered all my strength and skill and pushed the pole hard down into the river.
All would have been well, but the metal at the bottom of the pole stuck fast in the mud at the bottom of the river. That is not a bad thing in itself, because all you have to do is let go of the pole, then use a small paddle in the punt to row back to the pole. HOWEVER, that doesn’t always happen, and it didn’t happen in this case, because I kept trying to get the pole unstuck. I was firmly attached to that pole as I pulled as hard as I could. Unfortunately, my feet were firmly attached to the boat at one end, and to my legs at the other. As the boat moved forward, so did my feet, then my legs, then….
There was a mighty splash as I fell off the boat and into the water. There was a mighty cheer too, and instead of being the centre of attraction for being a great punter, I was the centre of attraction for being a great plonker!
We are all on a journey, trying to get somewhere, and sometimes we are taking someone with us, depending on us. Hopefully, we have learned enough to stay on a straight course. Hopefully, we have learned the skills we need to get us through troubles as we come to them. Sometimes, though, we get stuck. We hold on to things that we should let go of. That can land us in deep water, and those who depend on us are left drifting.
I have heard quite a few sermons recently about Peter stepping out of the boat, and we are encouraged to do the same. I think we should too. Sometimes though, we need to let go of something, just so that we can still be IN the boat when it comes to stepping out.