(Acts 11:1-18) – J G White
11 am, E5, Sunday, May 19, 2019 – UBC Digby
Parable of The Life Saving Station video
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for those who were lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time, money, and eﬀort to support its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.
Some of the members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the ﬁrst refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.
Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked oﬀ the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life¬saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life¬saving station. But they were ﬁnally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station. So they did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that seacoast today, you will ﬁnd a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown. (Author: Rev. Dr. Theodore O. Wedel, 1953)
This month, here, we peek into chapter eleven of Dennis Bicker’s book, The Healthy Small Church. Our theme: Mission-Mindedness. The chapter starts with a quote from Canadian Church Consultant and author, Tom Bandy.
True health does not mean personal or corporate well-being. It means personal or corporate productivity…. The mere health of the body of Christ is meaningless unless it blesses all humankind.
Like many others, Bandy, Bickers, and Wedel -who wrote the life saving station story – tell us we are the Church so that we will have a mission and bless our communities, and our world. They are simply preaching as Jesus did, who said, “Going into the world, make more disciples of me – baptizing them and teaching them everything.” (Mtt 28) They are inspiring us as Paul tried to do, when he wrote: “We are created in Jesus to do good work, which is the lifestyle God planned for us.” (Eph 2:10)
When a person dies, sometimes we want to know what their last spoken words were. D’ya know what the last seven words of the Church are? “We’ve never done it that way before!” (Dallas Willard)
Today’s great scripture story is Peter’s own retelling of what had just happened: how he came to spend quality time with some non-Jewish folks who were, nevertheless, believing in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus. This was shocking, a real scandal! Clearly, for Peter himself it was a big step to sit down and eat with gentiles, not to mention to believe they could become real followers of the Christ. They had never done it this way before.
God gave a vision for something more, something greater. The long-awaited Messiah had come – but it was only this little cultural group, the Hebrews, who were waiting for their Messiah. Jesus turns out to be a Saviour for the whole world, for the Samaritans, the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Syrians… everyone.
We here, Christians today, catch a vision from God for who to love and how to love them. Some of you have had this vision.
When Dennis Bickers writes about a congregation being mission-minded instead of survival-minded, he says there are two difficult questions to answer.
- Who are we here for?
- Is what we’re doing here really worth the life of our Lord[, Jesus]? (pp.100, 101)
At times we need new guidance and new inspiration to achieve our purpose. We have a lot of creativity and energy and enthusiasm for good work. Think of our creativity around putting on a beautiful Tea, or a musical event, or a small study group, or an artistic event as a fund-raiser. What are some of the next things that we can do? The projects that take us out into the community to the people who are not church people?
We need our God to take us the next steps. We need divine inspiration, and divine power. In the story of Cornelius becoming a Christian, the Holy Spirit guides. And humans are called upon to guide also. The Spirit acts when Peter speaks, and remembering the words of Jesus has an impact. In the end, the people become quiet; then they believe; and they praise!
This is a story of believers being called out to new places of ministry they had not gone before.
Now, we have a different model of attraction for Church success. Instead of doing church things really well, to attract and keep people with us, we the Church get attracted to do our work out there in our neighbourhoods. Our best ministry becomes what happens when we are not on the premises, here!
This is the whole idea behind what we now call ‘Fresh Expressions’ of Church. Eleven days ago deacon Joyce and I attended a seminar on this movement, put on by our Baptist convention. What is a fresh expression of the Church? Do ministry out in the community, where people already gather. Start churches, there, with people who don’t go to church. So there are gatherings in restaurants, at the gym, with the running club, at a tattoo parlour, or the dog park.
And to do this sort of thing, we start by listening. Nothing new about this, really. All the time, Jesus traveled with his twelve apprentices to meet the people where they were, see what was going on.
For years I have heard what Tom Bandy recommends: get teams of church people to go out in triads, as he calls them. Teams of three, who get together to pray, then go to hang out and see who they see, and discover what is going on, and what is needed in the community.
When I left the Fresh Expressions Seminar the other day, I wrote on my paper what I could do next. I can take some of my people out to listen in our town. Let’s go. Let us simply decide to go and pay attention. Let us prepare with prayer. Then let us take time at Tim Hortons, or the ball field, or with the hiking club, and listen with heart and soul.
What might the Master do with us, when he takes us on mission, out there? Not what we’ve done before!
Here is the Digby Life Saving Station: it is now a private cottage. The way life saving goes on in our waters is different now. There are still systems in place to save lives at sea. Seafarers do get saved.
So too with the ways making disciples of Jesus can happen now. Let us look for our new ministry together, out there. This is how we shall be mission-minded.