5 Pentecost—Proper 7-B/ June 24, 2018
Job 38:1-11, Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41
The disciples are on a night journey across a lake which is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide. Its maximum depth is 141 feet. It’s a gorgeous night with a light breeze and no clouds. The stars are overwhelmingly beautiful. Most of the disciples can’t swim but Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who are professional fishermen and who often fished at night, will keep them safe. Even Jesus feels safe enough to take a nap.
It doesn’t take long for the image of the disciples in a boat to become a central image and metaphor of the Church. Most of you have heard my story using this image: I look at the Roman Catholic Church as an enormous cruise ship. It is filled with lots of people having a wonderful time. All kinds of good and amazing things are happening all over the ship. It’s why I often make my retreats at Catholic centers—like last week when I went to the Campion Renewal Center run by the Jesuits.
Yet, every once in a while someone jumps off or is thrown off the back of the cruise ship: maybe they’re gay or transgender, or divorced, or had to end a pregnancy, so off the ship they go. And along comes this little rowboat called the Episcopal Church to fish them out of the water and offer them the comfort, healing, and hope as children of God.
But every church has its problems, so sometimes our little rowboat of a church gets tired of rescuing people and wants to go back to the good old days.
Some who grew up in wealthy, prominent Episcopal Churches may remember the glory days when the Church had a lot of clout in congress, the White House, in city hall, and in the country clubs where the rich and powerful gather. I remember the days we were proudly called “the Republican Party at prayer”.
Others who grew up in smaller Episcopal Churches may remember the days when Church was all about following the prayer book and having lots of covered dish suppers where everyone felt—and looked—like family.
This reminds me of the famous parable of the Life Saving Station that many of you have heard before—but it bears repeating:
“On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving 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 the lost. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.
Some 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 and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as sort of a club.
Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in this club’s decorations, and there was a miniature lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held.
About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities, since they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving 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 down the coast. 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 sea coast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.” I first heard this parable in 1985 from one of my parishioners. I have no idea who originally created it
When a church loses faith in the presence, purpose, and power of Jesus Christ, all that is left is a limp, often boozy, fellowship that has nothing to do with living the good news of God in Christ. It trades in “being church” for going to church.
This reminds me of a May 29th Washington Post article about the televangelist Jesse Duplantis from Louisiana: He’s working hard to raise 54 million dollars from his large following, in order to buy a brand new jet. He says, “We believe in God for a brand new Falcon 7X so we can go anywhere in the world, one stop.” Oh, did I mention his ministry already has 3 other jets?
Saint Paul never lost his faith in the presence, purpose, and power of Jesus Christ, so he kept getting into the boat to live the good news.
In Acts 27 there is a detailed account of Paul’s adventure on several boats on his trip to Rome as a prisoner of a Centurion. After weeks of bad weather on the open sea it looks like all will be lost.
Luke writes:…”They noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned to run the ship ashore, if they could. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea. At the same time they loosened the ropes that tied the steering-oars; then hoisting the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef,[e] they ran the ship aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the force of the waves. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none might swim away and escape; 43 but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest to follow, some on planks and others on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.”
Sometimes even though Jesus is with us, the boat still sinks, …but the mission still goes on.
The question isn’t how to stay safe, but how to stay faithful—faithful to the good news that every human being is our sister and brother in Christ: I’m grateful for the strong witness of the Roman Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis, and our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and our bishops, along with many churches on the ground, standing up for those who have suffered the violence of family separation on the border in the name of national security.
The question for the church isn’t how to stay secure, but how to stay faithful.
We stay faithful by always remembering—in everything we pray and do as Church—always remembering the presence, purpose, and power of Jesus Christ.