On a rocky seacoast where shipwrecks were frequent there was once a ramshackle little lifesaving station. It was no more than a hut and there was only one boat, but the few people who manned the station were a devoted lot who kept constant watch over the sea and, with little regard for themselves and their safety, went fearlessly out in a storm if they had any evidence that there had been a shipwreck somewhere. Many lives were thus saved, and the station became famous.
As the fame of the station grew, so did the desire of people in the neighborhood to become associated with its excellent work. They generously offered of their time and money, so new members were enrolled, new boats bought, and new crews trained. The hut, too, was replaced by a comfortable building which could adequately handle the needs of those who had been saved from the sea and, of course, since shipwrecks do not occur every day, it became a popular gathering place—a sort of local club.
As time passed the members became so engaged in socializing that they had little interest in lifesaving, though they duly sported the lifesaving motto on the badges they wore. As a matter of fact, when some people were actually rescued from the sea, it was always such a nuisance because they were dirty and sick and soiled the carpeting and the furniture.
Soon the social activities of the club became so numerous and the lifesaving activities so few that there was a showdown at a club meeting, with some members insisting that they return to their original purpose and activity. A vote was taken and these troublemakers, who proved to be a small minority, were invited to leave the club and start another.
Which is precisely what they did—a little further down the coast, with such selflessness and daring that, after a while, their heroism made them famous. Whereupon their membership was enlarged, their hut was reconstructed—and their idealism smothered. If you happen to visit that area today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs dotting the shoreline. Each one of them is justifiably proud of its origin and its tradition. Shipwrecks still occur in those parts, but nobody seems to care much.
Staying true to a core mission is never easy. It takes going back to the root, the heart of the lifesaving message, again and again. For Jesus that message was about being in a trusting and open-hearted relationship with God and then out of that transforming relationship to relate to others with a wise and loving heart. Matthew’s gospel tells the story of someone asking Jesus, “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” And Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” The heart of the lifesaving message is to open to the presence of God which then opens us to others and our deeper self.
As I look forward to 2020, I’m feeling focused on that core lifesaving mission. I’m committed to have everything I do among you be about that one thing. Over the past few years I’ve shared how my contemplative prayer and meditation practice has been vital in helping me to experience the presence of God and then relate more open heartedly with others. That focus is still what I discern the Spirit calling me to. I am committed to the practice of prayer and will continue to offer and teach among you what I’ve gained from my own experience.
There are several things I ’m asking you to do:
- Approach everything, we do as a church with a spirit of kindness — the mind of Christ that is available to us all. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God” (Colossians 3:17) No matter what you do be kind with others and yourself. Even if things don’t go as you wish, be kind.
- Attend Sunday services with the one core message in your heart and mind. Set your intention to open to the presence of God in our times of worship to refresh your life and strengthen you to engage the world with wisdom and compassion.
- Participate in one of our regularly offered small groups. These groups are often about how we can stay in love with God. They offer time-tested methods to open to God’s presence.
- And last, but far from least, please pray. Pray that our church might be a place where lifesaving practices are the heart of all we do. Pray that we might be a community of real spiritual depth that puts the first thing first. Pray that no matter what happens that we treat each other and ourselves with kindness. Pray that we might be, in the words of the mission statement of the United Methodist Church, a community, “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.”
May all we do be about that one life saving focus of welcoming God’s loving presence in our lives and then welcoming others with open hearts?
Grace and Peace to all,