Updated: Jan 18
Dr. RB McFee
New Shoreham Lifesaving Station – Photograph from Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea ™ www.mysticseaport.org
"Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."
Is it any wonder John Wesley inspired tens of thousands towards a greater connection with God during his many years of ministry? Or that over two hundred years after his death, the teachings he shared continue to inspire and inform countless believers trying to attain a spiritual perfection in Christ?
What is so impressive is the reality that people from across the many denominations within Christianity listened to, and tried to follow the guidance of Wesley; his Methodism was designed to be a movement towards the Spirit of God. His notion that a heart of love towards God and each other, and practices designed to draw us all closer in community imbued by the power of the Holy Spirit was essential to the well being of a Christian.
“You must love and help your neighbors just as much as you love and take care of yourself.”
Reading on Methodism reminded me of the discussions throughout the recent Wednesday evening CCUMC Zoom ® sessions, where a common theme about our faith family emerges – we are a loving community dedicated to Christ, and each other. Almost everyone has said some variation of that theme. Now that’s a true faith family! That’s clearly in keeping with the teachings of Christ, and the tenets of Wesley’s Methodism. We are about relationship, with the Holy Spirit and each other. And that’s certainly in keeping with James 2:8!
For me, I think of CCUMC as a hundred plus people sharing one heartbeat.
I wonder if that can be said of other houses of worship. I wonder if other communities of believers are as attuned to their purpose as we are. That said, talking about houses of worship they are in effect collections of people, hopefully sharing a common purpose.
Consider the scripture I just referenced from James. It is always right for people of faith to ask what “good” are we doing, and what “good” can we do? The caveat we must always remain attuned and vigilant if we are to remain loving.
Sadly there are some folks who attend their house of worship as if that very action in and of itself is the kind of “good” James talked about. Some folks often conflate going to church, as if it was the same thing as having faith or living out that faith, with no additional effort required in their walk with God. In truth our relationship with God depends upon what we do beyond mere Sabbath attendance.
Moreover, after hearing a discussion by Pastor John about Wesley and Methodism last night during a CCUMC Zoom, it made me think church and a community of believers. It reminded me of a sermon, and a story I heard several years ago – inspirational for people of faith, as well as a cautionary tale for Christ’s followers.
So travel with me for some story time….
One Sunday several years ago I visited a lovely, historic church set high upon a hill. The congregation had recently hired a new minister - Pastor Robert. During the service he gave a sermon that was designed to make us think about the purpose of a church in a special way. His message challenged us to really assess just what are we doing within, and outside our weekly Sunday attendance. It was titled “Saving the Clubhouse.”
So thought provoking was the story upon which he based the sermon, interweaving it deftly into his message that I asked the pastor for a copy, which he readily shared.
The actual story, based upon historic fact, is powerful, simple, and provides profound insights, and was titled “The Story of the Lifesaving Station”. The source is “Sermon Illustrations,” and what follows is an excerpt found on their website (http://sermonideas.net/view/The-Story-of-the-Lifesaving-Station last accessed 01/02/14).
“The Story of the Lifesaving Station ©Sermon Illustrations”
“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 others in the area wanted to become associated with the station and share their 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 members; they decorated it beautifully….because they used it as a club. Fewer members were interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired crews to do this work”
About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick…the beautiful new clubhouse was in chaos…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 voted down and told 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! 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. If you visit that sea coast you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are frequent…but most of the people drown.”
I have to wonder just how many churches or houses of worship does this story describe? How many people, young or old, are allowed to spiritually drown because some congregations would prefer avoiding the hands on, sometimes challenging tasks of saving lives, opting instead to play in the club? Helping people in need can be messy, time consuming, inconvenient.
And yet that is precisely what Jesus did with the lepers, the lonely, those in need.
“You must also do good to prove that you have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good works is no faith at all – it is dead and useless. I say that good works are important for without good works you can’t prove whether you have faith or not; but anyone can see that I have faith by the way I act. Faith that does not result in good deeds is not real faith.”
James 2:17 – 20
As a wharf rat and sailor I’ve been to some of those former lifesaving stations, including the one pictured at Mystic Seaport ™, serving a museum, with another a boathouse for a sailing club. Yet when I look out towards the ocean from their windows, I wonder how many lives were saved when each housed a community committed to rescuing others? And I think about how many died at sea when the clubhouse meant more than the mission?
One could take a lot of different messages from the story, especially as people of faith. So what part of the story struck you the most – as an inspiration, or warning sign?
For me, every time I read this I come away with a sense of joy knowing I belong to a house of worship that enjoys being a lifesaving station. Whether making sandwiches and collecting clothes for the homeless, to assisting seniors in our midst obtain appointments for the COVID-19 vaccines, to driving shut in members for their medical care, to visiting the sick and lonely, to sharing humor, to our many active prayer warriors, to youth fellowship, and other ministries, to, well you get the idea.
That said, we only remain a lifesaving station as long as we are committed to being one, committed to our mission in Christ, and His exhortations to care for each other, and the least among us. It is easy for mere mortals, even ones with the best intentions, to get derailed. Our wonderful lifesaving station could have a similar fate as the ones described in the story, dotting the Atlantic shoreline. And God forbid if we do, because our community will be the worse off, and spiritual drowning are a likely result.
“38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. 40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10: 38 – 42 KJV
Martha forgot that she, like Mary, was in the Presence of Christ. He was teaching them what mattered. But unlike Mary, Martha got caught up in the clubhouse and not the mission.
The church, our lifesaving station is Christ in you, me, our community of believers, our lay and ordained leaders, focusing on Him, and the function of a faith family – to be a resource, a place of learning, a refuge, a source of inspiration, and so much more, with the goal of connecting us to the Holy Spirit, and each other – and to focus much less on what is the church – a building.
A healthy house of worship is full of swimmers willing to embrace and rescue, even if covered in spiritual sand, providing the shelter that allows us to heal others.
Whether Christians, people of faith, or folks who follow Wesley’s Methodism, our role remains to go out and encounter the spiritually lost, and help bring them to a place of love and safety. In essence, as the people of God, we are given the task, the opportunity, the calling of being a lifesaving station.
Thankfully we seem to understand that Divine task. We live knowing our lifesaving station much like our heritage in Jesus is about service, and love; that’s what drew most of us to Christ, to our community of believers, and to our choice in how to live….
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
And perhaps that is our greatest legacy.