On the Spiritual Trail: The Lifesaving Station (Manuscript)

26 John answered, “I baptize with water. Someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize. 27 He comes after me, but I’m not worthy to untie his sandal straps.” 28 This encounter took place across the Jordan in Bethany where John was baptizing.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is really greater than me because he existed before me.’ 31 Even I didn’t recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he might be made known to Israel.” 32 John testified, “I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove, and it rested on him. 33 Even I didn’t recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit coming down and resting is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and testified that this one is God’s Son.”

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

35 The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.

38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”

They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”

39 He replied, “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

40 One of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Christ[c] ). 42 He led him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (John 1:26-42, Common English Bible)

Several years ago I ran across a wonderful story that was part of a videotape Bible study on second Corinthians. Dr. Lindsey Davis presented it. At that time, Dr. Davis was pastor at Saint Luke’s United Methodist Church in Saint Louis. In 1996 Dr. Davis was elected to be a bishop. He served for 16 years and retired in 2012.

Since that time, I have run across the story on several occasions, most recently on the Internet. I wanted to share the story with you this morning as I began today’s message. On a dangerous Seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life saving station. The building was no more than a Hut, and there was only one boat; But the few devoted members of the station kept a constant watch over the sea. With no thought for themselves, they 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 be associated with the station and give their time, money, and effort to support the work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little life saving station grew.

Some of these new 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 for the first refuge of those who were saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the life saving 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 interested in going to see on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. They were still called a lifesaving station and the lifesaving motif still prevailed in this clubs decoration. There was a memorial lifeboat in the room where club initiations were held.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired boat crews brought in lifeboats of cold, wet, half drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them were foreigners. The beautiful new lifesaving club was in chaos. Immediately the property committee hired someone to rig up a shower house outside the club, where victims of shipwrecks 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 because they felt they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. A small number of members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that after all they were still called it a life saving station . The small group’s members were voted down and told that if they wanted to save lives, they could begin a new life saving station of their own down the coast.

They did.

As the years went by, however, the new station experienced the same changes that had a occured with the old station 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 still frequent in those waters, but now most of the passengers and mariners drown. There is not lifesaving station to save them.

II I Love this story because it is such a great metaphor for the church and what it has all too often become. What is the church? I think it’s safe to say that it is not the building. I once heard a pastor who is now retired refer to it as “the church house.” it is the place where the church, the people of faith, gather to worship and serve God. It is, or at least it should be, a place where God’s people gathered to minister with to each other, find strength from God, and one another, fellowship together, and prepared to do the work of ministry beyond the doors of the church building going into all the world. This is the church house but we don’t always act like the church.

The metaphor of the life saving station for the church is a powerful image. What we do here is the most important thing done anywhere in the world because here are people who are ready to go out and weather the storms of life, both physical and spiritual, to serve those around them. When someone gets off course, and is getting pounded and beaten against the rocks of life, here they should be able to find comfort, warmth, and love.

On the other hand, we hear of more and more congregations that are like those lifesaving stations that seem to have gotten out gotten out of the lifesaving business and become nothing more than a social club for its members. As mail crosses my desk, I read of a congregation recently facing Internal Revenue Service audits and potentially the loss of its tax exempt, non-profit status, because they have quit doing much in the way of ministry. They seem to be more of a social club for their members than faithful ministers of Jesus Christ.

III I don’t want to minimize the importance of the people of God, Christians having a social life together. Fellowship is a part of who we are and what we do. Fellowship is real and very important in the life of the congregation. At the same time, however, I think we need to ask ourselves what is it that the church does no one else can do? The answer quite simply is sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ the church truly is nothing more than a social club.

IV This morning we are completing our series “On the Spiritual Trail” by talking about what it means to be spiritual together, as the body of Christ. In the first 2 weeks of this series, we talked about the importance of balance in our lives first we need balance between working and thinking. We cannot deny either one . What we need is to be about God’s work, but we also need to sit at Jesus’ feet and be about worship, praise, and devotion to God in all times, places, and aspects of our lives.

During the second week we talked about our need to be both spiritual and religious period to be religious without being spiritual makes us like the Pharisees of Jesus day. We know all the rules and follow them to the letter, but there is nothing about God, God’s love, or God’s grace in our lives. God really isn’t there. On the other hand, if we are spiritual but not religious our life isn’t complete either. God may be there, but we are missing the structure and even more important, we are missing the body of Christ being in our lives. Both religion and spirituality are important. It takes both. We need balance.

Last week we talked about personal spirituality in general and prayer in particular. If we are to be whole spiritual beings, we need to be people of prayer. But, we also need to remember that prayer means taking time to God and and also the time listening to God as well. In other words we need to be people in a relationship with God.

Then, we also need to be people in relationship with each other and with the world. In other words, if we are to have whole spiritual lives , we will all we need a corporate side to our spirituality. We need to be the church.

The idea of the church means to be in fellowship with one another. But, we cannot forget that being the church also means being ministry to the world. It also means visiting those who are homebound and in nursing homes. Being the church can mean playing softball or basketball, but it also means making sure children have clothes to wear to school. Being the church does mean gathering for worship but is also means gathering for Bible study.

Being the church means so many things the list could go on forever. It does mean fellowship and worship. But, it also means that we have caring hearts reaching out to serve our community and the world around us.

In our lesson this morning the disciples Andrew and Simon are with John the Baptist who points to Jesus tellimg them Jesus is the Messiah. John the Baptist points Jesus out a second time. John says it is not him who is the Messiah but he is the one pointing to Jesus the Lamb of God coming to save the world and one by one they follow Andrew brings his brother Simon Peter, James and John the sons of Zebedee follow. Jesus says to each come and follow me. and it’s a question of personal spirituality. Simon answers Jesus’ calling by leaving his boat and his nets and following Jesus. James and John do the same they leave their father as well so they could let their actions make a statement of faith and they did dropping everything to follow Jesus.

Jesus says to come and follow me and it’s interesting for us today. We don’t the opportunity to follow Jesus in the kind of physical way that Andrew, Peter, James and John did. A lot of the time it looks to the outside world that, at best, we’re just a bunch of do gooders who don’t really have any relationship because they can’t lay physical eyes on Jesus. But, Jesus is there. Jesus walks with us. Jesus serves with us. Jesus blesses us and saves us.

I think what’s meant in our lesson is that we are called to be the church and we do that because each of us are called by God to come forward and to serve, to worship, to fellowship, to be the church together, and when we are the church together we are blessed .

V. One day I was discussing this particular scripture passage with a preacher friend is preachers are apt to do. And he shared a story with me that I thought I would share with you. He said that several years ago he had made a trip to the Holy Land. One day on the tour they stopped at a church. The guide told them that this particular church, actually a Franciscan monastery, was built on the rock that tradition says Jesus asked the disciples his “who do you say I am” question. The group was gathered under a tree. Suddenly they heard music coming from the monastery. They were invited into the Chapel where they heard the familiar tune of “How Great Thou Art though the lyrics weren’t familiar. What they were hearing was, “How Great Thou Art,” but in an unfamiliar language. My friend later discovered that those singing were Christians from the island of Fiji. They were singing the great hymn in their native tongue. The tour group joined in, singing the words in English. A few minutes later, a group of Chinese Christians joined in, singing the words in Chinese. What a picture it must have been. All of those people who spoke different languages, all from different backgrounds, and different parts of the world, gathered together singing and praising God. That friends is the church. God’s people gathered together in worship, praise, fellowship, and service.

We are called to be like that, called to be the church. We are called to sing and praise and worship God. We are called to be in fellowship with one another. We are called to be in service to the world around us.

Some of you have noticed the lighthouses in my study. I have even more at home. Some have asked me why I like white houses so much . For me the answer is simple. I like light houses because they remind me that light saves lives, both physically and spiritually. Throughout history light has shined from light houses to warn mariners away from dangerous waters. But, many light houses have done far more than warn alone. When ships have gotten into danger, they served his lifesaving stations bringing tired, cold, injured Mariners, out of and away from the sea and back to warmth and safety.

We are called to be a lifesaving station. We are not called to pull people from the sea, which is a good thing because most of us would have no clue how to get that done. We are called to be people who show the world Jesus, and “the way that leads to life.” We are to go out into the storms of life, ready to share the Word and the love of God to people around us who are hurting, people who need to feel that kind of love and not only the word but come to live in the Word of God.

If we are seeking to remain on the spiritual trail, if we are going to be whole spiritual people, we must have a life of balance. We need to be people of deep prayer and personal and corporate faith. We also need to be people who gather together for worship. We need to be people who recognize the importance of the church in our lives and know the difference faith can make in the lives of others. We are the people who operate the lifesaving station, bringing the scared, the tired, the lonely, and the lost, pointing to Jesus and to the warm comfortable arms of our loving Father.

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

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