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June 20

Pastor's Message

WHY Are We Here?

This is a question that should be at the front of our thinking every so often. Rather than an exercise in existential pondering, it is a question that all organizations – commercial, educational, political, social and religious/ethical needs to revisit periodically.

Simon Sanek, a “thinker” on the topics of organizational effectiveness and clarity, said in a TED Talk that most organizations begin their strategic or near-term planning by asking the “what” of their purpose – products to be developed, problems to be addressed, economic or pedagogical goals to be taught. But that is not what should be at the core of any organization. Rather, he believes that all organizations should start by answering the question, “Why are we here – why do we exist?”

The church is not exempt from this type of exercise – those of you who were involved in any of the preparation work for calling a new pastor over the last decade or so have probably heard this question at least once. But I think too often, we look to an answer that values a lot of pre-existing circumstances and preferences. We think these details valuable and not to be easily cast aside.

Sunday’ Gospel reading (Mark 4:35-41) about Jesus having the disciples carry him across the Sea of Galillee in their boat at night is germane. In the midst of the journey, a great tempest arises, waves crashing into the boat and the disciples fearing for their lives. Meanwhile Jesus is asleep in the stern of the boat. They are flabbergasted as to why he sleeps while they scream – doesn’t he care that they are about to die?

One of the issues in this story is that Jesus is taking his disciples to an uncomfortable, unfamiliar and perhaps dangerous place – Gentile territory of the Decapolis (Ten Cities) in modern-day Syria & Jordan. Not a place to which they would volunteer to travel. This adds to the anxiety of the storm.

I read this tale in my study for this week’s sermon – it was in a commentary blog I really use often.

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 the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their life and money and effort for the support of the work. New boats were bought and new crews were 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. So, 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 a sort of 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 the club’s decoration, and there was a liturgical 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 considerably messed up. 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 as being 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 coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.

Adapted by James A. Moak for Commission on Brotherhood Restructure of the Christian Church. James L. Christensen in Creative Ways to Worship, 1974

The question of Why We Are Here is at the crux of our being faithful. And it causes us to be challenged in the how we see who we claim to be, what we have been doing, and where might we be led in the months and years to come.

I hope we will look at this aspect of our life together as a community of faith in some depth this year. I know I will.


Pr. Mark

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