[A Sermon on Proclaim The Good News; St. Timothy’s Church, Calhoun, GA; June 15, 2008.]
Two hundred years ago, the people of a certain seacoast village, realized the danger to ships along their coastline. The shifting currents and the rocky coastline were constant dangers to these ships. The dangers were the greatest at night, or during times of storms or fog. When there was a disaster, they felt helpless, as they sought to provide rescue.
In response, the people of this village–organized themselves, to fulfill an important MISSION. They built and maintained a lighthouse. Every night, and during times of storms or fog, they kept a watch in the lighthouse. The volunteer kept the oil lamp atop the lighthouse burning constantly. The people of this village organized a search and rescue team. When there was a shipwreck or danger, the volunteer on duty in the lighthouse rang a bell. The bell would summon the brave and prepared people of the village to assist those in distress.
But, as time whet on, the people of the village lost interest in this work or mission. Volunteers were “hard to come by”. They hired a man to keep watch each night at the lighthouse. They, also, abandoned the mission of search and rescue of floundering ships.
The people of the village continue to meet each Tuesday night at the lighthouse. They discussed the duties of the hired lighthouse keeper, had refreshments, and swapped stories of past rescues and dead leaders.
A generation later, a watchman for the lighthouse was no longer needed. The automatic timer and sensor turned on the large electric light atop the lighthouse.
But, there were still times of storms and unpredicted currents and fog. Large ships and small boats continued to ‘run aground’ or were smashed by the giant rocks of the coastline. But there was no immediate help for distressed sailors. The people of the village had forgotten how to do a search and rescue function.
However, some of the people of the village did gather on Tuesdays nights, for “drinks”, in the area once devoted to training. Everyone agreed, that “somebody” ought to do “something”’.
The lighthouse keepers and the rescue team had become a “club”. They talked of the past history of their village. They still rang “the bell,” that formerly called the people to do rescue efforts. But, now, “the bell” only signaled the beginning and the ending of the Tuesday night meeting of the “Neptune Club”.
This is a parable-like story about the LOSS OF MISSION AND PURPOSE. The only reminder of previous purpose for gathering on Tuesday nights was a faded memo, hanging on, the wall.
This memo, posted by the door, yellowed with the years, listed the MISSION of the lighthouse, and the 4 basic GOALS. Those who came – now – each Tuesday night, pretended NOT to see it.
Without a clear MISSION STATEMENT and without MEASURABLE GOALS, individual people and organizations “drift” and “flounder” and lose their focus.
Jesus was clear about HIS MISSION. Do you remember these words from the Gospel? – “He came ‘PROCLAIMING THE NEWS OF THE KINGDOM, AND CURING EVERY DISEASE AND EVERY SICKNESS”. (10:35)
Jesus was clear about the mission or task for us, His followers. Jesus said to them, AS YOU GO, PROCLAIM THE GOOD NEWS, ‘THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME NEAR.’ CURE THE SICK, RAISE THE DEAD, CLEANSE THE LEPERS, CAST OUT DEMONS”. (10:7-8)
Could that be your mission also?
You might want to say, – “hey, wait a minute.
Preacher, Pastor, Priest, that is your job, not mine. What can I do? I can’t get beyond saying the blessing when we eat at a restaurant. You are expecting me, to ‘PROCLAIM THE GOOD NEWS, ‘THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME NEAR”? (10:7)
I share a true story, that might illustrate what this mission means for us, for you and for me. (Only the names are changed).
When I first met Bill, he was 35 years old. His parents had been attending worship in the parish, for which I was the pastor. I was invited to visit Bill’s parents in their home. When I got there, his parents explained that Bill seldom came out of his room. Since he had lost his last job, that of a truck driver, he watched TV many hours each day. Bill had lost that job – because he could not read and write sufficiently to make the correct deliveries. After several visits to their home, Bill finally came out of his room. He stayed just long enough to say “hello”.
On the next visit, Bill agreed to talk to me. He told me of the frustrations that he had known, for many years. He had lost job after job, because he could not read and write. His self-esteem was very low. His stomach was very big, from weeks of excessive TV and eating. He said that he would be willing to attend adult literacy classes, IF – he could begin first, with a tutor, on an one-to-one basis.
I knew such a person, to be that tutor. She was a parishioner, seeking for a challenge and a mission, now that her children had gone away to college. She was the right person. She met Bill, at the church, twice a week. Patiently, she helped him, with the very basic reading skills. From the adjoining room, I could hear Bill, as he read. At first, Bill stumbled over simple words. When Bill was discouraged, Judy encouraged him. The pace of his reading increased.
I knew that Bill had taken a big step, when he enrolled himself in an adult education class. At that point, both his reading skills and his self-esteem had grown to the point, that he could risk a “classroom setting”. At this point, I moved away. I had no continuing contact with Bill or Judy.
Several years later, I returned to that parish, on a Sunday morning. When I walked into the vestibule of the church, who was the usher? You guessed it. It was BILL, with the biggest smile and the warmest, strongest handshake. He was now ill much “slimmer” Bill, easily 100 pounds lighter. Then, with tears in his eyes, and soon, in mine, Bill told me that he had completed his GED and that he had a good job and lots of friends.
Indeed, the kingdom of heaven had come near. The signs of the Kingdom’s nearness–was the willingness of Judy to give herself away, as a tutor. She taught more than reading. She helped Bill to find wholeness and joy, as he found himself to be affirmed and accepted, indeed “”healed”.
Is this a clue for us?