Did you know, that in the late 1700’s, during the Revolutionary War, our church building was used as a hospital? Not this building, but the first one that was here on this same spot, which was very primitive. Can you picture that?
Now, medicine back then was not the same as now, and in most wars until WWII, more soldiers died from disease than actual battle. But I wonder if you can imagine this space as a hospital, people in physical need, maybe in pain, being cared for, and the people caring for them. The very first hospitals were created in Europe and were not established by local governments; they were ministries of churches.
It’s always seemed to me that the image, or metaphor, of a hospital isn’t a bad one for a church. Some of us come in wounded, or with some illness that we wish we didn’t have. We each have a story. And as we worship, we realize how God is with us, especially through the ones who find joy in the ministry of caring. God brings us together and unifies us to be a force for caring.
God is creating something extraordinary among people who believe. Something supernatural happens when we come together to pray. You can achieve a sense of togetherness or teamwork in a lot of ways – but none of those things have the power for change that comes from prayer.
In the Gospel of John, just after Jesus shares the Last Supper with his disciples, and just before he is taken away to be tried and crucified, he prays. Jesus prays. He prays for himself and then he prays for his disciples, the people he is about to leave behind…
John 17:20-26. ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’
- Jesus has prayed for our unity, that we be “completely one.”
- Other people will believe in Jesus because of our unity. Their lives will be changed because of what they see in us. What they see is not natural for our culture; it’s an act of God.
As believers, we cannot be alone very long, before our faith starts to become weak and suffer. This is because the presence of God in our world is expressed through us. The Holy Spirit come to us and is in us when we believe, and this is a connective force.
When people believe in Christ, they have gifts to share. And believers are stronger when they are sharing those gifts with each other. Where God is in control, there is unity. There is love. Jesus prays that the oneness of that relationship is obvious, and it preaches to people who don’t believe, so that they believe! People are craving the kind of love God offers through Jesus, and people see it through the unity of believers.
To keep the relationship healthy, to keep the unity healthy, there are things which need to happen. It’s not a bad idea to compare it to a healthy marriage.
- In a healthy marriage, we share, we mingle our lives. Conflict is just around the corner when we stop sharing the things that are important to us.
- In a healthy marriage, we create good times for each other. We have fun. We talk.
- In a healthy marriage, there is tolerance for differences. The longer people are married, the more they adjust to each other. Keep in mind that the other person may not need to change to make you happy. In the church, there always has to be room for personality differences. One of the old slogans of the United Church of Christ is “In essentials unity, in non-essentials, diversity, in all things charity.”
Just to contrast, it’s easy to find reasons why marriages don’t work, nearly all of which have to do with not spending time with each other and talking.
Think of one thing you can do to improve your relationship with God. A time of quiet? Reading your Bible, maybe with a devotional guide? Make a plan for how you will accomplish that.
Think of one thing you can do to improve your relationship with your spouse, or the people in your family. Make a plan for how you will accomplish that.
Think of one thing you can do to improve your relationship with your church family. Make a plan for how you will accomplish that. Whenever possible, find way to be with the church family in a large group or a small group, maybe at a meal, working on a mission, singing in a group – so many possibilities.
Where is God? God is in Jesus and when we believe in Jesus, God is in us. There is this supernatural connection, this transformation thing going on when we have faith. It may not feel like it all the time, but when we are together, that’s what’s happening. We can’t do it without each other.
Every week, we pray that God’s will is done on earth, and we are the tools God uses to make that happen. We have a job to do. Listen to this parable… (I’m not sure where this story comes from; if you know send me a note – firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Life-Saving Station. On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks are common, there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted volunteer members kept a constant watch over the sea and, with no thought of themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. This wonderful little station saved many lives and it became famous. Some of those who were saved and people who lived nearby wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews 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 this club’s decorations, and there was a symbolic 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 in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built 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 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 seacoast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.
Many people are drowning, for all sorts of reasons. God needs you and me to find ways to be the saving hands and feet of Jesus. Together.
God, the kind of love we want and need can come only from you. You can change hearts and change lives, and our hearts are so empty without you. We come to you to be filled. We trust in you; our faith is in your son Jesus. As you fill us with your Spirit, help us see your world as you see it, hear what you hear, feel what you feel. Help each of us – and our church together – live a life that truly reflects your message of hope in Jesus. Amen.