(Pastor’s Note: What follows is a meditation shared for the opening worship at the Fall Meeting of the Merrimack Association of the New Hampshire Conference United Church of Christ, held September 28 and hosted by East Church. It is based on Ephesians 2:19-22.)
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”
That verse from Ephesians seems particularly apropos for our gathering here today as the Merrimack Association of the New Hampshire Conference United Church of Christ: for it reminds us that we are not, in fact, as The Message translates this, “wandering exiles,” “strangers or outsiders,” but all part of the “household of God;” and also that because we are members of that household we are connected: linked to one another in a multitude of ways, each and all by the grace and for the purposes of God in Jesus Christ.
One of the stories that get told in our family is how, many years ago when my wife Lisa and I were, shall we say, “courting,” we were at our family camp in Maine and decided to go sailing. Thinking back, it was all very romantic; it was beautiful and breezy summer day, we’d packed a lunch, and we were going to sail down to the far end of “the Pond;” six or seven miles away where it’s quiet, there are no camps and we could just enjoy nature and some time alone together. And since I knew this lake like the back of my hand, and I was a reasonably experienced sailor, I also knew that the wind would easily carry down the lake; and even if we’d have to “tack” back home – that is, to crisscross back and forth across the water, catching the wind at an angle as we did so – we’d be back to camp long before dark, having had a wonderful day and having impressed this girl who even then, I was pretty intent on marrying!
And it was wonderful… except that when we got to the far end of the lake, the wind… just… died. Not a breath of breeze, with no sign of change forthcoming; and since all we had on board for such a situation was this tiny little paddle, it soon became clear that we were, as they say, “dead in the water;” which believe it or not, can kind of suck the romance out of the day!
But then, miracle of miracles, off in the distance we spotted this little “putt-putt” motorboat headed our way! Now, I should mention here that watching for stranded and/or capsized sailboats has always been something of a spectator sport on our lake… and these two kids – this boy who’s about ten or eleven years old, along with his little sister – they’d been watching from their own camp way down the lake and decided that it would be great to be the heroes who came to rescue us! I don’t even think they’d said anything to their families; they just hopped in the boat and now, here they were; and don’t you know he was some proud of himself when he grinned and shouted, “Hey, Mister… need a tow?”
Well, wasn’t exactly how I’d envisioned this going, but OK… it was getting late. So we took our sails down, tied the boats together and got all ready to go, except… we didn’t! Turns out that in their enthusiasm to come and help us, these kids had neglected to check to see if they had enough gas… which they didn’t! So now, we’re all stranded out in the middle of the lake, the kids are all upset, Lisa and I are trying to keep them calm, and also, now the sun’s going down and it’ll be dark soon!
But then… in an undertaking that I later found out was far more complicated than it should have been, here comes my father; and he’s driving one of the neighbor’s motorboats! See, my Mom and Dad had been watching all this through binoculars, and since we didn’t own a motorboat, Dad’s going up and down the shore trying to beg, borrow or if necessary, temporarily steal a boat from somebody so he could come and get us; and of course, this is the day that nobody’s home! To tell the truth, I’m not even sure we knew the people who loaned him the boat; but as I said before, this was great entertainment and I’m sure whoever it was just said, “You just go ahead, it’s much more fun for me to sit here and watch.”
Dad did make it, though; and before long, we’d created this marine caravan: three boats of different shapes and sizes tethered to one another – kids, adults and elders all linked together as one – slowly, methodically, and oh-so-publically making our way home… together. And trust me on this: for weeks, months… years after that, every time I’d raise the sails to head out on the lake, there’d be somebody saying, “Now, you make sure you check the wind, Mikey… we don’t need another parade like the one you had that other time!” Yeah, right!
The thing is, though, what I remember about this all these years later is not so much the embarrassment of it; nor even the fact that we could have been stranded out there a lot longer than we were. Rather, what I remember is what it took to bring us home: we certainly couldn’t have done it by ourselves, and even with the well-intentioned help of those kids, God bless ‘em (!), it wasn’t going to happen. It took the caravan; the combined and connected caring of many people working together to bring us all home.
And if you’d like to think of that story, as I do, as something of a parable, then the point is this: we, you and I of the Merrimack Association, people who are part and parcel of this part of the household of God that is the United Church of Christ here in beautiful New Hampshire; we are connected in just the same way! Ultimately, you see, today is about more than having our individual churches get together and have our regularly scheduled fall meeting; for me, at least, these association meetings serve as a much-needed affirmation of our connectedness with one another; a reminder that as individual Christians, or even as individual congregations, we don’t do this journey of faith alone; at least not with the kind of power and depth that comes when we walk in tandem with one another and most especially with Christ.
We’re here to be reminded in the midst of all the varied worship and work and fellowship we’re doing in each of our churches that we’re all in this together, and that we have this shared mission, which is LOVE… love made real in caring and extended to those in our churches, our communities, and indeed the whole world who even now are feeling what it is to be lost, and drifting and stranded out on the waters of life. We are here, beloved; and what we do as the church, the very “dwelling place of God,” is to live in humble imitation of Jesus himself; bringing his peace and his hope to a world that too often has decided that there’s none to be had; bringing his teaching, his presence and his love…
… and truly, to be connected with Christ as we seek to be connected with one another.
Because I’m sure, beloved, that right now? There’s someone, somewhere, who needs a tow… and we’re just the people to do it!
Lead us, O God, where we need to go… and as we do, our thanks is unto you!
Amen and AMEN!
c. 2014 Rev. Michael W. Lowry