From Noah in his Ark to Jonah in the fish … from Sinbad’s fantastic adventures to Odysseus’ exploits on the wine-dark sea … from Captain Ahab’s obsessive pursuit of a great white whale to the villainous Captain Hook … from the sinking of the Titanic to the great storm that pulled The Andrea Gail down to her watery grave … from Old Iron Sides to the Black Pearl … from Christopher Columbus to William Bligh … the sea has captured our imaginations and lured the bravest and brashest out into its perils, opportunities and adventures.
I suspect we are attracted to such stories—such tales, such legends, such adventure—because at heart we are all wayfarers, pilgrims and explorers. And because despite all our best precautions, we are ever at the mercy of the elements … of tornado and hurricane, of tsunami and earthquake, not to mention the storms of illness, the shipwrecks of unemployment, the sinking into the abyss of death.
‘Follow me’, said Jesus to the fishermen. ‘Throw in your lot with God and we will do battle with the howling winds of injustice. We will stand up to waves of poverty pounding against small, frail craft.’
‘Follow me,’ invites Jesus, ‘and we will harness the winds for good.’
‘Follow me,’ says Jesus. And each and every one of us is faced with the question, and with the decision, with which Peter and Andrew were faced … the question with which Paul was faced: Do I dare? Do I dare do battle with the demons of the world … and with my own demons? Do I dare venture beyond the safety of the harbor and to put my trust in God?
Do you? Do you dare? Will you follow Jesus? How far will you follow Jesus? To what far reaches of holiness and righteousness will you stretch?
“We put out to sea,” says the one who narrates the story from the Book of Acts, and Paul’s adventure begins.
The truth is that as a Christ-follower, Paul was both adventure-and-disaster prone. Three times he was ship-wrecked. Five times he was sentenced to forty lashes. Three times he was beaten with rods. Once he was stoned. Several times arrested … four times imprisoned.
Following Christ, Paul traveled all over the Mediterranean world: on horseback and boat, by foot, by land and by sea. He traveled to Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Galatia, Collossae … to Rome, Athens, Syracuse, Malta, Crete, Cyprus and Jerusalem.
Frederick Buechner said of Paul that he was punch-Drunk and Christ-Drunk ... that the foolishness of the Gospel, its insistence on love and grace, had gotten to him … and that because of it, Paul planted churches the way Johnny Appleseed planted trees. (Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who, Paul, p. 129)
Paul couldn’t stop talking about Jesus, preaching about Jesus, writing about Jesus and getting in trouble for it.
Last December, at a specially called meeting of the congregation, we adopted our Vision for the 21st Century. We agreed together, after much deliberation, prayer, listening and discernment that God is calling us to put out to sea … to embark upon a voyage filled with opportunity and peril, adventure and purpose.
So, now we have a Vision … a destination. We have the voice of Jesus saying to us, Come on, Old South, get on your sea legs. Refit this old ship and this old crew for a new voyage.
Think of it this way. The Vision is our destination. It is a long way off … way out yonder. We are just now plotting a course. It is the best guess of our best navigators that the journey will take some nine years … that we won’t achieve our destination until 2019, just in time for our 350th anniversary.
We are readying ourselves. We are still studying the charts, charting our course … preparing ourselves and our ship … making repairs, upgrading the equipment, putting on supplies … getting our sea-legs, learning to work together as a crew.
Will you join us? Do you dare?
For example: the Vision challenges us to have doubled our membership in nine years, from 600 to 1,200. Currently, we don’t have the infrastructure in place … the programming, the systems, the staffing or the space to support 1,200 members. So, we are evaluating what we will need in the way of provisions, crew and craft to get from here to there. Will you join us? Do you dare?
A second example. The Vision calls us to have developed experiential curricula for children, youth and adults … curricula that forms and equips us to live the Christian life, to speak of and from our faith with simplicity and confidence, to act, live and speak with courage and conscience. We are asking: How do we teach Christian courage? How shall we equip ourselves for kindness and train to wage peace? Will you join us? Do you dare?
A third example. The Vision calls for a majority of us to participate annually in a mission trip, service opportunity, retreat, immersion experience, interfaith or intercultural encounter …serving others while, at the same time, exposing ourselves to transformation … What will it take to get from here, to there? Will you join us? Do you dare?
To get from here to there, to chart our course, provision the ship, train the crew and put out to sea, means learning to work together in new ways as a crew.
We will need everyone’s help … everyone’s time, talent and means:
If you can serve on a Task Force, let us know.
If you can take up Bible study, enroll in a seminary class on ethics or theology, now’s the time.
If you can pray, pray. We cannot and will not realize the Vision if it is not swabbed in prayer. If you can organize volunteers, let us know.
If you are good at reading charts and plotting a course, we need you.
If you are an expert in social media, don’t be shy!
If you have a feel for how visual and performance arts can inspire us to deeper discipleship, step right up. If you are gifted at giving money, if you are eager to learn generosity, now’s the time.
If you deplore injustice and are heart-sickened by poverty in a world of abundance, here’s your chance.
If you ache to give witness to a God who is more mercy than judgment … who weeps at intolerance … whose heart and doors are wide open … come aboard.
Over the course of 342 years what we have done and said has mattered … has influenced the course of history, has brought God’s love and grace to bear upon our common life… the first anti-slavery tract in 1701; the first published African American poetess; abolition, suffrage, civil rights, housing for the poor … love, understanding, respect and affirmation of LGBT persons … these are the sort of things at stake …
God is calling us to put out to sea … to embark together upon a voyage filled with opportunity and peril, adventure and purpose.
We need all hands on deck. … We need you …
We need your prayers, your time, your talent, your big Christian heart.
Will you join us? Do you dare?