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On Being the Church: The Wind of the Spirit

May 23, 2010
Sermon:  On Being the Church:  The Wind of the Spirit
Text:  Acts 2:1-8, 14, 36-41

 

During the last week of April, Clare and I had a very pleasant week of vacation in Georgetown, South Carolina.  We stayed in a condominium overlooking the Sampit River, which opens into the very large Winyah Bay.  We were not at the beach, but we had a good time.  I was able to write quite a bit.  Clare and I enjoyed a cup of coffee on the screened porch each morning and our supper there several nights.  Thirteen miles away from Georgetown is the lighthouse, a place of special interest to me.  We had a restful week.

Georgetown, the second port built in South Carolina, was very important for the rice trade, the lumber industry, and the steel manufacturing of the past.  Now, a number of shrimp trawlers are moored there, but the port is used mostly for recreational vehicles such as motor boats.  By far and away, most of the boats were sailboats.  The boats that came in and out of the harbor were interesting to watch, as were the people who own them.  Those of you who have ever owned a boat know how much time and attention are required.  I was fascinated as I watched people take great pain in the detail work on their boats, polishing, shining, and diving beneath the surface to scrape barnacles off the hull.  I own a little metal john boat that I sometimes use when fishing, and that is all I need and want.  I also noticed that people there in Georgetown seem to take great pride in the fact that they are part of the Goat Island Yacht Club.  They enjoy not only their common experience of boating but also the fellowship that comes with being club members.

When I returned from Georgetown, I wrote a column in the Messenger about our vacation.  I included some of my observations about important aspects of a boat, mentioning the need for a sound hull, rudder, and keel.  Durable cloth, of course, is a necessity for sailboats. 

Years ago, I met Fred Clifford, a boat maker, at a church I served in North Carolina.  Fred crafted beautiful sailboats in a special covered area in his backyard.  Putting together a boat by hand took Fred months and months.   He was a small detailed person himself, and he made sure that he had exactly the appropriate materials and that he did everything exactly right.  The owners of any boat that Fred made knew that they had a really fine piece of art in many ways.  He painstakingly worked and worked and worked to build the boat, playing close attention to every detail. 

Fred taught me something very important about a sailboat.  He told me to compare the parts of the sailboat above deck – the mast and the rigging in particular – to a large oak tree with a massive spread.  Below the surface of the ground is an equally massive root system that feeds the tree.  This growth above ground, matched with the growth below ground, creates a balance.  Likewise, all of the structures above deck of a sailboat must be balanced by a heavy keel that goes deep below the surface of the water.  The keel gives the boat great stability.

Fred’s sailboat, which he built for himself, was moored on Lake Norman.  One summer when we took our family to that lake for vacation, Fred insisted that we use his boat.  I was very tentative about borrowing it because I was not at all sure I could manage a sailboat.  Even though Fred assured me that I could not do it any harm, I had visions of the boat lying sideways in Lake Norman with all my children overboard.  Sailing turned out to be quite a peaceful and relaxing experience. 

I want you to imagine being a passenger on a luxury cruise ship.  Many of you have taken cruises, some recently.  For a fee, all of your needs are met.  Someone else prepares and serves delicious meals and cold drinks.  Someone else prepares and cleans the cabins.  Someone else organizes all types of entertainment and recreational opportunities.  The crew directs the cruise ship into various ports, providing time for shopping sprees.  Being a passenger on a cruise ship actually allows you to relax without worrying about chores.    Crew members take care of the responsibilities so that the passengers do not have to do any work.

Now, I want you to imagine a second large ship, an old-fashioned ship with sails that perhaps transported rice and lumber from Georgetown years ago.  Imagine its large crew.  You understand, of course, that no one onboard this ship has a free ride.  This ship has no passengers.  Each person is a member of the crew.  Each person is expected to do his part, expected to have at least one task, one assignment.  Several crew members have more than one chore.  If someone fails to do the particular job assigned, the whole ship is put in danger.  Failure to complete a job certainly jeopardizes the voyage.

Just for a moment, I want to ask you to look straight up at the ceiling of this church.  As you observe the rafters, can you imagine that the ceiling is the hull of a ship turned upside down?  Can you see that those rafters resemble the ribs holding the hull together in a ship?  In old church architecture, we are seated in what would be called the nave, the word from which we get the word navy.  The very first church architects were shipbuilders.  In fact, they built the church as if they were building an inverted ship.  The ceiling was like the hull, and the rafters would be like the beams onboard a ship. 

This design not only had functional architecture but it also had symbolic meaning.  The church can be likened to a ship.  The church is a ship, but the church is not a cruise ship.  It is a sailing ship.  You are not along for a free ride.  You are not here to be entertained.  You are not here to be provided with recreation.  You are here as a member of the crew.  Every person here is a crewmember with a responsibility.  Consider that concept a moment. 

Graduates, I want to say a special word to you.  Please pick up your worship bulletin and look on the back cover to the section marked “Church Staff.”  The first line identifies all members of the congregation as ministers.  Another way of wording this line is that all members of the congregation are crewmembers.  Graduates, welcome aboard!  We are glad you are here.  Some of you have been onboard for a long time, and you are already part of the crew.  This ship called Morningside needs you.  We need your strength.  We need your energy.  We need your talent.  We need your participation and your good ideas.  Whether you realize it or not, you need us, too, all of us who have gray hair.  You need our wisdom, our know-how, and our experience that is hard-won.  We all need each other as we work as the crew of this ship.

Max Lucado has described the church as “God’s boat.”  If we think about the church in this way, we must consider some important concepts.  First, all hands must be on deck.  We are not called to leisure; we are called to faithful service.  Each one of us has a different task.  Some are concerned with nourishing and feeding the crew, with caring for and enriching those on board the ship.  Others are concerned with providing protection to those in danger.  Their job is to be lifesavers, rescuers. 

Though we have different tasks, we do have some commonalities.  First, we all have the same Captain of our ship, the same Captain of our soul.  Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and he determines our destination.  We all have the same destination.  We are all aboard this vessel, which has the distinct purpose of getting us to the far shore safely.  We are all headed together for the kingdom of God. 

A second central point to remember in this comparison is that we really cannot afford to have anyone rock the boat.  We have to work together.  We have to work in harmony.  We must acknowledge that everyone is not all the same.  We are all very different with different roles. 

Some strongly believe in rigid discipline.  They wear somber expressions and prefer that we not laugh in church.  They want us to be stern because serving the Captain is serious business.  It is no coincidence that they tend to congregate in the back of the boat, which, by the way, is called the stern. 

A second group, composed of strong prayer warriors, is deeply devotional.  Some in the group promote a certain posture for prayer.  They believe that in order to talk with God, a person must be in a humble position by kneeling and leaning the head forward.  They can be found in a particular place onboard the ship – the bow.  I know it is a stretch. 

A third group, those concerned with the mechanics of the ship, want to be sure that everything is in working order.   They are concerned with the details:  What is holding the ship together?  How is this ship going to stand the storms?  How can this ship make this voyage?  Because they tend to stay below deck dealing with the nuts and bolts, they miss much of the view. 

Some prefer the sunshine and the breeze in their face.  They like to climb the rigging and get in the crow’s nest so that they can see the horizon and watch for the far shore.  This group expresses joy and delight just in being onboard, in making the journey, and in looking to the future destination. 

All groups are essential for the voyage, and conflict is to be expected.  Those in the stern consider the crew in the crow’s nest silly.  Those below deck see themselves as doing all the work while this group in the crow’s nest just enjoys the view.  Care must be taken not to rock the boat when conflict happens. 

A third point to remember is that many people, I am sad to say, have gone overboard and are adrift.  They may have abandoned ship because they do not want to do the work required in order to keep the ship sailing.  Perhaps they feel alienated and simply do not want to be a part of the crew.  They prefer to float by alone but find themselves in deep trouble when the storms occur and the conditions become perilous.  Though this group has abandoned ship, we do not need to abandon them.  

Others do not even know what I am talking about because they have never been onboard.  We need to offer them an invitation to come onboard and help them find a task to do as a part of the crew.  Our task is to pull onboard with us those many people who have fallen overboard and are adrift. 

During this voyage, we must remember that adjustment is often necessary.  A sailboat does not always sail in a straight line.  Sometimes it has to tack into the wind in a zigzag pattern.  When steering a sailboat, we must have a firm hand on the rudder and be sure the sails are properly oriented.  We must be willing and ready to adjust for the tilt of the ship.  Course corrections are often necessary if we are to achieve our destination. 

The Captain of this sailboat knows exactly what course corrections need to be made for our destination.  Care must be taken not to make sudden moves.  Instead, the moves must be made gradually, gently, carefully.  Our task as the crew is to pray, to pay close attention, and do our very best to discern what God would have us do.

Next week, we begin a new worship schedule.  Our time of fellowship begins at 9:00 A.M., and the worship service begins at 9:30 A.M., followed by Sunday School.   I know some people will show up at church at 8:30 A.M.   They will think the rapture has occurred and that they have been left behind.  Probably some will walk in at 11:00 A.M. and wonder what has happened.  They might comment, “First, they give up the King James Version of the Bible, and now they are not worshipping at 11:00 A.M.   What in the world has happened?” 

Some people will have trouble adapting to this different schedule for the summer.  People in the stern have considerable trouble with any kind of change.  Those in the bow are worried, so they have been praying.  Crewmembers below deck want to know how this schedule will affect the ship.  Those in the crow’s nest just say, “Whatever.”  Any change is all fine with them.

The worship service here next Sunday will be wonderful.  If you are not here, you will miss a blessing.  Come see your many fellow crew members in the pews and in the choir loft.  Some of you have not seen them in a long time.  This is your opportunity to take part in the worship service with everyone at Morningside. 

Listen to me.  We are all members of the same crew.  We need to be together for these course corrections.  We cannot make them all at once; we will make them slowly.  If we make course corrections while following the guidance of our Captain, we will see that we are headed more closely on the route He would have us make.

For the month of May, I have asked you to be people at prayer.  We declared that May would be a time of concerted prayer. Some of you have signed up for specific slots of prayer, and you have faithfully prayed at those appointed times.  Those who have not signed up have told me, “My name is not on the list, but I am praying.”  What is important is that you are at prayer. 

Do you think that I want you to quit praying on June 1?  No. We are not going to stop when the month of June arrives.  We will continue to pray. We need to get in the habit of praying. 

Why should we have a month of prayer?  Why is this prayer so important?  The life of prayer prepares us.  The life of prayer determines how the rudder, the keel, and the sails are set.  Once the sails are set, we are ready for something we cannot manufacture – the wind of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot make this ship move forward by ourselves.  We cannot make it move in any direction.  The Holy Spirit, the wind of the Spirit, moves this vessel toward our destination. 

During this season of prayer, I have seen God’s Spirit working in this place.  Some of you have, too.  You have told me so.  People have particularly commented on the Spirit they have felt during the last two Wednesday nights during Prayer Service.  I expect that will continue.  I hope you can be here this coming Wednesday night.  Following a pancake supper, we will have prayer meeting in the Fellowship Hall and begin our focus on preparing for Vacation Bible School.  I hope you will come and be a part of that focus on prayer. 

I want to share with you four simple examples of the way in which the wind of the Spirit is moving through Morningside.  First, numerous people have come to me this month, expressing the desire to confess their sins.  They have come to the office or seen me at other locations for counseling and said, “I just need to confess my sins.”

Do you remember what happened at the first Pentecost?  The people, cut to the heart, asked Peter, “What shall we do?”  Simon Peter replied, “You repent.” 

When the Holy Spirit starts to move, people repent.  People want to rid themselves of the burden of sin.  One old way of talking about it is “being under conviction of the Holy Spirit.”  Though the term is old-fashioned, the concept is brand new whenever the Spirit moves.   You cannot pray a lie.  You can only pray when your heart is cleansed by the work of the Holy Spirit.  That purification comes through confession and repentance.

A second way of knowing that the Spirit of the Holy Spirit is at work is the renewal of some programs within this church.  Some programs have fallen fallow, and it may be time to pronounce the benediction on some of them.  Others are being revitalized.  Let me give you one example. 

Three weeks ago, Dick Kugler, Nathan Neighbors and I met to talk about the Scouting program here at Morningside.  Since the death of David Kelly, our Scout Master, that program has fallen on hard times.  After prayer, we decided to ask two men who have sons that are Cub Scout age to help us start a Cub Scout program.  We met with those two men, and both have agreed to serve.  The following Sunday, the three of us met again, this time with the entire Scout Committee.  Two more men have agreed to serve as leaders in our Boy Scout program.  Now, it is time to reach the boys and bring them into this wonderful program that cultivates citizenship, character, and leadership in the context of the church of Christ.  A Scout program helps boys grow to Christian maturity as men.  We have prayed about this matter, and I can sense that the Spirit of God is leading in this area.

I want to share a third example of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work at Morningside.  On Friday, Mike Hensley called me with information about a water leak that had flooded the sanctuary of Beaumont Baptist Church.  The church asked if it would be possible to hold worship services in this building until repairs can be made.  Mike McGee, the interim pastor of Beaumont Baptist Church, will lead the worship service today at 2:00 P.M in our sanctuary.  The Holy Spirit brought our sister church to Morningside because that congregation needed a place to worship.

One final example – I went to the hospital yesterday to visit Mr. Longshore, a man who has two nieces who are members of this church.  When I walked into the room Mr. Longshore was not there.  Another man, Jerry Genobles, and his wife, Deborah, were in the room.  This couple had visited Morningside in December and January.  Then Jerry was diagnosed with cancer and began chemotherapy treatments.  Here is a couple that needs a church home.

Jerry looked at me and asked, “Dr. Neely, who told you I was here?” 

I explained, “Jerry, I didn’t know you were here.  I didn’t arrange this visit.  The good Lord did.”

Jerry smiled, “I can’t think of a single person I would rather see come through that door than you.” 

The three of us had a prayer together.  I want you to pray for this couple.  I have added Jerry to our Prayer List, and we will continue to visit this couple.

Who arranged that visit?  Kirk Neely did not do that on his own.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit moving among His people.  God’s Holy Spirit put me in that particular place at that particular time. 

I do not know God’s plan for the future at Morningside.  I do know that God is full of surprises.  Look at what happened on that first day of Pentecost.  A man with a Galilean accent, a fisherman, stood up and preached.  People from all over the world could understand his message in their own language.  Three thousand people were added to the church that day. 

I do not know what God’s Spirit wants to do, but I do know that we are the crew on this ship.  We need no leisure passengers here.  We are a crew devoted to service, and you need to be doing a job.  One is available for everyone.  Some of you know your duties, and you do them well.  Others need to find your place of service.  When the sails have been set through the life of prayer, the Holy Spirit, the wind, moves us in the direction the Captain would have us go.

Are you onboard?  Are you overboard and adrift?  Do you know the Captain of your soul?  Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior?  If not, I want to extend a simple invitation on this day of Pentecost:  accept Christ Jesus and get onboard.  Become a part of this vessel that will take you to the kingdom of God. 

Kirk H. Neely
© May 2010
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