Lately the story of the storm at sea in Acts 27 has been much on my mind. Paul and his shipmates were caught in a violent storm that just went on and on and on, tossing the ship up and down. The text says that they didn’t eat for fourteen days. My hunch is that everybody was having to stick close to the rail. Even pastor Paul was dreadfully seasick. Perhaps that’s why he couldn’t resist reminding the crew that they should have listened when he told them much earlier that they needed to do something different. Moreover, the passengers and crew were disoriented. Verse 20 reads, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”
Our congregation is traveling through a stormy time of grief and loss and uncertainty and fear, plus we are downright bewildered about how to reach people beyond our current boundaries and incorporate them into the life of the family of faith. We have experienced up-and-down attendance, and recently a very painful and steep drop. One of our elders reports feeling literally nauseated on a recent painfully low Sunday.
Yet there are also hopeful signs to give thanks for. God is bringing us into contact with new people, including a flock of children and their families. It has been a joy to spend Tuesday afternoons this summer with some of them in a VBS-like experience in one of the children’s homes. At a recent wiener roast/ice cream social, a six-year-old boy who has visited our church in worship two or three times went up to one of the women who was cleaning up in the kitchen, tugged at her, and said, “I like coming to this church.”
Wow! Talk about going up and down with the waves!
After Paul got the urge to say, “I told you so” out of his system, he went on to tell his shipmates, “Keep up your courage! There will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. The ship is going to be wrecked, but we are all going to be safe.” Then later, when some of the sailors were tempted to abandon the ship and sail away in a lifeboat, Paul called out, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” The soldiers on board then cut away the lifeboat and set it adrift. Everybody ended up staying on board.
Then, just before daybreak on the day of the shipwreck, Paul urged everybody to take food. He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, ate, and gave it to others. Holy communion!
Hours later, the ship ran aground and began to break up. Everyone headed for shore. Some swam, while others floated on pieces of the ship. In the end, all reached shore safely. Not one person was lost.
There’s a word from the Lord here for the storm-tossed, seasick church. While the institutional vessel may be wrecked and broken, God is going to get us safely to the shore. And while we mourn the loss of the vessel as we knew it, the Church of Jesus Christ lives. Even now, God is inspiring designs for new vessels, and building is underway. Not one to waste anything, God may well be reclaiming strong, seasoned lumber from the wreckage and repurposing it. In fact, I’m sure of it.
Take heart, seasick church! Over the sound of the storm, above the waves of queasiness and waves of exhilaration, a voice calls, “Take. Eat. This is my body, broken for you.”
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