February 2, 2020

Knowing Our Station
Shining Our Light Week 2
Epiphany 4, Year A
Becky Robbins-Penniman

A question for those of us who were here last week:
what was the most important thing you heard Canon Chris Gray say to us?
What I heard was the power of ONE to make an enormous difference
in the lives of people both now and many, many years later.
One dollar. One person. One dream. One light in the darkness.
The light at Good Shepherd has been shining in Dunedin for 135 years
because one dollar at a time, one person at a time, one day at a time,
the dream of God inspired the people here, people who changed the world
for years and years to come.
What is God’s dream for Good Shepherd?
This was a question I asked this congregation over 9 years ago,
as I was just starting out in my tenure here in this place.
It’s time to ask it again as my tenure winds down: what kind of place is this?
Is it one that focuses its light on our lives and personal preferences?
Or one that focuses its light on the life of Jesus Christ and his mission?
To put it the way I did way back when in one of the few sermons I’ve been asked repeat:
Do we want to be a gas station OR Do we want to be a fire station?
A gas station is a place we go to only when we need to get what we want.
We certainly do not expect the cashier to ask us to do anything
except to pay for what we came for.
In fact, if you are like me, you prefer not to talk to anyone at all.
I stick my card in, pump my gas, and leave.
If gas station doesn’t have what I want, well, there are plenty of others.
For example, I need ethanol-free gas for my ’66 Mustang.
A church can be seen as a sort of spiritual gas station.
We go only when we think we need to get only what we want.
We don’t expect anyone to ask us to do anything.
We get what we came for, make our contribution, and leave.
If that church doesn’t have what we want, well, there are plenty of others.
Contrast a gas station with a fire station – a volunteer fire station.
In a volunteer fire station, a bunch of people get together for one purpose:
helping folks who are in trouble.
Some give financial support worth more than they’ll ever get in services;
others get training on how to fight fires and give first aid;
others keep the supplies well stocked and orderly.
Everything is ready for when the call for help comes,
and everyone’s efforts are essential to the mission of the station.

When the firefighters return, everyone comes to the station.
Some clean up, some talk over what went right,
what could be done better next time, and they all have a bite together.
They go on home for now, but are always checking back to make sure
everything and everyone – including themselves – is ready for the next call.
Even if 100% of the people in a town pay to support the station,
but only one person in that town volunteers to go out on runs,
how well will the fires be put out? what if 2 or 3 people need CPR at once?
If 5% of the townspeople staff the station, how many will be helped?
What if 20% are sharing the work? Imagine if 80% get involved . . . !
Well, which level of involvement would you want in your community?
A church can be like a fire station, too, can’t it? We come for a common purpose:
to worship God, to learn how to live as God commands.
Some of us support it with our money, way more than we receive in services;
others become equipped to serve the community in a myriad of ways.
Others take care of the facility and keep the supplies stocked.
One way a church is different from a fire station
is that we actively go out looking for the people and places
where the justice, mercy, and compassion of God are needed.
We don’t just wait until someone calls; we go out the way Jesus went out.
The contrast between a gas station church and a fire station church
is not so much on the services offered, but on the attitude of the people.
As many of you know by now, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry,
says that the very best synonym for “sin” is “selfishness.
A gas station church is centered on selfishness, serving ourselves;
a fire station church is centered on doing good,
on service to others, using the gifts God has already given us.
In a fire station church, we go out with compassion, not judgment,
to feed the hungry and thirsty, to overcome evil with good.
Then we come back, clean up our equipment, talk over what we did well,
and what we could do better, and have a bite to eat together.
We are equipped by God to be good news to people who are in trouble,
all kinds of trouble, even really stupid trouble they caused for themselves,
and to be compassionate because our God is compassionate with us
when we’re boneheads, too.
When we put our own wants and desires last, when we serve without judging,
when we go out as Jesus told us to go out, the Spirit IS our life.
Just like 9 years ago, this congregation has to ask itself
whether it wants to be a spiritual gas station or a spiritual fire station.
As we enter a year of change and transition at Good Shepherd,
it will be altogether too easy to become a gas station church,
focusing on whether we personally like what is happening.

I’m sure you know that I don’t think this is God’s dream for this parish.
God’s dream for this parish is for the power of one, each one,
to keep the light shining brightly because the Spirit IS our life,
because God’s word is a lantern to our feet,
because we know the power of one: of one dollar at a time,
one person at a time, one day at a time, to change the world
for years and years to come.
Now, here’s the funny little secret about this.
When we latch on to God’s dream, when the Spirit lives in us,
we usually find that we in fact get what we want, we get personal satisfaction,
even though we may not even have known beforehand
that we would even want the transformation we underwent
as we served others using the gifts God had already given us.
The Spirit living in us transforms us and gives us the life
that pleases not only God, but ourselves as well.
During this Stewardship season, we are focusing
on how Good Shepherd is Shining Our Light in our lives and our community,
and we’ll hear what a few of the fire station volunteers in this place
have to say about the Spirit living in them and in others in this place
through their time, talent and treasure.
The first fire station volunteer we’re hearing from is Jim Ratliff.
[Jim gives his witness statement about how working in the Furniture Thrift Store
changed his life.]
Jim has told us how God has employed his talents,
and how Jesus called him in and sends him out to bear fruit.
This is what this fire station church has been about for 135 years.
May God grant us the grace to live life in the Spirit, to keep shining our light
in our lives and our community for many more generations!

Watch the 10 AM service live: