Oppose the Obvious Evil
February 1, 2015
One of my favorite stories from the late southern comedian Jerry Clower was his tale about the Ledbetter family patriarch Uncle Versee and his concern one night at a church deacon meeting focused on a decision to buy new chandeliers for the sanctuary. As the discussion continued Uncle Versee stood up and said, “well friends I am against it. First, we are a poor church and I don’t think we can afford such luxuries. Second, we are not an educated church and I don’t think any of us can spell “chandelier” so how are we going to order it. Third, I don’t know a single person in our neck of the woods who knows how to play a chandelier. And fourth, we all know that what we really need here at the church are some new lights!”
Sometimes, like Uncle Versee, we struggle too to understand the value of those things that seem so, so foreign to us.
To a certain degree Jesus’ miracle stories fit in this vein. Without question, we all appreciate what these stories teach us about Jesus’ power and the affirmation that they provide regarding his claim as God’s son. Likewise, they help us to appreciate God’s ability to overcome any human need. But, our struggle often comes in relating to these stories ourselves for they seem very different from our regular human experience.
These stories are commonplace in the gospels, however, and they dominate Mark’s telling of Jesus’ story. In fact, in Mark there are between fifteen and twenty miracle stories with many of them focusing like our text for today on Jesus’ direct meeting of human needs and Jesus’ direct response to evil at work in people’s lives.
And yet, beyond what these stories teach us about Jesus, what do they teach us about our own abilities to make a difference in other’s lives? No, we don’t have the power Jesus had but as believers filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit surely we can do something.
There is a wonderful story that in my mind speaks to our abilities in a very everyday sort of way that is also remarkably in keeping with some basic characteristics of many of Jesus’ miracle stories. It comes from PC Enniss, a Presbyterian minister, who some years ago pastored a downtown church in a large American city. One day near Christmas his secretary buzzed into his office and said, “there is someone here who says he needs to see the pastor.” Enniss said that his immediate reaction was to use his pastoral intuition to conclude that what awaited him was someone in need wanting help with Christmas. Instead, however, in walked an incredibly well dressed man who was very articulate. In so many words he explained to Enniss that life simply wasn’t going his way. He felt like someone or something was working against him. “Like the devil is on my back” were his exact words. A bit stunned, Enniss asked how he could help. The man’s reply was that he wanted Enniss to bless him. Peter Enniss says that he immediately responded by trying to clarify for the man what his limitations were. Though he was a pastor, he didn’t want this fellow to come to the wrong conclusions about what he may or may not be able to do for him. But, the man persisted – “I just want you to bless me.” Finally, Enniss did the only thing he knew to do. He asked the man his name. It was Andy. Then Enniss began to pray for Andy and through the prayer to remind him that God loved him. When the prayer was over, the man said that he felt so much better, thanked Enniss and walked out the door never to be seen again. Enniss said that man remained an enigma for him. He was mystery, if you will, in that he never found out where he came from, what was really going on in his life or what happened to him in the future.
As much as he was a mystery to Enniss, I think that experience clarifies some things for us in a profound way and again in ways very much in keeping with Jesus own stories.
First, Enniss made a profound difference in that man’s life first and foremost by simply making time for him. He had other things to do just ten days before Christmas I am sure. But, at least for a few minutes he sat those things aside to listen to the needs of a stranger. If you think about many of the miraclous healing stories on a very rudimentary level, they begin with Jesus making time for people. Take our text for today. First it was a Sabbath. We know how the Jewish leaders felt about work on the sabbath even work that made a positive difference in others lives. Second, Jesus was in the temple presumably to teach which means that his mind was likely focused on others things. This demon possessed man didn’t have an appointment. Yet, in the moment Jesus made space for him, he made him feel important and that his needs were significant.
Not so long ago, I was in a meeting in another town. One of the people involved in the meeting was a person of considerable importance with a rather big, public job. I wanted to ask them a question but quite honestly I was hesitant because I didn’t want to take up their time. Finally during a break in the meeting, I got up the courage and went over to speak. Not only did I find myself being received warmly and my question taken seriously but they invited me to lunch that very day so that the two of us could talk further. That unexpected event, really struck me in two ways – it completely changed how I felt about that person and it also completely changed my sense of how they felt about me. It may have not been a big deal for them but it was a huge deal for me.
I don’t think we should minimize the gift of our time and attention on people’s lives. No, we don’t have the power of Jesus but our willingness to give the gift of time and the gift of ourselves is powerful. And, I have every belief that when offered in the right settings it can be a real blessing to others. Certainly we can’t be all things to all people and we can’t always be available. But being conscious of those times when others simply need our attention, focus and to know that they are important and being willing to respond accordingly can be more powerful than most of us would ever imagine.
The second characteristic of Enniss’ story that is very in keeping with the healing stories of Jesus is that he not only shared his time but he also shared his voice. All the mysterious stranger Andy wanted from Enniss was to be blessed. Rev. Enniss ultimately fulfilled this request by praying for him and reminding Andy that Jesus loved him. As insignificant as that act may have seemed – it was enough. In a similar way, in the story of Jesus, it is interesting to note that in many instances, it is the power of Jesus’ words that was enough. Again, I don’t want to minimize what Jesus did. Obviously the power behind his words was far different from our own. But at the same time, I don’t want to minimize the potential of our words either which I think we often do. Like Jesus, we can remind others of our love and the love of God. We can also share our wisdom and our own life experiences. We can share about our faith and the difference that God makes. We can express how we have coped or lived through similar experiences to those where others find themselves. And, when it comes to confronting evil as we find happening in our passage from Mark today, we too can oppose with our words those things or people that harm, demean or keep others from being who God wants them to be.
The truth is that in having the basic daily courage to listen and to speak we can do a lot more for others than we ever want to admit or believe.
Do you remember the story about Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller? Remember that Keller was the blind girl and Sullivan the teacher who in the late 1800s and early 1900s became Keller’s mentor and guide. Through Sullivan’s help Helen Keller became the first blind person in the United States to graduate from college and she became a trailblazer for other challenged people like her.
How did Anne Sullivan do it? Mainly by spending years with Helen Keller, getting to know her, finding what worked in terms of teaching her and what didn’t and by imparting whatever wisdom she could to Keller as her life student. In short, she spent tons and tons of time courageous enough to listen and courageous enough to speak. Do you remember the play that was written about Sullivan and her relationship with Keller? I was called, “The Miracle Worker”. Amen.