When I was assigned to the first church I pastored, I was so excited you could hardly stand me. I had been a director of Christian education for 17 years and now feeling God's call to preach, I stepped into the pulpit ready to be what God was leading me to be--a clergywoman. The cabinet and bishop sent me to a little church with a congregation of 30 people and a regular attendance of 18. Didn't dampen my spirits at all! I love a challenge!
I had been there three weeks when a member of the church called me and said, "Rosemary, my aunt has fallen and broken her hip. She's 85 and hasn't been able to go to church for some time. She doesn't have a pastor. Would you go to see her?" Oh, would I? I got so excited. My first official pastoral call to a hospital. She gave me the room number at Baptist Hospital and I hurried down. When I pulled into a parking space marked "Clergy," I saw a security guard running toward me and he was shouting, "You can't park there! You can't park there!" Well, I got out of the car, took out my clergy card and said, "Oh, yes, I can!" Now you must remember, this happened 25 years ago when clergywomen were in the birthing stage of being part of the body of Christ as preachers. That confused security guard walked away angry. And he didn't even know me! And he was muttering, "What's this world coming to?" Now isn't that a good question? I hurried into the hospital and caught the elevator up to the 5th floor and made my way to the room I had been given. I looked in and there she was, leg up in traction, weight hanging off the end of the bed. I circled the bed and reached in and got her hand and said, "Hi! My name's Rosemary Brown and I've come to see how you're doing today." She smiled and said, "Good."
Then I listened to her life story. She had lived in Dixon on a large farm with her husband. He had died eight years ago and she couldn't take care of the farm by herself so she had moved to Nashville to an assisted living apartment. Then she said, "Clumsy old me, and I turned around too fast and fell and broke my hip and here I am strung up like a convict in chains." Well, I glanced down at my watch and I'd been there 45 minutes and they had instructed us in seminary never to stay over 15 minutes on a first visit. Here I was, already blown it by 30 minutes, so I reached in and got her hands again and I said, "I need to go now, but would you like to have prayer before I go?" "Sure," she said and closed her eyes. I closed mine and began, "Dear God, please be with Mrs. Morgan." Felt a little tap come on my shoulder and I opened one eye and looked at her, and she whispered, "My name is Mrs. Jones, dear. Now you go on with your prayer." I started over. "Dear God, please be with Mrs. Jones." When I finished, I leaned over in the bed and hugged her good-bye, knowing that I was going to have to find Mrs. Morgan and start all over again. But as I left the room, a nurse was standing there and she had tears running down her face She said, "Lady, I don't know who you are, but Mrs. Jones has been in this hospital for two weeks and you're the first visitor she's had." For 45 minutes, I had been in the wrong room at the right time.
You need to know that I visited Mrs. Jones every day after that. We became dear friends and when she passed away, I did her funeral. And as far as I know, I was her only surviving relative, a daughter in Christ. God is like that, you know. God will place us where we need to be when we least expect it, and then we are responsible for doing the rest.
In the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verse 35-42, we read of an experience long ago when a man called John the Baptist and some of his disciples were in the right place at the right time. You see, Jesus was passing by and as he always did, he stopped and changed people's lives forever. The next day, John again was standing with two of his disciples and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look! Here is the Lamb of God." The two disciples heard him say this and they followed Jesus. Now that was evangelism right from the beginning of the Christian movement on earth. You come to know Jesus as John already knew him and then you position others so that they can know him. Let me urge you to read all of chapter 1 of John's Gospel. You will discover that John, Elizabeth, and Zechariah's son, Jesus' cousin, did not see him as just another member of the family. John saw beyond the expected and identified the one upon whom he had seen the Spirit come down on him like a dove from heaven. And then John affirms, "I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God."
One of my real heroes in the faith was Dr. Glenn "Tex" Evans. Tex was working at the Board of Discipleship in Nashville when he felt God was leading him to begin a work mission in the mountains of Appalachia. Tex believed that young people--high school and college age--had a lot to give to others if someone would just position them in the right place at the right time. And so began a project in 1969 called ASP, the Appalachia Service Project. Over the past 30 summers, thousands of youth and adult counselors have worked on the homes of people living in the poverty-stricken areas of Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee. On July 25th, 1978, Tex passed away after a bout with cancer. Two bishops were at the funeral service, the staff persons of the Board of Discipleship and Higher Education, letters arrived from around the world, even a letter of condolence and commendation from the President of the United States. After the funeral, his daughter Betty, with tears running down her face, said to me, "I never knew all of this about Dad. I just thought he was my father." Her Dad had taught her about Christ and her Dad had led thousands of youth like his own daughter into the presence of God.
John knew Jesus wasn't just his cousin, he was the anointed one.
We need to ask ourselves, "Have I testified to anyone this day that this is indeed the Son of God?" Like the woman at the well in Chapter 4 of John's Gospel, have we run back into our homes, our schools, our places of work, and told others that we have met a prophet? Or like Zacchaeus in Luke's Gospel, have we invited the Lord into our homes believing that we were going to feed him dinner, and in the midst of the meal of physical food, we discover his spiritual food? The Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are full of wonderful stories of people touched by the Son of God, people who were in the right place at the right time. Oh, yes, and some who let him pass by without ever knowing who he was--like the Scribes and the Pharisees and the political leaders of the day--those leaders more concerned about keeping the Sabbath law than they were concerned for the recovering of sight to the blind, the release of captives, freedom of the oppressed, and good news to the poor.
So what are you looking for? What am I looking for? Richard Blanchard in his hymn, "Fill My Cup, Lord," wrote this lyric, "Like the woman at the well, I was seeking for things that did not satisfy and then I heard my Savior speaking, 'Draw from my well that never shall run dry.'"
"What are you looking for?" Jesus still asks us today. I'm afraid many of us don't really know the answer to that question. We're stressed out in our schedules and in our task-oriented jobs. We've allowed our children to become overextended in extracurricular activities. We can't even drive a car without talking on the phone. I even have a friend who tells me he retired so he could get some rest and he's about to volunteer himself to death. "What are you looking for?" We all seem so dissatisfied.
Listen to verse 2 & 3 of Blanchard's song: "There are millions in this world who are craving the pleasure earthly things afford, but none can match the wondrous treasure that I find in Jesus Christ my Lord. So my brother, sister, if the things this world gave you leave hungers that won't pass away, my blessed Lord will come and save you if you kneel to him and humbly pray. O fill my cup, Lord, I lift it up, Lord, come and quench this thirsting of my soul. Bread of heaven, feed till I want no more, feel my cup, fill it up and make me whole."
John had offered the cleansing waters of baptism and the forgiveness of sins....but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit, he will fill your cup and make you whole. He will give you, all of us, peace that passes understanding in the midst of the pressures of our daily lives. "Not as the world gives give I unto you," he said. "Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
I have a beautifully preserved yoke that I use as a visual on the alter at church. Our modern-day children and youth and young adults probably have no clue as to what a yoke might be. But if you put your neck into the yoke and try to pull your burdens alone, you'll pull in a circle and look at your own backside. But, if you realize that Jesus Christ is in the other side of the yoke pulling with you, you can move forward more easily and even find rest in the effort. I believe we make a theological mistake when we preach that he will take our burdens away; life would be void of meaning and dignity if he did it all for us. Oh, but the joy that comes from the accomplishments of service rendered in his name and the rest that comes when he cuts our burdens in half. I have a beautiful poster that shows a blue-jay with a huge worm dangling from its beak and the words on the poster say, "The early bird gets the worm but God doesn't throw it into the nest."
Life would be pointless if we had no work to do, but we don't have to be burdened by our labors. Jesus asked those first followers, "What do you want, what are you looking for?" That's still a good question. Think about it. I knew a man who saved every penny he earned so that he could have a secure retirement. He died of a sudden heart attack six months before his 65th birthday. His wife confided in me at the funeral home, "Jack always wanted to go to Hawaii, but I never could get him to take the time or spend the money to go. Guess we won't ever get to see Hawaii now."
Jesus isn't asking about a trip or a vacation. He's asking about the things in life that are worth laboring for, the things that are worth living for.
This great text for our time together this day points to another great truth. When Andrew meets Jesus, he goes and brings his brother. "We have found the Messiah," he says. Andrew brought his brother to Jesus. When we think about sharing our faith, do we find it difficult to talk to our own family members to bring them to the Lord? I knew a pastor who was considered one of our great preachers in the United Methodist Church. He was recognized in so many places for his years of service, yet his own brother spent most of his adult life in prison where he was seldom visited by his family, especially his preacher brother. Strangest thing about this story--the preacher was known for his prison ministry but confided in me that he was ashamed to admit that Mark was his brother. I had to wonder if the preacher had ever tried to bring his brother to meet the Messiah, the Christ. Andrew goes and gets Simon and brings him to the Lord. Before you turn this program off, give a great deal of thought to those persons in your life that you need to position in the presence of the Lord, that you and I need to invite to worship, to study and grow, to be present when the body of Christ gathers for service in God's kingdom on earth.
In John's Gospel, Simon's name is not changed after he answers the question, "Who do you say I am?" as it is in Matthew 16 or Mark 8 or Luke 9. Here it's almost like love at first sight. Jesus instantly sees something in Simon that perhaps Simon had never seen in himself. Jesus sees "the Rock" upon which he will build the church. Simon, son of John, you will be called "Cephas," the Aramaic name that translates in Greek as Peter the Rock. Standing in the presence of the Lamb of God, Simon is called forth to be the one who will be the foundation rock of our faith. Andrew had positioned him and Jesus had done the rest.
Bob Benson wrote a beautiful poem that I couldn't find but I remember the essence of it. It went something like this:
He had lived his whole life in the wrong place at the wrong time. When other boys were going to Synagogue school to learn Torah, he was learning to steal. When other young men were marrying and creating a life, he was being arrested and tried, and now, hanging between heaven and earth, he turns to the one on the middle cross and whispers, "Jesus, remember me," and at last he is in the right place at the right time.
In the presence of Christ, we are always in the right place and God will use us as God used those first disciples, to continue the work of the Savior of the world, in whose name we serve.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, call us, call us to be a rock upon which you can continue to build your church. Help us to know that we are to bring others. Sometimes it might be our own spouse or our own children, or someone we've loved for all of our lives, or it might be the next door neighbor who stays home on the Sabbath and never understands the joy of being part of the body of Christ. Forgive us for our negligence and our hesitance, forgive us for our shyness and enable us to be like those first disciples who saw him passing by and knew they wanted to walk with him the rest of their lives. We thank you for dignifying our lives by calling us. We pray that we will be faithful. In the name of Christ our Lord we pray this prayer. Amen.