The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204
JOYFUL WITNESS: BEYOND “GOD HELP US”
Psalm 51:1-13 and Gospel of John 15:9-11
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost, October 27, 2019
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Stories can be spiritually transformational. This is why Jesus told so many stories. The Cross Window which is in the doors into this sanctuary reminds you that Jesus’ story shapes your story.
A story I often tell at gravesides when children or teenagers are in the grieving family circle imagines a colony of water bugs crawling around at the bottom of a pond. Occasionally, a water bug begins to climb up a lily stalk eventually moving beyond sight of the colony. One afternoon, this very event happened causing the colony to make a covenant; ‘if this ever happens to any of us, we promise to come back and tell the colony where we went.’ A few days later, one of the covenant colony finds himself climbing the lily stalk uncontrollably until he passes through the water’s edge resting on the large leaf of a lily pad. A gentle breeze begins to blow, and the tired water bug goes to sleep. Upon awakening, the water bug notices a remarkable transformation to his body as he now has four silver wings and a long tail. After a few minutes in the warm sun, the wind lifts him into the air; he has become a dragonfly. Swooping, dipping and diving in midair, he is exhilarated in the new atmosphere. He lands to rest and thinks of the colony down below. He repeatedly flies higher and higher and then darts toward the colony but bounces off the water’s edge. Exhausted after numerous attempts, he surmises, “I will be here to greet them when they become dragonflies and experience the joy of this transformation.”
In the year 2008, while visiting in Boston to explore ecumenical and inter-religious expressions of faith, I was able to listen to a lecture by Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel; it was his 80th year.
He walked onto the stage, took a seat in a chair and said, “Let me tell you a story.” For the next two hours, he told stories of surviving Auschwitz and how a world became estranged by hate, racism and bigotry. He spoke of how he had to completely restore his sense of personal vision, value, faith and purpose. He discovered the phrase, “The Lord is my helper.” The word, ‘helper,’ does not mean an auxiliary partner or an added resource. The word, ‘helper,’ means, ‘the essential support.’ In common English, ‘a helper is the one you cannot do without.’
This morning, we have included several passages telling the story of how God is our helper. Every person has faced what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is named ‘the slough of despond.’ You endure times when you must be restored to the joy of the Lord. You confess your need for God’s help. The Lord who is your helper saves you from a pathway of sin, protects you from destruction, redeems you from your failures, lifts you from despondency, forgives your wrongdoings, blesses you through grace, transforms you to hope, restores to you the joy of salvation and sustains in you a willing spirit to will God’s will in your living. As you mature in spirit, you realize God is not an auxiliary resource. God is the sure foundation; God is your essential support.
Jesus, the joyful witness of God’s nature, taught about God’s character as your essential support. Jesus encourages his followers to follow his teachings. Jesus says, “As God has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my teachings, you will abide in my love.”
Then, Jesus enjoins a significant word for you to embrace: “I have said these things to you so that MY JOY MAY BE IN YOU, AND THAT YOUR JOY MAY BE COMPLETE.” Love transforms you to joy.
While ministering to Christ’s Church in another city, I learned the story of Jane and Joe and the grief they carried for two decades due to an estranged relationship with their adult son, Matthew.
For twenty-one years, they had neither seen him nor heard from him. This was because the week after his marriage, his wife told him that he would not be contacting his family if he wanted to be married to her. Matthew thought he could eventually change her mind; but he was a conflict-avoidance person and she was not. He became the art director of a large company in the city.
A few years later, Matthew became a father – first to a son and then to a daughter.
The grandparents heard about the births of the grandchildren through the community grapevine.
I knew of this story of ongoing grief. So, when Jane and Joe called asking me to come to their home to meet Matthew, I was exceedingly pleased. When I arrived, Jane showed me the living room where couches and chairs had been moved to the garage so a long table could be placed. Then she took me the den where I met Matthew and hugged a smiling Joe.
The reconciliation happened like this: the two children grew up and were students at the same university. Soon after the daughter entered college, their mother left their father with another man. They became concerned about Matthew, for their father who was now alone.
One evening, Joe answered the doorbell and saw two young adults standing on the front porch. Something inside Joe told him these were his grandchildren. They introduced themselves; hugs with tears unfolded as Jane ran to join the party. The grandkids asked if Joe and Jane would welcome Matthew home. Matthew was too ashamed and embarrassed to approach his parents seeking a reconciliation. So, the kids decided to take the risk themselves without his knowledge. Of course, Joe and Jane welcomed Matthew and the kids the next night.
And every Sunday thereafter for six weeks prior to my visit, the whole family sat at those tables stretched from the dining room through the living room. Joe and Jane’s two daughters, their spouses and children were getting to know Matthew and his children. The next Sunday, Matthew came to worship with them; it was communion Sunday.
Eight months later, Jane and Matthew were cleaning up the yard when Matthew fell to the ground with a heart attack. He did not survive. After less than a year of restored time together, Matthew was dead at age 47. Joe called to ask if I would follow their son in laws and daughters to the university to be present when Matthew’s kids were informed. It was a difficult week.
On Saturday, we finished the services and burial and I left their home to finalize Sunday’s sermon.
During the Sunday School hour, my office phone rang. I answered. It was Jane. She said, “Dennis, Joe and I were just sitting here at the breakfast table drinking coffee and something happened that has not happened in the thirty-three years we have lived in this house.
For the last five minutes or so, a dragonfly has been bumping around on the window glass here by the table as if it were trying to get inside.
I just thought you would want to know it brought us so much joy.”
Stories can be spiritually transformational.
In fact, God is your essential HELPER who gives you the story of Jesus with a joyful song to sing.
In our St. John’s Covenant, we commit ourselves to live by these words:
“We will with God’s help, so live our lives that others, seeing the joy of Christian living, may seek to know Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Amen and AMEN!