A Journey With God: That’s What Friends Are For
This last week, my dad’s incredible journey through this life came to an end. The newspaper in Mobile, Alabama carried this headline on its front page: “Dr. David Edington, Jr., ‘Hero of Faith,’ Dies at 85.” He was, to be sure, one of the great heroes of the faith, but much more importantly, he was a hero to me. I have been privileged to have my father for 55 years. His life in the ministry was beautiful to behold. And even though the last 15 years of his life were filled to overflowing with pain and heartache, his trust in God never wavered. And his objective of pleasing God has stimulated my own response to life. If I have not yet reached his stature as a minister of the Gospel, I will still strive to follow his principles: “Being always of good courage, making it my aim, as it has been his to please the Lord.”
Some months ago, as I sat at his bedside, recognizing that physical deterioration had robbed him of most of his strength, we talked about the future. Suddenly, he pointed to the TV in his room. On top of the TV were pictures of my son John David and of my mom. As he pointed at the pictures he said: “Son, all I want to do is to go and be with them.” Now that’s exactly where he is.
Today, as a way of honoring him, before I preach, I want to pray but I want to pray using the last public prayer he ever prayed. The words are his, the voice is mine. Let us pray…
Thou, Whose majesty is written in the glory of the heavens; Thou whose love radiates across the centuries from a cross; we give Thee thanks for that majesty and love. We bow in humility before Thy grace through which we have received forgiveness. In repentance, before Thy holiness, we seek Thy presence that our lives may be brought into harmony with Thy will. Thus, make us channels through which Thy love flows into the lives, into the lives of others. Amen! Amen!
I don’t know if this story is a true story or just one of those so-called urban legends. However, whether it’s true or not, it’s worth hearing because of the point it makes. It seems that there was a woman named Denise who went to the grocery store one afternoon. As she got out of her car in the supermarket parking lot, she noticed that the woman in the car parked next to her, had her arms draped over the steering wheel, her head resting on her arms, her eyes closed tightly. She was perfectly still. Denise glanced over at her but didn’t think much about it. She headed on into the store. When she finished her shopping and returned to her car, she noticed that the woman in the adjacent car was exactly in the same position she had been in earlier. She was not moving at all. Denise then became concerned. She went around, knocked on the window, no response from the woman inside. Denise then opened the door and asked the woman: “Are you all right?” The woman replied weakly, “I’ve been shot—shot in the neck.” Denise couldn’t figure out what was going on. There was no blood, no bullet holes in the windows. Denise then leaned up over the seat to examine the woman’s neck, and there she found, not a gunshot wound, but rather, an uncooked Pillsbury biscuit stuck to the back of the woman’s neck. Denise looked in the back seat, saw a sack of groceries and at the top of the sack was a can of Pillsbury biscuits which had burst open and propelled the uncooked biscuit forward, where it had hit and stuck on the back of the woman’s neck. When Denise told the woman that she had not been shot, but rather had been hit by a flying biscuit, the woman didn’t believe her at first. So Denise peeled the biscuit off the back of the woman’s neck and showed it to her, whereupon the woman quickly straightened up, said “thank you,” and drove off!
Well, that story intrigues me for a couple of reasons. It’s a commentary that we live in such a violent and volatile world that when a woman hears a loud pop behind her and feels a thud on the back of her neck, her first thought is: “I’ve been shot.” But the story also reminds me of the sad fact that there are many people in our world today who are emotionally and spiritually like that woman—they are paralyzed. They feel powerless and immobile. They feel hopeless and helpless. They are afraid to move, afraid to act, afraid to live. They have no energy, no strength, no zest, no fire. They need someone to come along and peel the biscuit off the back of their neck and say to them: “Listen. You’re not mortally wounded. You can have a new chance, a new start, a new birth, a new beginning, a new life. The One who can save you and turn your life around is Jesus Christ.
That’s what this amazing story in the Gospel of Luke is all about. Jesus healed the paralyzed man and gave him a new lease on life. But let me take you back and rehearse the dramatic events of that story. We are told that Jesus was teaching at a home in the town of Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We are told that people had come from all over Galilee and Judea to hear Him speak, to catch the marvelous words which dropped from His lips. The crowd was so overwhelming that they were packed like sardines in a can, filling the house and spilling out into the yard. At that point, we read these words: “Just then some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus.” Well, obviously they confronted a major problem. The crowd was so large that they couldn’t begin to maneuver their friend into the presence of Jesus Christ. And so they improvised. They went up the staircase on the outside of the house and onto the roof. There they proceeded to tear a hole in that roof. It was dramatic, but it wasn’t quite as destructive as it sounds. Roofs in those days consisted of wooden beams laid flat, side by side, with the cracks being filled with mud and the whole thing covered over by palm fronds to keep the moisture out. Consequently, a roof was rather easily made or remade if necessary. But what we need to notice here is that these four people were so determined to get their friend into the presence of Jesus Christ that they were willing to do anything, even tearing a hole in the roof in order to do it.
I want to zero in on the faith of these four loyal friends to learn from them a couple of qualities which give zest, power and purpose to the living of our lives.
First, notice the friends’ sensitive spirituality.
These four were sensitive, first of all, to the need of their paralyzed friend. In fact, they were so aware and so sensitive that they didn’t wait to be asked to help. They saw the need and they got busy trying to do something about it. They were also sensitive to the spiritual power of Jesus. They believed that Jesus could help their friend, and they were determined to get their friend to Jesus no matter what!
What was true of them should be true of us. The plain fact is that if we are too shy to talk to our friends about Jesus, then we are probably too shy about the experience of Jesus we ought to have had in our lives. There ought to be a burning in the heart of every Christian who is a friend of Jesus and a friend of others—the desire to bring Jesus and those others together. That’s what friends are for. Remember, please that Jesus asked us to share with others what we know, what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard, what God has done for us. That’s all He asks. But we don’t do it. Why? Is it because we have nothing to talk about? I think not. In all of my years here as your minister I think I have come to know you well enough to say that everyone here has at least one answered prayer. Everyone here has at least a single example of God’s guidance in life. Everyone here has had some experience of the reality of God which, if passed on, could help someone else. Why is it then that we are so reluctant to talk about the faith we hold so dear? Why is it that we seem to be struck dumb in the presence of others when it comes to talking about our relationship to God? We quite readily discuss our phobias, our politics, our operations, our opinions, our travels, our troubles. Why not our faith?
Today, perhaps as never before, the world is hungry for spiritual meaning, but all too often, we Christians, who possess that for which this world hungers, are silent when we should speak. As soon as we step outside these hallowed walls and halls we become scared to mention Jesus’ name, except when we hit our thumb with a hammer.
I keep thinking here of two young men; one named James, the other Larry. They roomed together at one of our Presbyterian colleges. James was a Christian. Larry was not. They became good friends. James then set himself to the task of bringing his friend, Larry, into personal contact with Jesus. He was very sensitive in his approach. He wasn’t offensive or aggressive. Friends don’t manipulate friends. So James simply seized any available opportunity to speak a good word for Jesus, and he sought faithfully to live his own life for Jesus. By the end of that year Larry had become a Christian. A third party asked Larry what it was about the witness of James that had reached him. Larry replied: “James would sometimes talk in his sleep. Three different times I heard him pray for me while he was sleeping.” Think about that. Here was a young man so possessed with a desire to bring his friend to Jesus, that even his thoughts while sleeping were channeled in that direction. Yes, let me tell you that’s what friends are for—to winsomely, sensitively, lovingly bring their friends into the presence of Jesus Christ.
But also notice in this story the friends’ selfless service.
In this story in Luke, it is quite clear that these four friends risked defeat, failure, embarrassment and rejection because of their love for this paralyzed fellow. That’s the way selfless, loving service always works. It goes out on a limb for others. It finds its greatest joy in bringing life and hope to others.
Let me set before you word portraits of two men. The first is Sinclair Lewis. He occupies a place of some prominence in the pantheon of American literature. But while Lewis may have been a skilled writer, he wasn’t much of a man. He lived his life only for himself. He regarded faith in Jesus Christ as a pathetic joke. He threw himself into an almost unending orgy of lust and promiscuity. Ultimately, his severe and selfish ways left him friendless. He spent the last years of his life as a mumbling, fumbling, stumbling drunk. He died in a second-class clinic on the outskirts of Rome, absolutely, literally all alone. On his death certificate under “cause of death” they wrote these words: Paralysis cardiaca—a paralyzed heart.
The other man was Lord Maydors of England. He was born to poverty-stricken parents who eventually abandoned him at the entrance to a coal mine. He was placed in an institution where the only thing good that happened to him was that he was exposed to faith in Jesus Christ. By sheer determination and steely faith, he managed to educate himself, and he decided that he would spend the rest of his life caring for the needs of other people in the name of Jesus Christ, and that’s what he did. There came a point when he decided that he could best accomplish that goal by serving in Parliament. He stood for election. He was defeated. A second time he was defeated. The third time he was elected. In Parliament, all too frequently, he was on the losing end of the vote, but he never gave up. He never quit. He kept fighting for those who had need. Finally, in deep admiration for the sheer quality of his living, his peers in Parliament elected him to the House of Lords. It was upon his investiture into the House of Lords that he delivered himself of a poem which he claimed was the essence of his life. Not true. The essence of his life was selfless service flowing out of profound faith in Jesus Christ. But the poem is worth hearing—not because the poetry is good—it isn’t—but because the man was incredibly good. Listen.
Did you tackle the trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or did you hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Now trouble’s a ton or trouble’s an ounce
Trouble’s just what you make it.
It isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,
But only, how did you take it?
So you’re knocked to the earth, well, what’s that?
Rise up with a smiling face.
It isn’t the fact that you’re knocked down flat
But to lie there, that’s the disgrace!
Death comes with a crawl or it comes with a pounce,
But whether it’s slow or spry
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts
But only how did you die?
What a man. He died covered with honors and surrounded by friends. One man, Sinclair Lewis, spent others on himself; the other man, Lord Maydors, spent himself on others. I submit to you that the difference between the two men is Jesus Christ.
As I ponder this great story from Luke, what else is there to say? Just this. The confident critic once said to the English bishop: “You must admit, my Lord, that Christianity has not worked out. It has failed to accomplish what it promises.” To which the bishop replied: “But, my friend, it has never really been tried.” Well, let me ask you. Don’t you think we ought to begin to try it—to really try it, you and I?