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I’Ve Got A Name For That

November 28, 1991 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | Romans 12:1-8

Did you see that cartoon picturing two men locked in obvious disagreement? One says to the other: “What do you mean we don’t communicate anymore? Just yesterday, I faxed you a reply to the recorded message you left on my answering machine!”

Communication is so important. The way we communicate can bring joy or sorrow, encouragement or discouragement, hate or love, peace or war, healing or sickness, harmony or discord. Yes, communication is so important.

Of course, we don’t always do it right. Here’s a true story which the great comedian, Red Skelton, told on himself. A secretary on his staff had done some extra work for him and he wanted to buy her a nice gift to express his appreciation. He asked Mrs. Skelton what would be an appropriate gift. She suggested perfume and she encouraged him to try to find out the secretary’s favorite fragrance. Sure enough, an opportunity presented itself and in response to his inquiry, the secretary said: “My favorite perfume is called Romantic Thoughts at Midnight.” Well, with that information, Red Skelton went down to a nearby department store, walked up to the cosmetics counter and asked the clerk: “Pardon me, madam, but do you have Romantic Thoughts at Midnight?” The woman shot back: “Look, Buster, I have to drink coffee to stay up for the ten o’clock news!”

Obviously, they had a communication problem. Of course, we all have problems with communication at one time or another. That is especially true in the world of faith. The words we use—and how we use them—are incredibly important. Jesus was very much aware of the potential for mis-communication in the matters of the faith, and so He quite often illustrated His message with stories. When He wanted to show us what we mean when we use the world “God”, He told the parable of the Prodigal Son. When He wanted to remind us what we mean when we call someone “neighbor”, He told the parable of the Good Samaritan. Today, I want to follow His example. There are some great words of the faith I want us to remember on this Thanksgiving, and to help us grasp their meaning, I want to tell you three true stories.

THE FIRST STORY began in 1887. At that point in time Helen Keller was seven-years-old. She was a blind, deaf, frightened and frightening creature who terrified the life out of most anyone who sought to come near her. She was like an angry, violent, out-of-control animal. She uttered only unintelligible, scary, guttural sounds. In a rage, she would smash dishes against the wall, overturn the furniture, throw food, and sweep objects off the table. She would kick and scream and scratch and claw and bite anyone who tried to come close. There seemed to be no hope for this tiny, yet monstrous person.

But then along came a twenty-year-old teacher and disciple of Jesus Christ named Anne Sullivan. She arrived at the Keller home in Tuscumbia, Alabama, and immediately began trying to communicate with little Helen. Anne Sullivan believed that the answer would be found by spelling out words on the palms of Helen’s hands. The key was to help Helen understand that things have names. For weeks and months, Anne Sullivan tried to break through the little girl’s wall of darkness, silence, and fear, but to no avail. Helen could not understand. Then one day—it happened to be April 5—a transforming breakthrough occurred. The two of them, Anne and Helen, were down at the well-house trying to get some water to drink. Helen was holding a coffee cup under the water spout. Anne Sullivan pumped the handle hard, and as she did the water accidentally overflowed the cup and spilled onto Helen’s hand. Anne immediately spelled “w-a-t-e-r” onto the palm of Helen’s other hand. Suddenly, the light came on in Helen Keller’s world of darkness. She understood! She grabbed Anne Sullivan’s ever-ready hand and begged for more words. A whole new and exciting world opened up for Helen Keller. Under Anne Sullivan’s careful tutelage, she became a beautiful person indeed. Anne Sullivan never left Helen’s side. She ultimately went to college with Helen, sitting by her throughout every class at Radcliffe in Boston. It was there in Boston that Anne Sullivan introduced Helen to the great preacher Phillip Brooks, who in turn introduced Helen to Jesus Christ.

Now her transformation as a person was complete. Helen Keller went on to become the friends of kings and queens and presidents and she went on to live as one of the most powerful and radiant Christians of this century. All because a young devotee of the Master cared enough for this scared and scary child to spend a whole lifetime opening to that child the glories of life, and faith. I’ve got a name for that. It’s called “commitment.”

When the Spirit of Jesus Christ calls us to commitment in life, that’s what He means. It was the existentialist philosopher, Camus, who challenged the church with these words: “We stand in the need of Christians who shall plant themselves squarely in the bloody face of history and make a difference.” It is that kind of life-long commitment to Jesus Christ which alone can transform human lives and ultimately transform our world.

THE SECOND STORY took place on a Florida beach every Friday evening just as the setting sun looked like an orange ball on the horizon. An old man carrying a bucket of shrimp in his bony hand, would make his way toward the pier. The shrimp weren’t for him and they weren’t for the fish. They were for the sea gulls. It was a weekly ritual. Every Friday the old man would walk to the end of the pier and wait. Pretty soon the skies overhead would be filled with screeching gulls. They would come to meet the old man. He would feed them the shrimp until his bucket was empty. But even after the food was gone, his feathered friends would remain, perking on his shoulders and arms and head. He would talk to them and it seemed that they would reply. It happened every week. It was a tender and touching thing to see.

The old man at the end of the pier was named Captain Eddie Rickenbacker. If you were alive in October 1942, you will remember the news reports that he and his crew and their plane, a B-17 known as the “Flying Fortress,” were on a secret mission for General Douglas MacArthur, and the plane had gone down at sea. Miraculously, all eight crewmen escaped into life rafts. They battled wind, weather and water, sun and sharks and starvation. After eight days, their rations were gone. It would take a miracle for them to survive—and a miracle is what they got. One afternoon, the men prayed together, as they had done each day, but on this day after prayers, they stretched out to try to get some sleep. As Rickenbacker was dozing with his hat over his eyes, something landed on his head. He said later: “I knew it was a sea gull, and I knew that if I could catch it, we would have food.” He did catch it, and they ate it. And they used the innards of the bird to catch fish. And the crew survived.

Now what was that sea gull doing hundreds and hundreds of miles from land? Only God knows. But whatever the reason, Rickenbacker was thankful. As a result, every Friday evening for the rest of his life, the old captain would walk down a sandy beach, out onto the pier, with a bucket of shrimp in his hand to feed the sea gulls who flocked around him. I’ve got a name for that. It’s called “gratitude.”

We have much in common with Rickenbacker. We, too, were saved by a sacrificial visitor named Jesus of Nazareth. We, too, were rescued by One far, far from where He really belonged. Only God knows how far Christ came to save us, and we, like the old captain, have every reason to look up into the sky today and say: “Thank you! Thank you, Lord.”

THE THIRD STORY is about a pastor who performed a marriage ceremony for a fine young couple. They had a bright future ahead of them. The man was a farmer and a good one at that. Shortly after the birth of their third child, however, his wife developed an incurable malignancy. Treatment depleted their financial resources, and served only to extend her life a few years. On their tenth wedding anniversary, the couple invited the pastor and his wife to have dinner in celebration of what would probably be their last anniversary. The minister noticed that the farm wasn’t anything like it used to be. Much of the equipment had been sold. When they sat down to dinner, he noticed that the food was good but there wasn’t a whole lot of it. But he noticed that the husband took care of his wife and children with great tenderness. After dinner and a visit, the minister and his wife prepared to leave. However, the farmer asked them to stay just a moment longer, because he wanted them to see the present he had for his wife. He told his wife to close her eyes. He then went back into the bedroom and came back with a long, thin box. He opened it. Inside was a gorgeous string of pearls. With his wife’s eyes still closed, he fastened them around her neck. She knew immediately what they were. Without opening her eyes, she reached up and touched them gently. Then she burst into tears. The farmer put his arms about her shoulders and said:

“You know, honey, before we were married you said that you thought pearls were the prettiest jewelry in the world. Well, I asked the Lord to help me put this string of pearls around your neck. I started dropping nickels and dimes into a secret place. I gave up tobacco and soft drinks and for more than nine years now I’ve been saving whatever loose change I had, and putting it in an old box, just waiting for this moment. Now I have been able to buy these pearls for you. And I can tell you that they are real and they are completely paid for!”

Overcome by it all, she asked: “Joe, what on earth made you do it?” He knelt down beside her and began to weep. The pastor and his wife slipped quietly out of the room, but as they left they could hear the husband say to her: “I did it because I am crazy about you! I’ve been crazy about you since the first moment we met.” Now I’ve got a name for that. It’s called “love.”

Over and over, the Bible tells us that love is the answer to any and every question, that love is the will of God for us, that love is the single most authentic sign of true discipleship to Jesus Christ, and that love is the best and only hope for our world.

Now…

I know what you’re thinking. You are wondering when in the world I am going to get to the Scripture lesson for the day—Romans 12. Fact is, I’ve been there all along. Paul says: “I appeal to you, therefore, sisters and brothers, by the mercies of God to present yourselves as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship.” I’ve got a name for that. It’s called “commitment.” Next Paul says: “For by the grace given to me, I bid everyone among you not to think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think, but to think humbly with faith, and trust in God.” I’ve got a name for that. It’s called “gratitude.” Then Paul says: “Let love be genuine. Love one another with affection. Be aglow in the Spirit. Live together in harmony. Care for the needs of others. And always practice hospitality.” I’ve got a name for that. It’s called “love.”

There they are, three great words for Thanksgiving—commitment to Jesus Christ, gratitude to God for His grace, love for one another in Christ. Three great words. Speak them and use them and live them everyday!

I thank God for every one of you, I thank God for this church and her people. I thank God for the privilege of being your pastor…

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