First Congregational Church
August 14, 2015
13th Sunday after Pentecost
“While Blinking an Eye….”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In the bush of Ontario, Canada, anything can happen. You can be passing an “extra” walleye to the second boat that doesn’t yet have their limit, and in the blink of an eye, a northern pike may suddenly fly into the first boat, setting off pike kung fu moves that have never been named.
Or a sweet and kind hearted woman - of course, not me - although this is a true story - may have wrangled a really good sized northern pike into the boat. For the non-fishing temperaments, pike can be eaten, and they can be fun to reel in, but they are a little slimy and smelly, and they are usually thrown back. But this was an exceptional pike and after a long battle and all the requisite photos, it was time to release the fish back to its world. So the woman spent 45 minutes - 45 minutes - 43 minutes longer than I might have spent - helping the fish to regain it’s strength by gliding it back and forth in the water until she felt the return of life-sustaining strength. Just as the pike begins to swim away, in the blink of an eye, an eagle swoops down and picks off the pike for its dinner. Just that fast, the incident becomes a sermon illustration, pointing out that some days, you’re the pike, and some days, you’re the eagle.
It’s been a few weeks, but today we come back to the book of Acts, the diary of the early followers of Christ in those first years after his death and resurrection. Over the course of the first twelve chapters, Pentecost came with the Holy Spirit - birthing the church, we’ve been reminded to listen to the whispers of that same Spirit and to keep our heads when others around us seem to be losing theirs. We witnessed the stoning of the first martyr, Stephen and the great (New Testament) Saul was miraculously freed from a prison after three days. We were reminded of our freedom in Christ - as opposed to our freedom to do whatever we want, as well as the under-appreciated power of our prayers. Today, we move on to what may seem to be a rather science-fiction part of the early church’s history.
1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.
6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”
Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
Thank you, Julie. For those folks who have been able to watch the Olympics, you have come to appreciate how “little” numbers can be such a big deal. The commentators for the men’s 50 meter freestyle swimming race suggested that if one of the two that tied for first place could shave off 5/100ths of a second in his start, he could win the final. 5/100ths is .05 of a second. The average human blink of an eye takes whopping big third of a second, or 0.33 seconds. Last night, I believe there was a swimming race won by 1/100ths of a second.
In the blink of an eye, the last seven months have flown by - for most of us. For most of us, we may barely remember what we did or even where we were on Sunday, June 19 of this year. Unless I remind you that it was Fathers Day. And the choir sang Joanne Brown’s favorite anthem, “What a Wonderful World.” Even with the promise of a good back scratch, I don’t know that all that many people could remember the title of the sermon that day. Except that what whooshed by in the blink of an eye for most of us - became a pivotal point for some folks who were here that day. As I tell you this story, please, please, please, do not hear this as an ego trip on my part. Have no doubt, I will certainly tell you when you can listen to a story in that frame of mind. But because most all of us - myself included - might have missed it, here is the “blink” that Mary tells. By the way, Mary is married to Dave and Cindy is married to Dan, and a good many of you would most likely not remember these folks even if I told you where they were sitting that day.
Cindy and Dan, the friends who were at church with Dave and me that morning (June 19th), had a lot going on in their extended families, but decided that the week away would be good for them, nonetheless. Several things happened that week which showed them that God really DID plan for them to be there (-here). Every time Cindy spotted something that was a sign of such, she called it an “upgrade” because the day before when we checked into Watervale, they “upgraded” us to the cottage on the dune (Gull Dune) for no extra charge since Hill was still being worked on. So of course, that was great!
Sunday, during the service, she leaned over to me and shared just how beautiful she felt the sanctuary was, what a homey feeling she had, and then … how great the anthem was!! How you pulled together the 2 songs “What a Wonderful World” as a tribute to fathers and our beautiful world. If that wasn’t enough, we both just loved your message “Providential Fuss” and found ourselves hitting each other’s legs when a part of it especially talked to either one of us………………and of course, the message that “timing” is never our doing, but God’s hand in our lives.
Sooooo, that service cemented the theme of “upgrade”, but also spoke to Cindy that the whole trip, the timing, the location, the exceptional weather, the company of each other… all were exactly God’s doing and that He wanted them (well, all of us!) to see His beauty and feel His love and comfort, as it turned out … in preparation for what happened in Cindy and Dan’s lives just after we returned.
Cindy’s 45 yr old Downs Syndrome sister was in the last days of her life, in Hospice, at Cindy’s parents’ house. It pulled at her if she should even be away that week instead of helping her parents, who insisted that she go. As it turned out, she got word that Friday morning that Connie had peacefully passed away.
Cindy had had a spot of cancerous tumor on her leg and needed surgery which was scheduled for the Monday after we returned … and would keep her off work for 2 weeks. Thankfully, they feel like it went well.
Then, Cindy and Dan’s 30 yr old daughter, Faith, was pregnant with a child whose brain had not developed; the dr. didn’t expect it to go full term, nor did they expect it to live, but if it did, it would be very handicapped, and Cindy was in contact with Faith every day. The Tuesday after we returned home, Faith went into emergency labor and the baby lived a little over an hour.
Even though she wasn’t supposed to drive, Cindy jumped in the car, drove to Dan’s work, and the 2 for them drove to Grand Rapids, where they didn’t make it to see the baby alive, but got to hold him just the same, shortly after he passed away.
So, from the Friday news of a death heard when up north, to the Mon. with surgery, then the next day with the delivery … Cindy still said even more strongly that the trip and all of its “upgrades” was God’s way of helping her make it through what quickly followed; timing was everything. Your service and your message that morning were a big part of it, and you never would have known (as often happens) how you were the vessel that spread the word that touched a life. So, thanks, Dinah. Cindy knew I was going to write to you; she wanted you to know.
If you didn’t catch it, in our scripture passage for this morning, Saul became Paul. I know that there have been some folks waiting with worms in mouth - baited breath - for this day when Saul became the Paul we think we know.
The Holy Spirit commissioned Barnabas and Saul to do “the work to which the Spirit called” them - the work to which the Spirit calls all of us - in the large picture sense - of reaching out for Christ, through the Spirit, in God’s name - to those who need God’s healing - even if it baffles us in the process.
All too often, I think that we get whispers from the Holy Spirit to do this or that, and we underestimate the whisper, or the possibility of such a message, or even the split-second timing of such whispers - convincing ourselves that God wouldn’t have need of something so minute as our attendance at church, because, those four visitors on Fathers Day were not here in isolation, but surrounded with those who showed up that day, those who went from Saul to Paul, just by showing up.
Granted, none of us may go on to writing such historic and spiritual documents as the great Paul, but it’s not about the single-handedness or grandeur of any of us. It’s about those little moments, those things that we do with a blink of an eye decision, that can come together for others in allowing them to walk through their next valleys. So for those parts that others have played, for those parts we have played and will play, so should we pray.
Omnipotent and Omniscient God, we thank you for those times when we hear your voice in making “blink of eye” decisions, turning us from Sauls to Pauls. Help us to listen more carefully, not to what our brains may be guilting us to do, but to do those things that you need us to do - that will empower others to travel through their valleys and trying times. Help each of us savor the moments of goodness in our lives, that they may fuel the times with less goodness. For your love and joy, your grace and peace and for the body of Christ that surrounds us this day, all your people say, Amen
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.