Divine Strength of John Barefoot

Exodus 17:9-13 NRSV

In the 17th chapter of the Book of Exodus we read the amazing story of how the Israelites defeated of their enemy, the Amaleks. The Amaleks were a group of nomads who attacked the Hebrews in the desert of Mount Sinai during the Exodus from Egyptian slavery. The Amaleks swooped in on the Israelites and cowardly killed those who were lagging behind: the weary, the old, the weak and frail.

For that is what the enemies of life do. They can attack us at any time, during our strongest times when we are young, but perhaps more so, during our weakest times, often when we are older. Cancer, heart disease, and debilitating strokes swoop in on many during that precious period of life that we call retirement, during that period of life where we look forward to well-earned rest, respite, and recreation.

John Barefoot was not the first person to receive a new set of golf clubs as a retirement gift that he would never use due to sickness or a disability.

And when the enemies of this life attack us, we are faced with a choice. We can surrender to our enemies; we can succumb to their attacks; or, like an old Army veteran, we can stand our ground and fight.

“Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some men for us and go out; and fight with Amalek.”

After faithfully serving this country in the US Army, after devoting his life to what is now Southern States, after raising two beautiful children, Roger and Linda, after thirty years of service through this community through the First Christian Church, John began to suffer debilitating strokes. Many men, in John’s shoes, surrender and succumb to such illnesses, especially after retirement. After all, they are weary and old; they no longer lack the strength within to fight. They can reach down and dig deep; however, there is just nothing left. No amount of digging will see them through.

However, men with faith in the God of Abraham and Isaac, Moses and Joshua, men with faith in the God revealed in the Risen Christ, understand that true strength does not come from within, but comes from and by the grace of God.

Moses said to Joshua: “Choose an army and fight. I, myself, retired a long time ago from fighting. I left the army years ago. I am too old, too tired, but I will stand on the top of a hill and raise the staff of God with my hands and summon the grace and strength of God to defeat our enemy.”

So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of a hill.

Whenever Moses held up his hand, Moses noticed that Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, he noticed that Amalek prevailed. [This was a certain sign that it was God, and God alone, who was giving the Israelites the grace, perseverance and strength to defeat their enemy].

There can be no other explanation for the strength and the perseverance of John Barefoot, especially during these last years of his life. As I have said, many in John’s shoes would have surrendered and succumbed twenty-five years ago. Possessing no reason to live, no sense of purpose, and no strength to fight, many men die shortly after their retirement.

Many more men die shortly after their wives pass away. Several years ago when Audrey died, it would not have surprised anyone if John followed her soon after.

But John kept going, kept persevering, kept fighting. Many studies have been made to identify symptoms of depression or the giving up on life. People who give up and surrender to the enemies of life become detached and disengaged from the world around them. They no longer care what their neighbors are up to. They become disinterested in their church, the local and national headlines, and interestingly, they no longer care about sports.

John possessed none of these symptoms. John always looked forward to visits from his church family. He absolutely loved taking a stroll in his wheelchair around the neighborhood and even downtown so he could see the people he loved. He cared about what was going on in the world, and he was in no way, shape or form disengaged from sports. He was an avid fan and loved rooting for the Wolfpack of NC State and the Atlanta Braves.

It was obvious to everyone that John, though weak and weary, never gave up. For as Isaiah 40:29 reads, John was a living testimony that “God gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might God increases power.” And in the 73rd Psalm we read: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” John Barefoot was a living example to all of this great truth.

Our story continues in Exodus: “But Moses’ hands grew weary; so Aaron and Hur took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses, Aaron on one side and Hur on the other, and the hands of Moses were steady until the sun set.”

God has always used others to do God’s work in this world. God calls each of us to minister to one another. God uses us to supply God’s strength to those who are weak, to keep them steady, to help them fight the good fight, to finish the race. Such was the case in this victory of Amalek. Moses did not possess the strength to keep his hands raised through the duration of the battle, so God sent him Aaron and Hur who brought him a rock to sit upon and then held up each of his hands.

God also sent John others to give him support when he was the most weary. Church members visited. He children cared for him daily. And caregivers from Silvercare came to John’s aid. You could say that they brought him a rock and steadied his hands until the sun set. Pam Johnson, Catherine Walker and Savilla Jones were to John like Aaron and Hur were to Moses.

“And the hands of Moses were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his army.”

God always supplies us with strength for a purpose. God supplied Moses with strength through Aaron and Hur for the purpose of defeating the enemy. Thus, God did not supply John with strength, send him a rock through Pam, Catherine, Savilla and others who visited him and prayed for him just so John could watch a few more ballgames on TV. As Ephesians chapter 2 reads: “God will enable us to continue on in righteousness and to do the good works which the Lord has appointed for us.”

As God supplied Moses with the strength to keep his staff raised through the battle to defeat the enemy and to reveal the source that strength, I believe God supplied John with strength. As it was evident to all who encountered John—who saw his smile, heard his laughter, experienced his joy—that God was the source or his strength.

barefoot

A month ago, a group of parents and children from our church came to John’s house to sing Christmas carols. One of the mothers that came with her children was someone who, just a couple of years ago, was not a part of any church. She said that she even avoided church and had many doubts about faith and the power of God.

But there, standing around John’s bed with others from the church singing Christmas carols, through John, something miraculous happened. God spoke. She said as she watched John donning a Santa hat and wearing a smile that was so amazing that it had to be divine, as she watched him sing along with the children the best that he could, with a joy, this amazing joy, a joy that had to come from heaven, she said that Christmas became real to her. Faith became real. God became real.

There is no telling how many people have been changed by God, how many battles have been won by God, how many of life’s enemies were defeated by God, through John Barefoot’s amazing strength in the midst of adversity, through John’s amazing joy in the midst of suffering, through God’s amazing grace in the midst of John’s life.

And the good news for us today is, that this same God, the God of Abraham and Isaac, the God of Moses and Joshua, the God revealed in the Risen Christ and in the life of John Barefoot, will give us strength in our grief, joy in our suffering and grace in our lives. God will send others: friends and family and church members to hold our hands, to keep them steady, until the sun sets, until the battle is won.

But the really good news is that the final battle, the battle with life’s final enemy has already been won. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? Where is your sting?”

The good news for all of us today is that as God has stood by John and has given him strength to battle the enemies of life, through our resurrected Lord, God has defeated death, and John is now and forever with his Lord.

May this good news help us now to live our lives as John lived his: Persevering with the strength of God, receiving help from friends and family who provide us a rock, living with the purpose of sharing the joy and the hope of the Lord with all people, until the sun sets here and rises forever in eternity. Amen.

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