Peace Be with You: Remembering Albert Mosley

Albert Mosley 1 (3)In the sixteenth chapter, the 33rd verse of John’s gospel, we read words of Jesus that cannot be more true: “In the world you will have tribulation.”

Jesus didn’t say we might or we may have tribulation. Jesus said that we will have “tribulation.” Other translations read: “torment,” “trials,” “trouble,” “sufferings,” “distress” or “persecution.”

In this world, we will suffer. In this world, we will lose people we love, sometimes tragically. In this world, we will be injured, sometimes in terrible accidents. In this world, we will be diagnosed with sickness, sometimes with dreadful diseases. In this world, we will have failed relationships, sometimes divorce. Jesus said that in this world suffering is inevitable.

Albert Mosley could certainly testify to this truth.

Albert had just started high school here in Farmville when his father tragically committed suicide. Later, Albert, himself, would be critically injured on the football field. Years later, there would be the sudden and untimely loss of his mother, a risky back surgery, a grim diagnosis of Addison’s disease, broken relationships, the loss his best friend Ronnie Avery, incessant physical pain, diabetes, debilitating strokes and blindness.

Now, if this was the only testimony that Albert Mosley’s life could give, that in this world, we will have tribulation; then today would certainly be a sad and tragic day for all of us. However, the good news is that this was only a small part of Albert’s testimony.

Jesus said: “In this world, you will have tribulation.” Now, let’s read the entirety of this verse: Jesus said: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

After Albert lost his father, Albert did not hesitate to courageously become the man of the house, take care of and look after his mother, his six siblings, maybe especially, his little sister, Donna. Albert resonated with the great song by Clarence Carter, “Patches,” intentionally becoming the one that his family could always depend upon.

In spite of the tragic loss of his father and the increased responsibilities for his family, Albert somehow miraculously managed to excel in school. And in spite of some very good reasons to be bitter and angry, Albert possessed such a sweet and loving disposition that the girls in this town affectionately called him “teddy bear.”

However, I am certain that no one called him a teddy bear on the football field. Albert was an exceptional athlete, a strong, ferocious hitter. Perhaps football became the outlet for some of some of his anger that he had to have harbored. He hit someone so hard one night when Farmville was playing at Ayden, that it put Albert in the hospital where he was in a coma for three weeks.

And yet again, although he had even more reasons to become angry or bitter at life, Albert took heart and persevered.

After he recovered, he finished high school and went on to Atlantic Christian College, where he again continued to excel, earning the prestigious Top Hat Award. After college he went on to get a Masters in Education degree at Old Dominion University. Upon graduation, he taught school briefly until he was quickly promoted to principal.

Later, he became Vice President of the Virginia National Bank in Franklin, Virginia and in 1982 was awarded the “Boss of the Year” Award from the Franklin Jaycees. He was also awarded the #1 Jaycee President Award in the state of Virginia.

Then, as Jesus promised all of us, more tribulation would come to Albert, this time in the form of sickness and disease. However, in spite of every tribulation in his life, Albert always miraculously found a way to persevere, to love his life, and to love others. You could see it on the dance floor when you watched him Shag, Twist or do the Gator. In spite of everything, Albert was still the sweet, pleasant, fun-loving teddy bear.

I met Albert twelve or thirteen years ago. He had retired and moved back to Farmville to be with the family he loved. He had experienced many more ups and downs in his life. I watched him grieve deeply when his friend Ronnie passed away, and I witnessed his health continue to decline. The truth is that I have watched him suffer perhaps more than anyone I know. I cannot count the times I have visited him in the hospital and doubted that he would ever make it home.

Yet, I never heard him, not one time, not even in the hospital or in the nursing home, ever complain or grumble. Even when he lost his eye sight, his ability to walk, his ability to swallow just a sip of Diet Pepsi, Albert remained positive. In fact, I never heard him say anything negative, about himself or anyone for that matter. Even in his darkest moments of life, he loved his life, and loved those who were in his life.

Bro was always more concerned about others, than he was himself, especially his siblings. No matter how sick he was, if you asked him, he was always fine. And then he would ask you about others.

Doctor J,” he would say, lying in the hospital, unable to see, blood sugar over 200; “Have you seen Donna? How’s ol’ Carson and Sara doing? How are things going at the church? I got to get myself straight so I can come back there.”

And nearly every time before I left his side, even in ICU after his debilitating stroke in November, he would miraculously say to me, “Peace be with you.” And the miracle was not only that Albert could speak those words of peace, but was how it was obvious to all that in spite of every tribulation, Albert actually possessed this miraculous peace. And he truly wanted to share it with others.

The only way that can possibly explain how Albert endured the tribulations of his life is that the God of Jesus, somehow, some miraculous way came to Albert, obviously since he was a young boy, and filled him with this peace that surpasses all human understanding.

The disciples of Jesus also knew something about the ups and downs of life. Like a star football player, a teddy bear that the girls adored, or the vice president of a bank, the disciples had experienced some very high moments in life. They were with Jesus when he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Some of them even went to the mountaintop with Jesus and stood with him in the very presence of God. They rode triumphantly into Jerusalem with Jesus as little children lined the streets waving their palm branches.

And the disciples certainly knew something about tribulation. They were with Jesus when he was arrested in the garden. Some betrayed him. Others denied him. They all deserted him. They had made mistake after mistake, and they knew it. And they watched in horror as the one for whom they left their families and all forms of worldly security be tried, tortured and crucified.

Three days later, John writes that they were cowering in fear in a locked room. Rumors were floating all over town that the body of Jesus had been stolen, and the ones who destroyed Jesus and had taken his body would soon come to destroy and take them.

So, there they were, cowering behind locked doors. They could not have been more afraid. They were not unlike: a small boy who discovers his father’s suicide; a star athlete who is severely injured on a football field; or a well-respected and successful professional whose declining health had stripped nearly everything from him.

Then Jesus comes. We can’t explain how. The doors are locked. The windows are barred. But Jesus somehow, some miraculous way comes; he stands among them, and says: “Peace be with you.”

And this is not some superficial word of peace that denies or overlooks human tribulation and suffering. It is a genuine word of peace that acknowledges the pain of life, recognizes the wounds of today, but also the certain hope of a better tomorrow. Jesus shows them the wounds in his side and in his hands and says again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”

The disciples then went out and lived the rest of their lives sharing the grace and peace of Christ with others. And they shared it to the end, even in the face of great persecution, suffering and death.

This is how I will always remember Bro. Like the first disciples, Albert was an imperfect man who suffered much tribulation in this world. However, although I cannot fully explain it, it was obvious to all that knew him that Jesus, somehow, some miraculous way, came to him. Through the love and faithfulness of his wife Ginny, certainly; through the love of his family and friends, definitely; and through divine and mysterious ways that surpasses all human understanding, Jesus came to him and filled him with this genuine peace, and then, sent him out into the world forgiving others, loving others, sharing the peace of Christ with other.

Days before Albert died, Becky said that Albert asked her if Chester could maybe spend the night with him in the nursing home. Becky said, for the first time, I could tell that he was somewhat afraid. And who would not be? In a nursing home, blind, nearly paralyzed, dying: he had more reasons to be afraid than anyone.

However, Becky said that when Albert breathed his last breath on Tuesday, that she had never seen anything so peaceful. I drove her and Chester home from the nursing home that day, and she kept saying, all the way home, “Thank you God, thank you God.”

The good news for all of us is that we have the certain hope that, once more, when Albert experienced his final tribulation on this earth, somehow, some miraculous way, Jesus once again came to Albert, as Jesus had obviously came so many times before, and lovingly tugged Albert’s ear saying: “Peace be with you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus came to him and filled him once more with a peace that is beyond all understanding, and this time, it is for eternity.

May this wonderful truth give peace to all of us who are still experiencing the tribulations of this world this day, tribulations that will continue in the days ahead. Through the memory of Bro, may we hear the risen Christ speak to us words that cannot be more true: “Peace be with you.”

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The Untouchables

BS and Joan on November 15, 2014
BS, Joan and me on November 15, 2014

Mark 1:40-45 NRSV

As was pointed out a couple of weeks ago, for Mark, Jesus is a teacher. He is a teacher with a new teaching, one with authority. Last week, when Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law, we were taught by Jesus that it is not God’s will for anyone to be sick or even have a fever. As Jeremiah prophesied: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm…”

I have said before, albeit somewhat selfishly, that I believe it is God’s will for all men to live to be over 100 years-old and perhaps be married to a much younger woman, which is, of course, perhaps the only way a man can get to a hundred.

However, living in this broken and fallen world, we rarely encounter people who have been so blessed. Because not everything that happens in this world is the will of God, we seldom encounter people with the vitality and longevity of BS and Joan Smith. That is why we are having a party today. This is why we are celebrating today as a community of faith. For their long life together is a special thing. It is a good thing. It is a God-willed thing.

Some of you may say, “Well, I don’t want to live to be 100.” I dare you to say that the last day of our 99th birthday if you look as good as BS Smith! You know who wanted to be a hundred? Well, this past Thursday, it was BS!

This morning, we are still in the first chapter of Mark, and Jesus is still teaching.

“A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling, he said to him…”

Can’t you just picture the desperation? You can almost see it: “begging,” “kneeling.” This picture teaches us that when we are desperate, when we are despairing, when we are anxious, we can always come to Jesus.

“If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Well, of course Jesus chooses. As we have already learned, Jesus never wills for anyone to suffer.

We are then told that Jesus is “moved with pity…” It is important to note that the Greek word here is a visceral, gut-wrenching word. Jesus was moved from deep within his soul. Jesus literally felt this man’s pain. Because he was suffering, Jesus also suffered. Some scholars have said that the word is better translated: “angry.” When Jesus encountered human suffering, it angered him.

Here, Jesus teaches us that God is moved by human misery and suffers with us. As I tried to say yesterday at Alawoise’s memorial service, God never willed for her have Parkinson’s disease. When Alawoise felt the very first symptoms of the disease, God felt it too, from deep within God’s very soul. So, of course, Jesus chooses for him to be made clean, whole and well.

Jesus immediately reaches out his hand and touches him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!”

Here is where the story gets interesting. It is interesting, because Jesus reaches out his hand and “touches” this one who was considered by faith and society to be “untouchable.”

Leprosy was the most feared and dreaded disease of Jesus’ day, one that always brought horror and despair. Leprosy is an indefinite and general term used for a whitish rash on the skin. Spots, sores and swelling may also be present. It was an uncomfortable disease; however, what made leprosy so feared was no so much what it did to a person physically, but what it did not a person socially. The disease excluded one from the general population, and thus, from the people of God.

Chapters 13 and 14 of Leviticus discuss the social side effects of this disease at great length. Because a person with leprosy was considered to be “unclean,” a leper had to wear clothes which had been torn so they could be easily recognized and avoided. Lepers also had to cover their mouths and cry “unclean, unclean” in the presence of others so no one would approach them. Eduard Schweizer comments that rabbis considered a leper to be a “living corpse.” They were alive, but not alive. They were here, but not here; in the community, but not a part of the community. They were unalive, unaccepted, and untouchable.

So, when Jesus was deeply moved, or angered at the man’s disease, he was angry not only by the physical pain of it, but by the social pain of it— how this dehumanizing disease took people out of community, how it made them social outcasts, outsiders, untouchables.

However, at least one person did not regard the leper as untouchable. Mark writes that Jesus reaches out his hand and touches him. And “immediately the leprosy left him and he was made clean.”

The passages that we have been studying the past few weeks teach us a lot about healing. We learn that Jesus is against all forms of suffering. Jesus wants to deliver us from afflicting spirits, break our simple fevers and cleanse us of our most dreaded diseases. But, notice in this morning’s lesson that after Jesus touches and heals the leper, he gives the leper some “stern” instructions.

“After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Although Jesus had made the man clean, he wanted him to follow through with the cleansing rituals that would restore him back into community. Yes, God is concerned about our physical well-being, but God is more concerned about our spiritual well-being and our acceptance into community. More than anything else, Jesus wanted this outsider to become an insider. Jesus wanted this untouchable to be touchable.

I think I speak for everyone when I talk about the admiration I have for BS and Joan Smith. Some might say, “Well, of course, you have. You have to admire couple who is 90 and 100 years old. However, it is not so much their physical age or physical vitality that I admire, as much as it is their determination to be in community. Almost every time I visit with them, they ask me about the well-being of others. How is “Jimmy Cowan? Have you heard from Joyce Letchworth? Tell me about Alawoise. How is Harold holding up?”

And on more than one occasion it has been one of them who actually informed me of a concern in the community. I can clearly hear BS asking: “Jarrett, did you hear about so-in-so? And with compassion obviously arching from deep within his soul, he shakes his head, and closes his eyes with almost an agony and anger and says: Shhhhhhhh.”

Both BS and Joan want to meet every new person than joins or even just attends our worship services. And they don’t just want to know their names. They want to know where they live, where they went to school, where they work; who are their parents? Who are their grandparents? They are genuinely interested in truly knowing them, loving them.

And BS constantly asks me about the whereabouts of certain people that he has missed from our gathered community of faith. “Jarrett, have you seen so-in-so? She has not been here in several Sundays. Jarrett, you need to go see her.”

And you should never be fooled by his poor eyesight and selective hearing, for he doesn’t miss a thing, especially when it concerns this, his community of faith.

And have you noticed something else about BS? He not only is concerned about you and others, he not only expresses his compassion and empathy for others, BS likes to reach out his hand and touch you. No matter who you are or where you are from, BS likes to hold your hand. For no one in BS’s book is an outsider. Through his eyes, it is as it is in the eyes of God, no one is untouchable. Everyone’s hand is to be touched, grasped, held. This morning, I am proud to say that BS and Joan are the epitome of who we are as a church.

For all are truly welcome here. This is indeed a safe place. We accept you as Christ accepts you: Just as you are. If you are sick, we pray for your healing. If you are grieving, we pray for your peace. Because we know that when you suffer, God also suffers, and because of that, we suffer.

And know this, here, in this place you will never be alone. Here in this sacred space, there will always be a hand to hold. For here, there are no outsiders. There are no untouchables. There is truly room at the table for all.

Mark continues: “But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word…and people came to [Jesus] from every quarter.”

May we go out this morning from this sacred place and do the same.

A Mother’s Love

Alawoise
Alawoise and Harold on their wedding day, April 18, 1958

The following was written for the memorial service for Alawoise Strickland Flanagan (July 29, 1935 – February 9, 2015)

In the very first chapter of our Bible, we have a beautiful portrait of the human vocation—a portrait of who we human beings were created to be, how we were created to live, during the relatively short time we have on this good earth.

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth… (Genesis 1:27-28a).

With our thoughts this hour on the enormous Flanagan family, perhaps one of the first things that we glean from this portrait of who we were created to be, and how we were created to live, is: “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Harold and Alawoise certainly fulfilled this part of the human vocation, and they wasted no time in doing so. It was on this day, Valentine’s Day in 1958, that Harold proposed marriage to his Valentine, Alawoise.

Before the luncheon today, I said, “Harold, let me get this straight. You proposed on Valentine’s Day and were married on April 18, of the same year?

Harold said, “Did you see her nursing school picture on the communion table?”

“No,” I said. “Not yet.”

He said,  “Well go look at that pretty girl, and you will understand why I did not want to wait.”

And “to be fruitful” they also did not wait as Jerry has often been called “a honeymoon baby.”

The beautiful family portrait on this table, this order of service with participation from some of the grandchildren, and this room filled with their offspring tell the rest of their story—a story of a two Valentines fulfilling their human vocation to “be fruitful and multiply.”

However, as beautiful as this story is, as beautiful as the Flanagan family is to this community and to our world, this is just a small part of Alawoise’s story. This is only part of her fulfillment of what it means to be human on this earth, a small part of her legacy. In Genesis we first read:

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

The primary way that we fulfill our human vocation, is not to be fruitful, but to be, to live, in the image of God. The good news for all for us this day is that Alawoise more than fulfilled this purpose for which she was created. As the poem recited by her granddaughter, Leigh Kathryn, so beautifully described, Alawoise perhaps best lived in the image of her God as a mother.

In Deuteronomy 32:18 we read that the Israelites are asked to remember “the Rock” that “bore” them; the God who gave them “birth.”

Throughout the Old Testament, God is portrayed as the mother of Israel. It is God who gave birth to Israel and loves Israel as a mother loves her child, unreservedly, unconditionally, tenaciously.

Growing up in the Flanagan house, there was never any doubt that Alawoise was “the Rock” who could always be counted on to love her children in the same manner. Just ask anyone who ever tried to cross any of them! As it was spoken by the prophet Hosea of God and her love of Israel: She would “fall upon them like a [mama] bear robbed of her cubs…” (Hosea 13:8a).

She was the constant care-taker, and she was the perpetual protector. As a mother, she was tried and true. And, let’s face it, let’s be honest this afternoon, I don’t know about Gayle, but you boys often tried her.

Like the time Harold taught Mark to drive a truck. Mark, how old were you? Six or seven? In trying to reach the gas-peddle, Mark recalls slipping off the seat and stomping on the gas, all the while poor Scott was sitting up high on some hay bales in the back. Well, as you can surmise, he wasn’t sitting up there very long.

Alawoise was tried by you boys with multiple broken bones, stiches, car accidents, rattle snakes, even gunshot wounds. But her love, her devotion and commitment to you never wavered, always remained true.

Even up to the time she had to go to the nursing home, each time she heard the town’s siren go off, she instinctively possessed this hair-trigger panic button that would immediately do a family roll call, one that is reminiscent of the motherly words of Jesus himself recorded by the Gospel of Luke:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, …How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…

Even during these past difficult months, almost each time I visited her, Alawoise would do a roll call, asking me about the whereabouts of her family. Even when she was not in her right mind, lying sedated in a hospital bed, she would oftentimes ask me to help her to take things like barbeque and fried chicken off the stove for her Harold and her children.

Jerry, Gayle, Scott and Mark, and Harold, Alawoise lived her life to take care of your needs, to protect you, to love you unreservedly, unconditionally and tenaciously, and in so doing, she fulfilled the purpose for which she was created: living in the image of her motherly God and her Lord and Savior.

Now, if this was her only legacy, I believe it would be enough. However, there is much more.

The motherly love of Alawoise was in no way limited to her husband and children, or even to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Alawoise possessed a desire to gather many others under her maternal wings. She welcomed an exchange student and many others into the hospitality of her home. She lived to provide plenty of food, clean clothes, and a clean bed for anyone in need.

Her motherly love was experienced by many of us who have gathered here this day. We experienced it through Alawoise as a Sunday School Teacher, a deacon, a school nurse or as a Cub Scout Den Mother.

This broad and expansive motherly love of Alawoise was perhaps most ostensibly experienced during her twenty-six years as director of nursing and later as administer for the Guardian Care Nursing Home in Farmville. She loved the patients of the nursing home with the same tenacity with which she loved her own children.

She had absolutely no tolerance for any nursing home employee who did not treat a patient with the compassion. On the behalf of her patients, she did not hesitate to even stand against the company just as the prophet Isaiah spoke of God standing for her children: Thus says the Lord: “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”

Alawoise lived in the image of God by suffering alongside and standing up for the least of these our brothers and our sisters, those who are the weakest, the most vulnerable members of society.

And for all of us who mourn this day this is truly good news. Alawoise was lived in the image of God. This means that when Alawoise suffered during these last difficult years, God, like a loving mother, also suffered. It is important for us to realize that God did not cause her suffering. God did not give her Parkinson’s disease. For what mother would do that to their child. Jesus once asked:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father [or Mother] in heaven give good things to those who ask!

Like a woman in labor or a mama bear, suffering and fighting for her cubs, God suffered with and fought with Alawoise. God did not take Alawoise from us with Parkinson’s Disease as some may say, but when she was in her weakest, most vulnerable, broken state, God came to her and gave her the best gift God had to give—the gift of God’s complete self. Thus, the best way to describe what happened on Monday morning of this week is that God came. God did not take, but graciously gave God’s self to her— tenaciously, completely, finally, eternally.

I don’t believe there is any other way to explain the very last words she said to me. Just days before she died, after suffering more than anyone one deserves, she opened her eyes, and spoke, not words of complaint or bitterness, but words of a loving mother, or of a child who has been comforted by her heavenly mother, asking me, “And how is your family.”

And the good news is that God will do the very same for us. God will come to each of us in our grief, in our brokenness, to each of God’s beloved children, and comfort us. In Isaiah 66 we read:

You shall nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

As Alawoise taught us by living her life in the image of God, it is in God’s very divine, maternal nature to extend God’s peace and comfort to us all, especially to those in need. It is the nature of our God to place those of us who are hurting this day in the shadow of God’s maternal wings.

I began my remarks this afternoon with some of the first words of our Bible. I would like to close my remarks with some of the last words of our Bible. Hear now these very maternal words from Revelation:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home* of God is among mortals. He will dwell* with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;  he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.

I am thankful, and I know that her family is thankful, that Alawoise fulfilled her human vocation on this earth by being fruitful and multiplying. But I believe we are more grateful this day that Alawoise fulfilled her vocation by living as she was created to live on this good earth: in the image of our motherly God who loves us all unreservedly, unconditionally, tenaciously, and eternally.

Lifted up for Service

Scout_Sunday_2015_Logo

This sermon was preached for Scout Sunday at First Christian Church on February 8, 2015.

Mark 1:29-39 NRSV

These few verses found in the end of the first chapter of Mark, paint perhaps the most beautiful portrait of who our Lord is, how our Lord acts, and what our Lord desires. Listen to them again, carefully, prayerfully…

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.

Do you hear the immediacy, the urgency in this passage? “As soon as they left…” “…at once.” I hear a lot of people talk about God’s timing. They say that God will bring healing or restoration in God’s own time. They say that God’s time is usually not our time. And they say that God has reasons for God’s delay. I believe this passage teaches us that the Lord wants to heal us and restore us now: not tomorrow, not some day or one day, but today, right now, at once. It is not the Lord’s will for any of us to ever be sick, broken, or even have a fever.

Therefore, when we are sick or broken, when we are suffering in any way, we must understand that it is not because God has some twisted reason or some purpose-driven plan for it. And since suffering is not the will of God, and since we are loved by God, then when we suffer, God also suffers and is doing all that God can do to bring healing, wholeness and restoration.

He came and took her by the hand…

Perhaps more than anything else, I believe it is the will of our Lord to come to us and take us by the hand. When I was a child I learned a wonderful song:

Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water

Put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea

Take a look at yourself and you will look at others differently

Put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee

Of course, we put our hands in so many other places to receive wholeness, peace and security.

Instead of putting our hand in the hand of the Lord, we often put our hand, our trust, in our own hands. We believe that if we can somehow work hard enough, serve diligently, industriously, thoroughly, and persistently enough, then we can achieve or earn wholeness or peace. We put our hands, our trust in our own hands instead of in the hands of the only one who can save us. Ephesians chapter 2 teaches us: “For by grace we have been saved through faith, and this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Instead of putting our hand in the hand of the Lord, we also put our hands, all of our trust, in the hands of others. My granddaddy was not a pastor, preacher, or scholar, but he was sometimes quite the theologian. One thing that he said, and said often, was: “There’s only one man that you can trust in this world, and that is the Good Lord.”

However many of us put our trust in the hands of so many others. We put our hands in the hands of the government, in the hands of our friends and neighbors, even in the hands of the church. Then we become disillusioned when they sooner or later disappoint us. The 118th Psalm reminds us:

 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever. Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. With the Lord on my side I do not fear. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.

And instead of putting our hand in the hand of the Lord, we also put our hands in our own pockets. We put our trust in our wealth and our material possessions. Our sense of well-being, wholeness and security comes from our bank accounts, 401-k’s, our homes, automobiles and clothing. In chapter six of the Gospel of Matthew we read the warning:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The good news for all of us this day is that Jesus, the Son of the God of Heaven is coming to us, and he wants to take us by the hand and give us a peace that the world simply cannot give (John 14:27).

Jesus came to her and lifted her up.

When we put our hand in the hand of the Lord, the Lord lifts us up. Preacher and Princeton Theological Seminary professor Nancy Gross observes: “There is no shortage of “down” from which people need to be lifted up. Down today are jobs, wages, the economy, church membership, our hopes, and our children’s futures. Take your pick, add your own.” The good news is when we are down in the dumps, down with despair, down with disease, down with a fever, when we put our hand in the hand of Jesus, Jesus always lifts us up.

It is important to realize that being lifted up, being healed and being made whole, does not necessarily mean in the physical sense. I do not know of anyone who has suffered as much as Alawoise Flannagan. Right now, I do not know of anyone who is more down, more low physically than she. However, when I saw her this week, when she opened her eyes and miraculously asked me how my family was doing, I saw a woman who was more whole, more lifted up spiritually than anyone I know. It was evident that, even in the midst of great suffering, that Alawoise had placed her hand in the hand of the man from Galilee, and that man had lifted her up.

Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

It is very important to notice that when her fever left her, she got up and began to serve them. We are lifted up. We are healed. Then we serve. We are lifted up for service. Jesus makes us whole, not only for ourselves alone, not to simply feel better, more hopeful and more alive, but for service to others. As Ephesians chapter 2 reads: “God will enable us [lift us up] to continue on in righteousness and to do the good works which the Lord has appointed for us.”

Like Alawoise, John Barefoot also possessed spiritual healing and wholeness, a remarkable strength and joy in the midst of great suffering. At his memorial service, I pointed out that God did not lift him up, give him that strength and fill him with that joy just so he could watch a few more NC State ballgames on TV.

As it was evident to Gayle and Mark when Alawoise miraculously asked me how my family was doing, it was evident to all who encountered John—to all who saw his smile, heard his laughter, experienced his joy—that God was the source or his strength.

Right before Christmas, a group of parents and children from our church came to John’s house to sing Christmas carols. Some who were there, including me, were not a part of any church a couple of Christmases ago. We had been struggling with what we believed about the Church, what we truly believed about Christmas.

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

There is no telling how many people have been served through Alawoise and John’s amazing strength and joy in the midst of suffering, through God’s amazing grace in the midst of their lives.

This morning, I want to thank the Boy Scouts who are present today for the unique manner you make our scripture lesson come alive each day in our world.

First of all, you are young. You are strong. When the Lord lifts you up, he can lift you high. But more importantly, you live your lives by a sacred oath or promise which begins: “On my honor, I will do my best.” And how do you do you your best?

By first doing your duty to God, by first putting your hand in the hand of Jesus, for that is the only way you can truly serve your country and to obey the Scout Law. For it is Jesus who takes you by the hand, lifts you up, gives you strength, keeps you mentally awake and morally straight so you can help other people, serve other people at all times.