"Seeing God In The Ordinary: Others"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Out in the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church in Tennessee, there is a young man by the name of Matthew LeSage. He is now in college but for two years he was the President of the CCYM. What makes Matthew so remarkable is that when he was a fifth-grader, he decided he wanted to do something to help the hungry in his city. So, he started a program, Hams for the Hungry. In 2003, Hams for the Hungry raised $40,000 to brighten the holiday season for people with limited resources. In 2007 they raised $65,000 to buy Easter Hams for Second Harvest Food Bank plus the 1.5 tons of baked beans that went along with it. (1)
Matthew's story reminds me of another young man, 13 years old at the time, who read about Dr. Albert Schweitzer's missionary work in Africa. He wanted to help. All he had was enough money to buy one bottle of aspirin. He wrote to the Air Force and asked if they could fly over Dr. Schweitzer's hospital and drop the bottle down to him.
A radio station got wind of the letter and broadcast the story about this young fellow's concern for helping others. Others responded as well. Eventually, he was flown by the government to Schweitzer's hospital along with 4 1/2 tons of medical supplies worth $400,000 freely given by thousands of people. This, of course, would be the equivalent of millions of dollars today. When Dr. Schweitzer heard the story, he said, "I never thought one child could do so much." (2)
Both of those stories are about seeing God in the Ordinary and Seeing God through others.
Our passage of scripture for today is about a young man who didn't have much. But what he did have, he offered to Christ. And as a result thousands of hungry people were fed. You know the story.
John 6:1-15 (NRSV)
 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.
 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.
 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.
 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.
 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?"
 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.
 Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."
 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him,
 "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?"
 Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.
 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.
 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."
 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.
 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."
 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
The equivalent of a small sack lunch fed 5000 people. In all three stories, one ordinary boy with a willingness to help made a major difference which has changed the world. These kind of things are happening around us all the time. God can be seen in the ordinary lives of other people. All we really need to do is open our eyes and tune our hearts to see them.
I. COMPASSION IS OFFERED WITHOUT EMBARRASSMENT:
We can see God at work when Compassion Is Offered Without Embarrassment. Did you read the news article back in July from the Associated press about the crowd of people who reached out and helped a 70-year-old man?
It seems, a dozen bystanders rushed in to help a 70-year-old Ludwig Geier after he stumbled leaving a Torrance, Calif., bank, causing thousands of dollars to scatter in the wind when the envelope it was in split open. Geier says hundreds of bills were "gone in no time," flying through the air and littering the First National Bank's parking lot.
Almost immediately, about a dozen bystanders rushed in to help collect all the bills. Geier, a machine shop owner, says about 96 percent of the money was found. He also said he's going to pray for those good Samaritans, adding, "If I could get them together, I'd buy them dinner and drinks." (3)
They didn't stand around. They didn't start stuffing their pockets and run off. They didn't laugh and point or take pictures to send to the news, they reached out and helped. This dozen strangers reached out with unembarrassed compassion, love and mercy to help this man in a time of crisis. Whether they knew or not, they embodied everything good about compassion without embarrassment.
If that doesn't point to the presence of God in the Ordinary and the urging of the Holy Spirit, I don't know what does. In this seemingly self-centered, me only, selfish society we live in, in one act of kindness, we saw the true heart and nature of both humanity and God.
We see God In The Ordinary when Compassion Is Offered Without Embarrassment.
II. HOPE IS OFFERED WITHOUT STRINGS:
We also see God In The Ordinary when Hope Is Offered Without Strings. I just read about an eighty-year-old grandfather who went to his daughter's home for Sunday dinner. When the meal was over, he announced that he was going to take a walk through the neighborhood. "I'll be back in about fifteen minutes," he said. Two hours had passed before he returned. "Sorry I'm late," he said, "but I stopped to talk to an old friend and he just wouldn't stop listening." (4)
Sometimes we don't have to say a word to bring Hope. For the grandfather, that old friend offered hope without strings simply by listening. Sometimes we offer hope without strings simply by helping.
In his book The Grace Awakening (Word, 1990), Charles Swindoll relates the following story:
During his days as president, Thomas Jefferson and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback. They came to a river which had left its banks because of a recent downpour. The swollen river had washed the bridge away. Each rider was forced to ford the river on horseback, fighting for his life against the rapid currents. The very real possibility of death threatened each rider, which caused a traveler who was not part of their group to step aside and watch.
After several had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would ferry him across the river. The president agreed without hesitation. The man climbed on, and shortly thereafter the two of them made it safely to the other side.
As the stranger slid off the back of the saddle onto dry ground, one in the group asked him, "Tell me, why did you select the president to ask this favor of?"
The man was shocked, admitting he had no idea it was the president who had helped him. "All I know," he said, "is that on some of your faces was written the answer 'No,' and on some of them was the answer 'Yes.' His was a 'Yes' face." (5)
What answer is written on your face? What answer do others see in you. We can see God In The Ordinary when Hope Is Offered Without Strings. We can also help others see God In The Ordinary when Hope Is Offered Without Strings in our lives.
III. LOVE IS OFFERED WITHOUT LIMITS:
We see God In The Ordinary when Love Is Offered Without Limits. Again you probably read or heard the story on the news back in April about Sara Tucholsky of Western Oregon University.
With two runners on base and a strike against her, Sara uncorked her best swing and did something she had never done before. Her first home run cleared the center-field fence. But then as she started to take her bases, she missed first base, started back to tag it and collapsed with a knee injury.
She crawled back to first base but couldn't go on. She would be called out if her teammates tried to help her. The umpire said, a pinch runner could be called in, but the homer would count as a single.
Then, the members of the opposing Central Washington University softball team stunned spectators by carrying Tucholsky around the bases the three-run homer would count, an act which contributed to their own elimination from the playoffs.
Central Washington first baseman Mallory Holtman, the career home run leader in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, didn't know Sara was a Senior or that this was her first home run ever. She was just concerned and asked the umpire if she and her teammates could help Tucholsky. The umpire said there was no rule against it. So Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace put their arms under Tucholsky's legs, and she put her arms over their shoulders. The three headed around the bases, stopping to let Tucholsky touch each base with her good leg.
Sports writers around the country have hailed this event as the ultimate act of sportsmanship. Others have said it is the "greatest moment in sports history" anyone has ever seen. To me, it allows us to God In The Ordinary because Love Was Offered Without Limits.
We know that for the most part, sports is about winning. But in my opinion it is also about character. And we saw the true character of both teams. We a team's desire to win put on hold because their character and integrity took precedence over winning. We saw God In The Ordinary because Love Was Offered Without Limits.
The story is told about a young person, whose heart was torn and wounded by seeing all the suffering in the world. This young person went to God in prayer and complained bitterly to God: "Even I could make a better world than this one."
And God's answered "That's what you are supposed to be doing."
There's debate by some, but John Wesley is attributed to saying: "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, in all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can." When we do, as God intended, we are making a better world.
When the Love of God and our Love for God lives in our hearts it naturally flows from our actions and others with see God In The Ordinary in us. Which leads us to the conclusion and challenge and a very serious question: We know what we see in the random acts of Compassion Without Embarrassment, Hope Without Strings and Love Without Limits when we see it in others. It moves us. It reminds us that God IS in the ordinary acts and activities of life.
But the question it asks is: "What or rather WHO do others see in us? Do they see Compassion Without Embarrassment, Hope Without Strings and Love Without Limits?" We're called not only to look and see God In The Ordinary, we're also called to help others see God In The Ordinary through our lives.
"WHO do others see in us? WHO do others see in you?"
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. The Call, Holston Conference Newsletter, Sept 22, 2006
2. Adapted from King Duncan, You Feed Them!, www.eSermons.com
3. The Associated Press, 7-22-08
4. Preaching Well Volume III, Sunday Sermons Online, POB 3102 Margate, NJ 08402 USA
5. Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH), Volume 20, Number 5, page 58
Other References Consulted