by Rev. Randy Brown
Our scripture comes from Hebrews 12, the first verse. Out of reverence and respect for our Lord, would you stand as I read that passage of scripture. “Therefore seeing that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which does easily beset us and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” This is the word of God for the people of God.
We’re going to pray together. Would you be seated as we pray? Lord, would you come once again and rescue me from me. Would you hide me behind your cross so that the words that are spoken would you be your words, not mine and the one that is seen would be you and not me. Above all else, may we hear the quiet shuffling of sandaled feet and know that Jesus the Christ is in our midst. It’s in His name and for His glory I pray, Amen.
Have you ever felt burdened down, just overcome with things that crowd you life? Kind of like seeing someone carrying all the luggage to a plane at the airport. They’ve got a suitcase in one hand, a suitcase in the other hand, one bag strapped over one shoulder, one bag strapped over the other shoulder and trying to pull a roller suitcase behind them. Have you ever felt like that? Perhaps it’s Christmas time and you’ve done the shopping and you want to get all the presents in out of the car at one time. You are weighted down and loaded down. Sometimes in life we feel that way.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that we have to let go. We have to turn loose of those things that weight us down and carry that are sometimes huge burdens. I want to begin this morning by saying to you, I quit. I’m quitting. I’m done. I can’t do it anymore. Quitters aren’t thought very highly of in our society. We hear the old slogan “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” I want to say to you that I think there are some things that we need to quit. I’ve got my list and I hope before the day is over you’ll have your list, whether you write it down or make just mental notes of it, some things that we need to quit.
The writer of Hebrews, and I say the writer of Hebrews because we’re not sure who wrote it. Some say Paul wrote it. There are some good arguments there. Some say friends of Paul wrote it. I had a seminary professor that even said that a woman wrote Hebrews. I thought, “How in the world did he get that?” Well Hebrews 13:22 says, “I have written these things to you in a few words.” Thirteen chapters later. I didn’t say that. My professor said it, okay? I quit.
Doctors will tell us that we need to quit smoking. We need to quit drinking too much. We need to quit overeating. We need to quit driving too fast, working too hard. You have a list. I have a list. I want us to talk about our list this morning. I’m not going to go to your list unless it happens to be that way by the leading of the Holy Spirit. I want to share with you some things that are on my list if you’ll allow me to get personal for a few moments. What’s on your list?
First thing on my list is I’m going to quit with worrying. Can you identify? Matthew records the words of Jesus chapter 6, verse 25 that says, “Do not worry.” It’s just as much a command as “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not cheat.” It’s just as much a commandment from Jesus as those “don’ts” in other part of the scripture. Do not worry. How do we do it? Why do we do it? We’re told not to. When we worry, do you know what it really means? It means that we don’t think God can handle it. When I worry, I’m thinking that God’s going to mess it up and God’s not going to do it my way. Do not worry.
Then there’s another thing on my list of what I should quit. That’s building walls. I’m not talking about brick and mortar walls. I’m talking about relational walls. Sometimes we build walls between people based on our prejudices, based on our likes and dislikes, based on the color of someone’s skin, or the class or status that they’ve achieved. We need to quit building walls.
Tomorrow is a very important birthday in the history of our country. I happen to have been at Emory University doing my seminary degree. Before I was there, years before when Doctor King was still alive, Doctor King was a guest lecturer at the seminary. The story is told that day that after Doctor King got through speaking, they had a question and answer time during lunch. During the question and answer time, there was a young seminary student who raised his hand to ask a question. Here’s his question. “Doctor King, let’s be honest. When it gets right down to it, all you really want is to be able to marry my sister, isn’t it?” I don’t know what you would have done. I would have suggested to him a warmer climate, but that was not the way Doctor King handled it. Doctor King walked up to him and said, “My young friend, I don’t want to be your brother-in-law. I want to be your brother.” That’s all there was to that conversation. Do we build walls? If we build walls, we need to quit.
Thirdly, there’s gossip. Now I know nobody in here is guilty of that, but in churches far, far away I’ve been told ... do you know what gossip really is? It’s the unrestricted movement of the lower jaw. Sometimes we talk too much. I remember growing up in McMinnville and the subdivision that we lived in was conducive to taking walks. You could walk around the block or around two blocks or whatever. My dad and I used to do that from time to time. I remember one particular night when we began our walk. About three houses up the street, there was a dog. As we passed him, that dog began to bark. We went on four or five more houses. Not only that dog was barking, but there were dogs barking everywhere in the neighborhood. We had only seen one dog, but there was all kind of other dogs barking from the east and west and north and south. You could hear them. My dad says, “Son, stop a minute.” I said, “What dad?” He said, “Listen to that.” I heard dogs from every direction. He said, “You know, all those dogs are barking, but only one knows what they’re barking about.” Sometimes we’re guilty of that.
I don’t know what’s on your list. Apathy may be on my list from time to time. Apathy is a word that simply means, “I don’t care.” Sometimes it’s easy to become apathetic in our lives and in our situations. I was reminded of a story that Dr. Craddock who was a professor of mine would tell. Dr. Craddock was at church one morning and they were getting ready for their eleven o’clock service. It was a high church worship service. He was walking down the hall getting ready to walk into the sanctuary and there’s a lady from the choir. She’s got her choir robe, her books, all the things that she needed. She’s going in the opposite direction. She said to him, “I quit. I’m done.” He said, What’s wrong?” She said, “Nobody cares.” Dr. Craddock said, “You’re wrong.” She says, “I’m right.” He said, “You’re wrong.” She says, “I’m right.” He said, “You’re wrong.” She says, “I’m right.”
He walked her to the car. She got in the car and said “I’m right” and drove off. That afternoon, Dr. Craddock called her on the phone and said, “I’d like to come see you because it bothers me what you said.” She said, “You can come, but I’m still right.”
Her story was that she had been disillusioned and she thought nobody cared. Sometimes that’s easy. He said, “But you’re wrong. I’ll tell you how I know.” He told the story about his father. His father was not a church goer. His father was the worst critic in the community of the church. Every time there was a visiting preacher and the local preacher would take the visiting preacher over to visit. “Why’d you come? Do you need some more money? Budget running low?” All those kinds of critical things, criticisms. He said, “Nobody cares.” He had the same thought that the woman had. Dr. Craddock said there was a day when my dad developed throat cancer. He had lost his voice, couldn’t talk. He was in the hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. He said, “My mother called me and said you need to come and need to come quick.” Dr. Craddock walked into the room. His father motioned for the Kleenex box and a pen. He handed him the Kleenex box and a pen and Dr. Craddock father wrote on the bottom of the box, “Live your life to tell my story.” He said, “Okay, dad, but what’s your story?” His dad said, “I was wrong.”
He looked around and on the eating tray by the bed was a stack of cards, well wishes, get well soon card that were about a foot and a half, two feet high, people from all over the country who knew him and cared enough to send a card. Then he said that day my father admitted he was wrong. He said to that woman, “You may be hurting, but you’re wrong, because there are people who care.” You know what she said to him next? “Name one, Name one.” Could he give her your name? Could he give her my name? We need to quit with the apathy.
Then another on my list is comparing. We want to compare ourselves to other people, we want to compare ourselves to other churches. We just want to be better than anybody else. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but you know who we need to compare ourselves to? Not the church down the street. We need to compare ourselves to who we were this time last month, last year, to be the best we can be. We may not have their gifts and their talents and their abilities, but we’ve got ours. We need to be doing better than we’ve done before. We each have different gifts. We each have different abilities. Ours is not to strive to do better than another church, ours is strive to be better than we’ve ever been. That’s what God calls us to.
Then I need to quit complaining. I quit complaining. Turn to somebody next to you and say, “I quit complaining.” Go ahead, it’s okay to talk in church. Think about the children of Israel when they were out in the wilderness and they complained. What happened? They got in trouble didn’t they? It wasn’t good. Think about what Thomas. We talk about Thomas as being “Doubting Thomas.” I think he’s “Honest Thomas.” I think he could even be “Complaining Thomas” because Jesus was getting ready to take them back in to the city. Thomas knew what was getting ready to happen. He was getting ready to go to the cross. Thomas said, “We’re going to die but let’s go anyway.” Complaining. Why complain when you can trust? If you can figure that out this week, let me know. Why complain when you can trust? You sleep a lot better at night. The days will be a whole lot better. Why complain when we’re called to trust?
Then the last one, or last for this morning on my list is what Rachel talked about a little bit ago, excuses. An elderly lady went onto a cruise ship and went up to the commanding officer and said, “I want to see Ensign James Parker.” Oh really? “Yes. I want to see him. I want to surprise him. I’m his grandmother.” The commanding officer said, “He’ll be surprised all right because we gave him a furlough to go to your funeral yesterday.” Sometimes excuses can backfire on us. Last week, it was my privilege to go back to the church in Georgia, just outside of Warm Springs where I served in seminary to be apart of a funeral service of a man who was 99 years old. One of the most gentle men that I’ve ever known in my life. When they called, I said, “I’ve got to go.”
I was reminded of something that happened to me when I was there. Not with this gentleman, but with another gentleman. When I got there, one of the first people I met in Warm Springs was a man by the name of Ernest McCoy. Ernest was on up in years. Ernest had cancer. By the time I met Ernest, half of his face was distorted and had been eaten away. They had had to take the jaw bone and do some surgeries that really scarred his face and his mind in a lot of ways. I would go and visit with Ernest. I would go and sit outside on his porch. We’d watch traffic go by and we’d talk about this, that and the other and developed a good friendship. The only thing that was off limits, and he let me know this quickly, was church and faith. His wife was a very committed church member, very committed to her faith, but he was not. Any time after that first time that I would try to bring it up, he would end the conversation.
I knew better than to bring it up. I kept waiting for the right day I would go back and try and just never felt led to go there with him because I didn’t want him to close off the conversation. There was a particular Saturday when my buddies and I were going to go back to Atlanta to go to the Braves baseball game. They were playing the Philadelphia Phillies. On Saturday morning, about the time I was supposed to leave, a knock came on the door. I thought, “Well, it’s my buddies. They’re here. Let’s go.” It wasn’t my buddies. It was the daughter of Ernest. She said, “Preacher, Momma wants you to come. She thinks daddy’s ready.” I knew what she meant. I got to tell you. My response to her was, “Well, I got something I want to do right now. It’ll be this afternoon before I get there.” She said, “That’ll be fine.”
I didn’t have the heart or the nerve or whatever to tell her that I was going to Atlanta to the ball game. I just said, “I can’t be there till this afternoon.” It was the most miserable drive to Atlanta, the most miserable time I’ve ever sat at a baseball park. I prayed the whole time, “God forgive me. God, when I get back, I’m going straight there.” I did. I got there to their house and I walked up the steps to their front porch. I knocked on the door and went in. Mrs. McCoy said, “Ernest, preacher’s here.” “Good, tell him to come on in.” He was lying on what would be in a few days his death bed. As I walked in, there was something different. There was almost an invitation to talk about the things of faith. As we talked, finally his wife said, “Ernest, aren’t you ready?” He said, “Yeah, I’m ready.” We prayed and he received Christ into his heart and into his life.
I’ve got to tell you, the prayer that we prayed was not a “God you heal me and I’ll serve you.” It wasn’t a bargaining prayer. The prayer that we prayed was, “God, whatever time I’ve got left belongs to you.” That was the prayer. We got through praying. She said, “Ernest, don’t you want to be baptized?” She went and got the finest china bowl that you have ever seen in your life. She filled it with water and brought it back in to the room and I baptized him. There was not a dry eye in that room for a long time. As I left that day with a mixture of emotions, I stood out on the front porch where we had sat many times throughout those years, and I heard God say something to me. I heard God say, “Randy, I can use you, but I cannot use your excuses.” I said, “Okay, God.”
I don’t know what’s on your list. I know what’s on mine. I’ve covered some of them. I would encourage you sometime today to get with God and make your list. The scripture says, “Lay aside those things that will so easily trip us up and hinder us and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” That’s what the book says and the book never lies.