JANUARY 17, 2010

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            They worked together every day delivering furniture and they didn't know.  Gary would lift one end of a couch, or a table, or a chair and Randy would lift the other.  People said they looked alike, but they chalked that up to coincidence.

            Randy, knowing he had been adopted, had been researching his family history.  A new law in Maine allowed him to finally see his birth certificate.  He learned that both his parents had died but that they had another son, born June 10, 1974.  Then, on a furniture delivery run, it happened again.   A customer commented on how much Randy looked like Gary.  Randy started nonchalantly asking Gary some personal questions—including what his birthday happened to be.  "As soon as he said his June 10, 1974, I knew," Randy said.  “Gary is my brother.”

            They had grown up in neighboring towns and attended rival schools—only a year apart in age—and had never known about each other.  It was a shock to both of them. "Phenomenal," said Gary.  "I still can't wrap my head around it."  But that's not all.  After their story appeared in the local paper, a teary-eyed woman showed up at the brothers' workplace clutching a birth certificate.  She was their half-sister, born five or six years before the two men to the same mother.  "After all these years," she said in an interview with a reporter, "here I am 41, and now I finally found my brothers."

            In a sense, something similar takes place when we join the Body of Christ.  When we come to church we find that we have additional brothers and sisters in Christ.  The church becomes a new family, a family we may have never known we had.

            Unfortunately, not all families, church and otherwise, are healthy.  Some families, in fact, can be downright dysfunctional, and to guard against such dysfunction in Christ’s family, the church, God has given us marks to gauge the health of our family life together.  They are the one another passages in the bible, and thus far we have examined two marks of healthy family life.  Love and prayer.  Today we look at a third, care.

            If there were ever a church family that needed a tune-up, it was the church family in ancient Corinth.  Talk about a dysfunctional group of people.  Listen to how one of my seminary professors, Russell Spittler describes First Church Corinth:


            Imagine a church like this one:

            Members sue each other in civil courts.  Others habitually attend social banquets honoring strange gods, mere idols.  One brother lives in open immorality - and the church tolerates it.  Others think it would be better for Christian couples to separate so they could be more “holy.”

            Their worship services are shocking, anything but edifying.  Speakers in tongues show no restraints.  People come drunk to the Lord’s Supper, where they shy off into exclusive groups - each bragging about their favorite preacher.  Visitors get the impression they are mad.

            Some doubt the Resurrection.  And many of reneged on their financial pledges.

            Was there ever such a church?  Yes.  What’s more, its founder and pastor for a year and a half was the Apostle Paul.[1]


            I guess that’s why the Apostle Paul penned the words “care for one another” in his first letter to the dysfunctional folk in First Church Corinth.  He writes,


            But God has arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another (I Corinthians 12:24-25, NRSV).


            You see, the Corinthians were far from caring for one another, and in the twelfth chapter Paul instructs them to get with the program.  He instructs them to comfort those who feel unwanted, uncared for in the church, and in these two verses of this chapter, Paul makes two important statements.  Number one, he underscores the fact that everyone is important in the Body of Christ even if they seem inferior, less important, and number two, Paul says everyone needs to be cared for in the Body of Christ. 

            In light of all this, let me suggest four faces of caring for one another.  Face Number One:  Asking.  We ask others how they are doing.  I have a friend named Gwen, and she’s a bulldog about this.  Here’s what happens when we see each other.  She says, “How are you doing?”  And I say, “Fine.”  Then she says, “Hey, that wasn’t a polite greeting.  Really, how are you doing?  I want to know.” 

            Have you ever greeted someone with those words or similar words, “How are you?” or “How are you doing?”  We do it all the time, and most often people answer, “Fine, thanks for asking” or “Fine, how about you?” because we know that’s just a form of greeting.  People are not really  interested in how we are doing.  Or sometimes we ask “How are you?” and the person responds, “You don’t want to know!”  and we say something like, “Oh, that bad, huh?”  and we go about our business.  But caring people ask that question because they really want to know how the person is doing.  They care about the other person’s state of being.

            Face number two:  listening.  We ask, and then we listen to their answer.  This is where many of us, at least we Americans, fall short.  I think of the conversation George Parsons of the Alban Institute had with John McDonald, who had been an ambassador to three countries during his career as the head of the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Institute.  The Foreign Affairs Institute is a “mini-university” attended by diplomats as part of their training.  During the conversation McDonald said something disheartening about Americans.  He said, if he were to gather representatives of the world’s forty largest nations by gross national product, and give them a test to see what kind of listeners they were, McDonald said we would come in fortieth.  He said, “Americans are known around the world by their inability to listen.”

            Too many of us are like the student who visited his Zen teacher.  The Zen master invited the student to stay for tea.  After they were seated the Zen master poured a cup full, then allowed it to overflow onto the table and to the floor.  The student yelled, “Stop!  Why do you do this?”

            The teacher said, “So it is with you.  You are so full of your own preoccupations there is no room for anything new to enter.” 

            We are so occupied with what we are going to say next, or what’s happening in our own lives that we often tune out as people talk.  We are so filled with our preoccupations there is no room for anyone else.  For example, Charlie Brown came to Lucy and said something really revealing.  He said, “I wish I could be happy.  I think I could be happier if my life had more purpose to it.  I also think that if I were happy, I could help others to be happy.  Does that make sense to you?”

            Lucy’s response, after Charlie Brown shares his struggle with happiness?  She replied, “We’ve had spaghetti at our house three times this month!”

            With a pained expression on his face, Charlie Brown says, “Good grief!”   

            Caring people ask.  Caring people listen, and the third face of caring, caring people care, they do not cure.  Remember Jesus’ words:  “It is more blessed to give than receive”?  Well, let me add another like it.  “It is more blessed to care than to cure.” 

            You see, as caring people we want to help.  We want to fix things, but often we cannot, but what we can always do is care.  For example, a woman in her mid-thirties was in an adult Sunday School class, responding to one of the questions, and then she began to cry.  Fighting back tears, she went on to say that she was tired of taking care of people and having no one to take care of her.  She said, “I have gobs of friends, but none of them really listen to me.  Whenever I share a struggle in my life, I immediately receive advice from them, things like, ‘Have you done this?’ or ‘Have you tried that?’ or ‘If I were you, here’s what I would do.’  For once,” she said, “would someone just listen, without trying to fix me?” 

            Or take the woman about fifty years of age.  She was insightful, vivacious, and concerned about her age.  She shared her opinion that aging is kinder to men than to women, and she was married to an attractive, successful, powerful attorney, and she wondered if she would be able to keep him interested in her.  “After all,” she said, “power is an aphrodisiac, and does my husband ever exude power.”

            She then stopped talking and her eyes began to redden, and I almost blurted out, “Oh, Jane (that’s not her real name), don’t worry about it.  Your husband would be crazy to ever walk away from you.”  In other words, I wanted to jump in there and fix her, make her feel better.

            Instead, by the grace of God, before the words left my mouth, I began to tear up myself.  By the way, that’s really embarrassing for me.  Ever since I had bypass surgery 13 years ago, I tear up at the drop of a hat.  I don’t know what happened to me.  I even cry at Charmin commercials, and anyway, I started to tear up before I could blurt anything out, and she said, “Thanks for understanding.  People usually tell me, ‘Don’t worry.  You have nothing to fear.’”

            Care, not cure.  Listen to this poem titled “Listen to Me.”


            When I ask you to listen to me

                        and you start giving advice,

                                    you have not done what I asked.


            When I ask you to listen to me

                        and you begin to tell me why

                                    I shouldn’t feel that way

                                                you are trampling on my feelings.


            When I ask you to listen to me

                        and you feel you have to do something

                                    to solve my problem,                      

                                                You have failed me as strange as that may seem ...


            But when you accept as a simple fact

                        that I feel what I feel,

                                    no matter how irrational,

                                                then I quit trying to convince you

            and get about the business of understanding

                        what’s behind this irrational feeling.

            And when that’s clear,

                        the answers can become obvious

                        and I won’t need advice.


            So caring people ask.  They listen.  They care, not cure, and the fourth face of caring, they do.  They do practical, helpful things for one another.  They help with house-sitting and watering the plants when we are out of town.  They help with child care, car repairs, and meals when we are under the weather.  They call us between Sundays to see how we are going.  They bring their pastor chocolate chip cookies, his favorite cookie by far. 

            Let me close with this.  It’s a familiar story, but it bears repeating.  I father, near death was waiting for his son, who was in the military, to get to the hospital to say his good-byes.  Finally, a young marine arrived, told the nurse he was here to see his father, and she took him into the hospital room.

            He reached out and grabbed the old man’s hand.  The old man smiled, and the young Marine sat there holding his hand throughout the night.  Nurses came in and asked to take his place for awhile so he could stretch, but the young marine refused to leave the bedside.  Hours later the old man died and a nurse asked, “It was nice you could be here with your father before he died.  I know he appreciated it.”

            The young marine said, “Oh, he’s not my father.”

            Shocked, the nurse said, “Then why did you sit with him and hold his hand.”

            He said, “It seemed like the right thing to do.”

            Caring people “do.”




[1] Russell P. Spittler, The Corinthian Correspondence (Springfield, MO: The Gospel Publishing House, 1976), 7.