This is the sermon I shared on May 27, 2012, at First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, MO
Title: Do For One What You Wish You Could Do For Everyone Text: Mark 1:35-45
In 1998 in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron Hall, a white, wealthy art dealer met Denver Moore, a black, homeless drifter. Ron’s wife, Debbie, had convinced him to volunteer with her at the local homeless shelter, the Union Gospel Mission. This was way out of Ron’s comfort zone but his wife could be very persuasive so he went. As they served meals and visited with the homeless guests, they were drawn to an allusive Denver Moore. Miss Debbie, as Denver referred to her, was convinced that Ron needed to become friends with Denver. Ron didn’t see how they could be friends with so many apparent differences in their lives. But as I said, Miss Debbie could be very persuasive.
Ron and Debbie tried to make conversation with Denver. To ask questions. To learn more about him. Denver didn’t make it easy. He ignored them and refused to talk to Mr. and Mrs. Tuesday as he referred to them because of their weekly day to volunteer at the mission. After several weeks of consistent volunteering, Ron finally was thrown a bone. Denver apologized for purposely avoiding them when they were just trying to be nice. Ron seized the moment and invited Denver to join him for breakfast the next morning. Denver accepted.
Ron picked Denver up at the shelter the next morning and over their grits and eggs, Ron carried the conversation and peppered Denver with questions, trying to get to know him, and rambling about art impressionism. After a while it was clear to Ron that Denver wasn’t listening and was utterly bored. So he stopped talking. After a few moments of silence, Denver looked at Ron and asked, “What you want from me?”
Impressed with the direct question, Ron replied with a direct answer. “I want to be your friend.”
“Let me think about that.” Denver responded.
About a week later, Ron spotted Denver walking and invited him to coffee. Ron got to rambling again and after some silence, Denver spoke. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what you asked me.”
Ron had no idea what he was talking about. “What did I ask you?”
Denver replied, “Bout being my friend.” Then he continued. “There’s something I heard ‘bout white folks that bothers me, and it has to do with fishin’. I heard that when white folks go fishin they do something called ‘catch and release’. That bothers me. I just can’t figure it out. ‘Cause when colored folk go fishin, we really proud of what we catch, and we take it and show it off to everybody that’ll look. Then we eat what we catch … in other words, we use it to sustain us. So it really bothers me that white folks would go to all the trouble to catch a fish, then when they done caught it, just throw it back in the water.”
Denver paused to let it sink in. “Did you hear what I said?” Ron nodded, afraid to speak or to offend.
Denver looked away and then locked eyes with Ron. “So, Mr. Ron, it occurred to me: if you is fishin for a friend you just goin’ catch and release, then I ain’t got no desire to be your friend.” Then Denver’s eyes soften as he said, “But if you is lookin for a real friend, then I’ll be one. Forever.”
Ron had never heard such a profound statement on friendship and humbly, he said to Denver, “Denver, if you’ll be my friend, I promise not to catch and release.”
A smile broke out over Denver’s face and they rose to shake hands and hug. As Ron recalls, from that day forward they were the new odd couple.
You can read more about Ron and Denver’s friendship in the wonderful book “Same Kind of Different As Me”. It is an amazing true story that is rich with life lessons like the one I just shared with you. Ron and Denver’s deep friendship lasted for over 13 years until Denver’s death in March.
Sometimes when I hear stories like these I am conflicted. I absolutely love the deep friendship that developed between these two and was blessed to hear them speak in person a few years ago at a benefit for a homeless shelter in Springfield, MO.
But sometimes I’m overwhelmed with thoughts about the others – the other homeless drifters that were also at the Union Gospel Mission that missed out on the rich blessings of such a deep friendship. It doesn’t seem … fair. If Ron had not spent so much time with Denver, maybe he could have really helped three or four more men too.
I want you to think back with me to when you were in school and eating in the cafeteria. You go through the line with your brown tray and one of the cooks hands you your plate of food. You move on down the line with the masses and see the desserts, picking out one of your favorites. Upon finding a seat, it doesn’t take you long to gobble it all up and you realize – you want another dessert. You walk tentatively back to the desserts, look at the cook with the most pathetic expression you can muster and ask: – “Please, may I have another?”
She responds, “If I give you another dessert, I would have to give everyone another dessert.”
What is your first thought?
“No you don’t. I won’t tell. You won’t tell. It won’t matter.”
Fairness. Fairness is such an esteemed value in our culture. We talk about it. We demand it. We cry foul if it appears to be withheld. I’m sure all of us at some point in our life have screamed “It isn’t fair!” about something to someone. But the older we get, the more we realize that they were right. By “they” I mean those people whose respond to your cry of “It isn’t fair” with “Life isn’t fair.” Man, they were irritating people. But they were right. Life isn’t fair. We see it all around us every day. Injustices. Racism. Educational opportunities or lack thereof. Broken family systems. A leper who is healed while others die from their disease. People who get lifelong friendships while others are left out in the cold.
We are an overwhelmed people. We are overwhelmed with needs – needs within our own families, needs within our church, needs within our nation and the world. We are overwhelmed with so many good and worthy causes. Last week, Tony Campolo reminded us in a way only Tony can that we are to bear one another’s burdens. How do we do that when there are some many one “anothers” and so many burdens?
I think that sometimes we look at others and say, “If I help that person, than I’ll have to help every person.” “If I’m a friend to you, then I have to be a friend to everyone else to.”
No you don’t.
It seems to go against what we were taught. We’ve been taught about fairness all our life. If I do it for you, I’d have to do it for everyone. If I give you one, then I’ll have to give everyone one. It creeps into our lives in every way. And it’s wrong. It’s wrong because trying to be fair will ultimately cause us to be disengaged. So many of us are already there – we’ve disengaged from our neighbor because we are overwhelmed by all the needs. And when we disengage we end up doing for no one. We lose sight of our mission, a people called and gifted by God through the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel and instead we sneak into our homes, pull down the shades and hide from the overwhelming needs of the world.
I stand before you this morning very guilty of this. In my own life, I’ve release more than I’m proud of. Often it is because I’ve put too many rods in the water. I can’t tend to them all. Their snapping left and right or being dragged off into the depths by fish that grew tired of waiting for me to do something.
So, if you can’t do for everyone, what do you do?
“Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” I heard pastor Andy Stanley say this about nine months ago at a conference and I’ve been challenged by it ever since. Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.
In our text, Jesus is on a mission. The leper is an interruption to the mission yet Jesus is moved to heal him. Jesus knew he couldn’t heal everyone. He knew that helping the leper was going to create problems for him. He had just come from praying in a deserted place because the whole city was gathered at the door wanting to be healed. His reputation as miracle worker was surpassing his proclamation of the Kingdom of God. If Jesus’ goal was to be fair, he would have said no to this leper and disengaged from him. Yet, he was moved with compassion, moved by anger at the injustice and he wills to leave his agenda and help the leper, this particular leper. And he didn’t just heal him physically. He restores him to wholeness among the community by instructing him to go the priests so that he could be cleansed and restored according to the laws.
He said yes to this leper knowing it would require him to say no to others. And it cost him. Verse 45 – Jesus was no longer able to go into a town openly, but stayed in the country. People had to come to him there. In an ironic twist, the leper and Jesus switch places. Jesus began as the one free to wander and proclaim, urgent in his message. By the end of the story Jesus has traded places with the former leper who is now wandering freely, proclaiming what the Lord has done and creating widespread positive response, while Jesus has become isolated. Once again, Jesus wills to give up his freedom for humanity just as he did on the cross. Helping others cost. It is inconvenient. It is an interruption. But Jesus alive in us through the Holy Spirit wills us to be present with others regardless of the cost.
Today healing comes in different forms – being a real friend, not a catch and release friend, is how God works miracles – not just in the friends that you catch but in your own life as well.
A few years ago, I was having lunch with a friend and we were discussing a variety of topics, including a friendship that was at a critical point. This friend had formed a new friendship with another church member. They came from very different walks of life yet found some common ground through a small group and began a friendship.
A few months into the friendship, the other friend was beginning to deal with a lot of drama and hard times in her life – drama caused by other people primarily. It was a very difficult time for this woman and as things got crazier, she was leaning more upon my friend for a listening ear. The friendship held for a while but began to strain under the pressure and my friend was now telling me, in a round about way disguised as excuses, that she wanted out. It was too much, too messy. She wanted to cut the line and release this new friend or perhaps project is the better descriptor. Does this sound familiar? It does to me. You could very well substitute my name for my friend’s.
And then I have another friend. (I know. Shocking – two friends!) This friend caught someone and I’ve been humbled and amazed to watch her care and commitment for another individual. I’ve seen her give up hours of her time – hours that weren’t convenient or readily available – to walk with this individual through so many things. I’ve seen her be Jesus. I’ve seen her say no to others in order to go to the depths with this one. She is doing for one what she wishes she could do for everyone. She is fully aware of all the other needs around her but she can’t go deep with this one if she spreads herself to thin with everything else. You can’t shut it all out but you can’t take it all on.
One of my heroes is a man named Bob Goff. Such a simple name that doesn’t even begin to match the large than life person that is Bob Goff. Bob just wrote a book entitled “Love Does” and it is simply a collection of essays about adventures that Bob has lived because he has chosen to live life to the fullest. He goes BIG in everything he does and so many people have been blessed.
I could tell you some pretty amazing stories of how Bob has done for one what he wished he could do for everyone – like rescuing Ugandan boys from prison or helping a Ugandan boy who had been castrated by a witch doctor. But sometimes we get overwhelmed with these types of stories and think the do for one idea requires something big like this.
When I heard Bob speak awhile back, he told a story about an elderly widowed woman who lives across the street from him in San Diego. Then live on a little cul-de-sac of about 8 homes. Bob takes the time to get to know all of his neighbors and so it was nothing to check in on her to see how she was doing. In talking with her, Bob discovered that she was scared about being by herself at the house. Nervous about something happening and no one knowing.
So you know what Bob did? He went to the store and he bought a pair of walkie-talkies. He gave one to his neighbor and he put the other one on his nightstand. And every night he is home, he checks in with her to make sure she is fine.
Can he do that with everyone in the cul-de-sac or every elderly woman in San Diego? No he can’t. But he could do for this one woman what he wished he could do for everyone. Maybe it is people like you and me who can help with some of the others.
So, how do we do for one what we wish we could do for everyone?
- Go deep, rather than wide. Get comfortable with the idea that you can’t help everyone. That you can’t take on every wrong in the world or every need. But don’t use it as a justification for not doing anything. Instead, it allows you to go deep with just a few individuals or a particular cause or issue of justice that is dear to you. If you spread yourself to thin and try to go wide, you will become overwhelmed and you will disengage. Pray and begin looking around in your life for people and causes that you can go deep with and begin to quit the things in your life that will keep you from doing that. Yes, you heard me. Quit. Most of us are going to have to do.
- Go long-term, rather than short-term. When you commit to go deep, also commit to go the distance. People don’t need catch and release relationships. They need people who are in it for the long haul, through thick and thin. The Church is incredibly guilty of this. We catch folks and convert them and drop them. God is not a catch and release God and His people should not be either.
- Go time, not just money. One of my favorite Bob Goff quotes is this “Sometimes it feels like thinking about someone’s suffering is the same as doing something. Don’t take the bait.” Sometimes we think throwing our money at some cause or issue or person is enough. But Scripture never gives us that out. Jesus is clear that being His disciple costs everything – our money, our time, our freedom, our will. It’s all His for His glory.
About two weeks ago, our church hosted a picnic at Memorial Park for the mentors and students of our partner elementary school, South School. Any student that had a mentor and every mentor, whether they were from First Baptist or not, was invited to come enjoy some food and some fun together. I can’t describe the joy that comes from watching a member of our congregation interacting with a student and the shared love that is communicated by the smiles on their faces. These mentors have chosen to go deep, to go the distance and to give precious time to build a relationship with one young child. There is a long list of kids at South who want a mentor. The mentors we have would be such a blessing to any of these kids and would be blessed themselves but they can’t be every child’s mentor. They do for one what they wish they could do for everyone.
And I think most mentors are tempted at some point in the relationship to release because time is precious or they aren’t sure if they are really helping. But we do everything to make sure they stay. Because the relationship itself is where the miracles happen – for both. It is in the relationship itself that Jesus does the healing. It is in the promise that we will catch but not release that God is most beautifully reflected.
This summer quit some things. Quit some relationships. Quit some responsibilities. And in its stead, do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.
Hall, Ron and Denver Moore. Same Kind of Different As Me. Nashville: Thomas Nelson. 2006. Print.
Henrich, Sarah. Commentary on Gospel Mark 1:40-45. The Working Preacher. February 12, 2012. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=2/12/2012&tab=4
Stanley, Andy. 2012. “Do For One.” Catalyst. MP3 file