Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
12:00pm Fellowship
Pastor Rev. Brooke Newell
Secretary Donna McDonald
315-265-7474

Head Shaker

Listen to the Sermon or the Entire Service

August 25th:

Call:   Romans 4: 1-5
Text:   Luke 13: 10-17
Read:   Worshipping With Chuck - Week Five

                Head Shaker

When I chose the sermon title over a month ago
    I had no idea as to how many times this week
I would shake my head in amazement

Last Sunday when, before I left for Syracuse,
 I hurried to put that title on the sign out front
    I still had no idea as to how many times this week
I would shake my head in amazement

But on Monday morning as a part of a neighborhood delegation,
I sat in the office of the mayor of Syracuse
    And heard a father tell
about how his five year old daughter
had been stabbed by a playmate
who had picked up an abandoned needle
left by a heroin user
And I shook my head
    For I was amazed
    And I could not comprehend how this could happen.

And that head shaking was intensified
As I heard others describing picking up
hundreds of similar needles
from the parks and lawns
of the neighborhood in which I spent the week

And as I looked at this sweet little girl across the table from me
and knew that she and her family were wondering
whether the hospital AIDS tests would be positive or negative.

Yes, I shook my head that morning.  I shook it and shook it.

On Monday afternoon,
    While sitting on the porch of a parishioner of the church where I was working,      I shook my head again.
        First, as she distinguished between the "bad" drug dealers and the "good" drug dealers
            The former didn't care about the kids
            The latter were more considerate of them
One even loaned his truck so a parent could take her child to the hospital.
    And second as the parishioner told how some of the children in the household were really her grandchildren who came there
        When their mother in her mid 20s
            Had been murdered a few blocks away.

Yes, I shook my head that afternoon
For I was amazed
At being where this type of stuff happens.

On Monday evening,
    As I attended a meeting of a community action group held at the church, I shook my head still one more time
    When the police captain who addressed the group handed out a map of the neighborhood that showed where the previous month's crimes had been committed and then began his talk with,
        "The good news is
that there were no homicides in the neighborhood this past month."

He did, however, go on to say
that there were two shootings with injuries
    And six other incidents of discharging a gun
But without injuring anyone
[one of those other incidents was a block from the church]

Yes, I shook my head that evening.

That was my first day volunteering at Brown Memorial UMC
    A church located in and serving a neighborhood
        Where a little girl gets stabbed by a needle while playing
        Where drug dealers are divided into good and bad
        Where you take your grandchildren in because your daughter is murdered
Where the good news is that in the most recent month
there were no murders

Which of us wouldn't have shaken his/her head?
Which of us would not have been amazed?
Which of us can comprehend that there can be neighborhoods
    Where these things become a way of life
    And you come to almost expect them?

On Thursday as I drove a parishioner to pick up a van to transport twenty odd children to a picnic at Green Lakes State Park
    He told me of a beating and stabbing that he watched from his porch
        And later that day, several of the kids were discussing it

As I shook my head, I felt:
    Sadness, outrage, bafflement, and helplessness.
I also felt respect and admiration for those in the community
    Who coped and who loved their neighborhood anyway
    And especially those who were working to improve things.
The people whom I met and with whom I spent time
    Were good people; often happy people
    Trying to lead a life like Christ had taught
        In a neighborhood where they had friends
        And many had roots deeper than you and I have here

    But a neighborhood that might well defeat you or me
        And one that even all these miles away
        Makes us shake our heads

On Wednesday, I shook my head on a more personal level
    When my 32 year old nephew passed away
        After several weeks of battling brain encephalitis

He was the son of the younger of my two brothers.

And he was one of three in our family   with the name:
James Edward Barnes

My Dad carries that name.
He is 86
I carry that name - with a Roman numeral two attached
    I am 67 (although I know that I seem much younger)

By all human expectations
    Jimmy should have been attending our funerals
    Instead of our making plans to attend his.

By all human expectations
    He should be praying for our adult children
    Instead of us praying for his three year old daughter.

By all human expectations
    My family should be gathering in Chittenango or Potsdam
    Instead of Omaha
And I shake my head in amazement and bewilderment
    Because I do not comprehend how or why.

But all of the head shaking I have described
    Took place well after I had chosen the title
        And even after I had placed it on the sign out front.

I chose that title and I placed it on that sign
    Not because of a mission and education trip to Syracuse
    Not because I expected a young father to die.
I chose that title because of this morning's scripture
        from the 13th chapter of Luke.

Every time I read it,   it causes me to shake my head
[13: 10-17]

Can you understand,     can you comprehend
    How and why someone can be so narrow in his/her thought processes
    And so legalistic in his/her approach
        That he/she can actually believe
            That one could violate the commandments
                By healing someone on the Sabbath?

Can you?
Try as I might, I can't.
I can't, because it seems so obviously wrong.
    To let someone continue to suffer - even one additional day.

And so I shake my head
    Every time I am reminded of this thought process and this mentality

But that is not the only headshaking aspect to this scripture
    For this was not a man who was healed
    It was a woman.
        And therefore, (in that society) not as important

And so, Jesus, in healing her on the Sabbath,
Not only made a statement about the priority of healing,
But also gave her dignity, importance, and status
By saying she too deserved healing
And by calling her a daughter of Abraham.

I acknowledge that we can often
be prisoners of the times in which we live.

Even allowing for that  I still shake my head.
    I cannot comprehend thinking
        That one should not heal on the Sabbath
    Or  That women were somehow or the other inferior to men

But what really gets me is that even today there are people who think so legalistically
    That they use the scriptures to thwart God's teachings
        By reading the letter of a rule     or a biblical passage
            A rule and passage translated from the original
        Instead of trying to understand its purpose

I shake my head
any time I find myself or others starting to think that way.

And it gets me too
That there are people - Christian people -
And that there are churches - Christian churches -
    That teach
that husbands are ordained to be bosses over their wives

I shake my head whenever I encounter that kind of teaching or thinking.
With the exception of my headshaking at my nephew's death
    What is missing from all the other head shaking situations
    Is a failure to recognize that people need and are entitled
        To be treated as important and valuable
        To be treated with love, respect, and dignity.

Amongst everything else,
I saw some of that on the near west side of Syracuse
    Where they were joyous
That the mayor's office and the police
    Had kept their promise
By making themselves a presence
        Thereby disrupting the drug trade

I saw that too  in the way that people in the neighborhood
    took care of each other

Lastly, I saw that  in the way that they received me
    Thanking me for my visit,   not because I did much
But because I listened to them and treated them with respect.

Just as I will listen to my brother and my sister-in-law
    When I arrive at their home later this afternoon

In our scripture Jesus taught and demonstrated
That all people are entitled to and must be
        treated as important and valuable
        and treated with love, respect, and dignity.

That is the message of Jesus Christ
    Who died for all
    Who taught that we love God by loving our neighbors
    Who told us to be witnesses and make disciples of and for him

I ask us:
What you and I  - who have heard these teachings -
Are going to do to share and live them?

I ask what we are going to do in our own neighborhood?
I ask what we are going to do for neighborhoods
    Like the near Westside of Syracuse?

Are we just going to shake our heads in wonder and disbelief?

Or are we going to try to live those teachings
    To make this world a place
That replaces our head shaking
        With Christ nodding his head in approval?

And I ask too:   when are we going to do something?
    Are we going to start now?
    Or are we going to postpone it to a more convenient time?

Remember:
    This week
a young man in Nebraska who shared my name and my ancestors
    Only had 32 years in which to impact the lives of others.

Doesn't that tell us that postponing is not an option?