A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor of Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on April 11, 2010.
How do you help someone put their life, including their faith, back together after it has been shattered? I believe this was the issue facing Jesus after the resurrection. He knew his violent death took a toll on his followers and they needed help rebuilding their lives.
From John’s perspective, Jesus was fully committed to this mission, as we see from his appearance to the disciples and other believers on Easter evening as they gathered fearfully behind locked doors. This visit was followed a week later with another because Thomas was not present the first time. Not only was Jesus committed to helping his followers rebuild their lives, he was determined to leave no one behind.
This raises several questions for me. Why did Jesus feel compelled to help his followers? How did he help them? What can we learn from him about helping people rebuild their lives?
Why did Jesus feel compelled to help his followers rebuild their lives? This is what love does, and Jesus loved them dearly.
Sure some of his disciples disappointed Jesus, but this did not diminish his love for them and appreciation for all they had done for him the last three years. Love is deeper and stronger than that. This was not a time to heap more guilt and shame upon them, but to grant peace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to help them recover.
I also believe Jesus helped his disciples rebuild their lives because he wanted them to do this for others. If he could redeem them, they could redeem others. What a difference they could make in a world full of people wondering what to do with guilt, shame, disappointment, confusion, anger and hopelessness.
Who do you know that is reeling from a crisis and needs your help to rebuild their life? What happened to them? Did a loved one die or their marriage dissolve? Did they lose their job or health? Did a child get in serious trouble or they make a terrible mistake?
How are they handling their disappointment, grief, confusion, doubts anger, guilt or shame? Do you love them enough to help them rebuild their life? What can you do? Let me offer some suggestions based upon what Jesus did for his disciples.
First of all, make contact with them. This may not be as easy as it sounds. Like Jesus, you may have to figure a way to get beyond a locked door because life-shattering events tend to isolate people. For sure, they alter schedules and disrupt normal patterns. You must be as determined as Jesus to make contact and let someone who is struggling know of your concern for their well-being.
It was about a year ago that I went to see Clint Eastwood’s movie, “Gran Torino.” It marked Eastwood’s return to a lead acting role after four years.
In this movie, Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired Polish American Ford automobile assembly line worker and Korean War veteran, haunted by memories of that conflict. He lives with his Labrador Retriever, Daisy, in a changing neighborhood in Michigan. It doesn’t take long to realize that he is grumpy and impatient, intolerant of anyone that is unlike him or does not meet his expectations.
At the beginning of the movie, Walt is attending his wife’s funeral, bristling at the eulogy of young Father Janovich. At the reception after the funeral, Walt makes it clear that he never wants to see Father Janovich again.
That, however, does not deter Father Janovich. Repeatedly, he shows up on Walt’s front porch determined to forge a friendship with him. In the end, his persistence pays off and he develops a healthy and meaningful relationship with Walt that leads to the dramatic ending of the movie.
Obviously, I was intrigued by Father Janovich. I’m not sure I could have done what he did, but his impact upon Walt was not lost on me. Father Janovich was respectful, but not timid. He just would not take no for an answer. Sometimes we must not either.
To help someone rebuild his or her life, listen to their story. I can only imagine the discussion that took place after Jesus joined the disciples that evening. I am confident he listened to them the same way he did the two on the road to Emmaus, a story in Luke that has many similarities to this one. Throughout his ministry, he had been a good listener and I am certain the crucifixion did not change that.
Allow traumatized people to verbalize their feelings and doubts. Don’t judge them; love them unconditionally. People have a tendency to talk to good listeners.
How Will They Hear if We Don’t Listen? is the title of the book written by my friend and McAfee professor, Dr. Ron Johnson. I like it and the content of the book in which Johnson stresses the importance of listening to people to help them establish or restore their faith.
Some of the most satisfying conversations I have are with people who are rebuilding their faith. I find them to be refreshingly candid and meaningful. I learn a lot from them that I can use on my own journey and share with others.
When appropriate, share your own story with fellow strugglers. Like Jesus, show them your scars. Be transparent. Share your story and struggles. Let them sense your pain.
Adoniram Judson was a Baptist missionary in the first half of the 19th century who labored for almost forty years in the country of Burma, now Myanmar. His work progressed slowly in the beginning with only eighteen converts in twelve years.
During the war between England and Burma from 1824-26, Judson was imprisoned and lived in the most deplorable conditions. His wrists and ankles were chained. Each night a bamboo pole was inserted into the chains and he slept suspended in air. As you would expect, his wrists and ankles were terribly scarred when he was finally released.
It was these scars, however, that preached the gospel after his release. When the people saw them, they recognized a level of love they had never known. As a result, a revival swept through Burma that led to unprecedented numbers of converts.
By all means, make a place among your circle of encouragers for those whose hopes and dreams have been shattered. Introduce them to the people who have seen you through your roughest times.
Remember, it was in community that Thomas’ faith and life were reborn. Along with Jesus, the other disciples were unwilling to leave Thomas behind. If Jesus was going to re-commission them for service, they were not going to exclude Thomas. That circle of love and service was incomplete without him.
What do your friends have to offer someone whose life has been turned upside down? Could they provide a safe place for them to fall? Do you need to bring them together?
This text helps me understand why the disciples were so successful in continuing Jesus’ work and spreading the gospel. It wasn’t because they had never failed or were so persuasive. It was because they became the presence of Christ in a broken world. The redeemed became the redeemers. They shared their stories and showed their scars. They widened the circle of hope to include all who would join them on this common journey toward restoration.
Did you see the picture that was in last Sunday’s newspaper of an unidentified woman in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti who was walking in a Good Friday parade? She was carrying the only thing left of her home that was destroyed in the earthquake a couple of months ago, a battered and worn concrete block.
How I would love to talk to her and ask her why she carried that block in the parade. What did it symbolize? A cross? All she had lost? Her determination to rebuild? Perhaps all three?
One thing is certain. That block is a part of her story, a story that has been and will be told as long as she lives.
What is your story? Who needs to hear it? How could God use it to help a fellow struggler? I hope you will share it this week as God leads you.