By Dr. Randy L. Hyde
If you are a reader of the comic strips, as I am, you will know that this week in Zack Hill, the mother in the strip has created a cliche jar. Every time someone in their household uses a cliche, he has to put a dollar in the jar. Well, here’s my dollar. Are you ready?
Sometimes, the greatest life-changing experiences occur
when you’re in the right place at the right time.
It’s happened to me, and I’m sure it has to you as well. As I give you a couple of examples from my life, you can feel free to insert your own memories into the conversation.
It was early spring of 1974 and I was leaving chapel at Southern Seminary to go to my next class. My New Testament exegesis professor, Frank Stagg, got in step with me and as we walked to the classroom together he asked me what I planned to do when I graduated at the end of the semester. At that point I really didn’t know. I was debating whether to seek a church position somewhere or continue my schooling in further degree work. He told me about a young pastor named Bill Tuck at First Baptist in Bristol, Virginia. Bill was looking for an associate. Would I be interested? If so, Dr. Stagg would like to recommend me.
Looking back over the footsteps of my life, I can see how that changed everything for me. Everything. That conversation took me in a direction I would never have considered otherwise. And it happened just because of a short, but life-changing, conversation.
Here’s another dollar.
Sometimes, the greatest life-changing experiences occur
when you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This time it was the early fall of 1964. The Paragould Bulldogs were in the first half of their annual pre-season Red-White football game. I was playing cornerback on the defense when I saw Steve Brummett, quarterback for the offense, attempt an option play. Seeing the defensive end going for Steve, I knew instinctively that he would lateral the ball to the running back. I timed it perfectly, snatching the ball in mid-air. There was no one between me and the goal line. I took a few steps and just as I was hitting my full stride – running to glory, don’t you know! – I encountered that part of the field that took a subtle but sudden slope designed to help with drainage. I was never touched by an opposing player, but I went down with my first knee injury, which would eventually result in surgery and end my football career, as well as my hopes for a college athletic scholarship.
Yet, looking back on what could be interpreted as a negative experience, I see how it led to the events that have shaped my life journey. What would have happened had my adolescent dreams been fulfilled? The chances are I might have gone to a different college, would never have met Janet… You get the picture, don’t you? So, sometimes being in the wrong place at the wrong time can lead to the right things.
Have you thought of chance encounters, times when you were in the right or wrong place, that have shaped who you are and what you have done with your life? Well, consider the crippled woman in Luke’s narrative we read earlier. There is no indication from the way Luke tells the story that she had come to the synagogue looking for healing. Nothing is said that would make us believe she had heard of Jesus or made a special point to be in the synagogue so she could see if the young Nazarene would perform a miracle in her life. She had just come for Bible study and worship. It was the Sabbath, after all, time to get up and go to church. It was what she did every week, not that it was easy for her to do, considering her physical condition. But she did it.
And as it turned out, she was in the right place at the right time. (Dollar in the jar.)
She knows the rules. Jesus knows the rules, too, as well as the synagogue leader who takes issue with what Jesus does for the woman. Miracles… and just about everybody believed in miracles in that day and time and place… miracles aren’t performed on the Sabbath. Miracles come under the heading of “Labor” or “Work.” You didn’t even cut your toe nails on the Sabbath (Jesus uses the example of watering one’s ox or donkey), much less perform miracles. No, she was there just because she had decided to be in church. She just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and that put her in the presence – not to mention the healing, compassionate hands – of Christ.
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I don’t usually get to the point this early in my sermons, but this is as good a place as any. Things happen – good things, redemptive things, eternal things – when you find yourself in the presence of Christ.
In the case of the crippled woman, Jesus set her free from the physical bondage that kept her from experiencing life at its fullest. Jesus was more than willing to give her what she, and evidently no one else, could provide. Now, when she called on the name of God, she could lift her face to the heavens. Now, when she offered her gifts in the synagogue, she could do it herself and not have to ask someone else to do it for her. Now, she could stand upright before the One to whom she would then gratefully bow down. All because she was in the right place at the right time. The right place and the right time for all of us and any of us is when we are in the presence of Christ.
Or maybe we should say, when we are present to Christ.
Let’s not ignore the third person in our story, the synagogue leader who takes issue with what Jesus has done. After all, he’s in the presence of Christ as well. But there is a difference – a big difference – between being in Christ’s presence and being present to Christ. I think we can safely surmise that his presence in the synagogue was largely due to its being his job. For this unnamed woman, it was her joy. There’s a big, big difference, isn’t there?
For him, religion was entitlement and something to be guarded carefully by the kind of rules that people like himself had developed. For her, it was a matter of grace and was something to be given away. Christ noticed the difference then and I can’t help but believe he does so even now with you and me.
So here we are, every one of us, in the presence of that same Christ who reached out to this woman and brought healing. His presence to us is symbolized poignantly in the bread and the cup we will share in a few moments. As you eat and drink, I would encourage you to answer this question… Are you doing this because you are in the presence of Christ or because you are present to Christ? It might just make all the difference in whether you are set free from that which disables you. After all, this is the right place and the right time. (Dollar in the jar.)
Lord, if we are in your presence, we are in the right place at the right time. As we partake at your table, may we be present to you as well, for we know in faith that you are present to us. Free us from that which keeps us in bondage, and lead us to eternal life. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Copyright 2007, Randy L. Hyde. Used by permission.