It All Depends on Where You're Standing

Mark 5

One of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus saw Jesus and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make such a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” He took her by the hand and said to her, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about. At this they were overcome with amazement.”

-Mark 5

That is an amazing story. In the language I use to talk about faith, I would call it an incredible God moment. What are God moments? They are times when we actually recognize God’s presence in that moment. That might mean noticing love, noticing caring for neighbors, joy, hope or even just the power of a smile. God moments aren’t the only moments when God is there, they are just the moments that we notice God’s presence.

We read about God moments in the Bible and they seem so phenomenal that it can make it hard for us to imagine having God moments in our own lives. In the scripture passage I just read, everyone thinks that the little girl is dead, and then Jesus comes and says that she is just sleeping. When he tells her to get up and walk, the person everyone was just mourning gets up and strolls about. We don’t usually experience someone coming back from the dead, but just because we don’t regularly experience biblical miracles doesn’t mean that life isn’t full of God moments. Sometimes the difference between ordinary life and a God momentjust depends on your perspective and you might need a change in perspective to see how life is full of God’s presence.

Most people who know me know that I love mission trips and I have been on a lot of them, over 40. Why do I love them so much? Because I always come face to face with God on those trips. When I have doubts and am discouraged, a mission trip never fails to reaffirm my faith. I also love that it provides me with the privilege of watching others discover God’s presence and grow in faith.

Many people have asked me why mission trips are so powerful, why do people see God in their lives when they are on a mission trip? I have come to believe that it is because in our every day lives we have gotten so accustomed to everything around us that we settle into a rhythm of particular patterns. We take a lot for granted. When we are completely outside of what we consider normal, like on a mission trip, it wakes us up, makes our senses more alert. We more fully experience things because they are new, and so we pay more attention. When we pay more attention and see things in a different light than we are used to, it opens up the possibility of seeing where God is that we might not have noticed before.

Where we are physically makes a difference in how we see the world and how we see God in the world. Even the simple fact that I am standing here in this pulpit gives me and you a different perspective. Just because I stand up here makes people think I have faith all figured out but I don’t. Most of us spend our whole lives searching, discovering, and searching some more. My discoveries are just as important as the discoveries you make on your own. What I tell you about God from up here does not matter half as much as what you experience of God in your own lives. If you have been feeling like you don’t see God’s presence in your life then don’t give up. You may just need a change in perspective. Speaking of a change in perspective, there is a memorable scene in the movie The Dead Poet’s Society when Robin Williams character surprises his students by standing on his desk. If you haven’t seen the movie just imagine when you were in school if one of your teachers stood up on a desk in class. It might seem as absurd as if I were to preach standing on a chair. But it gets your attention. In the movie he asks, “Why do I stand up here? I stand on my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way. See, the world looks very different from up here. You don’t believe me? Come see for yourselves. Come on. Just when you think you know something you have to look at it in another way even if it may seem silly or wrong. You must try. Thoreau said “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be resigned to that. Break out. Dare to strike out and find new ground.” It was a very powerful scene.

Let’s be honest, many of us are often so busy and preoccupied that we miss out on some of the fullness of life. How often do we actually take the time to look at things in another way, even if it may seem silly? The movie Dead Poet’s Society suggests that we need a change in where we’re actually standing, because it changes our perspective. I would invite you now to stand up if you are willing and able and change where you’re sitting. If you don’t want to switch seats you could simply face a different direction. Do you notice something around you that you didn’t notice where you were before?

I’ve recently had two powerful experiences that taught me the power of standing in a new place and getting a different perspective. One was the Quest trip to the Colorado Rockies and the other was the Impact mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Over Memorial day weekend Silvi Vahtra and I took 10 youth to the Colorado Rockies as part of our Quest program. We loaded up 40 pound packs with gear and food and headed up the mountain with our Solid Rock Outdoor Ministry guides. At first the hike was easy, but the higher we went, the steeper it got and the more difficult it became. Then there was the snow, first just patches of it but soon it was everywhere 1 foot, 2 feet 3 feet high. Trudging through slippery snow with a big pack on your back is a challenge. It required all our  focus. We barely noticed the beautiful scenery as we struggled up the mountain. Exhausted we finally reached the site, a small clearing in the pines, as the sun was setting. We put up our tents and made dinner. The night got cold. Distracted by physical discomfort we were unaware of our larger surroundings. The next day we awoke to rain and fog. We spent the day close to camp trying to stay warm and not get lost. From what we could see it seemed like we were in the same place as where we had started out the day before. We had been expecting amazing mountain views but instead all we could see was the cloud cover. The next day we awoke to sunshine. Finally we could see the breathtaking beauty of where we were.

We hiked up to the Long’s peak saddle. At the elevation we were hiking we quickly went above the tree line. There was nothing to block our view. Just clear open skies and the wonder of God’s creation spread out before us. The higher we climbed, the more amazing the sights that were revealed. The day before, themountain seemed like nothing special. Now we felt the wonder. As we reached the top and climbed to the other side of the ridge we saw the whole Rocky Mountain National park in front of us, snow covered peaks that seemed endless.

Hopefully you have all had the opportunity to see gorgeous views that made you appreciate the amazing nature of creation. If God made the world, then when we experience the world we get to learn about God through it. What I learned about God from being in the Rocky Mountains is that where you’re standing matters. From the top, you see the whole picture. You have an “ah ‘ha” moment. You see where you are and how you are fitting in to the whole. We so often forget that we are part of that bigger picture. The world becomes limited and limiting. We forget about going outside of ourselves and our problems to remember what truly matters in the grand scheme of things. When we open ourselves to the wide wonder of the world, we see that there is so much more than meets the eye. Just because we don’t always see all that is there does not mean that it does not exist. We believe in God and all the other possibilities out there even on the cloudy days. God is a god of revelation. We don’t always discover everything all at once. It can be hard to have patience when we can’t tell what’s beyond the clouds. Just remember, there is always a bigger picture that you are part of.

Two weeks ago I got to experience the bigger picture in another way. 42 youth and 8 adults traveled to the very small village of Jaibon in the Dominican Republic. There we lived and worked in an orphanage for a week. We left the comfort and normalcy of our lives behind to fully enter into life with the Dominican children. This of course presented its challenges and many joys. Towards the end of the trip the seniors shared with us how they had seen God that week. One of them started out by admitting honestly that before, he felt like he didn’t really know if he had ever seen God anywhere, but he said that he had come to realize that God moments happen all the time, he just hadn’t recognized them. His admission was a God moment. Remember, it all depends on where you’re standing. Back at home in his ordinary life surrounded by friends who don’t even have God on their radar, life looked different than it did standing in the orphanage, looking back at the week of the mission trip. He could see that life is full of God moments.

Have you had an experience that helped you to see things differently and recognize the God moments? One of the experiences from this year’s trip that left the most significant impression was our visit on Friday to the Dominican Haitian border. It was market day. On Mondays and Fridays they open the border from 9 am until noon and Haitians are allowed to come to the DR to purchase goods, fruits and vegetables. It was un-like anything I’ve ever seen. We were told that some Haitians travel for days to get to the border and come to this market because they can get things that they are otherwise unable to get in theircountry. The goods they buy on market day are then brought to cities and towns throughout Haiti. Because of the limited time that the border is open, the Haitians try to get as much as possible over the border while it’s open. There is a bridge across a river and in the middle of the bridge is the line that marks the separation between the DR and Haiti. The Haitians rush across pulling carts and pushing wheelbarrows. They go to the DR and buy as much as they can and then head back to the Haitian side where they deposit what they bought and run back across to get more. They try to make as many trips as they can to get as much as they can. Their lives and their families’ lives depend on it. Haitians of all ages help to carry whatever they can. Old ladies with huge boxes balanced like magic on their heads, enormous carts full of bananas being hauled by young boys. It is quite a scene. A land of scarcity and a land of abundance so close and yet so far separated.

When we went to the border, we stood smushed against the sides of the bridge watching the river of people, seeing the desperation and strain on their faces. We stood out like sore thumbs, our clean colorful clothes and fancy digital cameras contrasting sharply with the dusty, ragged appearance of the Haitians. For us this was a tourist attraction, but for the people rushing past it was a way of life and such a different way of life than ours. We rush around and busy ourselves, but we don’t face starvation if we don’t get our tasks done. I can picture the people in my mind and I wonder what are we to do in the face of such inequality?

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians it says “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.…I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair  balance between your present abundance and their need.” On the bridge it was clear that there is an imbalance. We can stand back and watch or we can jump in and do something to balance our abundance and their need. Our mission trip was a step in this direction. Being there helped us to see that there are needs that we can meet.

It all depends on where you’re standing.

Stand in the shoes of the abandoned Dominican child.

Stand in the shoes of the Haitian worker at the market.

Stand in the shoes of an American from the North Shore.

Stand on a mountain top.

Out of the billions of people in the world, how did your life get to be your life? I don’t know the answer. But I know that we are blessed, truly, truly blessed and from where we got to stand on the bridge between two countries, two worlds, we saw how much others are in need of blessings. I also saw 50 people being blessings in so many ways.

I want to make an important point. I don’t’ think we have to go to the DR or a mountain top in Colorado to have God moments and to be blessings. We can have them right here and right now. Like in the movie Dead Poet’s Society, stand on the metaphorical table in your mind and see what you might not have been noticing where you were standing before. What is the big picture that you are part of but didn’t see because of the clouds? Where can you be a blessing? It all depends on where you’re standing and where you stand is up to you. Do you dare to step into the God moment that is waiting for you?

I hope so.

Amen.