Whisper Breath

Delivered December 29, 2002 by Rev. Bill Dean, a PC(USA) pastor who has served churches for 20 years and traveled for 4 years as Director of Congregational Ministries for Presbyterian-Reformed Ministries, Int’l. Bill is presently serving as Interim Pastor of the Central Parish Pastoral Charge (4 churches!) on Prince Edward Island, Canada. His vision is to help equip and empower Christians to fulfill their unique vision from God to impact the world for Jesus Christ.

Theme: God is trying to whisper into your ear and he is trying to whisper down to your heart. It’s because he wants to have you whisper into somebody else’s ear during the chaos of their lives. There are people all over the place out there who are dying to have you whisper something into their life. And you are not intruding. They want to hear something that matters. And they want to hear the fact that they are loved and they are appreciated and God cares for them no matter where they are. Maybe, just maybe, God has put you in their lives and in that situation because he wants you to be the one to speak the word into the situation where the chaos is, where the Spirit is hovering.

Sermon Text:
Genesis 1:1-3
and John 20:19-23

Good morning. Is this Sunday? Ok, right place. I want to hear a great chorus of moans and groans and empathy because I was in Hawaii yesterday. (awww) But I’m on my way to Prince Edward Island in Canada which is the Atlantic Maritimes up there and it is really cold. (awww) We got off the airplane yesterday and this snow business is a cruel hoax that’s being perpetrated upon us, I’m just not sure quite what to do with it. We have two daughters, actually we have three daughters and two of them are with Youth with a Mission, YWAM and one is at a discipleship training school at the Universities of the Nations in Kona, Hawaii and if you want to go to an excellent mission organization and you want to see the world in the love of Jesus, consider YWAM. It’s excellent. Plus you get to go to horrible places like Kona. Our other daughter is in a Youth with a Mission discipleship training school called Island Breeze. It is part of an interracial, multi-ethnic group of people that do dance and hers originates out of New Zealand and so she has a whole bunch of Samoans and Tahitians and Fijians and Canadians and even a couple of people from the states and they are going around the South Sea islands doing witness street evangelism and outreach and she happens to be in Kona right now too. And you can even pray for her. Her name is Callah. We named her Sarah, but she likes the Hawaiian name Callah, which means Sarah. She has to go to Tahiti in a couple of days, so. And Mom and Dad and Abby had enough frequent flyer miles to be able to get out there for the holidays so instead of Norman Rockwell and turkeys and all that stuff for Christmas, we went and walked on volcano lava and saw it hit the ocean. It was really cool. Very different from what we usually do.

This whole thing is going to be different. Would about four of you come up here and pray for me, from this gang here? Oh my gosh. Like out of your seats, come on up. Seriously. Does it help you to know that my youngest daughter, her hair became purple and spiked when we were in Hawaii. I thought it was so excellent. I mean if I had hair, I would do that. That would be excellent. I would like you to pray for me that I would preach what God wants me to say today. Okay.

(pause here for prayer)

Well, I pastored churches for 20 years and I think one of the stupidest things I did was, I didn’t ask for prayer enough and I pretended to be the minister and I think it would have gone a lot better if I had asked for prayer from people a lot. The reason that I wanted to ask you guys [youth] to pray for me and this is not in the script, I wrestled with this as I sat there and we were singing as I feel like the Lord wants me to encourage you that the promise of his love is in this church. And don’t worry it’s going to be okay. I had occasion to be here a couple of weeks ago and I drove down York Road and I came by the school next door and I just got all filled up with a sense of God’s love for your generation and the generation that is just a little bit ahead of you. And I thought how strategically this church is placed, how strategically, not just physically but in the realm of the spirit in the Kingdom of God, to just build the bridges and to reach across and not to screw around, but really to go for the heart of God’s love, and I just want to give you a word of encouragement that the promise of His love is in this place and don’t let go. And, if you do let go, don’t worry because he’s got a hold of you. He’s got a hold of you. Amen.

If you have got your electronic Bible, would you turn please to the first chapter of Genesis. It’s at the beginning of the book. Go to Psalms, turn left, keep going until the end. Genesis 1. The word of the Lord. I have the New International before me. The word of the Lord says:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was over the surface of the deep and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters and God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. God saw that the light was good and he separated the light from the darkness and God called the light day and the darkness he called night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

And then in the 20th Chapter in John, go to Psalms, turn right keep going. Gospel of John, Verse 20, beginning at Verse 19. This is after Jesus had been crucified and he shows up with the disciples on the evening of the first day:

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side and the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord and again Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven. And if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

This is a reading from God’s Holy word and to His name be the glory and the honor.

We were suffering in Hawaii last week. It was so hot. Awwwww. 85 degrees and humid. You know, too much time on the beach. You know, you just have to get off the beach. So we decided to go and seek refuge and comfort. So we stood in lines for hours and we got a ticket to see The Lord of the Rings. How many of you have seen that? Boy, I got a heck of a lot better response from this group that the earlier ones. It is awesome. It just continues right where the last one left off with Gandalf hanging off the edge of the thing. Read the book, it’s really good. But to get to that, we had to endure, you can tell my age really comes out on that, at least 20 minutes of outright auditory and visual assault from the previews that happen. They weren’t like little nice trailers you know, where they have the coke come by and the popcorn come by and the jujube’s come by. These were like every movie that they were pitching will be out in the summer of 2003. Coming soon to blow up your world and every one was like hugely dramatic. I mean there were explosions, they were blowing galaxies up and they pulled out weapons of destruction that, well they are dreams, and people had claws come out of their fingers and, I don’t know, their faces changed shapes and it was just unbelievable and the whole time the auditorium would shake underneath. I turned to Rinda my wife and I said, “You know, this isn’t like Bambi or something, where the big thing was the fire.” Well never mind. There was this thing called Bambi once and it was a cartoon, which is a drawing, and the little deer and the fire and all of that, you know. So we are under this assault before we get to the calm Lord of the Rings, you know, where all you have is Gandalf and the sword and this huge wizard with this great beard and the monster of fire and how he is stabbing it and killing it and all that sort of thing like that. It was really nice. It was a wonderful film.

Anyway, I am sitting there and I am thinking I am looking at all this huge thing up there on this screen, seeing how awesome and dramatic and powerful and big it was and it occurred to me that almost everything that I saw was computer generated. Right? Graphics. And I thought back to the dark ages of the late 60’s when I took a programming course in college and we had this thing called Fortran. Cobol. Okay. The geezer’s are all trying to make their heads go like this because they remember that. And we were trying to write programs and the basis of all computer programming was that what came out was simply a series of ones and zeros put together. Or, if you will, yes/no, yes/no, yes/no, yes/no, yes/no, yes/no, yes/no. And so whatever you see spewing out on a computer screen is actually a huge collection of a bunch of little tiny yes’s and no’s. In other words, turn the color on or turn the color off. Put the pixel here, put the pixel there. Yes/no, yes/no, yes/no. And what I was seeing in the big screen and was actually physically moving my derriere in the seat, was nothing more than a whole bunch of little yes/no, yes/no, yes/no, yes/no and I am blown away by this thing, okay. And of course The Lord of the Rings came on and it was great and I just forgot all that theoretical technical junk and put it behind me and I just grooved on the show. I can’t wait now for next Christmas when the third installment comes out. Ok.

So what’s that all have to do with God and all this sort of thing. Well you know, I was thinking about the creation narrative and how there was actually, can’t conceive of this, there was actually a whole lot of stuff, matter, the stuff that makes up matter. Chaos. The Bible in the New International calls it “without form and void,” but it is just like this whatever God used to pull it all together, was kind of sitting there and we have no idea how long it was sitting there, because as soon as we try to apply chronological time to something like that, it ceases to be a big God thing. But it’s not just stuff, it’s not just chaos, as another translation calls it that’s there, but we see in the Bible that there is also something else that is present. What’s present? The Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is present. So you’ve got this huge conglomeration of stuff and you’ve got the Holy Spirit that is hovering over it all and the way the Bible translates out of the Hebrew, it’s like a giant bird with the wings just sort of hovering over the chaos, like the Black Riders. Okay. You with me? And it’s just this little hovering of this huge thing; this spirit and we don’t know how long the spirit was there. We just can’t put a time on it. But do you realize that nothing happened in creation. There were no special effects. There was no dramatic thing that happened on the huge screen of the galaxy in the universe and beyond that until a word was spoken. And the word that God spoke into that chaos, where the spirit was hovering, I would offer was probably the word, “Yes.” “Yes”. I used to think that God must had to really have a honking big set of lungs to be able to yell so loudly that his voice would go to the farthest outreaches of the universe in order to be heard, to make something like that work. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if it wasn’t just a whisper breath that God spoke, because the word of God only takes a whisper to get through. And the things that are most important in my life and perhaps in yours are the things that, when you cut it all away, are the things that are most intimate, the things that are kind of whispered that get down in there. And so when I met my wife, who incidentally is the most beautiful woman in the whole world, and I met her and everything changed and the colors came on you know and like Pleasantville, you know. I am kind of into movies. I have got a 14 and 19 year old who live by quotes from films back and forth and it’s exciting. It’s exciting. Which one was that dad? Wait a minute, I can’t remember that one. We have quizzes all the time. But everything came on when I saw Rinda and I was in church too, so if you are looking for a spouse, God has one here. And I really tried to impress her. But what really counted was when I was able to get close enough to whisper in her ear; “I love you”. She whispered back in my ear, man, shucks it was great, but vavoom it went down and it connected with the chaos in my life. And the Spirit of God must have been hovering at that point, because she spoke a word into the raw material of blob Bill with the presence of God sort of around somewhere, although I couldn’t have told you that and she spoke and she said, “I love you” and reality was shaped and creation happened and I are married. Yeah, it’s a good thing. You know. And it happened at least three other times, okay, with daughters, never mind. And so the things that are most important are the things where you have to get close enough to a person to be able to speak quietly, but that’s the powerful word that happens.

Fast forward with me to this time in John, where it’s after the crucifixion and the resurrection has taken place, but where are the courageous Christian disciples? They are in hiding. They are not only in hiding, the doors are locked because they are in fear of the Jews and that is not a slam against Jews, but rather it’s simply the reality of the ones who are most against them were the Jewish people, so whatever your world might be that you are in fear of, put that in its place. They were behind locked doors for fear that the boogie people would come and get them. Monsters Incorporated would come out and get them. And so they were there in this locked-down place and they weren’t out evangelizing and winning the world for Jesus like we’re all told to do over and over and over again. You know, just be like the disciples. Yeah, right. Okay. So Jesus shows up in the middle of that. Now that is pretty dramatic itself because the doors were locked, but he gets there and when Jesus shows up, he walks into a situation where for these people, their world had crumbled. Plans had not unfolded the way they thought. They had been with Jesus, they had seen and participated in miracles, they had heard the teachings, they knew the drill, they could say it too, they had gone out, seen incredible things happen and suddenly here they were in a position where their leader was taken out and they were on their own and they reverted as we often do, when security is pulled away from us, to our type. They are a bunch of terrified people just like us. But Jesus showed up. Not when they were out triumphantly proclaiming, although he does that too, but the first place he shows up is when they are in their scared place, in the fearful place, when the chaos is reigning and that is all they can see. It wasn’t exactly what you … wouldn’t have called them as your first band of elders you know for your forming Presbyterian Church, because they were acting like a bunch of cowards who didn’t know anything from anything. They were acting like we do most of the time. And yet friends, that’s where Jesus tends to show up. Is in the chaos, in the raw material of what he wants to pull together when his word is spoken and the power of the spirit to shape reality. And he speaks into their hearts, “Peace be with you.” A quiet word calms them down, gets their attention and is exactly what they need to hear. They don’t need to hear a huge explosive, dramatic, unbelievably complex pana-vision screen presentation at that point, telling them to just “get out there and keep it going baby” and “you can do it.” What they needed to do, is like I would like to have prayer before we quit, what they needed was in their fearful place they needed to hear God speak to their hearts. And he spoke in a very quiet way. He said, “Peace be with you.” Okay, it was a whisper breath. That’s what it was. It was a whisper breath.

And not only that, but he got close enough to them that the Bible says he did what to them? He breathed on them. Have you ever been close enough to a person to tell whether they have had breath mints or not? That is an intimate sort of a thing. And sometimes if you are in the subway jammed in there, there is not much you can do about it, you can tell if you have a garlic officianoto standing next to you and it is a little difficult, but here’s Jesus close enough to them that not only does he speak a quiet word, but he whispers and his breath goes to them and has the effect if you will, of replacing their breath. And so you could say that he took their breath away at that point. Just like when I first saw Rinda, she took my breath away. And she said, “I love you” and the breath came right back in and it was the right kind of breath this time because something changed in my life and something shifted in hers as well. See Jesus wants to take our breath away. And he wants to breath into us his Holy Spirit and he wants to speak his word into the chaos of our lives. Follow me? Does that sound like ok? Good theology so far? Okay, great. Let’s take it outside. Let’s go outside for a minute. So what does that mean?

I would bet that when you go to school there are people in your school that are struggling with one issue or another. Maybe? Yes. Rough family life. Things aren’t going too well. Not enough money? Dad won’t let you get your hair cut? Okay. All those sorts of things. You go to work and the person next to you is putting on the brave face, but really wants to tell you that the marriage is on the rocks. You go home to your neighborhood and three houses down is the family where they got the pink slip about eight months ago and the severance is run down and they want to keep up everything the way they should have, but the money is not coming in and there are really no prospects for the future. Can you put your own scenario in there? You probably know somebody, somewhere where there is a little chaos going on in their lives. I want to offer to you this morning a thought for the New Year. Maybe, just maybe, maybe, just maybe, God has put you in their lives and in that situation because he wants you to be the one to speak the word into the situation where the chaos is, where the Spirit is hovering. That’s how he created the universe. That’s how he allowed for the new church to form when he breathed into the disciples, it was the beginning of something that keeps on expanding out. I’ll bet he wants to keep that kind of dynamic going and I will also bet that he has called you into this congregation, that he has given you the entrusted word of God, He has touched your hearts with who Jesus Christ is and therefore you and I have some authority to be able to speak God’s word into a situation. So you say, “great. Well I am not real good a scripture memory verses.” I am not either. I had a seminary professor, my Old Testament professor, well I like to work on cars and I like to ride motorcycles, and I like engines and things like that and I can remember license plates. Boy there’s a future in that, isn’t there? I remember him saying to me once, He said “if you could memorize scripture the way you can memorize license plates, maybe you’d get somewhere as a minister.” Anyway, maybe just maybe, God has put you in a situation where he wants you to be the one to speak. And maybe, he wants to give you what you need to be able to do that.

I want to tell you a story. I’ll tell you two stories. A couple of years ago my middle unmarried daughter who is now at YWAM announced that she was ready to buy a car. And so I, being a car guy, I know all about cars, it was a teaching moment and the first thing you do is collect information, right? You want to find out what are you interested in? And all that. And she said, “Blue. I want a blue car.” You know, that was it. I said, “What else?” “I don’t know. It’s got to have a great sound system” and I said, “Okay, okay.” I am thinking engines and tires and all that kind of stuff. And the second question was, “How much do you want to spend for your car?” Well after the budget was drawn up, let it be known that we didn’t go to the Acura dealer, okay. We just weren’t at that level. So I said, “Cath, let’s pray about what kind of car you get.” I said, “God’s interested in you. He is concerned about that.” And so we said, “Lord, please lead us to the car that you want for Catherine” and da, da, da, and Amen. We are good Presbyterians, we said “Amen” and then one evening I was driving home from the office and I was on Route 70, which is kind of like your Route 40, you know your old main drag and went by a former gas station on the corner, which is now Murray’s Car Lot. I grew up on the main line. We didn’t go to Murray’s Car Lot to buy cars, but it’s a different economic climate these days friends. So we drive by and I see a red Honda on the lot and some little nudge said, “Let’s go look at this one.” It’s got a sunroof, that’s cool. Looks like the tires can hold air, that sort of thing. So we went in and I looked it over and I came back and said, “Cath, let’s go check this car out.” “It’s not blue.” Anyway we went and we worked through that dilemma and to make a long story short, we got to talk to the boss man. We got to talk to none other than, Murray. I mean we weren’t talking to some underling there, we had the chief cook and bottle washer there and Mrs. Murray did the title work. I mean here was the whole corporate structure right here. We got right to the top. We were talking to the Michael Dell of Murray’s Car Lot. So we made the deal and all was great and wonderful and we drove off in the car and a couple of days later I had occasion to be back at the car lot because I think something fell off of the car and I wanted to have a chat with Murray about that and when I went in, all I was thinking about was this particular automobile transaction. Instead, no Murray. Oops, no Mrs. Murray. Instead I am met by this guy who’s probably about 25 or 26 years old who spends about 700 hours a day at the gym and he looks what I think I look like, okay. You know when you look in the mirror dimly; well baby I like that. I like that a lot. So I am looking at this guy who’s got muscles out to here and he’s got a full head of hair. Every time a Robert Redford movie comes on I say to my kids, “I look like him, don’t I?” He’s getting older too. So anyway, I am faced with Joe who is Murray Junior. It’s the son. And he is strong and everything is ahead of him. All systems go. And we finished our little car transaction and as I was about to turn to leave I thought well why don’t I just ask about Murray. I am a relational kind of guy, you know. And so I said, “Where’s your Dad or how is your Dad” or something like that and he thought for a minute and he said, “Oh, my Dad’s at the hospital.” And I said, “Oh” and the wheels started to turn inside. I said, “What’s up? Is he okay?” “Yeah, well it’s my granddad. It’s my grandpop.” “My grandpop is in the hospital and his lungs are starting to fill up with some fluid and they are calling it something like heart failure” I said, “Congestive heart failure?” He said “Yeah. They’ve told the whole family to gather. So my Mom is over there too and I am kind of here, but when I close today I will be going over to the hospital.” And what you usually say in a situation like that is something like, “Well, sorry to hear that, goodbye.” Right, because you kind of don’t know what to say. And I mean I am a minister, I’ve got an ordained card in my pocket and everything like that and it was one of those moments where my little computer program was trying to decide if it goes yes or no. This is a yes/no minute. And by God’s grace, I had this little nudge and I decided to say, “Yes” and so the drama that started to play out on the big screen is I said something very spiritual like, “I am sorry to hear about your grandpop. Can I pray for you a minute?” I am a minister you know. I know about these things. I went to seminary. But I want to offer to you that I was terrified. Why? Because, see I was out of my environment. I wasn’t in the sanctuary. I was in an old ESSO station or Exxon station or whatever it turned into and it was kind of cruddy and there was grease on the floor and the naugahyde sofa was fresh out of the 1960’s from the rescue mission and here we all were. And so I said to Joe, “Can I pray for you a minute?” And if you are looking to pray for somebody, let me offer you a manipulative technique. What you do is you say, “Can I pray for you” and before they have a chance to answer you, you close your eyes and put your head down and start in. Actually in 25 years of ministry, I probably have on one hand the number of people that when I said, “Can I pray for you,” even if they didn’t know that I was a minister have said, “No” because see everybody wants to hear something that matters. Underneath all the stuff, everybody wants to hear something that matters. And so I didn’t have my prayer book with me, I said something like, “Dear God, here’s Joe and his grandpop is in the hospital” like God doesn’t know, “His grandpop’s in the hospital and his family is around” and I prayed something like, “Would you put your breath in his lungs and let Joe’s grandpop know that you love him.” And then I said the Presbyterian close, I said “Amen.” No big deal, right. I do it all the time. But I picked my head up and here is Joe with tears running down his eyes and all of the sudden, all the hours in the gym, all the ripped muscles, all the buff you know stuff is just wiped out and I got this kid crying in front of me and he says something like, “Thank you.” I am thinking, oh gosh, now what do I do? And he looked at me, you know and he said, “It really took a lot of strength for you to do that” and here I am coveting his physique, in a healthy way, okay. Just kind of want to look good, you know. I had my 53rd birthday while I was in Hawaii too. I was going to spike my hair, but see what happened, it all fell out. And I was really humbled at that point. I didn’t know quite what to say. And I said, “Thank you.” Long story short, I went back a couple days later, I had another occasion to go in, you know, something else fell off the car, this time I am back to Murray and he greets me and says, “Oh you’re the guy that prayed with my son. I want to tell you how much that meant to my family.” And then he slipped into his awe shucks things, you know, “Awe shucks reverend, I am not a very religious man.” And this is how you can tell if they do not know the Lord, they say, “But the big man up there on the throne was sure looking out for our family.” You know, something like that and I knew that I wasn’t supposed to like close the deal with the four spiritual laws and all that kind of stuff because we lived a mile from Dr. Billy Graham and I figured that maybe Dr. Graham is going to buy a car after me. He probably wouldn’t be at Murray’s Car lot, but anyway. So I said, “Thank you.” What happened in that whole transaction? What happened, you see, was that there was chaos and the Spirit of God was hovering and I was privileged in a moment to speak a little word into that and reality was shaped for this kid, who then went back and said something to his family and reality was shaped for them and they may not be in the choir at Central Presbyterian Church, but they’re probably going to be a long time before they forget the guy that didn’t just blow them off. I want to encourage you, I am really speaking to myself because I am basically a coward and a raging introvert and I will pull up in to ball after I walk out of here today, you know, get back it in, get it back in, no more people. I have daughters who are not happy unless they are with 400 of their closest friends at all times. But it was one of those times where I just stepped in and God blessed that time. And I will bet you that those things are happening around you all the time. All the time. That when somebody starts moaning about their parents, maybe it’s an opportunity to say, “oh yeah” or instead of saying “yeah they’re such jerks” say “can we pray about that?” Or somebody in the cubicle next to you starts to unload about their rotten marriage and instead of saying, “Yeah marriage is for the birds” could you say, “gee, you know, Sue and I struggled a little bit too and here is what we found. We found that God’s love and care in our lives has really helped us a lot. Do you mind if we pray for you for just a minute?” You know folks you don’t need a seminary degree to do this kind of stuff. It’s like not even evangelism from the program. All it is, is listening. All it is, is being quiet enough to hear the little whisper word. When you say “God, breath on me and use me and fill me and let me be useful out there” and so you just start to look for these chaos moments, where the Spirit of God is hovering over messes and you might be the one who gets to speak the word in to that situation.

I will close with this story. This is a lot harder. It’s a little bit more close to home. They told me there is no ending time on this service, but I don’t believe them at all. Okay. The effectiveness of your speaking is measured directly by the soreness in a certain part of the congregation.

I grew up in a family. Nothing odd about that. There were four of us kids. This was in the era when you had a thing called a Station Wagon. There were four of us and we lived in the suburbs. We had a house. We had a dog. We did not have a cat. That didn’t happen. My dad was an engineer and he worked for Dupont. He got up early in the morning, he got in the car, he kissed mom goodbye, he went to work, he came back late a night, we sat down and had dinner, sometimes it was great and sometimes it wasn’t so great. I am not speaking of Mom’s cooking, I am speaking of the relational dynamics that were going on in our family there. Mom, no she was not June Cleaver, she did not have high heels and pearls. She was just Mom. There were four of us kids and I happened to be staying at my older sister’s house in Ellicott City this weekend, we are here to visit them, and she has become a much nicer person as I have grown older. But we had a brother who is a little bit younger than me and Ken was always over here someplace a little bit. We were doing everything we were supposed to. We went to church. We had the second pew in the balcony underneath the light, kind of right up there. That’s where nobody else sat but the Dean family.

Well long about the time that I had a huge crisis in my life and came to faith in Jesus Christ and everything changed for me, my brother announces that he’s gay. And we didn’t do that in our family. I don’t know about yours. But that wasn’t part of the script, okay. And frankly, we handled it horribly. Myself as the chief horriblest person among us. And here I am now born again. I got Jesus. I got the power of the Holy Spirit and I got the word. So we were brothers and brothers usually battle each other all the time, so we went after each other. Let me tell you, we went after each other. Like, I am giving him all sorts of books about how to change. And he is giving me all kind of books about how he doesn’t have to change. And we just went at it. It is sort of like we just beat each other to a bloody pulp, so that we were both standing there weaving like this and nobody is going to give an inch. And so finally he got a job with a large clothing manufacturer and they asked him to go to San Francisco, perfect and work in corporate headquarters. And I went off being an evangelical pastor who stood in the pulpit who said “Jesus is the only way. He can touch you. He can heal you,” which I do believe. But what happened dynamically in our family was that we got down to sending Christmas cards and telephone calls. My brother and I back and forth. We sort of called a truce. Because we were so intent on going head on with each other.

And actually it was this weekend about five years ago, I was at my sisters again that we found Ken again, because that previous summer he had dropped out of the picture. We didn’t know where he was. And his phone had been disconnected and all that. We were concerned for him, but we didn’t want to mess with his life and all that kind of nonsense. Well what happened was that he become addicted, he had become a meth addict and I am not proud of the fact that when I was in college, I introduced him, I gave him his first joint back there, so I had to do a little forgiveness work and Ken took that and he ran with that. And so here he is in San Francisco, he had gotten fired from his job, he’s out on the street, he is selling the furniture and all that kind of stuff. He is a meth addict and the kid’s a mess. And finally, he phones.

And I thought it was so ironic that he could have picked anybody in the family to call and who does he end up calling? Mr. wear-the-neck-tie, conservative, biblical, Presbyterian minister who couldn’t be further from him theologically or emotionally, and he calls me. I guess because I was the only guy left in the family. My Dad had passed away by this time. Well we started a conversation by telephone. We lived in Pennsylvania at the time. Pennsylvania to California and back and forth and I could tell that this guy was struggling. He is in a hospital, he had gone through two rehab programs and he was straight. He had stayed off of drugs. He was clean. He had his 30 day and his 60 day and his 90 day and everything like that. But about this weekend in 1996, I was at Cathy’s and we called back and forth and he’s been moved from not only the hospital to a hospice program and I am thinking that something ain’t real good here. But I asked Ken how he was doing. “I’m great. I’m fine. Everything is super.” I thought, oh monkey breath, you know. Well I get home and to make a long story short, a couple days later he calls one night and I am on the phone with him and all I want is for the guy to come and know the Lord. And I am praying for some real spiritual opening and Ken slips out in the midst of this conversation, we are chatting back and forth about all kinds of stuff, how is your Christmas, da, da, da. Yeah, I got a motorcycle. Yeah, I got one too. And he says something like, “I don’t know where I am going to go home.” And Mr. traveling-around-teaching-evangelism-and-listening-to-God, I said, “Oh, what about your apartment. You will be able to go back there.” And he says, “Oh yeah well, I got my apartment.” And some little light went on inside of me and it was like “ask that question again.” And I said something really spiritual. You ready for this? Like, “Do you mean like home, home?” That is all I could think of to say. All my seminary training went outside the door somewhere. And he said, “Yeah, I don’t know where I am going to go home, home.” And my knees are shaking at this point because I don’t want to interfere in his life. Duh. And I said after taking a deep breath something like, “Ken, do you know Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?” And he said, “No, what do I have to do?” Like it was the first time that he had heard this you know. Like the heavens opened and the light came down and the angels are singing and here is Dr. Graham coming in. And I was like “oh wow” and I almost choked right then too. I wanted to say, “Well call the chaplain.” But here I am, hey. Here I am here on the phone, here’s the chaos, here’s the Spirit hovering and old reluctant Bill is on the edge, talk about Gandalf hanging on the edge and I said, “Well look, would you like to pray?” “Yeah, what do we do?” Well, why don’t you pray after me like this and it was this down and dirty, “confess my sins, please ask Jesus into my heart, you know, Lord I am sorry, please come in and live in my life, da, da, da in Jesus name. Amen. Jesus name, amen.” And there we were, it was like ahhh and he goes, “Is that all?” I said, “Well in a manner of speaking that’s all.” But I said, “Ken you just asked Christ to live in your heart and now you know where you are going to go home.” And the cool thing is I will see you there and we can fight in heaven, you know. It will be great. “Aw, that’s great. Yeah I feel really good. This is super.” And we finished up the phone call; he hung up the phone. I burst into tears and Rinda walks in the room and says, “What’s the matter.” And I said, “Ken just came to Christ. I just led him to Christ. What do I do now?” And she said, “Well why don’t you thank God.” So we prayed and I started to call some friends up to tell them what was going on. They had been praying for Ken for a bazillion years.

Well, I call a couple of days later and the nurse answers the phone. “Hi, this is Bill Dean. I would like to talk to my brother Ken.” And she says, “Well he can’t talk now.” And I said, “Well listen, when he gets back tell him that I called and have him give me a call.” “No, he can’t talk now. I’ll put the phone next to his ear.” Okay. The old spot on the back, the old metastasizing cancer, the old HIV, the old years of beating his body up, everything had caught up and she puts the phone down next to his ear on the pillow and I hear this breathing noise. I don’t know if you have ever been in an intensive care unit, but it’s horrible. Anybody who says death is beautiful is crazy. Okay, its ugly, it’s mean and its nasty. And until the funeral director gets a hold of you, it’s awful, okay? And that’s what I heard. I am crying on the telephone and I am telling him that I love him and you know because I figure he has gotta be hearing what I’m saying and I was trying to whisper down in to his spirit something that mattered. And I was sorry for being a jerk all those years, but I was really glad that he knew Christ and da, da, da, da. And finally one of his buddies picked up the phone and said, “He can’t hear you anymore” or something like that and that was the end of it. I put the phone down, called the airlines, got the tickets for a couple days later and got out there the day after he died. Now that is sad on the one hand, but you know on the other hand I got there, I was so peaceful about this thing. We had a memorial service with about 30 of his friends and I have never seen metal in people’s bodies like I saw at that gathering. I mean this was my first intro. I think it is really kind of cool. I was thinking actually of a huge tattoo on my shoulder, but never mind. Maybe my lip! But here I was and I knew that Ken was okay and it was one of those creation moments. It was one of those behind-the-doors-for-fear-of-the-Jews, when I was privileged to get him to speak a little word in to chaos and the Spirit of God, it wasn’t me, it was the word that went in and the word and the spirit came together around the chaos and reality was shaped. So what do you say about Ken? Well Ken didn’t have a chance to join the choir and teach a Sunday School class and lead the youth group and get his life all polished up and put back together, but I know where he is. And I will bet you dollars to donuts there are people all over the place out there who are dying to have you whisper something into their life. And you are not intruding, because they are sick and tired of hearing crap from people. They want to hear something that matters. And they want to hear the fact that they are loved and they are appreciated and God cares for them no matter where they are and that you and I have got to stop pussyfooting around and doing our “I am just a lowly Christian and I don’t know what to say and I don’t have any authority and that’s why we pay the minister” stuff, but it’s you and me folks. It’s you and me out there wherever we are.

So what’s the message for this morning? The message is that God is trying to whisper into your ear and he is trying to whisper down to your heart. He is trying to whisper in middle school, he is trying to whisper into elementary school, senior high school, college, work, old age home or wherever you might be, in your neighborhood. He is whispering all the time to you and to me. It’s because he wants to have you whisper into somebody else’s ear. So please, acknowledge your weakness. Admit that you are terrified. So what. What’s the big deal? So we are all scared. But God is bigger than our fear and I believe just like he has put this church right here with a particular call upon you to speak into that university, that he is doing the same for you individually as well as corporately. And that’s what God has up his ever-loving sleeve for you in 2003. Hopefully he will call a pastor sometime in the next 25 years and get on with things. But you know, its like walking into what he has already created for you. It’s all out there. And all we have to do is when the time comes is say “yes/no. yes/no.” All we have to do is say “yes.” And then he takes care of it all. Isn’t that great? That’s what I want to say to you. Okay. It’s God whispering his breath into the situation and you and I are privileged to participate in that. Folks, he wants to use you to shape reality. He wants to use you to create the Kingdom of God. He wants to use you and me to be a part of the advancement of all that he has, so to the end of every name will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Let’s pray.

Lord, thank you. I appreciate being able to ramble. I pray that what’s of you will stick, what’s not of you will be forgotten instantly. I pray this morning that as we finish up our worship that you would just give us grace, especially as we look at the people in the pew next to us or as we go home and gather for dinner or go to the mall or whatever we are going to do or that minor league football team, never mind I’m sorry. I pray that the Ravens will beat the Steelers too. But I pray that whatever we do this afternoon Lord, it will be to your glory and in the days ahead you will allow us to take that little step into saying “yes” and to speak your word of grace into a person’s life.