Saturday, 27 February 2016
I have a couple of stories to tell this morning—one from the world of the Bible, which you already know well, so I won’t spend much time on it—and one from our own world, which you’ve probably never heard. Then I’ll tie them together with the song we just sang, and leave you with something you can take home with you.
In 1981 a baby girl was born to the Moceanu family. This couple had been gymnasts in Romania, a country famous in the 1970’s for its world-class female gymnasts. But the oppressive Communist government in Romania made the whole country like one big prison, and they wanted to make a life for themselves elsewhere. So they had left Romania and moved to America. Life was looking good for them when their first child turned out to be a daughter. They named her Dominique, and decided to give her every opportunity to excel as a gymnast.
As soon as Dominique was able to stand up, they started her training, putting her little hands around a clothesline to see how long she could hang from it. By the time she was four years old, she was already competing, and by the time she was six, she was winning gymnastic contests around the country. They knew she was great.
Then something terrible happened—at least they thought it was terrible. Mrs. Moceanu gave birth to a second child—another daughter—but something had gone wrong, and she was born with no legs. This child, surely, had no hope of following in her parents’ footsteps. This child had no place in a family of world-class gymnasts. Mr. Moceanu’s decision was firm, and it was irrevocable: without ever giving his wife a chance to hold her baby in her arms, he insisted on putting her up for adoption. They would try again, and sure enough, two years later they had another daughter. Little Dominique never realized that she had two sisters—the little cripple was never spoken of again.
Without the distraction of a disabled daughter, the Moceanus poured themselves into Dominique. She got the best gymnastic schools, the best coaches. They even moved to a different state to put her under the tutelage of a pair of Romanian coaches who took only the best as their pupils. Dominique won again and again, until at the age of 14 she reached the pinnacle of success as a gymnast—an Olympic medal. She was still young enough, there was no reason why she shouldn’t be able to continue completing all the way to the next Olympics, four years later, and maybe beyond, if her body held out that long.
But what about her disabled sister—the one she didn’t even know she had? Well, in fact, she didn’t have a disabled sister. The little girl with no legs had been adopted by the Brickers, a couple who already had three sons, and decided to give her a chance to be part of a normal family. They named her Jennifer, and determined to never tell her that she was disabled. They never allowed her to say “I can’t.” She learned to crawl at the normal age, and by the time others were toddling around on their legs, she was crawling circles around them using just her arms and hands. The Brickers got her a bicycle that she could pedal with her hands, and taught her that anything others did with their feet, she would just do with her hands. But what did she want to do, more than anything else? She wanted to be a gymnast, just like her hero, the famous medal-winning Dominque Moceanu.
Dominique, meanwhile, ran into some trouble. The intense schedule of training and competing had stressed her young body to the point of almost crippling her. Again and again she fell down during her performances, and the chance of winning another Olympic medal seemed more and more elusive. Still, she kept on, refusing to give up. But one thing she could not endure was the pressure from her father, who constantly demanded that she be perfect. Her best was never good enough for him, and finally, at the age of seventeen, she gave up trying. She sued for emancipation, testifying in court what a horrible man her father was. The court granted her independence, and Mr. Moceanu, the man who rejected a disabled daughter in secret, found himself publicly rejected by a daughter he had driven to the point of disability.
But his other daughter wasn’t crippled. Her loving parents never let her think of herself as disabled. Once she made the decision to become a gymnast, they supported her all the way. And, incredibly, she started to succeed—winning contests against other gymnasts who did have legs. She specialized in tumbling, and without any legs to get in her way, she was able to leap somersaults around the other gymnasts. One day, when she was the age at which her sister Dominique had rejected their parents, she decided she wanted to find out more about them. What sort of family had she come from, she wondered. So she decided to ask her mother.
I can tell you, Mrs. Bricker responded, but you’d better sit down first. “Mom, I’m always sitting down. You sit down.” So she sat down and gently told her adopted daughter, Your parents were the Moceanus. Dominique is your biological sister.” As the truth began to sink in that Dominique, her hero, was her sister, she realized that her parents must have rejected her because they thought she would never be able to be a gymnast like her sister. Then the irony hit her—Dominique, at the tender age of twenty-three, was already in decline as a professional gymnast. Repeated injuries to her legs had caused her to miss the previous Olympics—in fact, because of her the Olympic committee had decided not to allow any more gymnasts to compete at such a young age. The Moceanus had rejected the daughter who didn’t have any legs to get injured—didn’t have any legs to get in her way to success as a professional gymnast—and along the way had lost their golden girl, the one who showed so much promise—but rejected them. The daughter they didn’t want was happy, confident, and successful—while the daughter they wanted now didn’t want them.
Now, this is all about faith. The Book of Hebrews says that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. We just sang about faith being there in the place of the evidence—it’s even better than that. Faith IS the evidence. When little Jennifer was born, there was no evidence that she would become a professional gymnast. But faith could have seen that it didn’t matter. Faith could have seen that Jennifer could do anything she set her heart on—even if that was becoming the only professional gymnast in the world with no legs. The Moceanus didn’t have that faith—but the Brickers did.
Now, I’m ready to tie this in with a story we’re all familiar with: Joseph. Joseph had dreams that his brothers would all bow down to him, and when he told his brothers about it, they didn’t like it. Now, faith would have seen this as a sign from God—a sign that Joseph had been chosen for something very special. But his brothers didn’t have that faith. His father didn’t even have that faith. The Mideanites, who purchased him for a paltry twenty pieces of silver, didn’t have that faith. Potifar, who threw him in prison on false charges, didn’t have that faith. But Joseph did. All through those years of struggle and setback, he never gave up his faith. If God had said he was going to be raised to such prominence that even his older brothers would bow down before him, then it was going to happen. He didn’t see any evidence that it was going to happen, but he didn’t need evidence. Faith was there in the place of evidence. His faith was his evidence.
Who else had faith in Joseph? Well, Pharaoh did. With Joseph just one good shower and a haircut away from a filthy prison cell, Pharaoh looked at him with eyes of faith and said, Here, Joseph, take my ring. Go to my closet and pick out the best clothes. Take my extra chariot and go do the job that only you can do—don’t let anyone in the kingdom stop you. When Joseph’s own father didn’t think he was fit to rule a country, Pharaoh, who had just met him ten minutes earlier, did. Joseph’s brothers, who scoffed at his dreams, fell down at his feet and gave him the honor God had told him, all those years earlier, that he would receive from them. And God did use him to do great things, just as He had promised when no one else but Joseph had the faith to believe it.
I think we all need to be reminded from time to time how important faith is. I know I need to—this sermon was for me. And the writer of Hebrews must have thought so to--he devoted an entire chapter to the subject. You see, we live in a sight-centered world- a world based on evidence. A world that looks at a baby girl with no legs and comes to the logical conclusion that there’s no future for her as a gymnast. A world that can’t see the promises of God, and in its blindness, not only doesn’t gain the blessings that await them through faith, but loses out on what God has already given it. Joseph lived in such a world, but he didn’t have his eyes on what was around him—his focus was on what awaited him.
Now, none of us know what is ahead of us in this life. We may experience success, we may have failure—there will be some of both in everything we do. But our number one goal is find out what God’s promise is for us, and to achieve it—never saying ‘I can’t.’ The whole eleventh chapter of Hebrews is devoted to one example after another of people who didn’t have evidence of God’s promise, but did have faith. And yet listen to this: These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
These all DIED IN FAITH! The ultimate promise of God for each one of them was eternal life, and even with all the setbacks they faced in life, they never lost hope of that promise. They knew that even if they lost their homes, their liberties, even their lives—they would never lose God’s promise of eternal life. Their faith WAS the evidence of what was to come.
Many people in this world won’t believe in what they can’t see—and scoff at those who do. They don’t have faith in the promises of God—or in the judgments of God. And there’s a perfect example in the Bible of what happens to someone who doesn’t believe in the judgments of God’
1Ki 2:36-46 And the king sent and called for Shimei, and said unto him, Build thee an house in Jerusalem, and dwell there, and go not forth thence any whither. For it shall be, that on the day thou goest out, and passest over the brook Kidron, thou shalt know for certain that thou shalt surely die: thy blood shall be upon thine own head. And Shimei said unto the king, The saying is good: as my lord the king hath said, so will thy servant do. And Shimei dwelt in Jerusalem many days. And it came to pass at the end of three years, that two of the servants of Shimei ran away unto Achish son of Maachah king of Gath. And they told Shimei, saying, Behold, thy servants be in Gath. And Shimei arose, and saddled his ass, and went to Gath to Achish to seek his servants: and Shimei went, and brought his servants from Gath. And it was told Solomon that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath, and was come again. And the king sent and called for Shimei, and said unto him, Did I not make thee to swear by the LORD, and protested unto thee, saying, Know for a certain, on the day thou goest out, and walkest abroad any whither, that thou shalt surely die? and thou saidst unto me, The word that I have heard is good. Why then hast thou not kept the oath of the LORD, and the commandment that I have charged thee with? The king said moreover to Shimei, Thou knowest all the wickedness which thine heart is privy to, that thou didst to David my father: therefore the LORD shall return thy wickedness upon thine own head; And king Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD for ever. So the king commanded Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; which went out, and fell upon him, that he died. And the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.
Turning to the New Testament, we see another case of a man unwilling to really believe the truth about the certainty of punishment. It's in the parable of the talents:
Mat 25:24 And the one who received the one talent also coming up, he said, Lord, I knew you, that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter;
Mat 25:25 and being afraid, going away, I hid your talent in the earth. Behold, you have yours.
Mat 25:26 And answering, his lord said to him, Evil and slothful slave! You knew that I reap where I did not sow, and I gather where I did not scatter.
Mat 25:27 Then you ought to have put my silver to the bankers, and coming I would have received my own with interest.
Mat 25:28 Therefore, take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.
You see my friends, it's vitally important that we have faith in God's promises, whether they be for good, or for evil. And God has promised judgment to those who follow a false prophet—or a false prophetess. So be on the alert for such, and steel yourself against falling for their wiles. Don't stick around to argue with them—flee for your lives! John the Apostle is said to have fled naked from a public bath when he saw there one whom he regarded as an enemy of God—lest he be so near as to fall under the punishment which as sure to fall.