Shon’s sermon was about the call of Abram. He focused on the barrenness of Sarai and explained how devastating it was in that culture and time to be barren. That was a society all about building a heritage through their descendants. That’s one reason Abram was so thrilled that God promised him many descendants; that was one of the greatest blessings imaginable in that society.
Shon pointed out that barrenness remains a problem today. There’s more than one kind of barrenness, Shon said, but he focused on the same kind of barrenness suffered by Sarai — the inability to have children.
To make the point, Shon asked a couple from our church to speak briefly on what it was like to have spent over a decade trying to have children — and failing, with six miscarriages and countless prayers, doctor visits, pills, and shots — and no children. The pain was evident in their faces and voices. The husband, Ken, spoke of how hard it was knowing that he’d never have get to be an elder, or play catch with his own son or daughter, or get to baptize his own children.
You see, going back at least 20 years, we’ve encouraged dads to baptize their own children. I baptized all four of mine. That was many years ago, and for me, that was an even bigger thrill than holding my sons when they were first born. Getting to baptize your own children is just inexpressibly joyous. I’m getting chills as I type remembering those baptisms.
It was a great sermon. Shon concluded by saying that he couldn’t honestly promise that God would cure anyone’s barrenness. Sometimes God does, but not always. But everyone — no matter how tragic their circumstances — could be of service to someone else. We can all be needed. We can all have an impact. We can all serve a higher purpose than our own wants and needs.
Shon delivered the invitation, and two young boys came forward to be baptized.
Unknown to Ken, one of his friends, Johnny, the father of three boys, had made his own plans for Sunday unaware of Ken’s presentation. Johnny’s two oldest sons had been talking to their parents about being baptized this Sunday. Ken didn’t know that Johnny’s oldest two would be baptized Sunday.
On Saturday, Johnny typed up a letter asking Ken to handle the honors — to baptize his two sons for him. But Johnny had had difficulty tracking Ken down due to the holiday weekend. He finally found him during the service, just before the sermon — and handed him the letter.
And so after Johnny’s two oldest boys came forward, Ken went back to the changing area with his friend and two sons. No one knew what was going on until Ken stepped into the baptistry with the oldest of the boys. The congregation gasped at Johnny’s generosity and thoughtfulness, to let Ken handle the baptisms. But they didn’t know until Ken spoke that Johnny had made this decision without knowing that Ken would be speaking to the church about the burden of barrenness.
I was overwhelmed. You see, I figure I’m a pretty generous guy. Well, I thought I was. But I can’t imagine letting someone else baptize my own sons. That moment, that memory is too precious to share. The experience was too personal, too intimate to give away. I don’t think I could give those experiences away for anyone.
But Johnny gave up that inexpressible privilege and joy for a friend who would otherwise never have known anything quite like that. And it was his oldest two sons. It’s grace beyond belief.
That’s what happens in a congregation infused with God’s Spirit and the grace bought by the blood of Jesus. Jesus changes everything.
Just two weeks ago, the congregation applauded the announcement that one of our couples had finally — finally — completed the adoption of a baby with Down’s Syndrome from Russia. The Russian judge had originally turned down the adoption, amazed that anyone would want to do such a thing. The Russia attitude to their mentally disabled is shame. To them, it’s unimaginable that someone could want such a baby.
Well, the couple appealed the decision, and the Russian government found itself embarrassed before the international community. On appeal, the decision was reversed and the law changed, opening the door for many other couples to adopt disadvantaged Russian children. Countless lives will be changed for the better.
I’m an elder and, supposedly, a spiritual leader. But I could not have, in good conscience, asked Johnny to let Ken baptize Johnny’s two oldest sons. I could not have asked a couple to go to Russia and adopt a baby with Down’s Syndrome and — in the process — take on the Russian judicial system. I have no standing to make requests of people like that. I’m not that good.
Only God can do that, and he does that through his Spirit. God is alive and well and working powerfully through his Holy Spirit. Never doubt that. And never doubt that God can use you to make a difference.