Running to Trouble

The Whirlwind, God Answers Job Window, FPCEThis week, many of us were trying to make sense of a violent story that began with the explosion of two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  NBC interviewed Tim Meagher, a finish line coordinator who ran toward the first blast in order to help a runner lying on the ground. On Facebook, it was popular to post photos and share stories of first responders who entered the scene to aid victims, while others exited as quickly as possible. Most of us are deeply touched by the stories of those who help others in moments of crisis like this one. Not only do we admire their courage, but we also look for clues about why and how they were able to respond so well, because if something like that happened near us, we would like to be prepared to do the same, and be counted among those who “run to trouble.”

In today’s text from the Acts of the Apostles,[1] Peter is called upon to perform in a crisis. A beloved woman in Joppa dies unexpectedly, and the church there is beside itself with grief. Peter’s busy ministry of preaching and teaching is suddenly interrupted by an urgent request to come to the scene of death and heartache, and he puts his plans aside to go with the messengers who summon him. Peter’s actions are reminiscent of the good shepherd that his master described in a parable: leaving the many who are safe, he runs to trouble to help the one who is lost and in danger.

The woman who is most directly helped is named after a fleet-footed animal, the gazelle, for that is what “Dorcas” means in Greek, and “Tabitha” in Aramaic. Dorcas’s death prompted such heartbreak because, as the scripture says, “she was devoted to good works and acts of charity.” Michael Lindvall, in a nice display of sacred imagination, says that “The mourners surround her bed holding emblems of her good works and acts of charity … one fingering an afghan she knit one cold January, another holding an infant’s layette, the one that Dorcas had made for her newborn just after her husband died.”[2] Dorcas, he says, is the Sunday school teacher who makes time for the unruly child who is not her own, who listens to the woes of others with a reassuring word and touch on the shoulder, the one who comes to the hospital when you’re sick and no one else wants to be near you. Lindvall suggests to me that Dorcas – graceful gazelle Dorcas – is so loved because she, like Peter, and like the Good Shepherd before him, is one who has run to trouble when most others have run away.

My Hebrew skills are rather rusty these days, but there’s a Hebrew word so integral to the biblical narrative that I’m likely to remember it always: “chesed” is one way to transliterate it, and one of the best brief definitions is “steadfast love.” One of the most basic qualities of God revealed in scripture is chesed steadfast love, fidelity through thick and thin.  Kenda Creasy Dean at Princeton Seminary retells a story by Eugene Rivers, the pastor who, with a handful of clergy, reclaimed a Boston neighborhood tyrannized by drug dealers. Rivers described the powerful lesson offered by a young heroin dealer, who said, “I’m going to explain to you Christians, who are such good preachers, why you are losing an entire generation …. When Johnny goes to school in the morning, I’m there, you’re not. When Johnny comes home from school in the afternoon, I’m there, you’re not. When Johnny goes out for a loaf of bread for grandma for dinner, I’m there, you’re not. I win, you lose.”[3] Sometimes, you and I can make the difference in light shining where there is darkness and good happening in the midst of evil. That difference comes when we embody God’s steadfast love, when we are agents of God’s fidelity, when we run to trouble while everyone else is running away.

There’s a beautiful story that came out of Washington State a few years ago. A pivotal college softball game was in progress, and the women of Western Oregon were at bat against the women of Central Washington. Senior Sara Tucholsky was at the plate, and despite being heckled mercilessly, hit the ball over the fence for the first home run of her four-year college career. But something happened on the way around first base. Tucholsky crumpled to the ground with what was later diagnosed to be a torn ACL, unable to complete the trip around the bases. The umpire explained to the coaches that the only feasible option under the rules was to replace Tucholsky with a pinch runner, and have the hit recorded as a two-run single instead of a three-run home run. Any assistance from coaches or trainers while she was an active runner would result in an out.

At that moment, they heard a voice: “Excuse me, would it be okay if we carried her around and she touched each bag?” The voice belonged to Mallory Holtmann, a four-year starter who owns just about every offensive record in Central Washington’s record book. Looking forward nervously to twin knee surgeries at the end of the season, and with her final home game and possibly a post-season appearance on the line, she ran toward trouble to help a player she had known only as an opponent for four years.

The plan was accepted, Holtmann and another Central Washington player served as human crutches, and  Western Oregon’s Tucholsky made it around the bases, the foot on her good leg touching second base, then third base. When they reached home plate, they were greeted with standing ovation from everyone in the stadium. When Central Washington lost the game, Holtmann had no regrets. She said, “She hit the ball over the fence. She’s a senior; it’s her last year …. I think anyone who knew that we could touch her would have offered to do it, just because it’s the right thing to do.”[4]

Most of us will have few opportunities to be a hero in the midst of dangerous crisis. It’s not often that we’re in the right place at the right moment with the right skills and the right demeanor to make a powerful difference. Sometimes, the right thing to do is get out of the way and pray. For most of us, the opportunities we have to run to trouble and demonstrate God’s steadfast love are less dramatic. They may be as obvious as the daily care for a family member or friend, or as simple as perceiving a need that’s nearby, if only we will open our ears to hear God’s call to carry our sisters and brothers home.

[1] Acts of the Apostles 9:36-42.

[2] Michael L. Lindvall, “God Is In The Details,” a sermon delivered to the Brick Presbyterian Church of New York City, 25 April 2010.

[3] As told by Kenda Creasy Dean, Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church, Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004, p. 74.

[4] Graham Hays, “Central Washington offers the ultimate act of sportsmanship,”, 30 April 2008, accessed 19 May 2008.


~ by JohnH1962 on April 21, 2013.

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