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Who Cares?


Luke is one of the two New Testament writers who deals at length with the fundamental crisis of the early church, and that was the departure of Jesus. While the Christian church all over the world celebrates Easter as triumphant, as the day of resurrection and the launching of life and the power of life over death, in the early circle of the friends of Jesus Easter had a pathetic note, a note of sorrow and sadness. For Jesus to be raised from the dead, to go and sit at the right hand of God meant to them that Jesus was gone. Resurrection means not only the power of life; resurrection means to them the absence of Jesus.

Jesus is gone, but the power of the Spirit is present in the church

Now what do we do? If Jesus is gone, do we stand around and try to survive on a thin diet of fond memories of how it was? Do we try to spend the rest of our lives recalling that one spot called Camelot when he was here and we had great times but exist no more? What do we do?

The two New Testament writers who deal at length with this crisis are Luke and John. Both of them deal with it in terms of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth, the Paraclete. The fundamental definition of the Holy Spirit coming to the church in the Gospel of John is presence. “I will not leave you orphans.” I will not leave you desolate. I will not leave you alone. For as you recall that marvelous chapter fourteen. When Jesus began to speak of leaving, the disciples were like children sitting on the floor who suddenly notice Mom and Dad putting on coat and hat and their questions are the same questions.

Where are you going? Can we come? Then who’s going to stay with us? For the writer of the Gospel of John the fundamental meaning of the Spirit is the presence in the church.

But for Luke the word, I think best to describe it, is power. Power. “And you shall receive power from on high.” “And they spoke the word with power and with great power the apostles gave their witness. In the passage that I just read the evidence of that power is given briefly. “And with great power the apostles gave their witness, and grace was upon them all and there was not a needy person among them.” And there was not a needy person among them.

Where the power of the Spirit is, there is no need

There are only two ways to achieve that kind of qualification, that kind of character to the church. One way to do it is to be very selective in your membership to make sure there isn’t a needy person among you. The other way to do it is to take care, to take care of the needs of people. To respond in ways appropriate to every person’s need is, in my judgment, the primary qualification of the church. That which the church does best, some things we do

not do well. Get a bunch of us preachers together way from home, and we are experts in matters about which we don’t know very much. But at home doing our business, what is it? The thing we do best is to care. To care. But care is a muscular word, it’s a tough word. It’s not just standing around in a pool of pity feeling sorry for the condition of the world. What is it to care? I got a definition, I think a good definition.

A few years ago in the church where I was worshiping in Oklahoma, worshiping with my family, I had an afternoon engagement, I had to leave quickly. I said good-bye to them after the benediction. And in order to get to the parking lot quickly I cut through the back through the choir room. I said to one of the women of the choir as she was putting away her robe. “I appreciated very much the anthem this morning.” She said, “I hope so because that’s it.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “That’s it. I’m hanging it up.” She was putting away her robe. I said, “Are you retiring?” She had been in the choir 103/104 years. I thought she was retiring. She said, “No, I’m quitting.” I said, “You’re quitting?” She said, “I’m quitting.” “Oh, you’re not quitting.” “I’m quitting.” “Well, why are you quitting?” She said, “I sat up there in the choir loft this morning and looked around at the other choir members and I looked at the minister and looked at the worship leader and looked at the ushers and just looked out over the congregation, and I said finally to myself what has haunted me for years.” I said, “What’s that?” She said, “Who cares?”

Well, I was in a hurry. I had to make a speech. I said, “Oh, you’ll be all right. Take an aspirin. You got a headache.” I went to the parking lot, but all the way to my engagement and all the way back I thought of that indictment. I was a member of that church at that time, and she was indicting me and all the members. In fact, what she said, if it were true, what she said was this is not a church. For if in her opinion after long time membership there active participant in that church, if she believed that the sum gesture of that church was a shrug of a shoulder, then it was not a church.

One has only to reflect upon Jesus, who had a tender care that nothing be lost; he would not break a bruised reed, he would not quench a smoking wick, so tender and careful was he.

One has only to think of his church. There wasn’t a needy person among them. They acted in ways appropriate to every person’s condition. Then we were not a church. “Who cares?” she said.

Years ago when there weren’t many preachers and teachers and very little if any literature, the leaders of the church got together and made lists of sin, so the people at least would know what not to do. And they classified the sins—lightweight, heavyweight and on like that. And at the top they put the seven deadly sins, the deadly sins, the sins that crawl up scaly and serpentine from the floor of hell itself and destroy a person totally. Deadly sins.

And one of the seven deadly sins they called acedia. Acedia is translated in the history of the church sloth. I don’t think that’s a good translation. Sloth sounds like laziness. It sounds like lying too long in the bathwater, something like that. The word acedia simply means I don’t care.

The fathers of the church in their wisdom believed it was possible in the course of one’s duty as a member of the church to become so jaded and calloused and hardened that in the end there is the shrug of a shoulder, deadly as it is. To look upon a child with swollen stomach asleep cold in the door front and say, “Well, he’s not my kid.” To look upon the

recent widow peering out upon a cold world beneath her shawl, “Well, she’s not my mom.” To see the old man alone sitting among the pigeons in the park, “Well, he’s not my dad.” To hurl one final insult at the world “I don’t care.”

The church cares by taking people’s needs seriously

When I got home that afternoon, I called that lady. I said, “I want to talk to you.” She said, “If you want to.” And I said, “I want to.” I went over there. We talked briskly. We disagreed. I

finally asked her, “What would we have to do to show that we cared?” And this was her definition. She said, “Take me seriously.” That was a strange way to put it especially from her. She is a kind of a comic, a sort of stick of peppermint. She was always playing practical jokes. She would pin tails of choir robes together. She would go out to the church early and put some big cartoon on the pulpit so when the minister came out in all sobriety, he’d look down and be blown out of the water. She was that kind of person. I said, “You can’t be serious. Take you seriously? What are you talking about? You’re always joking, laughing.” And she said, “You bought all that? I thought it was rather transparent myself,” she said. “I like to be taken seriously.”

From the conversation it was clear she didn’t mean that we were to be serious all the time, because anyone who’s serious all the time is a comic creature. What she meant was take me seriously. What she meant was that every person has a point in her life or his life about which if you tell a real good joke they can’t laugh. In fact, today at lunch practically any joke you tell that has to do with human relationships, look around carefully and you will discover one who couldn’t laugh.

It’s the point of seriousness. It’s always been that way. Jesus preaching one day a man rich and young, say all the gospels, a ruler fell at his feet, “Good teacher. Good teacher, what am I to do?” I don’t know why he came. He humbled himself before the Nazarene there before everybody. Maybe he’d just been to the doctor’s office. I don’t know. “Doc, it starts in here sometimes in the night. Starts a sharp pain. It goes down into my shoulders. I have to sit up in a chair. I can’t get my breath and can’t sleep. What do you think it is, Doc?” Maybe that was it. It might have been he was going from his office one day and children on the street begging “Please, mister, penny. We’re hungry. Please, mister.” “Get your dirty hands off my clothes.” Gets home just in time to hear his wife say as she scrapes plates of food into the disposal, “I don’t know what we’re going to do to get those kids of ours to eat.” It might be that he is just sick of it all. In the magnificence of life’s promise is lost in the poverty of his achievement and he says, “Good Teacher, what am I to do?”

Well, the man is down. What do you do when you see somebody down, despondent, blue? You cheer him up. So Jesus said, “Did you hear that joke about the man that had so much money he didn’t know what to do, and so one day…?” No, no, no, because the man couldn’t laugh.

I recall some years ago being asked to go to a meeting. A fellow who was going to the same meeting lived near me. He said, “Do you want a ride?” I said, “Yes, save me the gasoline, the tear and wear.” He said, “I’ll stop by for you.” He came by to get me. When he came by in the backseat his wife, whom I had not met, and a daughter just graduated from college, very attractive young woman. They were already in the backseat. They said, “Sit up there with York and talk.” Fine. They said, “We’re not going to the meeting. We’re just going shopping.”

So we started out on this 200-mile trip. We’d gotten out about twenty-five miles and his wife sitting directly behind him said, “You’re going too slow.” So he speeded up. She said,

“You’re going to kill us all.” He slowed down. She said, “We’ll never get there. Are you going to pass here?” So he didn’t pass and she said, “Why are you waiting in line?” He starts to pass around. She says, “You going to pass all these cars?” So he gets back in line. She said, “Don’t you see the yellow line? We’re in the wrong lane.” Pick, pick, pick, pick, pick, pick.

Pretty soon the daughter joined in, and this man is sitting there in silence. I’m all embarrassed. What do you do? You don’t want to be there. You’d rather be walking. What do you do? I just sitting there and I was kind of stewing. I said to myself If this fellow were a man, if he really were a man he would pull his car over and leave them and he and I would go onto our meeting. Well, the farther we traveled the more I began to say to myself now this fellow is a man because I couldn’t take it.

When we got there, the wife and daughter went shopping. He and I had a few minutes. He said, “You want some coffee?” I said fine. We went into a little place. We sat there staring at the coffee. What do you say? How do you start a conversation? I knew and he knew, and he knew I knew. What do you do? Just staring at my coffee as though it were real interesting coffee. Finally he said, “Fred, you teach in a seminary.” I said, “Yeah, yeah.” He said, “You’re into religion and all that.” I said, “Yeah.” “I mean, you know Bible and Christianity.” I said, “Yeah. What are you talking about?” He said, “Well, I just wondered in your study and in your opinion what hope do you think there is for a man who has everything in life at age fifty, everything in life he wants, except the one thing he wants the most?” He’s down. He’s low. And what do you do when you got a friend who’s down and low? I said, “Did you hear about that fellow that was so henpecked?” No, no, no, no.

Everybody has a point of seriousness. I used to go home in west Tennessee. Old high school chum of mine had a restaurant there. I called him Buck. Go in at Christmas, “Merry Christmas, Buck.” I’d get a piece of chess pie and a cup of coffee free. “Merry Christmas, Buck,” I’d say. Every year it was the same. I went in, “Merry Christmas, Buck.” He said, “Let’s go for coffee.” I said, “What’s the matter. Isn’t this a restaurant?” He said, “I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder.” We went for coffee. We sat there and pretty soon he said, “Did you see the curtain?” I said, “Buck, I saw the curtain. I always see the curtain.” What he meant by curtain is this. They have a number of buildings in that little town we call shotgun buildings. They’re long buildings, have two entrances front and back. One’s off the street, and one’s off the alley; curtain in the middle; kitchen in the middle. He has a restaurant in one of those. If you’re white you come off the street; if you’re black you come off the alley. He said, “Did you see the curtain?” I said, “I saw the curtain.” He said, “The curtain has to

come down.” I said, “Good. Bring her down.” He said, ‘That’s easy for you to say. You come in from out of state and tell me how to run my business?” I said, “Okay. Leave it up.” He said, “I can’t leave it up.” I said, “Well, take it down.” He said, “I can’t take it down.” He’s in terrible shape. And after a while he said, “If I take that curtain down, I lose a lot of my customers. If I leave that curtain up, I lose my soul.” Buck’s my friend, and Buck is down. So I said, “Look, did you hear about the white man and black man went fishing one time?” No, I didn’t.

The church becomes the church by dealing with people at the point of seriousness

She said, “I have a point of seriousness, and I expect my church to take me seriously.” Who cares?

I wasn’t really surprised by her criticism. I grew up hearing that criticism. My mother took us to church and Sunday school. My father didn’t go. He complained about Sunday’s dinner being late when she came home. Sometimes the preacher would call and my father would say, “I know what the church wants. The church doesn’t care about me. The church wasn’t another name, another pledge, another name, another pledge. Right? Isn’t that the name of it? Another name, another pledge.” That’s what he always said. Sometimes we’d have a revival. The pastor would bring the evangelist and say to the evangelist, “There’s one now. Sic ‘em. Get ’em. Get ’em.” You know. My father would say the same. Every time my mother in the kitchen nervous for fear of flaring temper or somebody being hurt. And always my father said, “The church doesn’t care about me. The church wants another name and another pledge.” I guess I heard it a thousand times.

One time he didn’t say it. He was in Veteran’s Hospital. He was down to seventy-three pounds, and they’d taken out the throat and said, “It’s too late.” Put in a metal tube. X-rays burned him to pieces. I flew in to see him. He couldn’t speak; he couldn’t eat. I looked around the room. Potted plants and cut flowers in all the window sills. Stack of cards twenty inches deep beside his bed. And even that tray where they put food, if you can eat, on that was a flower. In all the flowers and beside the bed every card, every blossom from persons or groups from the church.

He saw me read the cards. He could not speak, so he took a Kleenex box and wrote on the side of it a line from Shakespeare. And if he had not written this line, I would not tell you the story. He wrote “In this parched world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story.” I said, “What is your story, Daddy?” And he wrote “I was wrong.”


When I left that lady’s house I said to her, I said, “You’re wrong. You’re wrong.” She said, “I’m not.” I said, “I get to travel to churches all over the country, and everywhere I go there are people who care for each other. They take care of each other.” She said, “Where?” I said, “Everywhere I go there are people who care.” She says, “Really?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Name some.” She wants names.

May I use your name? May I, may I give her your name?

Fred B. Craddock is Bandy distinguished professor of preaching and New Testament emeritus at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and author of Preaching (Abingdon Press).

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Sermon Outline:


I. Jesus is gone, but the power of the Spirit is present in the church

II. Where the power of the Spirit is, there is no need

III. The church cares by taking people's needs seriously

IV. The church becomes the church by dealing with people at the point of seriousness