Here’s the manuscript and video for the sermon preached on October 27, 2014, at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, VA.

You can watch the video below.  A podcast can be downloaded at the church website:  Patterson Avenue Baptist Church

Below the video, you will find a copy of the manuscript prepared in advance of the sermon. Whenever you visit a blog, be kind to the blog publisher.

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Ephesians 5:14 says: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will be your light.”

What young boy or girl has not had some interest in secret codes of one type or another? Whether for passing secret notes in class, protecting the content of your diary from the prying eyes of a nosey little brother, or perhaps just to imagine yourself as some sort of super international spy, a secret code would sure come in handy. I remember when I was a youngster being intrigued at my introduction to Morse Code.  Invented by Samuel Morse in 1835, Morse Code was an alphabetic code of long and short sounds, originally transmitted by telegraph. Each letter has matching sound or series of sounds that represent it in the code.  The long sounds are referred to as dashes.  The short sounds are dots.


Using a telegraph machine, an operator would depressed a key on the machine. A short tap would produce a short beep or dot.  Holding the key down a bit longer would cause a longer sound or dash at the other end of the line.  The messages sounded like static to the untrained ear.  But in the hands of those who knew the code, messages could be transmitted long distances in just a few moments of time.


Samuel first successfully tested on May 24, 1844, when he sent a message from Washington DC to Baltimore which said: “What has God wrought?”


The most well known Morse code phrase is SOS (which means “save our souls”). SOS was chosen because the code for it — three dots followed by three dashes followed by three dots — was easily and instantly recognizable, even to those who do not know Morse code.


When I was a young boy, I would slept with a transistor radio under my pillow at night. I spent part of that time listening to the static that existed between stations, listening for the dots and dashes – listening for the SOS – imaging being the only one who might hear the cry from help from some ship in distress, being the one who would send help and save the day.


As it turns out, I have spent most of my life listening to people’s SOS. Not on a transistor radio, communicated via Morse Code, but in everyday life I find myself listening for people’s cries for help.


There are lots of people crying for help in our world.


There are the guys at the homeless shelter whose lives were wrecked by an ever increasing number of unfortunate circumstances. Sure, much of their misery may have been brought on by bad decisions, but that does not make their SOS any less valid.  The fact is, most of the pain that all of us feel is self inflected.


Then there are the men and women who are home-bound or in a nursing home facility. I have heard the cries of those who feel they have been forgotten by family, friend, and even church.


There are the folks who stand in the unemployment line – they have been standing there for many months. They have been job hunting.  They have been cost cutting.  They have been doing everything right, but the jobs are just not available.


There is the child in the high school who feels that nobody likes her or understanding what she’s feeling. There is the young man off at university whose feeling overwhelmed by the stress of it all.


There is the couple having marital difficulties that threaten to destroy their family. There are those stuck in a rut called negativity.  All they seem able to recognize is the darker side of life.  They don’t recognize that negativity become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They just keep drawing pain and suffering into their lives like a magnet.


I have spent a great deal of time listening to people’s SOS. Oh, they are not sharing their distress by tapping dots and dashes into a electronic device. But you can hear it, see it, feel it, experience it nonetheless.


You’ve probably heard the story of the sinking of the Titanic. Great Britain sent her premiere passenger ship across the Atlantic Ocean on her maiden voyage.  It was the largest ship that had ever been built up to that time.  It was considered unsinkable.   Yet half-way across the Atlantic, the ship hit an submerged ice-berg and sank rapidly.  Of the 2000 passengers, 1517 lost their lives, while the radio operator tapped out a cry for help.


SOS …—…


There was a tremendous outcry over the loss of life. An investigation was undertaken that offered three primary reason for the tragedy:  excessive speed, insufficient and ineffectively manned lifeboats, and, above all, a lack of knowledge about ice-bergs.  As a result, the International Ice-berg Patrol was formed, and stringent safety rules were brought into effect.


There is a great lesson here for us to learn. As we go about our day, we are going to come upon people who have run up against one of life’s ice-bergs.  They are going to find themselves in difficulty and in their distress they are going to be crying out for help.  The sad thing about human beings, however, is that when they are in distress, they seldom actually cry:  “Help me, I am hurting!”  They do not tap out an …—… SOS code that we can hear.  Most of the time they react to life’s distresses (just like we do) with sulking, outburst of anger and sarcasm, or with rash decisions.  They get up in your face and yell, or they curl up in a corner and brood.  What they are doing is acting out in order to get attention, praying that somebody will notice their suffering, sorrow, and distress.


Take time to listen to people’s distress, to pay attention to their dots and dashes, to their …—… SOS in whatever form it comes.


The other day I missed it. I saw it, but I missed it. I was at Jiffy Lube, getting the oil changed in my car.  When I had paid, the gal behind the register gave me a coupon for 50% off a second car’s oil change if used in the next 30 days.


“I’ve just had the oil changed in the other car, I can’t use this. Please give it to somebody else,” I said.  She suggested I take it and give it to somebody else. I looked over and there was a guy sitting there waiting for his car.  I say, “Hey, fellow, I’ve got this 50% off an oil change coupon, but I can’t use it.  Do you want it?” He responded, “I don’t know you.  Get that piece of s$5t out of my face.” There was another guy who had just come in the door.  “If he doesn’t want it, I’ll take it.” “It’s yours,” I said, as I handed it to him. “Cool, thanks!” he said. It bothered me most of the day that the first guy was so rude.  Then I came to the conclusion it wasn’t about me.  I had simply offered a kind gesture.  This was about that man.  Nobody acts that way without carrying around some sort of pain.  Nobody acts that way without experiencing some sort of mistrust or betrayal.  Nobody acts that way without having been hurt in some fashion. This man’s reaction was an …—…!  It was a cry for help.  It was his SOS.  I was so taken aback by his reaction that I missed it.

It we take time to listen to the people’s whose ships we pass on any given day, we’ll hear their SOS. But we have to listen carefully and discern spiritually. Don’t hear, “I don’t know you.  Get that piece of s&t out of my face.”  Hear, instead, “I’ve been betrayed and I do not trust people.  But I am still lonely!” Maybe somebody is going to say:  “I can’t never forgive that kind of behavior.”   Understand that in their pain they are actually hurting themselves by their unforgiving attitude.  What they are really crying out to experience is the true grace in life that can free them from their bitterness.


I am starting to understand that so many of the harsh words, grudges, expressions of anger and bitterness, and the closing off of relationships comes from people who have been hurt. No necessarily by me.  I had done nothing to provoke that response from the guy at the Jiffy Lube.  I was just there for the latest outburst of his pain.


Every time somebody strikes out at you verbally or emotionally, understand that it comes from a place of distress. What they are doing is sending out an SOS in the hopes that somebody can discern and respond with grace, kindness, and love. Understand that this is not to excuse such bad behavior.  Such response are unhealthy, immature, and disruptive.  They do not bring healing.  Rather they accentuate and aggravate the pain.  Yet while we should not to excuse such behavior, we should recognize that we are all prone to such reactions ourselves.  When it comes to lashing out at unsuspecting  people for unexpected reasons, the scripture’s words remain true:  “All have sinned and fallen short…”
The cries for help, the SOS, the dots and dashes, can be heard all around us, if we are only willing to listen. So, why don’t we seldom (if ever) hear them? Let’s ask that question specifically of the church.  Not just this church, mind you.  I have been around lots of churches.  I’ve seen, experiences, and unfortunately participated in this sort of stuff often in my life.


Why do we (the church) often fail to hear the SOS cries for help from a broken and hurting world? Let me just list a few things without much commentary or application. I’ll trust the Holy Spirit to do that.


People associated with CHURCH…


…being a place to satisfy our wants, whims, and wishes.

…invest more time and resources building wall, not bridges

…think those inside the walls are better than those outside

…want more people to attend (as long as they are like us)

…think God loves the insiders more than outsiders

…think the institution exists to care for its members

…are focused on institutional survival than the Kingdom

…think folks need to PAY for God’s grace provisions …focus on the negative and wonder why things look bad

…nurse grudges and engaging in gossip

…fail to share the forgiveness they have received

…more interested in its religious enterprises than evangelism

…more interested in its brand of politics than people


You get the point, right?


In so many and varied ways, THE CHURCH (especially in the west) has become inward focused, rather than outward living. As such, we are missing out on the cries for help.  We are missing the dots and the dashes on people’s SOS pleas.


We’ve remember the Titanic. Have any of your heard of the California? When the Titanic hit the iceberg and began to sink, the cruise ship California was nearby, just 30 miles away.  It wasn’t as big as the Titanic, but it was of sufficient size to rescue those who were heading to their deaths.


The California radio operator closed down shop and went to bed at 10:30PM. One hour later, when the Titanic sent out its SOS distress signal, there was nobody in the radio room to hear the call.  The Titanic sank while just an hour away was a ship that could have come to her rescue and saved her passengers.  But those on that other ship were asleep, totally unaware of the nearby tragedy.


To me, this is the saddest part of the Titanic story. The fact that help was nearby and available, but those who could have provided rescue had all gone to sleep. To me this is a metaphor for today’s church.  The church (we included) has fallen asleep or become otherwise distracted, while nearby people are crying for help, tapping out their dots and dashes, their SOS pleas for rescue. Let’s make this congregation (this part of the church) be a place that is awake.  Let’s be people who shine the light of Christ.  Let’s release whatever is holding us back.


“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will be your light.”


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