At the Renew My Church summit earlier this month here in Chicago, a presenter told a story that I’d like to share with you this morning.
On the evening of April 14th, 1912, the Titanic’s wireless operator Jack Phillips received several ice warnings from ships in the area. The first one said this…
Ice report in lat 42.n Long 49w saw much heavy pack ice and great number large icebergs also field ice. Weather good clear.
The Titanic, speeding along at 22.5 knots, was heading straight for the ice field. But Phillips was trying to send hundreds of backlogged passenger messages through the Cape Race relay station, about 400 miles away. There was a nearby ship (the Californian) who was also sending messages. Now, in 1912, they didn’t have an iCloud, so the California’s signals were interfering with Phillips’ ability to send his messages. Annoyed, the Titanic operator told the other ship to stop transmitting… even as the Californian was sending the Titanic ice warnings.
Here’s his actual response. “Shut up. Shut up. I am busy. I am working Cape Race.”
The Californian, stopped for the night due to ice, was less than an hour away from Titanic. Philips never read the messages. Or if he did, it was too late.
We’ve all felt like the operator on the Californian. Not as tragic, of course. We tried to say something we thought was helpful, and we were ignored. Maybe a suggestion at work that gets shot down. Maybe you try to give advice to your kids, or advice to your parents, and it goes nowhere. You get the feeling that people are telling you to go away.
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” A blind man calls out to Jesus, but he’s rebuked. Really? Who does that?
I do that. For me, if I listen, it usually because it means more work. If I listen, I’d have to change my plans. If I listen, maybe I’d have to admit I was wrong.
That’s why I needed to hear this Gospel story this morning. Yes, the blind man asks for what he wants, and is rewarded. Yes, Jesus is busy, but he always hears the cry of those in need. Yes, our faith has the ability to heal us.
But those people in the crowd, the ones who don’t have time… that’s me.
And maybe, sometimes, that’s you, too.
So this week – with school chugging along, with work getting busy, with the doctor’s appointment, with our weekly volunteering – let’s all keep in mind that there are people in our lives who are calling out to us, trying to help us. Will we stop what we’re doing and really listen?
Let’s all keep in mind that there are people in our lives who are calling out to us to ask for our help. Will we stop what we’re doing and do what we can to heal?
Can we all remember – because it’s happened to all of us — what it feels like to be the blind man. To be rebuked. To be silenced. To be told to shut up, even when we are trying to do good.
I’m sure there’s a part of all of us that is angry at Jack Philips, all those lives lost because he didn’t want to someone to bother him. But he didn’t know. Just like there’s a part of me that feels anger that some people would want to stop Jesus from healing the blind man. But, in a way, they didn’t know.
Imagine, then, if we all could remind each other – though prayer, in song, in word and deed – how much we do know, following the example of Jesus, stopping and listening. Being served. Serving others.
Building the kingdom of God.