Sermons from the Sabbatical: What can One Person Do?

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.
Sermons from the Sabbatical: What can One Person Do?
Matthew 5:13-16; Genesis 12:1-4a; Genesis 18:16-32
August 27, 2017

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

“What can one person do?” After the events in Charlottesville, I heard that question asked by a friend. They had pretty much resigned themselves that they could not make a difference in fighting racism and hatred. So, why try?

Perhaps you have wondered sometimes, “What can one person do?” I have. And when I have it has led to complacency and indifference.

I certainly asked that question a few times in Israel… the more you learn, the more complex it is… A Jewish guide described the situation in Israel this way:

He said this is the land of contradictions, irony and exceptions… and the story we hear from others is only half-told. They don’t tell you the whole story… only the part that supports their side of the argument.

By the end of a month of living in a land like that, no one would fault you for wondering, in the midst of all of this, “What can one person do?”

Then I realize the answer is right there in Israel and in our Scriptures.By all accounts all three major religions that have a home there began with the simple actions of one person Abraham. It began when he answered the call of God to go to that land he would show him… And Abraham went as the Lord told him.

And today, Christians, Jews, and Muslims call him their father of faith. At least we can agree on that!


Looking back on it, it is an amazing thing really. God calls, Abraham answers… he had no map, no strategic plan, no way of knowing what obstacles he would face on the journey.
He didn’t ask God for time to think about it… he didn’t ask God to be more specific about what it was he was asking him to do… He must have had a million questions, if he did, he didn’t ask. He just went. Uprooted family and life. A simple action when you think about it. At the time, no one knew it would make any difference in the world, but what a difference it has made in your life and mine.

He was not the only one… though all were flawed, other individuals followed the call to be faithful… Moses… the Prophets… When I hear the birth stories of Jesus, I love remembering Joseph who Matthew calls “a righteous man”… someone who simply wanted to do the right thing. Then there is Mary who simply says “yes” when God calls not really knowing where it would all lead. You can’t help but think that if Mary had known what was ahead, she just might have said “no”. Or been tempted to.

No one knew what they were signing up for—they only agreed to say yes to the Lord… and trusted the results to God. Little did they know the world would change over time thanks to their single acts of faithfulness.

Apparently the righteous can make a great impact in this world. In the story about Abraham, we are told it only takes 10 righteous people to save a world! Only 10. That’s what a Nun in Nazareth told us while we were staying at the convent.

His story inspires her. I mean, what can one Nun do? She may not know, but she knows she is called to be faithful and trust that God can work through simple acts of righteousness.

At the Holocaust museum in Israel, there is a title Jews give to non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis- they call them the “Righteous among the nations”… And for each righteous person they plant a tree or put their name on a memorial wall in memory of those who helped save Jews from the Nazis.

The most famous tree is that of Oskar Shindler whose story was told in film. (his plaque is on the front of the bulletin) Impressively, there are 26, 230 men and women who are recognized as among the righteous for saving Jews. What can one righteous person do? They can save a life! And that’s not nothing!

Along the journey in Israel I was blessed to meet quite a few individuals seeking to be faithful in the midst of great odds. They inspire me.

Many have given up, but not these people. The one I will likely remember the longest is Daud (David) who I met at the Tent of Nations which is his family farm. In the family since 1916. They are Palestinian Christians. I share his story with you because I want you to overhear the wisdom of a faithful Christian who is living in a land where their fight to hold on to their family farm against tremendous odds.

David’s farm is in the middle of 5 Israeli settlements. Because he lives in what is called Area C—he cannot make any changes to his farm. What that means is that he cannot build a house on his own land. His family lives in caves as his great grandfather had lived.

In 1916 when they bought the farm, their farm was under control of the Turks…. Who required them to register their land and pay taxes… then the British took control and they had to register their land again… then Jordan took control and they had to register their land again… And then Israel took control in 1967 and they had to re-register their land once again. Same farm, different governments.

But Israel is trying to confiscate his family farm. In 1991 the Israeli military declared that Palestinian land was state land and that if they wanted to keep their land they had to prove ownership in court. Fortunately, David had his legal paperwork going back to 1916 (many Palestinians do not have paperwork going back 100 years. Do you?) David went to court and now 26 years later, they are still in court. David’s family has paid $200,000 in legal fees to keep their family farm. David says, the good news is that they are still on the land.

Another challenge David faces is that Israeli settlers have tried to pressure them off their land. They have been attacked, groves of their trees have been cut down, people have come at their family with guns.

David says they have responded legally and stopped them in courts. They tried to build roads on David’s land. He stopped them in court.

Israel destroyed 250 trees but they were replanted thanks to European Jews.

A few years later, they got a notice from Israel that their trees were on state land. David went back to court… but 3 bulldozers destroyed the trees before apricot harvest and before the court decision. In the meantime, American Jewish groups have helped to replant the trees. Isn’t it wonderful that American and European Jews helped this Palestinian Christian?!

The fight continues… roads leading to Palestinian farms have been blocked by the government to keep them from getting to their farms. Why? Because the law says if your land is uncultivated for 3 years, the state takes it over.”

David faces so many obstacles… that would make most of us give up.

Did I mention they are not allowed to build anything… can’t even put a tent up on his property? (And you thought your HOA and the Town of Cary was tough!) Not allowed to have running water or electricity brought to him. So, they live in caves, they have solar power, they have wells.

Listen to David and you wonder how much longer can this one man put up with this? How long would you or I? But he keeps on fighting for his farm and for justice.

As he talks about his struggle, he looks us in the eye and he says he draws strength from these words of Paul:
“All works for good for those who trust God”. He keeps going on.

You look at the quote from Paul on their sign (you see on the front of the bulletin) : “In all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Now that is a righteous person if you ask me. His response seems righteous to me as well.
He says most people when pushed like this have three normal reactions: Violence (but what does that achieve); Sit down and cry because you are a victim, but that doesn’t help… Run away or immigrate to another country. But if Palestinian Christians leave, the Holy Land will be more like a museum for Christians.

So this is what he said he believes and I offer it to you as faithful wisdom from one who lives in the midst of injustice… He said, “A small minority can make a difference”
He is inspired by something Jesus told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth” and he says, there must be another way to respond when there is injustice which is this: the way of resistance without violence.

He says there are four principles that guide him:
1) We refuse to be victims.
2) We refuse to hate (everyone is made in the image of God and we recognize all people are a combination of good and bad)
3) We are called to act differently based on our Christian faith
4) We believe in justice and that justice will prevail.

So these principles have led to these responses from David and his family:
They see all of their problems as a small obstacle. For example: Since they have no power, they will bring in solar power. Germans supported them. They have cisterns for water. They can’t build above ground? They build underground. They live in caves. We met him in a cave that was a meeting room. They have compost toilets, they recycle water.

When they get help from churches or others, they ask for help that makes them self-sufficient. They ask individuals to sponsor trees (like the one I gave on behalf of the Kirk)

He sees the planting of trees as a metaphor: “Peace will grow from the ground just like an olive tree. But peace will not grow without justice.”

They have now expanded the vision for his farm to teach about the environment and about peace. They have started a summer camp for kids: Christian, Muslim and Jewish… teaching them ways of peace. They have a women’s empowerment project in a Palestinian village (sort of like our Guatemalan partnership)… He says there journey will continue with “Faith, Hope and Love in Action”

So now I ask you… what can one person do? After meeting David, I realize it is quite a lot through acts of faithfulness… And when you add other individuals answering their own call… it adds up to quite a lot.

Never underestimate what one person can do… Never underestimate what you can do or are doing through simple acts of faithfulness.

When I think about the most effective activities, programs, classes, missions and ministries at the Kirk, I realize each one is strong because some person answered a call… and others joined them… but usually, it began with one person.

Today, as we begin a new program year, I don’t want our youth advisors or Sunday School teachers or leaders to underestimate what your simple act of faithfulness might do in the lives of the youth and kids you meet. How many of us look back to that teacher or youth leader who made a difference in our lives? Who taught us the ways of Christ… who showed us what a Christ-like life looked like? I could name names and I bet you can to… to individuals who have changed your lives because they were faithfully following God… and sharing themselves with you.

What can one person do? More than you think. By the power and grace of God, more than you think. As one righteous person after another listens and follows the call of God in their lives… more than you think.

May God encourage us all to be faithful… to follow when God calls… so that we too may be counted as one of those who are known as the righteous among the nations… not because we are perfect (who is?)… but because we said “yes” when God called…”Yes, we want to be a part of your redeeming work in the world.”