Fellowship Class
Tarrytown United Methodist Church
March 15, 1998
Wayne Danielson

Bending Unexpectedly

Tale as old as time, true as it can be,
Barely even friends, then somebody bends,

Just a little change, small to say the least
Both a little scared, neither one prepared, 
Beauty and the beast.

Ever just the same, ever a surprise,
Ever just as sure, as the sun will rise.

Tale as old as time, tune as old as song, 
Bittersweet and strange, finally you can change,
Learning you were wrong.

Certain as the sun, rising in the east,
Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme,
Beauty and the beast.

Genesis 22:13  When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood.  Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood.  Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

	But the angel of Yahweh called to him from heaven. “Abraham, Abraham,” he said. “I am here,” he replied. “Do not raise your hand against the boy,” the angel said.  “Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son!” Then, looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush.  Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt- offering in place of his son.  Abraham called this place, “Yahweh provides,” and hence the saying today:  On the mountain Yahweh provides.

Luke 10:29-37. But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him, and then made off, leaving him half dead.  Now a priest happened to be traveling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him.  He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them.  He then lifted him on to his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him.  Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper.  “Look after him,” he said, “and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.”  Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbor to the man who fell into brigands’ hands?”  “The one who took pity on him,” he replied.  Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same yourself.”

Acts 9:1-19.  Meanwhile Saul was still breathing threats to slaughter the Lord’s disciples.  He had gone to the high priest and asked for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, that would authorize him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any followers of the Way, men or women, that he could find.	
Suddenly, while he was traveling to Damascus and just before he reached the city, there came a light form heaven all around him.  He fell to the ground, and then he heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  “Who are you Lord?” he asked, and the voice answered. “I am Jesus, and you are persecuting me.  Get up now and go into the city, and you will be told what you have to do.”  The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless, for though they heard the voice they could see no one.  Saul got up from the ground, but even with  his eyes wide open, he could see nothing at all, and they had to lead him into Damascus by the hand.   For three days he was without sight, and took neither food nor drink.

	A disciple called Ananias, who lived in Damascus, had a vision  in which he heard the Lord say to him, “Ananias!”  When he replied, “Here I am, Lord,” the Lord said, “You must go to Straight Street and ask at the home of Judas for someone called Saul, who comes from Tarsus.  At this moment he is praying, having had a vision of a man called Ananias coming in and laying hands on him to give him back his sight.”

	When he heard that, Ananias said, “Lord, several people have told me about this man and  all the harm he has been doing to your saints in Jerusalem.  He has only come here because he holds a warrant form the chief priests to arrest everybody who invokes your name.”  The Lord replied, “You must go all the same, because this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before pagans and pagan kings and before the people of Israel.  I myself will show him how much he himself must suffer for my name.”  Then Ananias went.  He entered the home, and at once laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul.  I have been sent by the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on your way here so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Immediately it was as though scales fell away from Saul’s eyes and he could see again.  So he was baptized there and there and after taking some food he regained his strength.

Acts 5:34-42. One member of the Sanhedrin, however, a Pharisee called Gamaliel, who was a doctor of the Law and respected by the whole people, stood up and asked to have the men taken outside for a time.  Then he addressed the Sanhedrin, “Men of Israel, be careful. how you deal with these people.  There was Theudus who became notorious not so long ago.  He claimed to be someone important, and he even collected about four hundred followers, but when he was killed, all his followers scattered and that was the end of them.  And then there was Judas the Gallilean, at the time of the census, who attracted crowds of supporters, but he got killed too and all his followers dispersed.  What I suggest, therefore, is that you leave these men alone and let them go.  If this enterprise, this movement of theirs, is of human origin it will break up of its own accord; but if it does in fact come from God you will not only be unable to destroy them, you might find yourselves fighting against God.”

	His advice was accepted; and they had the apostles called in, gave orders for them to be flogged, warned them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and released them.  And so they left the presence of the Sanhedrin glad to have had the honor of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name.

	They preached every day both in the Temple and in private homes, and their proclamation of the Good News of Christ Jesus was never interrupted. 

	 It sometimes seems to me that I spend a lot of my time making deals.
	You might think that is an ignoble thing for a college professor to do, and I suppose you’re right.  College professors, like ministers, ought to be contemplating the eternal truths, the basic principles, the ideas that are not susceptible to change. I agree with that.  But sometimes a deal helps.  For example, our dean wants to build another College of Communication Building.
	I’ve been skeptical about the idea because the University administration have told her that if she wants to build a new building, she’ll have to raise all the money for it, and not only that, she’ll have to create and fund an endowment to pay for the heat, water and light.
	That’s just about saying “No way,” as far as I’m concerned.  My advice to her was to forget it.  Just turn away the average students that want to come; accept only the brightest.  Eliminate a department or so.  Cut back on some new courses.  Live comfortably in the three buildings we have. Kick back and enjoy yourself. You are young. Why risk everything now? Wait for the administration to change its mind.
	She doesn’t much care for my advice.  She wants to build a building no matter how much opposition is out there because it is needed now. Well, she’s probably right. Someone has to fight the good fight. And I’m glad she is the kind of dean who is willing to take a chance, who is committed to acting on what she believes to be in the best interest of our college and the university.
	So I am trying to help.
	It’s tough because so many conflicting forces are at work.  This department wants this.  That department wants that.  A third department insists that the first two are selfish control-freaks, and it wants something else.  Where is the money to be raised these days?  It may not be in the same old places any more. What changes will we need to make in the plans to make a new building attractive to long-haired high technological geniuses who live in modest apartments and eat their meals at Wendy’s.
	We are not talking peanuts here.  
	We’ll need at least $40 million.
	That compares with the $12 million we needed to build three buildings 25 years ago. It’s a lot of money. 
	 Friday the 13th at noon found me at the Faculty Center having lunch with three colleagues from the other departments involved. The dean was off  in England giving a speech.  We put distractions aside for a while and just tried to make a deal. The faces around the table were grave and distrustful. The participants didn’t want to be there.  Their minds were made up. Their positions were unyielding.  They were ready for another unproductive meeting.
	And then somebody bent, unexpectedly.  A concession was made.  One of the people at the table said, “We don’t have to move our faculty offices to the new building or our departmental offices either for that matter.  As far as we’re concerned, the new building can be entirely devoted to teaching and scholarship. Donors would like that, and, besides, if we take this approach, we’ll have room enough in our old building to double the size of every existing office.”
	Somebody responded, “That’s good. And we’ll put our most advanced labs on the ground level of the new building, so people can walk in and see faculty members and students using the tools and techniques of the next century.  It will be like a country fair, a real attraction.”
	Someone else piggybacked on that and said, “We’ll want all the departments represented on the same level.  Why don’t we put those five showcase labs side by side?”
	Someone added, “Let’s keep the five departments side by side on all floors of the building.”
	Someone said, “Let’s put five big auditoria beneath the walk-in floor.”
	Someone said, “Let’s put five research centers on the second level, and five studios on the third.”
	“And let’s keep the top level for our distance education centers and our open study spaces, where computers can be available day or night to everyone.”
	Someone said, “I think I can draw a picture of this.”  And on the menu, he drew five circles around a central atrium — five departments, each rising in its own tower, but each related to every other department on every floor.
	Someone said, “I can’t draw it, but I can see it in my mind’s eye.  I think I can describe it effectively in words. I’ll write it up for the dean to see when she gets back.” 
	Someone said, “This IS interesting.  I think we’ve got the beginnings of a practical solution to funding here. We don’t have to find a single donor.  We can offer to name each tower for a different donor — someone who’s interested specifically in the work being done there. That will bring down the cost for each donor.”
	“We can call it the Communication Towers.”
	In an hour, we left the faculty center fed, happy and pleased. What had happened?  It was just a deal.  Another deal put together by people who should have been thinking about eternal principles and contemplating eternal truths.
	Will it survive?  Will it stand up under the crossfire of criticism it is likely to evoke? Is such a building even possible to build?
	It’s hard to tell.  But it really didn’t matter Friday.  What mattered Friday was that things began to move again.  Change began.  And where it would all end wasn’t all that important.  What mattered Friday was that someone bent, unexpectedly, and the impossible became not only possible, but probable.
	Another interesting deal is happening on campus right now.
	The University’s largest donor — the one who always remains anonymous, but whom everyone knows anyway — has just been given an enormous concession.
	The regents are deeding part of the central campus to him, and he is personally building a new computer sciences building in the space provided.  When the building is complete, he’ll deed the land back to the regents with a building on it all ready to connect to campus utilities.
	How about that?
	Is this a deal or what?  It’s a miracle is what it is. With one stroke of the pen he escapes all the University and State of Texas bureaucracy and interference and builds the building he wants to build and that he thinks is appropriate for the education of UT students.
	It supposedly will come in at far less cost than the buildings we usually build because some of the red tape will have been cut.
	But can you imagine the forces at play here?
	The regents actually giving away part of the campus — with no guarantee they will ever get it back.  He’ll really own it.  He has to own it, no strings attached, for the whole idea to work. Presidents and provosts and chancellors are giving up power.  Building and grounds vice presidents are saying, “Oh, all right, go ahead and do it.  We won’t object!”
	The amount of trust involved is enormous.  How did it happen?  What made it happen?  Who was involved?
	I can imagine the arguments that must have taken place.  I can imagine the angry words that  must have been spoken.  But then, I suspect, someone bent, unexpectedly, and the new computer sciences building, suddenly, became a done deal, one of the most innovative changes ever to occur on campus.	
	This deal reminds me a little bit of one I took part in years ago at the University of North Carolina.  You have to remember that I was a  young man then — 36 or 37 perhaps — promoted beyond my ability to dean of the School of Journalism because no one else was available.  It was that delightful time of life when enthusiasm prevails and nothing seems impossible.
	I was also serving at the time as president of the faculty association, which was in turmoil because a bunch of younger teachers had come in who wanted to swim, play tennis and work out.They had no place to do it.  All they had was a beautiful old building built in an earlier time when all the faculty wanted to do was sit around and sip sherry and read. 
	We needed a faculty recreation center. We had our eye on 14 beautiful, pine-covered acres the University owned on the outskirts of town, but where was the money to come from to build the new facilities? Donors were scarce.  Who wanted to put his name on a tennis court or a swimming pool? No one, that’s who. We were stalled. Then someone in the Law School came up with a novel idea.  “Let’s ask the State of North Carolina to deed us the 14 acres of the land for 10 minutes,” he said. “While we own it, we’ll mortgage it for $100,000 — that’s all it took to build swimming pools and tennis courts then — and then we’ll deed it back to the state in its mortgaged condition. The lender will know that the loan is secure — the University and the state will never give up the land — and we’ll have the facility we want.  We can pay off the mortgage over 30 years.”
	The town banker lived across the street from us.  I discussed the idea with him, and, surprisingly,  he liked it. I talked to the University and the state officials who would have to be involved.  They were dubious at first, but when they thought about it, they liked the idea too.  So a couple of weeks later we did it.  I was there for the signing at the bank.  The papers were passed around, and for a few minutes, the faculty association owned 14 acres of some of the most valuable real estate in the state of North Carolina.  The banker gave us a check for $100,000, and I signed a paper giving the property back to the state. The association let me name the new facility.  I named it “The Farm,” both because the property had been a farm at one time and because “the farm” is the informal name of my alma mater, Stanford University.
	I have often thought back about this deal and what happened there that enabled change to take place. A lot happened, obviously, a multitude of things.  But, at the heart of the matter, something very simple occurred — somebody bent, unexpectedly. And when he did, everything else began to fall in place.
	For a few minutes this morning, I would like for you to think about this idea in terms of the holy scriptures.  How often, in the holy writings of our faith, does something happen because someone bends, unexpectedly?
	Take the story of Abraham and Isaac, the beginning of it all.  There is Abraham on the mountain following the dictate of God, ready to slit the throat of his only son Isaac. Then,  unexpectedly, God bends. 
	This man Abraham is someone special to God.  Unlike the other half-hearted believers and followers, here is a man so committed he is ready to sacrifice his only son. God recognizes this difference, and Abraham is allowed to sacrifice a ram instead, and from that moment, human sacrifice is never again required of him or any of his people.
	Things change. Advance occurs, because in this case God himself bends, unexpectedly.  
	Time shifts.  It is 2,000 years later.  A young prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, is telling a story, one of his famous parables that people just can’t get out of their minds.  They keep thinking about their meaning, trying to understand them.
	He is answering a question asked of him by a pushy young man: “Yes, but who is my neighbor?”
	Jesus tells the story of a man attacked by robbers on the road to Jericho and left to die.  People pass by who could have helped him, but who do not —  a priest, a Levite. Finally a representative of a despised and ridiculed group — the Samaritans, a people who don’t understand God’s laws at all, who distort everything and get it all wrong — a Samaritan is the one who stops  unexpectedly  and helps the man and gets him to shelter and pays for his care and then goes on his way.
	“Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbor to the man who fell into brigands’ hands?” the young prophet asks, and the questioner, has to reply, “The one who took pity on him.”
	That’s right.  The one who bent — the one who broke the rule that Samaritans and Jews  hate one another — the one who ignored the contempt in which he had always been held his whole life — he was the one the who rescued his enemy.
	“What does this story mean?” people wanted to know.  “Who is my neighbor?  Is it possible that I should return the favor?  Is it my duty to touch, serve, care for, even love a detestable Samaritan?”
	Someone bends, unexpectedly, in a simple story told by the Master.  The world shifts.  Understandings change. Moral judgment steps up to a new level.
	Only a few years later, an angry young Jew hurries down the Road to Damascus.  He carries papers, legal papers  that will disastrously affect the lives of those Jews in Damascus who have forgotten who they are and are acting in strange and ridiculous ways, supposedly following the teachings of their deposed and crucified leader.
	Suddenly the young man is surrounded by a blinding light.
	He falls down on the road.  He hears a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” When he gets up, he is blind, helpless — like the man in that ridiculous parable that Jesus told.  Who will come for him?  Who will find Saul and take care of him?  A Samaritan perhaps?
	No, it turns out to be someone even worse — it turns out to be a member of the very group that Saul has been trying to destroy.  He recovers his sight  in Damascus three days later when one of Christ’s followers, Ananias, lays his hands on him. At that moment, Saul bends, unexpectedly.  That bending is so powerful that it will raise the whole world to a new level of consciousness.  Perhaps that is why the bent man Paul later would often write as he did in this famous verse in Philippians (2:9-11 “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
	It seems to me that change often occurs in the scriptures when someone bends, unexpectedly.  How many other examples can you think of? 
	• Thomas, the doubting apostle, for sure, when he puts his hand into the side of the crucified and risen Christ. Thomas bends.
	• Peter, changing his mind about the dietary laws and the necessity that they be obeyed by all Christians. Peter bends.
	• Gamaliel, the famous Jewish teacher, Paul’s teacher, who appears before the Sanhedrin as that important council debates the question of what should be done to calm down these annoying followers of Jesus. Everyone expects him to defend the law as it is, unchanging, forever, the rules that must be obeyed to the end of time.  But he says, “If this enterprise, this movement of theirs, is of human origin it will break up of its own accord; but if it does in fact come from God you will not only be unable to destroy them, you might find yourselves fighting against God.”
	Yes, even Gamaliel bends, and in his bending he creates a niche, a little place where the seed of a new religion, younger brother to Judaism, can take root and grow.
	Has your own life been changed by someone who bent, unexpectedly?
	If yours is at all like mine, it has  — many times.   It is still happening to me.  Just last Friday in the Faculty Center was a good example.  And I can tell you that some of those bendings have greatly enriched and changed my life. And perhaps a few times I have changed someone else’s life when I myself, not an easy bender by the way, have managed somehow to take a deep breath and utter not the expected thundering “No!” but an unexpected, “Yes.  Go ahead.  Let’s give it a try.”
	We sometimes hear it said today that bending is wrong — it represents a betrayal of the deepest values of our faith.  I’m sure that this is true sometimes.  But other times it is not. It seems to me that a careful reading of the scriptures reveals that it is often in the bending that beneficial spiritual change occurs. Up in Nebraska this week, a group of Methodists met to try the case of a minister who had blessed the relationship of two women who had lived together for many years.  The facts of the case were clear.  In doing what he did, the minister had violated the discipline of the church.  But, interestingly, in that highly conservative, midwestern state, the Methodist group didn’t expel him — they let him keep his job.  In other words, they bent, unexpectedly.  We ought all to ask ourselves from time to time:  Are we being unreasonably up tight about something with someone we love?  If we are, Lent is a good time for us to consider our action prayerfully and see whether it might be a good idea for us to bend, unexpectedly.