I do not know what happened to John. I knew him to be a very dedicated sacristan at the church where I grew up. One day, it was reported that John had been hospitalized, and that one of his legs would be amputated. It was a scary thought to me - to have a leg amputated. After a rather long period of time, we finally saw John again and, indeed, one of his legs was amputated and he was using crutches.
Although I was about nine years old at the time, I still remember seeing John having a hard time with the crutches. You could tell that he was in pain. John still made it to church, though, and although his duties as a Sacristan were scaled back considerably, John still desired to serve like he used to before his leg was amputated. I remember so well that the church raised funds to get John a prosthetic leg because neither John nor his family had the resources to get him one. The new leg that was acquired made a lot of difference for John. He could now acolyte again - albeit with some difficulty - but that was not an issue for John, for he simply loved to serve and did not consider himself disadvantaged in any way. He always wore a big smile, and that relayed the assurance that his present situation was not an impediment to him, or to his desire to serve.
There is another story, this time from China.... A British diplomat, Stephen Ellison, was walking by a river and heard the screams of a woman who had slipped into the water. This woman seemed to be on the verge of drowning. Stephen knew how to swim, and so without any hesitation he jumped into the river and saved the woman. The reality is that Stephen did not know the woman who was drowning, nor did that matter; all he knew was that he had a gift, and that he could use that gift to save another person’s life. Therefore, he sprung into action.
A few days ago, there was a story of a man, Anthony Capuano who, in the past, was struck by a train and lost one of his legs. Capuano saw a group of people watching a car sink into a New Jersey bay. While doing so, he heard a loud shout: "Does anyone know how to swim??" Capuano took off his prosthetic leg and dove into the sea in order to save the man in the sinking car (pictured in the image above).
What follows is the part of the story that fills me with such humble pride.
When Capuano heard the aforementioned question, he did not wait for anyone to personally ask him if he, himself, knew how to swim. He just believed that the question was directed at him. Capuano did not ask himself whether his life would be in danger as he jumped into the sea or not. He simply took off that one impediment - his prosthetic leg - and jumped into the sea. Capuano didn't know the man in the sinking car, nor did it matter to him. All he cared about was that he had a valuable gift, and that he could overcome an impediment to use that gift in saving another person.
The question I have for you today is, what is that one impediment that prevents you from jumping into the river or sea of life, to save another person, to serve another person, or to offer your possible best to another person? Name that impediment, for that may be your prosthetic leg. The real gift, however, is in knowing that you can take it off, for it is artificial, and you can overcome what may be perceived as an impediment if you yourself are willing to answer the call that you hear from the shout, "Does anyone know how to swim??"
During these difficult times, we may have more than enough reasons to find the easy way out, to find an excuse not to commit to that one thing which may lead us to serve or save a life. We can always say, "You know, I have a prosthetic leg and cannot simply get into the water with that, and so I’ll take a pass. Let someone else do the saving or serving."
This past Saturday, we held our live auction. This annual auction, a tradition three decades strong now, is an important part of our common life. But because of the restrictions of COVID-19, and our desire to ensure the safety of each other, we couldn’t gather together. We had a prosthetic leg, if you will. But that reality didn’t stop Suzanne, Jill, Gail, Steve, Patrick, Carolann and many others from taking off the prosthetic leg and jumping into the sea in order to make sure that we hold this important event, even if it is only online for the very first time. It was a blessing to see so many of you bidding, and being outbid. To all those who contributed towards the auction, I express our most sincere gratitude. To all those who did bid - whether you won your bid or not - we offer our gracious thanks. To all who gathered to be a part of this event, we thank you. And to the organizers, we cannot thank you enough for taking off that prosthetic leg in order to save and to serve.
There is one fact that I want you to take with you from the two stories from New Jersey and China: Stephen Ellison and Anthony Capuano did not know the people they saved. They simply did what they knew, and believed, was right - in using their gifts of life to help save another life in distress. In the same vein, you do not have to know who it is you are to save or serve. You only must have the desire within you to serve and save the other, simply because you can.
We can find plenty of reasons not to jump into the water to save or to serve. We can often find more than enough reason not to commit to our church, to our family, our community, and relationships. We can find more than enough reasons not to extend a hand of fellowship, friendship and brotherliness. We can find more than enough reasons not to share those gifts that have been freely given to us. But I have come to believe that those reasons, however justified you think they may be, are often not and have never been enough. Like Stephen and Capuano, if we can dare to save someone we do not know, how much more someone we know?
Like John the sacristan, we can wince in pain, and like Capuano, we can graciously take off our prosthetic legs. We do so because we have to live life with the gracious hope that others can save us just as much as we deign to save others.