Asbury United Methodist Church
Love - Share - Tell - Serve

February 15, 2018

Welcome to Lent!

          This morning I had a strange memory that was so old that it blew cobwebs out of my head.  I remembered a well-pump.

          And, it just wasn’t any well-pump, but one you had to prime everyday if you wanted some water.  I know!  This requires some explaining.

          During the summer when I was fifteen years old, I worked at Boy Scout Camp Tom Upchurch.  It was located on the south side of Fort Bragg, NC.

          This was an experience that enriched my life in incalculable ways.  Periodically, Green Berets from the Special Forces detachment at Fort Bragg would come by to teach survival skills in the wilderness.

          We were taught about edible plants and how to collect water from a wilderness-made solar still using nothing more than a sheet of plastic.  These soldiers would march us out to another camp that was labeled Outpost and we’d live for days at the time on scant rations.  

          When our training was over, it would be my job to teach younger scouts how to survive in the wilderness with whatever you had on hand. As fun as this was and all, we’d usually get back to the base camp, which was Camp Tom Upchurch, thirsty and starved half to death!  

          Our first order of business was to make a beeline to the well-pump!

         After soaking up all the water we could hold, we’d bask in the glory that we had survived!  And, this was the whole intent of survival training in the first place…to survive!

          For a fifteen-year-old boy, this was heaven.  We made it!  And, this brings me to the well-pump which was like an oasis in the desert!

          Camp Tom, as we called it for short, did not have much in the way of running water.  Instead, there was a pipe than ran down into the ground with a mechanical pump at the top; and, to get water you had to pump the handle about a dozen times before water came to the surface.

          One cliché that we used each morning before getting water was, “You’ve got to give the pump a little something.”  In other words, the pump had to be primed before it would cough up any water.

          So, at the end of each day we had to pump out a bucket of water to let stand until the next morning.  When morning came, the first thing that needed to be done was to prime the pump using that bucket of water we’d filled the night before.

          And, if some thoughtless person forgot to fill the bucket the night before, then they were rewarded with a forced march down to the lake. Their prize for thoughtlessness was they’d get to haul a bucket load of water about four hundred yards back to prime the pump.

          This brings me to my favorite subject, Jesus!

          In the Great Sermon, Jesus tells us how to prime the pump.  He said, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get (Matthew 7:2 RSV).”

           You prime the pump by giving unto others (the measure) as you would have them give unto you!

          Have you ever considered…what if…what if folks gave to us the way that we gave to them?  In other words, what if we never primed the pump…and this was what we got back!  We’d be in a heap of trouble!

          There are expressions in culture nowadays such as pay it forward and banking good will.  These actions prime the pump!

           And, they follow the Golden Rule, “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12 RSV).”

          We’re in the season of Lent now, so…what if…what if, just for giggles we decided to approach life each morning by first priming the pump?  You’ve got to give the pump a little something so water will flow.

          And, this brings me to the most interesting story that I have read in a very long time.  It concerns a judge in Cumberland County, NC and a former Special Forces soldier out of Fort Bragg.

          Army veteran Joe Serna was having a serious drinking problem as he was trying to self-medicate from three tours of duty in Afghanistan.  Joe was suffering from Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder.

          As a result of his unhealthy behavior under the influence of alcohol, Joe found himself in front of Judge Lou Olivera on more than one occasion.  This is where the story gets interesting.

          On his final appearance in front of the judge, Joe lied under oath about his failure to comply with the judge’s previous requirements, so Judge Olivera sentenced Joe Serna to twenty-four hours in the county lockup.

          When Serna showed up for his punishment, the judge did the unthinkable.  He primed the pump!

          The judge took off his robe and went to jail with the soldier!  The judge did time with the convicted!

          This gesture was life-changing for Joe Serna.  He stated that he and the judge talked for hours on end about shared military experiences and the dreams they each had for their families and how they could find the path that would take them there.

          Serna stated, “I cannot even put into words how I feel about this man.  I look at him as a father.  This is by far the most compassionate thing I have ever seen anyone give to anybody.  I will never let him down!”

           (Unity Magazine, A Singular Sentence, Philip White, 2018.)

          There is an old hymn written by Rosemary Crowe that sings, “Let the Christ is me greet the Christ in thee, in one great family (Weave, Rosemary Crowe, 1979)”

          What if?  What if we decided during Lent…to first prime the pump? What if this was our first course of action.  Isn’t it possible that we could change our lives by helping someone else change theirs?



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