In 1676 the famous physicist Isaac Newton made famous a quote from the 12th century. In reference to the scientists that had come before him he said, “if I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulder of giants.” He meant that his discovers about gravity, inertia, and thermodynamics could not have been possible if it had not been for the work of the scientists that came before him. But if you think about it standing on the shoulders of giants as a metaphor is a pretty strange metaphor. It is really hard to stand on someone’s shoulders. I know we have some youth in our church with a background in gymnastics and dancing, who might be able to stand on someone’s shoulders, but if I were to try to stand on someone else’s shoulders I would fall flat on my face. It is a much better idea to sit on someone’s shoulders. That is what Scott did.
As reporter Hillary Frank, tells the story on the radio show This American Life in the episode Return To Childhood . According to Hillary the story about her friend Scott took place in 1994 on the campus of Tufts University in Massachusetts. Scott describes the night in 1994 when he became a giant, “It was the beginning of the school year, and we were kind of bored one night. And we decided to go up to the quad. And I guess basically Jeff got up on someone’s back, and he started yelling and screaming about how giant he was, and how magnificent he was. And I think actually right after that I might have gotten on someone’s back and said, yeah, I am also giant. And I guess that really struck a chord in me. I thought that was pretty amusing. I guess I thought a lot about it. It actually did start me thinking along a particular path.”
One night in the dining hall Scott discussed with his friends the idea of making this giant idea a real thing. The next day, Scott was walking to class, when he saw signs posted all over campus that read, “ “I am nine feet tall. Come see Giant Man, 8:00 PM on the quad.” Scott had no idea who put these signs up. He would later learn that someone had overheard his conversation in the dining hall and had put up the signs without his knowledge. But Scott decided to rise to the challenge. To quote Hillary Frank, “Scott asked his tallest friend, Podo, to act as Giant Man’s legs. They grabbed some props before heading up to the quad– a blanket to wrap around their middle to hide Podo, a long wooden staff, and a black curly wig, like the guys in Kiss.” At that first Giant Man event only ten to fifteen people showed up. But Scott and Podo did not lose heart. They planned another Giant Man event the following week. They told everyone they knew to come see Giant Man without telling anyone they knew that they were in fact Giant Man. Hillary Frank describes what happened next,
“Word spread quickly, and amazingly they were able to keep it secret that they themselves were Giant Man. Most students believed there was an actual nine-foot man come to Tufts for some mysterious reason. I was friends with these guys, and I didn’t even know yet. At the next appearance, almost 200 people were waiting for Giant Man and chanting his name. It was like a political rally. Some of them carried signs that said things like, “We love you, Giant Man,” “Why are you here,” “Save us from ourselves, Giant Man,”. Giant Man made his way onto the quad, and the crowd went wild. People came rushing out of their dorms to see what was going on. When Giant Man reached his fans, he made a small speech. “I am giant,” he boomed. “I am huge, and I have brought you butterscotch.” He then threw cellophane-wrapped butterscotch to the crowd, and they dove for it.
There is actually an audio recording of Giant Man’s final appearance. A band called Electric Fun Machine dedicated a song to him. They held a concert on the quad. To chants of Giant man, Giant Man, Giant Man, Giant Man gave his farewell address. “Students of Tufts, fear me not! For I am the benevolent Giant Man! I have come to show love! As a symbol of my benevolence, I shall once again shower you with” and Giant man showered the crowd with butterscotch.
At this point in the audio the ushers randomly drop the butterscotch they are handing out. This is why people are laughing.
Hillary Frank notes how much Giant Man’s following had grown since that first faithful night, “By the end, Giant Man’s following had grown to about 350 people. There were even Giant Man T-Shirts. To quote Hillary, “ I don’t think any of us have had any experience like it since. When you’re a student, it still feels like something exciting might happen at any moment. Life feels full of all this potential. But when you get out of school, that potential just doesn’t seem to be there.”
And Jesus said, “ Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”
Jesus and Scott reveal to us the giant truths that we have some giant problems in our lives and we are looking for giants to fix those problems. Jesus reveals in every age we got some giant problems.In this passage Jesus is predicting the destruction of Herod’s Temple. Some 37-40 years later in 70 A.D the Roman Emperor Titus ordered the Roman legions to lay siege to Jerusalem to put down a Jewish Revolt. They burnt Jerusalem to the ground and destroyed the Temple. Not one stone was left unturned.
In our day we are facing some Giant Problems. Just this week The Camp Fire in California has destroyed the community of Paradise, California. 75 fire people are reported dead. Over a thousand are missing. And it just racks our hearts. Maybe in our own lives we have some giant problems. And we may think I don’t know how I am going to get past this, this feels like the end of the world. But Jesus says its not the end of the world. He says that it is the beginning of birth pains.
The Good News is this. When we realize that our Giant Problems are birth pains we will see God working our problems to his purposes.
- Take conflict as an opportunity to witness to the Gospel
- Encourage each other in the midst of our struggles.
First, how do we respond in the midst of conflict? Jesus is one of the only spiritual leaders that says if you follow me bad things are going to happen to you. Other spiritual leaders say that if you follow them things are going to go great. But Jesus says if you follow him you will be drawn into trials. But in those trials he will give you the power to witness. He will give you the words to say. So don’t be anxious.
I am a naturally anxious person. So when Jesus says don’t be anxious that just makes me anxious. Because I wonder what he knows that I don’t? And then I remember that he is Jesus and he knows a lot more than I do. But how does that work? In the midst of our trials in the midst of our conflict how in the world are we not supposed to be anxious? I don’t think God downloads words into our heads. But I think it is about the state of our hearts towards each other.
The Apostle Paul, was a missionary. He went to many different nations, and dealt with lots of conflict. He wasn’t always gentle, but generally he dealt with people gently. Here is what he says in 1 Thessalonians 2:2-8 Paul says this, “ But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know nor with a pretext for greed-God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could nave made demands as an apostle of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
Paul didn’t come to people he wanted to witness to saying he was a giant handing out butterscotch and promises he couldn’t keep. He came to people telling people about God’s amazing grace, his amazing love. He came telling people how we once was a persecutor of the church and God turned his life around. Not only that he shared not only the Gospel but his very life. He was vulnerable with people and that is why people connected with people. And we all want connection. But the problem with connection is when we want connection we have to deal with weakness, and none of us want to deal with weakness. But in his weakness Christ power was made manifest in him. Paul wasn’t a great preacher but he let the Spirit use him. And the Spirit did. So wherever you are coming from today, whatever weakness you face, Christ’s power can be made perfect in your weakness. And we got to ask ourselves. Do we come to those we are in conflict with as a mother nursing her child? The answer is no. No we don’t. But Christ can work within us that gentleness. Because there is a great strength in gentleness.
Finally, we are to encourage one another. Paul . In 1 Thessalonians 5:3, says, “While people are saying, “there is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains, come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Spiritual peril increases as our Giant Problems decrease. Because we come to believe that we are in control. We come to believe that we don’t need God. And while we can make progress in this life, we are never in control, God is Sovereign, not us. If we let him work, if we fill our hearts with love, we can see him working in our lives. It feels great to win, winning is great, but we have to ask ourselves not how can I win but how can I help? Because in face of impossible odds we can’t fix every problem but we can ask how can I help?
But it is hard. Life is hard. We get discouraged. I am a pastor. I get discouraged. We are reminded of Hillary Franks words. When we are school it feels like the world is filled with such wonder. And maybe we haven’t all been to college. But we have all been through the school of hard knocks. We have been through the school of life. We have all experienced that child like wonder and then life wounds us and that wonder is taken from us. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we believe that at any moment Christ can return. At any moment we can experience his wonder, we can make ourselves ready by encouraging each other.
For all of creation, the scriptures tell us, is groaning. Creation is groaning and we don’t always know what to do, we don’t always know what to pray, the Spirit inside us is groaning, the Spirit inside us is praying, and when our hearts are soft we can let those prayers out. So Father today may you reveal us as Sons and daughter of God. For creation is groaning. We are groaning. Because the world needs to know that we have a Father and he is good. And we as his sons and daughters will show the world that these are birth pains, they are not Giant Problems.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.