The Gandy Dancer


This is the message I presented on the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, 6 February 2000, at Walker Valley UMC. The Scriptures were Isaiah 40: 21-31, 1 Corinthians 9: 16 – 23, and Mark 1: 29 – 39.

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Now, you may have been wondering what a gandy dancer is or was. A gandy dancer was a member of a railroad work crew. The name itself is supposed to have come from the Gandy Company that supplied many of the tools used by the work crews. The dancer part of the label comes from the fact that as the men laid down the ties and track and nailed everything together, they did so in beat with a song sung by the foreman. Often times this song had its roots in the Gospel heritage of the works. To borrow a phrase often heard on the old television show, the music had a good beat and it was easy to work to. The goal of the gandy dancers was to lay down as much track as possible as quickly as possible and doing so to music made it easier and, perhaps, more enjoyable.

It was by working as a team that the track got laid. It was a team that Jesus put together. While Jesus was the one who cured the sick and cast out the demons in today’s Gospel reading, it is also important to note that Jesus told Simon and the others, “Let us go to the neighboring towns.” For He knew that after He was gone, it would be those who had been his followers who would do the work.

It is working together that we, as Walker Valley United Methodist Church, will achieve whatever goals we set for ourselves. As members of this church, we share in a common commitment to the doctrine and mission of the overall church. We believe that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, who is over all and through all, and in all.”

As a church organization, along with all other United Methodist churches, we hold to three beliefs:

1) Each member is part of the whole and cannot be separated from the larger community of believers.

2) The individual has a responsibility to the denomination and the denomination, in turn, has a responsibility to the individual.

3) The proper functions of the church require faithful leaders and loyal followers.

From these three points, we are asked to set aside complete autonomy and function in mutually accountable ways.

Yet, within this organization structure is a great deal of flexibility. It is not the method by which the goal is reached that is important but that the goal is reached. I have been saying recently that each person who has a work area needs to understand that they are not the only person in the work area, that they can and should get others to help them. And others should be willing to serve when called and should call to let the work area chairs know that they are willing to serve.

No matter whether one has a good idea, noble intentions, developed a brilliant inventions, or made a miraculous discovery, it will go nowhere if only one person is involved.

Jesus knew what his mission was, as he told his disciples in the Gospel reading today. But he knew that unless he gave his followers the freedom to do His work, it would all be for naught. When Jesus said, “Greater things than I have done shall you do” and “You have the right to use my name to do what must be done,” he was empowering his disciples to carry out the mission that he had shown them. It has been shown that companies that give their employees flexibility to do things, as long as they fit within the company mission, are the better companies to work for. Consider a company in which managers must approve every action by the employees. How much success can they have?

Our mission, as Wesley expressed it so many years ago, was that

1) All can be saved. This helped create faith in those trapped in the lowest levels of society and mired in the most desperate of spiritual conditions.

2) All can know that they are saved. This gave hope to those who personal experience of conversion made them aware of Christ living in them. As Isaiah pointed out, God is all around us and is part of us. Yet, unless we know this, we can never truly experience his presence in our lives.

The preaching and presentation of the Gospel makes thus be done in a manner that brings it clearly to all people. This was the point that Paul was making to the Corinthians. While the message of the Gospel is unchanging, the means by which one preaches the Gospel very much depends on the person who is listening. I don’t hold to much of the marketing efforts that the modern church faces but I do know that the message will not be reached if the methods used turn the listener away. This doesn’t mean to sugar coat or soften the message; rather, it means to be considerate of the other person.

The last point of our mission is that

3) Persons and nations can be saved from the power of sin. Understanding that persons and nations can be saved from the power of sin leads to the spiritual transformation of individuals and society.

It is a great task that has been set before us. It is a task that is both our heritage and our future. Some may say that it is too great a task, that our mission should be smaller. Some may say that we do not have the resources, the willingness, or the people necessary to take on such a task. But I think of those closing lines from the Book of Isaiah that we read today.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

It was the rhythm set by the foreman that enabled the gandy dancers to lay the countless miles of railroad tracks. It was the Holy Spirit that came to John and Charles Wesley and the other early Methodists that gave them the strength and power to begin the Methodist Revival. Is the Holy Spirit calling you today, empowering you to the task set before you?

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