"Don't Miss The Angels"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 9/7/1997

Proverbs 22:1-2,8-9,22-23; James 2:1-10

     One of the interesting features of the Scriptures is how accurate they are in describing our behavior. Sometimes when we read various portions of the Bible, the writers appear to have torn a page from our personal diary. Nearly 2,000 years ago, people were behaving as we do today. James wrote, "....you must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearances." We do that all the time.

     When we hear sayings like, "Never judge a book by its cover," "Beauty is skin deep," or "from rags to riches," we are reminded how programmed we are to associate people with the visual images they create. In fact, the industries associated with health, physical fitness and weight loss have built their businesses on convincing us that a linkage exists between our outward appearance and happiness and success.

     Such influences are always going to be with us. We cannot ignore their presence nor the impact that they are having on our choices. Their message is very enticing. It is so inviting that most of us are ready to write a check, join a club or take any dietary supplement that promises to reverse the inevitable encroachment of time and heredity. Yet, we need to remember the universal application of Jesus' words, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

     This week the world witnessed the death of two women whose names were well known to many people throughout the world. In their personal outreach, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa both went beyond the barriers often imposed by the outward appearances of others. Diana clearly had feet in both worlds, but her life communicated where her heart was.

     Typically, princesses do not surround themselves with children whose limbs have been mutilated by land mines. Typically, the beautiful people are not seen touching and sitting on the beds of patients dying of the AIDS virus. Typically, people of society's "upper crust" are not visiting in private homes where common people remain challenged by circumstances beyond their control. Diana did.

     And sometimes we forget that Teresa came from origins that could have supported her in a life-style beyond the reach of most of us. Yet, she choose to ignore outward appearances and focus on the hearts of those who looked and behaved much differently than people her culture had trained her to appreciate. This woman modeled for the rest of us what it like to look into the eyes of angels who were living in physical forms that were often sick and in many cases starving.

     People can argue with the facts that many studies document. Studies have proven beyond doubt that the beautiful people get the jobs, they frequently interview well, they get the benefit of the doubt, and they travel more rapidly toward an increased number of opportunities.

     But, suppose we want to be among a group of people who want more out of life than mere material success? Suppose we want to develop the skill to treat the cab driver with the same respect and dignity that we extend to the corporate executive? Suppose we want to grow in the area of spiritual awareness rather than remaining drawn like most others to the various forms everyone has assigned great meaning? Wasn't this what Jesus offered to those who listened and learned? What happens to people who learn to see the angel in everyone they meet?

     It was a stormy night in Philadelphia when an elderly couple tried to get a hotel room. A number of conventions were in town and "no vacancy" signs were visible in one hotel after another. Near exhaustion, the couple tried a small, out of the way hotel on a side street. The clerk confirmed that his hotel was filled like the rest. "I can't send you back into the rain at one o'clock in the morning," he said. "Would you be willing to stay in my room?" "You can't do that," they said. He smiled and said, "Sure I can, I'll manage elsewhere." The deal was done.

     The next morning when the elderly gentleman paid the bill he said, "Son, you are the kind of man who should be managing one of the best hotels in this country. Perhaps some day I will build you one." The young man smiled at his eccentricity, thanked him for his kind words and never gave the interaction a second thought.

     Two years later that manager received a round-trip ticket to New York City. He was met by the guest he had helped two years earlier and the they drove to what is now a famous address on Fifth avenue. There stood a virtual palace of reddish stone. "There! That is the hotel I promised to build for you. Will you come and work for me?" "You're joking," he said. "No indeed! When I stayed at your hotel two years ago, I signed my name W.W. Astor. My full name is William Waldorf Astor and I plan to call this new hotel of mine the Waldorf Astoria." The young man took the job and for over twenty-five years George C. Boldt managed the Waldorf Astoria.

     It is extremely foolish to become motivated in our goodness by the thought of material gain as this story might suggest to some people. Yet, George C. Boldt was not motivated by opportunity. All he saw was an older couple who was tired and wet. It was his compassion for two people that motivated him to help them. This is who George had become.

     We are reminded in the Scriptures of the ruler who said to two of his servants, "Well done my good and faithful servants. You have been faithful over so few things, I will make you ruler over much. Enter into the joy of my kingdom." (Matt. 25:14-23) There are rewards that come to people who have acquired the skills of treating everyone around them as angels.

     Jesus taught us, however, that the joy of the Kingdom has nothing to do with the physical images and forms to which we have assigned meaning. Our vision and skill come from an awareness that has to do with our internal life, i.e., who we really are. When we take the time to look into the eyes of all the angels that surround us, we develop a very unique vision that will never forsake us. Such a vision will allow us to see the Kingdom of God in full bloom everywhere, something many people have not yet taken the time to notice.