"We Are All Builders"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 11/9/1997
Psalm 127; Ruth 3:1-9, 4:13-17
It challenges the mind to imagine all the possibilities when we view everything we do as having an impact on the future. I remember a conversation I had with a physicist who was sitting next to me at a Rotary Club luncheon back in the mid-70s. We were talking about the impact of Jesus on world consciousness. His analogy of Jesus was interesting. He said, "If you stood in the middle of the Atlantic and expressed one drop of water from an eye dropper that impacted the surface of the ocean, the resulting wave of energy would not stop until it reached the distant shorelines." Can we imagine the impact of one life, of one idea, or of one group of people on the future of the human race?
One day a poor Scottish farmer was doing some outside chores when he heard faint screams for help. He followed the sounds until he found a young boy mired up to his waist in a peat bog. In another half hour, the boy would have vanished without a trace. With considerable effort the farmer pulled the boy free, cleaned him up and sent him on his way.
The next day a carriage pulled by a handsome team of horses arrived at the Scotsman's home. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out of the carriage and offered the farmer a large sum of money as a reward for saving his son's life. The farmer graciously declined the offer. Sensing the great pride of the farmer and seeing the farmer's own son, the nobleman said, "Well then, would you permit me to give your son a wonderful education? If the lad is anything like his father, he will grow to be a man who at will make you very proud."
The poor Scotsman realized that his son would never receive an education without an opportunity like this, so he accepted the offer and the two shook hands. In time, the Scotsman's son graduated from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London and became Sir Alexander Fleming, the noted physician who gave to the world the gift of penicillin.
While we could end the story here and get the point, there is more. Many years later, the nobleman's son, the one whose life had been spared by the farmer, was stricken with pneumonia in both lungs. Now as an adult his life would be spared again, but this time by Dr. Fleming's new miracle drug. One rescue many years before set in motion a number of events that would influence a nation and a world. The man whose pneumonia would have most assuredly taken his life was Sir Winston Churchill.
We might think that such a story is most unusual or one of a kind, but the theme is one upon which all of history is built and is very similar to the story in the Book of Ruth. Ruth is filled with images and practices of ancient Israel during the time of the Judges. We might wonder why such a book was included in the Old Testament. The book of Ruth is an illustration of how being a faithful builder helped fashion a world neither Naomi nor Ruth would live to see.
The story is not complicated. Ruth was a foreigner from Moab who had been married to an Israelite. Upon the death of Ruth's husband, her mother-in-law played the role of a match maker in order to find Ruth a new husband. Naomi instructed Ruth on how to approach an unsuspecting relative named Boaz.
Naomi told her to wash and perfume her body, dress in her best clothing and lie down next to Boaz as he slept. When Boaz awakened to find a woman beside him he said, "Who are you?" Ruth answered, "It is Ruth, sir. Because you are a close relative, you are responsible for taking care of me. So please marry me." I am so tempted here to make an editorial comment about Naomi's strategy but I won't. Naomi's advice worked.
What made a first century council include the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament? The answer is this: from the union of Ruth and Boaz came a son named Obed. While that name may not mean much to us, Obed was the father of Jesse, who became the father of King David. And if one traces the genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew, it concludes by citing Joseph, who became the father figure for Jesus. It was not for Ruth to know that she would have such a pivotal role in history. All that was required of her was to be faithful and to trust that her faithfulness would be useful to God.
Do we understand ourselves as builders? So often we yield to the temptation of protecting ourselves in our decision making. We wonder if we have the time to commit to some project. We wonder if we might offend someone by stating what we think. We don't want to waste our time being with people who are not as organized as we would like them to be. Often we act as if we know how to control the future and what is best for tomorrow but the truth is we do not know and we cannot know! What we do know is that God can use what we believe are errors in judgment and failures.
Upon the death of her husband, a woman began coming to the cemetery day after day, bringing cut flowers to his grave. This went on for weeks. One day a caretaker said to her, "Ma'am, perhaps this is none of my business, but I have been watching you come here every day with flowers. Have you ever thought of taking your flowers to the living so that their lives might be brightened? Your husband is not here."
The woman was angered by his insensitive intrusion and in no uncertain terms, she reminded him that it was, indeed, none of his business and that clearly he was out of line. She even wrote a letter of complaint to the management of the cemetery. He felt awful for injecting himself into another person's grieving process. He wondered why he had felt led to say such a thing to a woman he did not know. His words were clearly beyond all appropriate boundaries.
Several months later, however, this woman sought out the caretaker and said to him with a radiant, beaming smile, "I came to thank you. I was not prepared to hear your words many months ago but I did what you suggested. I began to take my flowers to people in my church who can no longer attend our services. As I visit with them, I receive what my husband can no longer give me. Thank you for helping me find that."
Churches draw people for a variety of reasons. We come to get our weekly dose of spirituality. We come to be reminded of a more refined and focused purpose for living. We come because we have been in the business world all week and that environment cannot deliver what we need. We come because our parents strongly advise that we accompany them. Does it matter why we come? No. What matters is what God builds with us.
For example, recently Patti and I were visiting with Clif and Ludene Martin at the Maryland University Hospital in Baltimore. You may recall that a number of weeks ago Clif received the transplanted liver of an 11-year-old boy. The two of them faced uncertainty by themselves. He was surrounded by physicians, therapists, nurses and staff who knew Clif as Mr. Martin in room 836. He was staring at his own mortality. When they learned that over 400 people at both services have been praying for them, that piece of information helped both of them make sense of all the miracles that surrounded them.
The other day I visited Nedra Evans just prior to her going to dialysis. She picked up a card lying on the end table that a couple in our church had sent. She said, "Dick, I want you to read this. I read this card several times every day. It has an amazing little twist to it that just fits my circumstances." How could that couple have known that they chose just the right card to support Nedra? Collectively, you are more powerful than you could possibly imagine! The directed energy that comes from your prayers has moved mountains in this congregation. I know this to be true because you have told this to Patti and to me.
People may come into St. Matthew's badly injured by life. They stay with us for awhile, they get healed and then we may not see them for a long time. Do we judge them as somehow unworthy because they used us to meet their needs and then found priorities other than our church family? Not at all. Aren't we glad that we were here when they needed us?
Who knows what God is doing with any person who comes here? We may not know the valuable role we are playing at the moment. God is the architect. We are only the builders who cannot see the consequences of what we do. Like Ruth, we do not need to know.
I want to challenge you this morning. It is so easy to be a passive Christian today. All of us can feel good because we belong to a congregation where miracles occur. Yet, it is easy to hide in a group. Think about the athletes who were members of the winning teams at the World Series and the Super Bowl whose uniforms never got soiled. They belonged to the winning team but they stayed on the bench. It can be like that for people in any church family. All of us can experience the enthusiasm and momentum while a much smaller group remains involved.
One day two small boys went to the dentist's office. The one young man had an abscess and was scheduled to have an extraction. The dentist had fallen behind in his schedule of seeing patients and the boys grew anxious and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.
Soon the dentist appeared. The older boy took charge of the conversation and said, "I want a tooth taken out and I don't want any gas and I don't want it deadened because I am in a hurry." The doctor smiled and said, "Well, you are quite a brave young man. You want your tooth pulled and you don't want me to use any novocain?" The little boy said, "That's right, cause we're in a hurry." "Okay," said the dentist, "But may I first look at the tooth?" The older boy responded, "Go ahead Albert, show him your tooth."
Imagine what changes might occur in our lives today by understanding that all of us are builders. Who might we invite to St. Matthew's? How much might we pledge toward St. Matthew's 1998 spending plan? What children might we love by giving extra money or time toward any number of our Advent opportunities?
Builders will leave the world a better place. They sow seeds, invest their time, talents and money in ways that communicate who they are. God will bring outcomes we could not have anticipated or imagined. Always remember that the steeple of the old cathedral would be impossible to see were it not for the building blocks buried deep in the foundation. It doesn't matter which role we play. We are all builders. Everything we do and say builds either walls that keep people out or a community where people may find wholeness. Let's continue building toward the future God has already designed.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Each new day when we awaken, O God, our hope is that we may experience fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment. Yet, our senses tell us that many days are the same. We sense that our lives are full and traveling more rapidly, while we have not moved beyond where we were the day before. We confess that we want assurance that our lives are purposeful in your sight. We are impatient and desire more awareness of your leading. Help us, O God, to find the peace that knows that you could not create a plan for us that has the possibility of failure. Enable us to be at peace in our endeavors, confident that whether we are a hidden stone in the foundation, or a highly visible stained glass window, the cathedral of your Kingdom is being built. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Gracious and ever faithful God, all of us thank you for helping us realize that our spirits need nourishment every bit as profoundly as do our bodies. We are grateful that we have entered our church today.
Most of us recognize how easy it is to fall into an energy pattern of complacency. It requires little thought or effort for us to allow one day to follow another without our asking ourselves, "What am I building today with my life?"
We look forward to the day when forgiveness will be as automatic as our breathing, when kindness and caring will always be the river bed through which the stream of our words will flow, when the generosity of our time, energy and money will be as natural for us as the fragrance from a flower.
Lord, help us if we cannot see it, that all of these qualities are like seeds that long ago you planted within us, awaiting the proper nourishment that would make them grow.
We ask that you enable healing energies to flow to those here today who are not feeling well, who are wrestling with a decision they must make, who are feeling unloved and who may feel cheated because of a recent loss. Use us, O God, even in ways we may never understand or know to build a world where love inspires in all of us that wonderful sense of community. We pray all of these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray...