Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - January 14, 2001
Psalm 145: 1-10; I Corinthians 12:1-11
One day when the scientific community begins to clone human beings– and it will probably be done first by a bio-tech company in Europe–these creations will have identical genetic structures but the spirit of each person will be totally different. We have experimented genetically with sheep, fish, oxen, and monkeys; it will only be a matter of time before we create duplicate human-beings that are more identical than twins.
When it is discovered that people with identical bodies possess spirits that are vastly different in their outlook and disposition, only then will the Science of Spirituality be born. What the Scriptures have affirmed for thousands of years will finally be found worthy of exploration and study by nonreligious groups.
Today we know how to build thousands of cars that are identical, but the ultimate destiny of those cars will depend on the understanding, knowledge, and skill of those who drive and maintain them. The same will occur with cloned human beings, substantiating that we are not our bodies. We only inhabit them. Such thinking is no longer a product of science fiction. The technology is here, so the question will not be "how" but "when."
Nearly two thousands years ago, Paul was discussing what we too often overlook in each other -- our distinct predispositions. Every couple with whom I discuss marriage plans and every new member class is encouraged to answer some questions. We have a practice of introducing ourselves before each session and then self-disclosing something about ourselves. Typical questions might be, "When you are really having a good time, what are you likely to be found doing?" Or, "What experiences led you to decide on your vocation?"
Sometimes people will give an answer that is safe. The truth is that each of us has likes and dislikes that may be of no interest to the person sitting next to us. We are different. Because we are one-of-a-kind, this is how it should be. When we each have gifts that make us distinctive, we should do everything we can to develop them rather than attempting to mold ourselves to gain approval.
Here are some typical answers: "I enjoy working crossword puzzles." Or, "One of my enjoyments is when I get my fingers in dirt. I love gardening." Or, "I enjoy searching for arrow- heads in freshly plowed fields." "I enjoy going to the opera, the ballet, and making quilts." On and on we could go.
Every shared insight enables us to reveal our sensitivities, dreams and loves, the very qualities that determine how we understand and develop our relationships. They enable us eventually to make our contribution to the world. Paul was telling his readers that these qualities are gifts from God.
One of our first major tests in life is for us to be honest with ourselves and follow where our sensitivities, dreams, and loves lead us. What frequently happens is that we make our choices based on the amount of money we want to earn or the security a particular vocation might bring us. In our lesson this morning, Paul warned his readers about such choices. He wrote, "You know how easy it was for you to be led astray in your worship of lifeless idols."
Paul is not talking about golden calves here. In every generation there have been plenty of gods in our midst. And we are constantly tempted to pay homage to them. Anything can be an idol if we find ourselves expecting something from it. Our pain, suffering, and disappointments are always linked to episodes in life that do not meet our expectations. Idols can give us nothing.
However, when we celebrate who we are every day and are excited to create right where we are, this is Paul's definition of what it means to live. Listen how Paul lists some of the ways we experience this. One person may be full of wisdom. Another person may be full of knowledge. One person may have the ability to encourage people, while another person has the ability to heal. God's creativity and gift-giving has no boundaries.
We could easily add additional categories without violating the spirit of Paul's writing. One person can faithfully represent someone in a court of law. Another person may write software for a computer industry. People may communicate their gift through architecture, through musical instruments, or through safely guiding the take off and arrival of flights from an air-traffic control tower. People can take what God has given them and with it create an art form.
Paul's common denominator for people was that we must use God's gift in some form of service. Every ability has its origin in our spirits. When we take a thought or a desire and give it form, we are creating. The new educational wing for St. Matthew's began with a thought and together our thoughts created a set of blueprints. If all of us understood our daily tasks from this perspective, think of the difference it would make in the way we use the energy of our spirit and personality to create. Here are some everyday examples.
I once spoke to a meat-cutter who had come to me for help in planning his wedding. He verbally took me into his world. His story was fantastic. He told me how he could determine the quality of a slab of meat simply by looking at it from across the locker. And he also told me how long it took him to break down the meat into steaks and roasts. He did not need scales to determine the weight. By looking at a cut, he could come within a quarter-ounce of what it weighed. He enjoyed his work tremendously and it showed. And he answered the question almost everyone asks, "Yes," on rare occasions he cuts himself. Everyone who loves life has an inspiring story to tell.
Our family was once in Wichita, Kansas when our 1968 Mercury Montego began to sputter. We managed to find a Mercury dealership that had 38 bays for working on cars and trucks. Our family checked into a motel across the street. After supper, I decided to walk back to the dealership and check on the car. Eight mechanics were staring at my engine. This was not a good sign.
It was beyond quitting time for the mechanics and yet they were still working on our car. They all had theories about the problem. They were like physicians who were trying to find the cause of intermittent bleeding in a patient. One older mechanic said that the problem was with the distributor. Another said that the problem had to be with the carburetor.
I realized that I was in the presence of men who were all artists creatively applying the skills of their craft. I kept thinking about the labor costs for eight mechanics. One of them smiled at me and said, "Before the meter starts we have to diagnose the problem. You brought us a real challenge. Don't worry, you are not paying for this." I imagined families waiting for dad to come home for supper and yet like philosophers they were working on a problem.
Quite often people want others to approve of what they do for a living. We want to be financially compensated for what we believe our skills are worth. If people pursue such appreciation as a goal, they often become hurt when such rewards do not come. However, when people desire to become masters at what they do, appreciation and rewards seem naturally to follow. Our skills become extensions of who we are. When we enjoy life and we enjoy creating, the world smiles with us.
About 15 years ago when we were living in West Virginia, I was invited to preach for the vacationing pastor at Inwood United Methodist Church. At the close of the service, a young man spoke to me. He had a Bible in one hand and with his other he shook my hand. He said, "Isn't God good? Everyday I thank Him for my life and for all the people I meet." I was touched by his words and have never forgotten that moment with him. He was a man in his thirties who had Downs syndrome.
After he left, I asked about him. A woman said,
Paul concludes our lesson today with these words, "It is one and the same Spirit who does all this; as God wishes, he gives a different gift to each person." Think of how infinite that number of gifts is. Truly God has many faces. We lead each other, inspire each other and we heal each other by how we do what it is we do.
When we are looking for rewards, praise, validation, or affirmation we are living from a level of neediness that can never be satisfied. Our goal is approval and not creation. On the other hand, when we are developing what God freely gave us, everything else falls into place. We have found the "pearl of great price." We have found the water that causes us never to thirst again. It is in our doing and creating that we truly live.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
There are no words, O God, that can describe our peace when we experience your presence. Even during life's more fragile moments, our awareness of you restores our spirits. We want to hold such moments of wholeness forever, but we cannot. The need to accommodate both our work and our family demands our attention. Our priorities are always changing. Remind us how little is required to bring you into every setting of our world. We can talk to you while we wait for traffic patterns to clear. We can bring your peace into our meetings. We can display your love even while knowing we cannot solve everyone's problems for them. We can be still and know that you are God. Nurture our spirits today with the vision to find you everywhere and in everyone. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We enjoy these moments, O God, because of what they allow us to do. We are guilty of not taking enough time for the healing of our spirits. In fact, we may not be aware that we need such moments. We may not know that our roots, of late, have not been nourished. For this one hour, there are no demands being made of us. There are no vital decisions we need to make. We do not need to venture any opinions. We can doze if our bodies need that. We can sing without being self-conscious. We can attempt to listen even though our minds occasionally drift away.
Yet we know there is a part of us that never sleeps. And we know that you are everywhere, always ready to support us. When our fears bring all the "Yeah, but what if" thoughts into our minds, you are there helping us to remember that you made us bigger than any "what if" circumstance. You created us to be a light in darkness, a candle in the wind, and a diamond in the midst of heat and pressure. Help us understand that with great clarity.
Today we are so grateful as a nation that one of your unique children was bold enough to say, "I have a dream." We are grateful that he patiently gave his life for that dream. We are grateful that in a day in some tomorrow, all races will be as one because of that dream. Lead us to work for that day when love governs every thought and every deed. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .