"Having A Story To Tell"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 27, 2002
Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Matthew 22:33-40
most curious thing happened; I had to abandon this technique almost
immediately. It did not work. Couples simply did not know that kind
of information about each other. In fact, some of them sat there
totally embarrassed. Many of them could not tell me much that had
substance to it. They would say things like, "He's sensitive and a
good listener. She's fun to be with. We like to take day hikes on
the Appalachian Trail. We both like racket ball. He makes me
interesting element of this is that neither one knew the story of
how the other got those listening skills, those sensitivities and
that love of nature and sports. It may be that we spend more time
researching the new car we intend to purchase than we do on the
person with whom we intend to spend the rest of our lives. What
about our story? Do we have one?
the exercises enjoyed by every new member's class is that before
each weekly session we introduce ourselves to each other. Each week
after saying our names, we add some new disclosure, e.g., what has
been our highest adventure, our greatest fear, our favorite pastime
or our most memorable moment. Last week we had to tell what each
has done to make this world a better place. Their stories were
wonderful. What is our story? How did we develop that story?
There was a time when a group of us refurbished three or four houses in the area around Martinsburg, West Virginia. We did this during the last four years of my being a pastor there. About 30 to 40 young adults would assemble from three Baltimore-Washington Conference churches. We would also field a group of volunteer professionals in the major trades which included an architect.
our contacts always managed to get John Hechinger to donate most of
the building materials and Shepherd College would give us dormitory
space to house the group. The team would spend a week to 10 days
repairing these homes. It was a fabulous experience for everyone
Church was providing the opportunity for each of the participants to
develop their story. Each night the workers were exhausted,
sometimes having worked from sunrise to dusk. We would gather at
the home of one of my parishioners and share stories about our jobs,
the families we were helping and our interpretation of each day's
significance. These experiences were giving each person a foundation
for their story.
It was as if the Church was saying:
Hey young people -- you have a lot of gifts inside of you and you will never know you have them until you use them again and again. Only by using them will they become a part of who you are. You can work as a team. You can participate in creation and know that you have made the world a better place because you have finally given form to this concept everyone refers to as "Love."
Prince George's County school system requires a set number of
community service hours before a student can graduate. This helps.
The Church, however, creates group experiences that help people
build their stories. Not everyone is a self-starter. Some of us
are followers and that is fine. Some of us would not venture forth
were it not for the Church helping us to get started. Before we know
it, our lives have been transformed by what we observe ourselves
becoming. Soon we have a story to tell.
everything within us while we are creating our identity around such
stories. A skilled carpenter was teaching a young woman how to
drive a nail without bending it over. She said, "I can't do it!" He
said, "Yes, you can!" He patiently showed her how to hold the
hammer and how to use her wrist. Soon she was doing it. Then she
was spackling. Then she was using various power saws.
potential was taking form right before our eyes because she was
being trained. The Church was helping her to develop her
story. Maybe somewhere on her life's journey she will be showing
some young man how to hammer a nail into pressure treated lumber,
spackle a wall or use power tools. Maybe he will be impressed when
she tells tell him where and how she learned such skills.
In our Gospel lesson today we have Jesus being challenged by the Pharisees who asked, "Which is the greatest of all our Laws?" Jesus quoted from the Hebrew Bible about loving God with everything we are while loving everyone else with the same intensity.
is there is no accurate measuring device to show us how we are doing. We
throw the concept of love around like a beach ball. The words are on
the lips of poets, musicians, speech writers and lovers. But what story
line lies behind such powerful words?
I am sure many of us have seen that commercial where the attractive woman looks at her gentleman friend sitting across the table from her and says, "I love you." He is a little slow on his response and just looks at her smiling. After an awkward silence, she abruptly gets up and leaves. For some people their love is only that deep.
People can" love" their families while having an affair with some hunk or trophy at the office. People can "love" sports without ever having participated in a single event. We can "love" St. Matthew's without feeling the desire to contribute financially in a way that makes that statement abundantly clear to ourselves. We can claim "love" while investing our energy in a hundred different substitutes that totally miss the mark.
When I was
in seminary there was an interesting saying making its rounds, "If you
were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to
convict you?" That is a good question that we need to ask ourselves.
It is the Church that helps us build our story line. Very few
people, however, can sustain the energy required to keep their personal
mission alive. It takes a community.
One of the
touching human qualities that surfaced immediately following the
terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was the outpouring of
people's sympathies and loyalties. We could not drive anywhere without
seeing "America, we love you" on nearly every overpass. There were
groups that collected sweatshirts for the workers at Ground Zero. The
workers at the Pentagon worked around the clock to finish the job within
one year. We watched as the big digital clock continued to tick away
the minutes. They got the job done.
eventually lose their energy once specific goals have been reached and
life drifts back to business as usual. The Church, however, is a
community that keeps plodding along. Its mission is to give form to our
concept of love, and it has been doing so for thousands of years.
One by one
very poor families in Juarez, Mexico are getting cinder block houses to
replace those made of cardboard. Teams are going into poor countries to
teach people how to purify their water. Dysentery no longer needs to be
a part of the equation for their everyday lives. Were it not for all
the Church related schools in the Bowie area, the Prince George's County
school system would be overwhelmed while trying to find classroom space
for even more students. The Church has a story to tell.
One of the
images I remember as a child in Sunday school was a teacher and her
spool of thread. She strung a single strand between two parallel
poles. She said, "Try to break it." With ease, I snapped the thread.
The next time she added two threads, then six and then ten. A time came
when I could no longer break the threads. She said, "Boys and girls, I
hope you will all understand how strong the Church becomes when we do
Matthew's is like a bee colony. The participants come and go but the
momentum, the mission and the vision continue. Many of you received the
pictorial presentation in the mail some time ago. This is our story.
If you did not get one, please let me know. I will give you one today.
We are much
like the human body. The medical community informs us that within a
span of five to seven years, every cell in our body has been replaced.
An individual cell does its job and then leaves. Others follow. The
physical organism and the spirit that dwells within it continues to grow
and expand. This is who we are.
with our time, our talents and our financial resources, we will continue
to tell our story. We have a story because countless people have come
among us with their own stories. Stories are infectious and
Our love of
God and of our neighbors, a lesson Jesus brought forward from a much
earlier time, will move us into the future confident that this is God's
Will. Christianity came to us as a story. When we choose to become
principle characters in that story, we create a guidance system for
others as we teach one another how to become more loving and peaceful
men and women.
Let us support that story with our time and our dollars. It's the greatest story on earth. This is the only story that will help humanity survive. Our hope is that each of us will remain a part of it -- a vigorous, generous and energetic part of it.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Kind and always present God, nurture us in the ways of your
spirit. When we find ourselves seeking safety and security, trouble us
so that we stretch. When we are worried about current events, teach us
what it means to live by faith. When financial concerns give us tunnel
vision, show us the Fall colors, the smiles of children and the beauty
of music. When we fear uncertainty, help us bring the certainty of our
friendship to others. Cleanse our minds with thoughts that consider the
good in others, overlook one another's faults and enjoy the humor of
laughing at ourselves. Help us discover the fun and joy of serving one
another with gladness. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We come into your
midst, O God, seeking a stillness of heart. Every week we experience
local and global events that attempt to deplete our energy and alter our
focus. We have known the upset and the relief that has come because the
two who have been randomly snuffing out lives in our area have been
caught. Now we mourn the loss of Senator Wellstone, his wife and
daughter and some members of his staff in an aircraft accident.
The world literally
swirls around us with all its news as we remind ourselves that it was
this very environment that Jesus willingly entered in order to make a
difference. Then he asked us to help him and if our answer is "yes" we
welcome the opportunity to follow his lead.
Help us to see every venue and every circumstance as our potential mission field. Every moment we are on stage making our statement about what we hold sacred. May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts always be acceptable to you. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .