"The Main Thing"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 3, 2002

Micah 6:1-8; Matthew 5: 1-12


     One of our church members gave me a quote from Stephen Covey that was easy to remember. Its words could form the basis for a personal mission statement.  Here it is:  "The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing."  If we could do this, every element of life would unfold without our feeling the need to control the quality of every outcome.    

     Many of us came to church this morning because we believe that Jesus taught and showed us the way, the truth and the life. This is the main thing!  The rub comes when we try to keep the main thing the main thing.  According to Jesus, those who can accomplish this are the owners of the pearl of great price.  They live in the Kingdom of God.   

     In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus defined "the main thing" during the opening verses of our lesson this morning.  He gave a frame of reference to his more abstract " I am the way, the truth, and the life."   

     The Gospel writer into a specific literary form placed Jesusí words.  Since our earliest days in Sunday School we learned that these verses were called, "The Beatitudes."  They are attitudes of being.  When such thought forms naturally flow from us, there is little in this world that can permanently distract us.   

     Jesus described what such a life is like.  He mentioned humility, empathy, reflecting our divine nature, mercy, maintaining wholesome thoughts, peacefulness and perseverance in the face of adversity.  He also mentioned that such a person could allow others to be whomever they choose to be without evoking our judgments.  After he listed these skills of spirit, Jesus went on to teach that by keeping the main thing the main thing, even greater abilities than these will be ours when we eventually leave our physical bodies.      

     Many of us can keep the Beatitudes in our minds UNTIL some event, appearing either as a "gift" from God or as a major source of frustration, distracts us.  Distractions come in the most unique forms.  Every one of them will prevent us from perceiving clearly.  They try to convince us that the main thing can be replaced by something else.  While most of us need no illustrations of how this happens, let me give you three forms that are among the most common. 

     Let us suppose that a friend of yours comes seeking your advice.  She has worked 12 years for Verizon when it was still Bell Atlantic. She tells you that an opportunity has come to work for a new start-up enterprise.  The promise is that if she joins this new company, she will be on the ground floor of a corporate structure, which many believe will be the next Microsoft.  Many talented people have already joined the firm. The grass appears mighty green over there and she wants to know if you agree.

     Number two:  Someone you know is in a relationship that has grown stale.  Communication skills between the two have remained on a primitive level.  He is bored.  He claims to have found someone else. He is finding his current life too confining and not leading anywhere. He is coming to you for advice. Again, the grass appears wondrously green with a new person who appears to embody everything he needs. 

     Number three:  A couple has come to you seeking alternatives for a set of their aging parents.  The parents are increasingly becoming more opinionated and judgmental. They are spending their money as though they have an endless cash stream.  They resist the thought of entering a retirement facility yet they can no longer manage the yard work and the general maintenance of their home. They want to know what you would do under similar circumstances. 

     We could go on listing a host of distractions that many of us have or will encounter. Their form does not matter.  Every one of them can impact us.  Each of them appears to demand that we make a decision.  Any decision could produce substantial life-changes for us or for the lives of those around us. If the main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing, what was Jesus teaching when he was using these attitudes of being to instruct us? 

     In spite of how much we claim to love the Lord, life will never be free from our having to make choices between very challenging alternatives. This is what life brings. There are many experiences over which we have absolutely no control. There are some we do.  However, we can always have control over how we greet all of them.  Jesus came to the earth to give us a frame of reference that will enhance our decision-making ability. 

     Jesus was teaching his listeners how to keep their inner world centered and focused on the main thing. His internal attitudes of being describe how the branch remains connected to the vine, or us to God. Nothing distracts, corrupts or destroys our lives UNLESS something external convinces us that it represents our salvation and it replaces the main thing.       

     There are countless people who are very skilled at solving many of life's problems.  What such people do is make decisions and begin acting on them.  However, not everyone is skilled at keeping the main thing the main thing.  For many people life is nothing more than a treadmill of ancient behavioral patterns.  People may believe that they are in new territory, when in reality, they are bringing responses to the same distractions that have been circulating in the minds of humankind for thousands of years. 

     Knowing this, Jesus came into our world to teach us that "the main thing" remains invisible. A rich universe of creativity lies within us. This inner universe has nothing to do with rearranging the externals of life.  It has to do with how lovingly we can navigate while living in the midst of them. This is what Jesus would have us remember as we remember him.  Keep the main thing the main thing. 

THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

    Merciful and always loving God, we welcome these moments to open ourselves to your spirit.  We confess that often we come before you as divided people.  Part of us defends our self-serving desires, while another voice calls us to a higher standard.  We are torn between wanting justice and turning the other cheek.  We are confused about when to use "tough love" and when to show compassion.  We do not know when to endure with patience and when to confront.  Comfort us, O God, as we grow much slower than we would like.  Help us remember that the caterpillar crawled before the butterfly developed wings.  Enable each of us to place our lives into your care.  Amen.

THE PASTORAL PRAYER

    Loving God, Jesus came into our midst so that we might learn how to become more loving, patient and peaceful men and women.  In spite of all the truth he taught, it was you, O God, who chose to grant us autonomy.  Even though our thoughts and actions frequently do not serve us, you gave us free will anyway.   What a great gift that has been.   

    In the drama life represents, you have allowed distractions to intrude on the teachings of your son.  As many tantalizing alternatives parade in front of us, it is we who must choose between the pearl of great price and the idol. It is we who must select between what will enhance our spiritual skills and what is only an imitation that pretends to offer us what we believe we lack.  

    Thank you, God, for being so confident in us.  We are frail.  We make mistakes.  We frequently forsake the substance for the shadow.  Yet, O God, we understand that you would have it no other way. You want us to come to you unencumbered.  You want us to learn that all that glitters is not gold. You want us to choose wisely, once we have learned that all other alternatives are only reflections of what cannot survive.  What a joy it is for us to know that your love is so big that it surrounds us and protects us even when we are yet blind.  With grateful hearts we pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .