"The Church -- "A 'Post-It' Note"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 12, 2003
Titus 3:1-7; Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Everywhere in our society
we are provided with reminders that consequences await those of us
who fail to remember something important. Since cell phones have
become a permanent part of the anatomy of an increasing number of
people, the little beep reminds us what will happen if we do not
recharge it. When we receive a picture of our license plate along
with the citation for a moving violation, we are reminded that we
failed to obey the law.
This morning is our third in a series of messages designed to help us remember the value we receive from St. Matthew's. We have discussed the necessity of Worship. We have covered the healing potential of thinking more of others and a little less of ourselves when we engage in Mission.
Today, we are going to
examine the power of Education, i.e., the highly specific guidance
we receive when our orientation to life includes our love of God and
our love for others. Receiving this kind of information enables
us to perfect skills that give us control over ourselves when we are
faced with the drama of everyday living.
For example, while
performing Ken and Shannon Hyland's wedding last weekend, I used an
episode in my life that occurred many years ago. I was discussing
with a couple their wedding plans. During our meeting, I learned
that both had Ph.Ds in the field of Communication. What surfaced
during our time together was their confession that neither one of
them had the skill to be vulnerable and to share their feelings
openly and honestly with each other. Both of them could teach
communication skills, but they did not know how to use them with the
one they love.
Our words give form to
the spirit that dwells inside of us. All of us can talk, but do
we know how to communicate? For example, are we judgmental? Are we
defensive? Do we accuse and blame? Must we always be in control? Do
we find it difficult to self-disclose our honest, vulnerable
feelings? When we actively listen to people, their words will
reveal their level of skill.
A Ph.D. program may not include how to express loving energy through our use of verbal symbols. Every Sunday at St. Matthew's, in some form, we focus on mastering our loving energy. We may grow tired of hearing about these skills but this is what Jesus taught his listeners at every opportunity.
Do our words communicate
compassion, understanding and patience? Do our words allow others to
feel safe with us? Can we reveal our authenticity, warts and all, and
still feel secure with ourselves? Do our words convey to others our
sense of honesty, sincerity, integrity and character? Communication is a
skill that takes a life time to perfect.
This and other kinds of
specialized education are found in abundance in our church. In
fact, we seldom address anything else. We can be brilliant in our
respective fields and have expertise that is second to none, but if we
do not have knowledge that empowers us to use our spiritual energy in a
loving, caring manner, we will not evolve as beings. Jesus was quite
clear on this point.
People can have lengthy
careers of service without ever experiencing growth in attitudes and
values which exceed those they learned in their childhood. The value we
receive from what takes place at St. Matthew's is beyond calculation.
We cannot measure it. By being here we become part of a culture
which influences what we radiate through our personalities.
St. Matthew's is a "post-it"
note that reminds us that God created us larger than any circumstance,
label or oppressive environment. Those of us who do not understand this,
or who cannot remember this truth can easily fall prey to the wolves of
fear, despondency and feelings that we have become a victim. Every week
circumstances excite such wolves in us, and we need to remember that we
have the power of God within us. We can be a light in darkness!
What environment today helps
us see our life-patterns through such lenses? What organization provides
a frame of reference that helps us heal our relationships, transcend our
frustrations and causes our spirits to stretch toward hope and greater
trust in God? What group of people comes together for the specific
purpose of making love visible? There is only one place and we are part
of that body right now.
It is interesting that even
ancient people were aware that post-it notes were necessary for
living meaningful, purpose-filled lives. Our lesson from the Hebrew
Bible reflects this: In Deuteronomy we read,
Listen to the Laws of God and obey them.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with
all your strength. Never forget these words. Teach them to your
children. Repeat them when you are at home and when you are away, when
you are resting and when you are working. Tie them on your arms and
wear them on your foreheads as reminders. Write them on door posts of
your houses and on your gates. (Deut. 6:3f)
Hundreds of years later
Paul wrote in his letter to Titus, "We were slaves to our passions and
pleasures of all kinds. We spent our lives in malice and envy; others
hated us and we hated them. We must never forget that when the
kindness and love of God were revealed, we were given the opportunity
for a new birth and a new life." (Titus 3:3f)
Throughout history the people who escaped the fears associated with humanity's constant drama and turmoil were those who took time to remember the true source of their power. Today at every level of life we experience the haves and the have-nots. As much as we do not like to divide people into the sheep and the goats as Jesus did, it happens in every vocation, discipline and organization. Each of us decides the group to which we belong.
God loves each of us equally. We must never misunderstand that. However, God will not force us to experience the reality of what Jesus taught. Learning to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ is something we must decide to do when we are ready to learn about spiritual matters. Unfortunately, much of humanity learns through the painful consequences they create by and through their mistakes in judgment.
When there are no "post-it"
notes in our lives to remind us, or when we never learned how to develop
a deeply personal relationship with God, we will not have the still,
quiet, reflective confidence that allows us to seek and remain open to
guidance when life turns us upside down and inside out.
A number years ago there was a
couple who vowed they would become involved in the church I was serving
in Cheverly. They never did. They did not put a post-it note on the
refrigerator door to remind them of their stated intentions. Several
years passed and I received a frantic call from Carolyn. Her mother was
gravely ill at Prince George's General and she asked if I would come to
the hospital. When I arrived she was almost irrational with anxiety.
She ran to me, placed her
shaking hands on my shoulders, looked straight into my eyes and said, "I
want you to talk to God right now and tell him, please, to make my
mother well. She is my best friend and I cannot imagine my life without
her." After this abrupt request, she went into the details of her
mother's illness and how, several hours before, she had lapsed into a
We were interrupted by a
physician who came out of the Intensive Care unit. He and a nurse took
Carolyn into a side room. I knew the news they were bringing. After a
brief time, the room erupted with screams and loud cries from Carolyn.
Her mother's spirit had left only moments before.
Carolyn had little
understanding and certainly no orientation or background that would
serve her now. When the physical, concrete world is the only one that
people recognize, it is very difficult for anyone to talk to them about
the part of reality that they cannot see.
A strong faith does not allow
us to circumvent the grieving process. Even Jesus wept after hearing the
news of Lazarus' death. However, when we have developed no skills or
understanding about death, we have given ourselves few places where we
can find comfort and peace. What words can a priest, minister or rabbi
say when someone plunges into the depths of despair because they have
little or no knowledge of spiritual matters?
We often hear stories of young
parents who find themselves needing help when their children ask about
God, or if dogs and cats go to heaven or will they see grandma again.
One mother recently told me, "Our daughter came home and said, 'Mommie,
we pray to God all the time at school. Why don't we pray
sometimes'"? Her words served as a post-it note to her Mom and Dad that
something was missing in their lives. Parents are communicating even
when they do not know what to say.
St. Matthew's is a spiritual
learning center. It is one among many that we call "The Body of
Christ." Being involved regularly at St. Matthew's reminds us of who we
are. Here we learn how to ask for guidance, not deliverance. We
cannot be a bridge over troubled waters if we specialize in avoiding
conflicts. Anyone can avoid life's teachable moments; here we teach
how to remain involved so we can be useful in making a difference.
Some of us believe we can come
and go as we please. We can take the church or leave it. Some of us may
become frustrated with beliefs that range from the sublime to the
ridiculous. But without the "post-it" note St. Matthew's represents, we
may become like the captain of a ship on a storm swept sea looking
everywhere for a lighthouse, navigational beacons or anything that will
provide guidance. However, we cannot suddenly acquire and use skills
that we never took the time to develop.
Every person needs training in
how to focus their loving energy. If we are not seeking refinement, if
we are not the student who eagerly wants to learn greater skills, life
will always be a challenge. Relationships become and remain
difficult. The understanding that sometimes doors close so that others
may open, can easily be missed. Life offers each of us hundreds of
alternatives. Without a "post-it" note to remind us who we are and who
we serve, a more self-absorbed person may not see any of them.
Remember the words of
Deuteronomy written over 3,000 years ago:
Never forget the teachings I am giving you
today. Teach them to your children. Repeat them when you are at home
and when you are away, when you are resting and when you are working.
Tie them on your arms and wear them on your foreheads as a reminder.
Write them on the door posts of your houses and on your gates. (Deut.
St. Matthew's is our "post-it" note. The church family offers a kind of education you will not likely received anywhere else. Remember these thoughts when it comes time to give form to your financial commitment to your church.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving God, how
grateful we are that you created us with the capacity to learn. Each
generation attempts to refine its goals, methods and products. We have
become experts at designing tomorrow. Yet the results we create
often humble us. Our research creates new medicines while we often
neglect taking care of our health. Our food chain is both abundant and
varied, yet we have not learned how to feed a hungry world. We each own
the Scriptures, yet confess that we do not study them as we could.
Remind us both by consequences and insight, what happens to us when you
remain a vital part of every moment. May you always find us to be
willing students who seek to create with our thoughts according to your
design and will. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving God, how often we take for granted
the faith we have inherited from parents, teachers and our being reared
in the church. Our memories cannot recall where the seed was first sown
that helped us choose character from among the varied voices that called
out to us. We cannot remember who kindled the first guidance that life
is more than what we see.
Was it while on grandma's lap that we
first heard the stories of Joseph, Moses, Ruth and Naomi, of Jesus,
Mary, Martha, Paul and Barnabas? We thank you that somewhere we
received a foundation of faith that gave us support until we could reach
beyond the confines of story-telling to experience for ourselves the
reality of what Jesus taught.
We confess that still there are moments when life frustrates us. We hear things that were not meant the way we understood them. We know of children who grow tumors, teenagers who have lost their boundaries and marriages that fail for no apparent reason. How wonderful it is to remember that we do not have to understand the flow of life in order to influence it. Help us in our continued growth as we strive to learn what is seldom taught outside our community of faith. Help us to remember that when one lesson is learned, others are in route. How grateful we are for the teachers who help shepherd us in ways of expressing our love. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .