"The Church -- "A 'Post-It' Note"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 12, 2003

Titus 3:1-7; Deuteronomy 6:1-9

     Many of us have experienced people who use post-it notes.  Only a few of us feel secure enough to trust our memories to recall all the information we store in them.  Some of us use devices called a PDA or a Palm Pilot to keep our daily activities tracking well, but we have to remember to look at them.  A post-it note on our steering wheel or the bathroom mirror can perform miracles.  Several times a week Lois will put one on the unit I use to brew my coffee. 

     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-notsAs 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 coma. 

     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. 6:6f).

       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.


    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.


    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 . . .