"Finding Angels In Our Midst"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 19, 2004
Ecclesiastes 5:8-15; Luke 16:1-13
Everyone empathized with the
families involved. Many families were living from paycheck to paycheck
as many do today. Not being able to pay their bills would translate
into many of their homes and cars being repossessed. The fire had
affected the entire community.
The owner of the company had
done exceedingly well financially. He gathered his employees together
and announced that he would continue to pay their salaries until the
company could reestablish itself. He told them that they were his
extended family, and since all of them including him, depended on the
company for their livelihood, they would stick together. The word
“angel” was used to describe him by a number of the employees. Clearly
he had quieted many of their worst fears.
When reporters covering this
story interviewed the owner of the company, appearing to be such a hero
humbled him. His spin on the decision, however, added another
dimension to it. He said, “We have many highly trained specialists
working for us. If they located jobs elsewhere or left our community,
we would have to find new people with their level of expertise that
would fit into our corporate culture. We are like the movement of a
Swiss watch that has been broken. We can put ourselves back together
again in good working order if we retain all the parts.”
Was his “angel” status
somewhat tarnished or suspect because part of his motivation had its
roots in something other than love for his people? This is an
interesting question and it is one that Jesus addressed with his parable
in Luke’s Gospel.
Luke is the only writer to use
this illustrative episode featuring a shrewd manager. To recap, the
manager was living rather lavishly on his master’s money. This activity
was reported to his boss. Upon hearing this news, the wealthy property
owner demanded an immediate audit of all accounts. During the process
of settling the accounts, the manager instantly became an “angel.”
He discounted every account.
For example, if someone owed his master a hundred barrels of olive oil,
he settled for fifty. If someone owed a thousand bushels of wheat, he
planned to collect only eight hundred. In this way, he would appear
generous and gain for himself a nice network of grateful people who
might be able to assist him once he lost his job.
Jesus made a very interesting
comment. He said, “After observing the activity of his manager, the
master praised him for doing such a shrewd thing.” Jesus went on to
say, “The people of this world are much more shrewd in handling their
affairs than are the people who belong to the light.”
Jesus then supplied an
insightful text for a sermon on Stewardship. He said, “Share your
worldly wealth in order to make friends, so that when you reach the time
in your life when money will no longer be useful to you, you will be
welcomed in the eternal home.”
I do not intend to talk about
money this morning, but rather about the nature of the angel who lives
within each of us. Is that angel easily recognized by others? Jesus
taught, “Whoever is faithful in small matters will be faithful in larger
ones.” Then he put a negative spin on his next thought, “If you have
not been faithful in handling worldly wealth, how can you be trusted
with real wealth?”
If we examine the deeds of the
two managers, we quickly discover that they were reaching out to others
because it was “good business” to do so. Jesus was telling his
listeners that such people are more astute at engaging in this practice
than “people of the light.” What was he referencing?
His message was very clear
that people grounded in enterprises of this world know how to deal very
effectively with people. Shrewd managers know that it is a good
practice to give small rewards to the people around them, to offer
incentives that tend to create loyalty in others and to compliment
people on a job well done. This is common sense in the business
world. Yet, can such behavior be found consistently among those who
claim to follow Christ?
There is perhaps no other
written prayer that captures more effectively the essence of Jesus’
point of view than the words of St. Francis. He was praying to be
an instrument of God’s peace. Notice where he wanted to invest his
energy. He wanted to sow seeds of love, pardon, faith, hope, light and
joy when he found people who were trapped in the opposite universe of:
hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness. How consistently
do we want to reveal this angel of light within us?
Many people in the business world clearly
understand how to do this. In fact, they are trained constantly on this
one skill. Read The Skilled Facilitator by Roger Schwartz, or
Leadership is an Art by Max DePree and you will understand the
lengths to which managers train to sell their product, to influence
their clients or to manage their teams more effectively.
On a number of occasions, Wal-Mart has built stores in the middle of the poorest communities. Public Relations wise these were brilliant decisions. The store would provide badly needed jobs for members of the community and win the praise of everyone. On the business side, however, such a move was equally as brilliant. The property was very cheap to purchase. Wal-Mart would experience little resistance from the community. The labor pool to be trained was readily available.
Jesus’ point was that businesses are very shrewd when it comes to serving others. People of the light, however, are often far more sensitive, demanding, righteous and less than accommodating when issues in life become challenging. Let me give you an example.
A friend of mine e-mailed me not long ago from Texas and said, “I need some advice. There’s a guy in my office that is hitting on me. I am avoiding him and it is becoming awkward.” I wrote back and asked, “What is he doing?” She said, “One day he told me that he liked my dress. Another day he talked to me about how much he liked my new hairstyle. Then last week he told me that I had the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen.”
I probably was not as sensitive to her fears as I might have been. I responded, “Don’t you women spend hundreds of dollars to be noticed, to stand out and to look your best? The next time he says anything complimentary to you simply say, ‘Thank you’ and go on about your work. You do not need to engage in a conversation that he might misunderstand nor do you have to play hide and seek with your eye contact. Thank him for his astute observation and let it go.”
Why do such episodes in the office become
interpreted as ones where we need to defend ourselves? St. Francis
would have taught her to turn such an experience into a moment when she
could display graciousness and appreciation for his validation of her.
People of light often miss who they have been called to be when they
find themselves in first-time circumstances. They chose to hide
Now of course, saying “thank you” may not
bring an end to his obvious advances but it is a much better place to
begin than with fear, dread and paranoia. Not every man in the work
force has an agenda that includes every female with whom he works. Some
of us are nice guys!
In the business world such a reflective comment as “thank you” would be automatic. This was Jesus’ point. In the business world, “all people are to be treated with kindness, respect and listened to with an attitude toward service.” Yet, in churches a number of people find it easy to dismiss their angelic identity as they draw battle lines over an issue about which they have strong feelings. The angel within them becomes well hidden.
In the second half of his prayer, St. Francis described what the angel in us looks like. He contrasted our human neediness with our desire to be an angel in someone’s life. He wrote, “May I not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood, as to understand, to be loved as to love. In essence, “Do we want the world to come to us or do we want to reach out and allow our angel to show?”
About five or six years ago we had a couple that had attended St. Matthew’s for a number of months. This was during a time when we still had our coffee hour in the narthex. This couple would stand there and wait for others to speak to them. What they were doing was in direct violation of everything for which St. Francis prayed. Presumably these were people of the light who had forgotten how to radiate their energy and to recognize that hand shakes and introductions work both ways. They presumed that St. Matthew’s was unfriendly and they did not return.
This illustration is not to
find fault with them. This is often where some people are emotionally
when they engage in the process of finding a new church family. They are
strangers who may be self-conscious in the new setting. They may not
find being gregarious, immediately joining the choir or being an usher
something they feel comfortable doing.
Such people can easily be ignored because
we have forgotten how to master our own levels of discomfort when
we are with newcomers. This is a skill that Wal-Mart has finely tuned
when customers enter their stores. Again, this was Jesus’ point.
In many churches, including our own,
finding people willing to say, “Welcome” is a challenge. Our clipboard
in the tower of opportunity has plenty of room for sign-ups. Remember
Jesus’ words, “Whoever is faithful in small matters will know how to be
faithful in larger ones.”
Do we think that we would be a kinder, gentler and more loving person if someone were paying us $20 an hour to do so? If that is our attitude, we have missed completely Jesus’ understanding of what it is like to live in the Kingdom of God while living in the physical world. Being an angel cannot be imitated or faked every day. Besides, being one is its own reward.
I recently read a question that was part of a survey directed toward women suffering from depression. Tracy Content, a member of our church, who has authored a book on depression, created this survey. She is currently doing research on a second book. The question was, “In what ways, if any, has your experience with depression made you a better mother?” A woman responded with these words, “I have seen myself as completely broken, and then accepted and loved even in that broken state. This is a powerful peace and sense of grace that I can now teach my own children.”
No matter who we are or who we have become, the angel within us is still capable of making this world a brighter and more loving place for people to live. The guidance comes from how we choose to invest our energy even when no one is paying us to do so. Equally we may realize that no one is even noticing our behavior. Being noticed is not the point. Those who have chosen to live this way are now in charge of managing what Jesus referred to as real wealth, something all angels readily know how to do. Do we find ourselves among them?
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, God,
for giving humanity the seventh day of creation as a time of rest. When
our minds are still, insights often come. Help us focus on our
thoughtfulness rather than on our desires. Help us to remember our
reason for being rather than focusing on specific outcomes. Inspire us
to look for solutions rather than for what will please. Guide us to
find value in revealing our authenticity, peace and optimism while
living in a day when so many stress the opposite. As we learn to set
aside the barriers our attitudes create, may we see your Kingdom dawning
in more and more people. Thank you for helping us to remain wise
stewards of the light we possess. May our innocence, character and
integrity give others hope. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving and always present
God, thank you for creating us to be social beings that desire to live
in community. The natural disasters entering our lives
during recent weeks have focused very sharply on why we could not
survive without others. Even the strongest among us is powerless
without those who restore our electricity, rebuild our bridges and
homes, furnish us with insurance adjusters and who remove debris that
can be found everywhere.
Our thoughts are
with people who still cannot locate loved ones, with those who were
vulnerable in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and birthing centers
and those who are working around the clock to provide food, water and
clothing to those who have lost everything. While so many people mourn
their losses, help them cling to their values, faith and your divine
presence that will always remain visible to the eyes of the spirit.
If there was ever a
time for angels to abound among us, it is now. As Nature has given so
many people an unwelcomed pause from their routines, may neighbors
discover neighbors. May those who experience isolation either by design
or circumstance come to know that a real world of love, compassion and
friendship does exist. Allow spirit to melt away the barriers that have
been built between peoples so that permanent bridges may take their
place. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ,
who taught us to say when we pray . . .