"Keep Your Blinders On"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 11, 2005

Isaiah 55:1-9; Romans 14:1-12


     As some of you know, I met Lois when we worked together in our dining hall at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania.  After dating her for a while, she invited me to meet her family.  When I arrived at her home in Lancaster, I found that her neighbors were Amish; an interesting group of people who have learned how to live fulfilling lives without the use of many necessities that we take for granted, e.g., electricity and cars.

     I would like to draw your attention to a piece of equipment worn by the horses that pull Amish buggies.  The horses wear blinders.  Blinders focus the horses’ attention on their primary task of negotiating successfully what is in front of them.  The equipment prevents these well-disciplined animals from being distracted by sounds and sights that might spook them.  Sometimes I believe such equipment would serve a very practical purpose if each of us wore ours more often.

     In our lesson today, the Apostle Paul was addressing a number of issues that were causing the faithful in Rome to stumble.  Some of these issues were dietary.  The vegetarians were in disagreement with the meat eaters.  Some meat eaters disagreed with those whose diet included food forbidden by Jewish law, e.g., pork and the meat from a number of sea creatures.  There was also the disagreement over which day of the week should be set aside for holy observances.

     Such issues were causing turmoil among believers who needed the blinders that horses use to maintain their focus on what was essential.  To remind people of this Paul wrote, “If we live, it is for God that we live.  If we die, it is for God that we die.  So whether we live or die, we belong to God.”  We keep forgetting that making God visible is what we do through our discipleship to Jesus Christ.  What others reflect is solely up to them.  Jesus has called us to a very unique witness and unless we keep our blinders on, blinders that keep us focused on our mission, we can be all over the emotional landscape with our responses.

     If we take what the early believers were experiencing and superimpose it on current media perceptions of our rescue efforts along the Gulf coast, it would prove to be a near perfect match. We are listening to people whose comments question the efficient coordination among caregivers.  There are those who are angry about the apparent uneven distribution of relief efforts, claiming that the affected real estate is the size of England and not just New Orleans.  Still others claim that to the rest of the world we look like a Laurel and Hardy movie.   

     The underlying, unspoken assumption is that if we can properly identify what group failed in its responsibilities, we will be well on our way to a more organized recovery.  We need our blinders on.  Each observation may have some merit, but is this the time for such analysis?   

     What is even more challenging to the generosity of our citizens is to learn that the American Red Cross never solicits contributions over the Internet.  Yet, a web site appeared using exact copies of all the forms used by that agency.  The only problem is that the contributions went to a scam artist living in Brazil.  In fact, there were hundreds of scams related to the relief of those who lay in the wake of Katrina’s fury.

     I would encourage all of you to keep your blinders on.  If you pay any attention to such things, do not be pulled into the politics of the rescue effort. This is extremely difficult to do.  Most of us tune in out of interest.  We want to know what progress has been made.  Our curiosity may lead to disgust if we allow our perceptions to be molded by what others are communicating.  Keep your blinders on so that you remain focused on what is essential, i.e., getting the job done.   

     Sharing our opinion is one of the things of which we Americans are expert.  Sports enthusiasts know exactly what Frank Robinson should have done to get the Nationals into the playoffs.  We have Sunday afternoon coaches who have already determined how the Redskins will do during their season and how Joe Gibbs should go back to racing cars.   

     If we name a topic, there will be no shortage of opinions on how some activity could and should be better managed.  As a student of history, I am amazed that this country established a Constitution that delegates grudgingly ratified.

     During the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin captured the essence of what we Americans do best when he wrote, “When you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests and their selfish views.”  We need to understand that this is who we are and move on to become the people Jesus called us to be.  Allow criticism to come forth from the critics; we have a job to get done!

     Paul wrote, “If we live, it is for God that we live.  If we die, it is for God that we die.  So whether we live or die, we belong to God.”  If we keep our blinders on, we will remember that our task is to make God visible.  I am not suggesting that we become like the ostrich that has the reputation for putting its head in the sand at the first sign of being threatened.  Our primary responsibility is the work of the church, not judging how the Red Cross or FEMA does theirs.   

     We need to keep our minds focused on being the bridge over troubled waters, the peacemakers, the ones who console, the people who bring hope and comfort, even if that means writing a check that allows others to do what we cannot.

     Paul warned about how distracting it is to be making judgments about anything that dilutes the effectiveness of our witness.  As was already mentioned, it is very difficult not to have opinions, observations and thoughts that come through our processes of discernment.  We need to remember that no one is holding a press conference seeking our opinions.  Our thoughts have value when our words instill confidence, encouragement and hope.  Feeding someone’s doubts and fears accomplishes nothing.

     A nine-year-old girl and her friends raised $1,600 at her lemonade stand.  She said, “Helping people who lost everything makes me feel good.”  Her blinders were on.  I was given an e-mail from the Captain of the USS Iwo Jima after her arrival at pier side in New Orleans.  He had his blinders on. 

     His aircraft carrier supplied a full service airport, the only one available for miles. He supplied hot showers and hot meals to police, fire fighters, State Troopers, National Guard and to members of the 82nd  Airborne Division.  He asked the Director of Homeland Security if there was anything more he could do. His response was immediate, “Yes, could I take a hot shower?”  The Captain gave him his personal quarters to use.   

     There has been story after story of people who have ignored what was being said by the press and have been quietly making a difference to save lives and restore order.  The people wearing their blinders will not make it to the headlines of our newspapers or be examined by Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room.  Modern day heroes are out there, however, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and housing the homeless.  Americans seem to be attracted to stories of “What Went Wrong.”  I want you to know that St. Matthew’s and thousands like us are part of another story called, “What Went Right.”   

     What the Apostle Paul wrote about is true for every uncertainty.  When we keep focused on what is in front of us and remember who we are, love becomes visible in ways we cannot imagine.  Remember the imagery of the Amish horse wearing its blinders the next time you face surgery, move to a new location, or set out toward some unknown horizon.   

     It really matters when absolutely nothing has the ability to shake our confidence, evoke doubts or fill our minds with “what ifs.”  When we have a job to do, and with our blinders on we take it one step at a time, the task before us appears miraculously to get done.  There should be no mystery about how this happens.  God is involved when our love is made visible.      

THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

    We are grateful, O God, that you never sleep.  Each time a sparrow falls, you know.  Each time someone expresses his or her pain or gratitude, you hear.  Each time someone feels alone and forsaken, you are present.  How many times earthquakes, winds and fires try to convince us otherwise.  How many times the unexpected has inspired frustration because our plans were spoiled. How many times have our worries chased smiles from our faces, inviting fear to take up residence in our minds?  Help us to remember that only we can dilute the strength of our peace.  Only we can allow doubt to cloud our remembrance that you walk beside us.  Thank you for helping us to remember that we belong to you and not to this world.  Amen.

THE PASTORAL PRAYER

    The mental and physical exhaustion that so many people have experienced this week, O God, can easily be overwhelming.  Truly everyone needs a place to be still and know that you are God.  We need a time and a place where our consciousness can become renewed by our remembrance that the essential elements of life are those that remain invisible to our physical senses.    We thank you for equipping us with the capacity to draw on those inner resources. We thank you that from our faith will spring forth generosity, patience, forgiveness, compassion and courage.   

    The results from this hurricane are a nightmare for those who are living through them, yet we know that there have been other reversals, one which we remember this day with the numerical symbols 9/11-which collectively and personally we have lived through victoriously.  Help us to ponder the wisdom, “this too shall pass.”  Help us to remember the resiliency of which we are made.  Help us to remember that we have been called to make your presence visible in our world.  There are so many things we would not do, think and say if we could remember this one fact.  Our calling is critical to everything we encounter and experience.  

    As we face the days ahead, help us to remember that the loving acts we do for each other will be long remembered by those we touch, when the name of this hurricane has long since been forgotten.  Heal us of all passion that does not lead to healing and making your presence known.  We pray these things through the spirit Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .