"Priests, Plumbers and  Lawyers"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 4, 2005

Ecclesiastes 3:9-15; Romans 12:1-13

     With all that our eyes and ears have beheld this week in the ongoing drama created by hurricane Katrina, there could not be a more fitting scripture lesson on this Labor Day weekend than the words Paul wrote to the Romans.   He wrote, “We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions.  We are to use our different gifts in accordance with the potential that God has given us.  Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles and stay close at all times in your communication with God.  Share your belongings with the needy and open your homes to strangers.”          

     One of our strengths and weaknesses is that we Americans are extremely impatient.  We have been in pain as the media repeatedly bathed our senses with images and stories that have been heart wrenching in their content.  A number of people have questioned the agility of our government to make threshold decisions.  Many have shared their thoughts regarding the reaction time of our primary responders.  The blame game is the easiest to play and it adds absolutely nothing to our country’s recovery effort. What we need to celebrate on this Labor Day weekend are the skills that will be used by people just like us who will be rebuilding what has been destroyed.  

     The Apostle Paul frequently made reference to the human body as a metaphor for how everything works together for the efficiency of the whole.  Each part has a distinct function without which nothing else works well.  There is nothing that could have more dramatically illustrated his point than what we have witnessed in the wake of Katrina’s destructive path. The fabric of our entire society has been torn.  We are reminded of that tear each time we go to the gasoline pumps.

     Most of us had no idea nor did we care what kind of goods and services came into the ports along the Gulf coast until those depots were closed until  further notice.  The miracle is that immediately people began seeking and finding alternatives for keeping such commodities flowing to different parts of our country.   

     Besides the remarkable job being done by media specialists who have been producing a steady stream of information from the stricken areas, others are serving us by redirecting the flow of everything from gasoline and natural gas to bananas and shrimp. The secret of maintaining the body’s health is that all its members are directed toward healing the wounded part.  Jesus taught that when we serve one another, the result is predictable.           

     As soon as a major wound occurs to our physical body, a host of invisible activities are unleashed immediately to begin repairs.  We grow impatient.  We become frustrated and distracted by a wound even though the healing process is well underway.    

     With respect to the damage caused by the hurricane, we know that over 9,000 utility workers were already rebuilding the electrical infrastructure by Tuesday.  Colleges and universities all over the country began preparing to absorb displaced students.  Insurance agents were dispatched; police and National Guard units were deployed; search and rescue teams were packing up and on the road as early as Monday evening.   The people bringing us the news have kept our attention focused on the wound rather than on everything that was invisibly flowing to it from the rest of the body. 

     We take so much for granted until the pipeline filled with everything we enjoy is broken.  Now the opportunity comes for us to watch and participate in the unfolding of what makes America valuable to us. The process will appear as a giant turbine that begins slowly until one day it achieves enormous speed.             

     Every day of our lives our trust and faith are being tested.  The spiritual grading system is not based on an A + or a C -.  The competency of our faithfulness is demonstrated through our attitudes, opinions and what motivates us to stand forth to make a difference.  We are either part of the solution or part of the problem of each day’s events.

     The next time you buy a frozen bag or a can of peas, think to yourself how many people faithfully did their jobs just so you could purchase that product.  The entire fabric of our society, as delicate as it is, is predicated on our continuing to serve one another.  That spirit will flow from us because this is who we are and this is how we get things done.           

     Right now our country faces a massive problem, the scale of which we have never had to face, let alone deal with.  It will not go away any time soon, but it will go away.  We are learning about ourselves. This experience is neither a disaster drill nor a dress rehearsal.  We have made mistakes.  We have experienced failures.  Tempers have flared and lives have been lost.  If the truth were known we are perhaps more skilled and prepared for rendering assistance to other countries than we are to ministering to ourselves.          

     We must not waste our time judging the recovery effort by its weaknesses and failures. As Paul reminded his readers, “Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles and stay close at all times in your communication with God.”  Now and then we simply need to be reminded of that.   

     Take some time this weekend to express to God your gratitude not only for what you do, or have done if you are retired, but also for what happens when all of us work together. Because of our insistence on serving one another, we are stronger than the damage caused by a category five hurricane.   One day our world’s people will collectively awaken to understand that being in community is far more powerful for our mutual safety and evolution than anything else.  Perhaps the viewing audiences around the world will receive that message as they watch the unfolding of our recovery and healing.


    Help us, O God, not to think of you as being separated from us.  Rather than being an aspect of our external world, help us discover that you are the still small voice within us.  As we find you there, may we learn that in our world, it is our unique kind that is needed.  Regardless of the skills and abilities that appear to be natural to us, may we also surface such qualities as forgiveness, caring and generosity.  When the life-patterns of others appear to confine us, enable us to find creative ways to rise above them.  Enable our lives to point to possibilities, alternatives, opportunities and solutions.   As our spirits radiate optimism and hope, use us to be healers to others who cannot make sense out of their experiences.  Reveal yourself to them through us.  Amen.


    Faithful God, we are grateful that we can gather this morning to both mourn and celebrate.  Each of us in our own way has had to cope with the theme once described by Charles Dickens, “These are the best of times and these are the worst of times.” We have witnessed countless people lifting human potential to incredible heights.  We have also watched others as they have responded with fear, frustration and anger.  We have been inspired by people’s stories of heroism and we have wept with others whose losses appear inconsolable.  Never before, O God, have we witnessed in our country such a mass of people being stripped of every material symbol that supported their identity in our world.  We now stand with other people in the world who have experienced such losses. 

    As we celebrate Labor Day, we have been made keenly aware of those who build our homes, pave our highways, string electrical cable, maintain communications, bring us the news of unfolding events, fight fires, maintain order, drive our trucks, attend to our medical needs, feed our souls, teach our children, coach us into greater accountability, fly our aircraft and pick up our refuse.  May we understand anew, that every fiber in the fabric of our society is precious and needed.  We confess how often we take so much for granted until one day many threads in that fabric turn up missing.   

    May each of us find some way to participate in bringing healing to the scars that have left so many people needy and vulnerable.  We pray these things in the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .