"When We Fly Under The Radar"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 2, 2007

James 2:1-10; Luke 14:1, 7-14

    This morning we are going to be examining a skill of spirit the value of which our society has discounted more than perhaps any other character quality.  That skill is humility.  Jesus tried to hide his remarkable abilities several times but he could not quite manage to accomplish it.

     He would heal people privately (Mark 7:33) and order others not to tell anyone what they had seen.  (Mark 7:36)  After the experience of Peter, James and John on the Mt. of Transfiguration, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they had seen.  (Matthew 17:9)   Invariably, however, his light was always put on a lamp stand where everyone in the household could see.  People who were eager to meet Jesus could not help but experience his loving and compassionate nature. For him flying under people’s radar was almost impossible.           

     We have to admit that such a task is equally difficult for us as well, but for far different reasons.  Given many of the unique qualities in our society, humility is seldom practiced or even desired. Many of us were not reared to value humility. Our culture constantly bombards us with the message to pursue just the opposite.    

     During the last several weeks, for example, retail stores like Old Navy and Macy’s have featured clothing sales for children and teens going back to school.  Many models, even very young ones, are very attractively dressed.  Blue jeans are featured with front and rear views to show how flattering they can appear on the model’s figure.  Female tops frequently have phrases written on them with messages that have double meanings.   

     In the business world, résumés have to capture within seconds the imaginations of the human resource people.  As my high school English teacher, Mrs. Lowe, used to say, “A resume should be like a woman’s skirt – long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting.”

     Society has made us feel as though we are in competition with everyone else to get our names and our abilities out there.  People hire publicists and advertising agencies to help them achieve such visibility. 

     To the chagrin of most Americans, the Presidential primary races have already started.  The skeletons in everyone’s closet will be dragged out and placed before us as newsworthy, even radical editorials that candidates wrote for their college newspapers 40 years ago.  Winning the White House is such a prize that flying under the radar could mean political suicide for these presidential wannabes. 

     The message contained in these illustrations is this:  “Get noticed!  Be an advocate for yourself.  No one will find you of value if you do not value yourself enough to put yourself in the public eye.” 

     With these things said, who in their right mind wants to fly under the radar?  What would cause humility, indeed, complete invisibility to be attractive to any of us?  Why would any of us be motivated to do anything in secret?  Some of us enjoy recognition, validation and being appreciated.  In fact, some of us live for such accolades.  People do not want to feel as though everyone is taking them for granted.             

     Jesus was a master of giving life-lesson clinics from simple observances he discovered in the moment.  In our lesson for today, Jesus had been invited to the home of a leading Pharisee after church.  While waiting for the meal to be served, he noticed how people were gathering in the orchestra seats.  People wanted to get as close to Jesus as they could.  They did not want to miss a thing.  Jesus pointed out how embarrassed they would be if the host had to move them in deference to people he felt were more important.  He advised his listeners that it is better to sit in the cheap seats and wait to be invited by the host to come closer. What lesson might we draw from this observation by Jesus?   

     Last year, Ruth Cagle received the first Lifetime Achievement Award for Christian Service ever given by St. Matthew’s.  She had a great deal of difficulty receiving the award.  In fact, she would have been embarrassed by all the words said on her behalf during her memorial service last Friday.   

     Ruth was 88 years old and she packed into those years more than many of her closest friends ever knew about her. She was the only woman I have known who desired to get a butterfly tattoo on her arm at the age of 85.  When asked why she did it, her response was, “Because I could.”  She never talked about her accomplishments. 

     A good number of people establish their identity around what they have done during the lifetime.  Ruth looked at everything that happened around her as by-products or extensions of her constantly evolving spirit.  She was able to discriminate between what was essential in life and what was not.  Singing Ruth’s praises did not appear anywhere on her list of essentials.  The essentials that made Ruth’s short list were these:  that she could love you, laugh with you and share her thoughts with you.             

     Recently, hundreds of single women were asked what they looked for in the men they date.  All of Ruth’s essentials were on the most wanted list of qualities.   These characteristics were all rooted in a person’s inner confidence, their happiness, their self-control and the spirit in which they carried themselves.  Ruth would have said, “When all of those qualities are in place, there is no need to discuss what a person has done with them.  The fruits that are given birth from such qualities cannot help but be present.”           

     When we fly under the radar, it is not that we are trying to be humble.  What it means is that we have learned to create as God creates.  Our needs are different.  Our energy flow is different. Our desire is to deal with what appears in front of us creatively regardless of whether or not anyone is looking.  We do not need to impress, to get into those orchestra seats or to be the first in line.   

     If it turns out that our moment to shine has come, the chances are good that we had nothing to do with the opportunity presenting itself.  Just showing up and being authentic allows God to create through us.   

     Think of flying under the radar in this way:  Joseph, Moses, Jesus, Paul and others all reflected what Micah wrote nearly 3,000 years ago.  “What God requires of us is this:  to do what is just, to show constant love and to walk in humble fellowship with our God.”  (Micah 6:8)  None of them had anything to do with whom they were influencing or what specific memories about them would be preserved in history.  Always remember that Jesus changed human history when absolutely no one was aware that such a thing was taking place.  In God’s reality, so can we.


     Loving God, on this weekend when we celebrate our labors, we thank you for giving us the capacity for insight, for giving us the ability to respond with creativity and for giving us the opportunity to make our world a more wholesome place for men and women to live.  Yet, we confess that too often we are looking at where we are going, what we are receiving and how we are benefiting from our abilities and talents.  Help us to remember how you changed the thinking of millions of people through a humble carpenter who never wondered if his teachings would influence anyone beyond his lifetime.  Help us to remember that you create through what we produce.  Help us to begin each day with the thought, “This is my moment to help others see that God’s Kingdom is here because I am living in it now.”  Amen.


     Loving and ever patient God, how can we ever thank you enough for loving us with sunlight and rain, for life-challenges that prevent us from staying as we are, for the aging process that always encourages us to surrender gracefully the things of youth, for the moments we are given to laugh, to encourage others and to pass on the wisdom we have learned from every form from whence our lessons have come.  

     This morning as so many children and young people return to their schools, we are reminded that Jesus was a teacher who literally influenced billions of people during the thousands of years his timeless lessons have been circulating.  We are reminded of the men and women who taught us when perhaps we were more keenly tuned into relationships, dress codes or whether or not anyone noticed us and, hopefully, liked us just as we were.  During the years of education for many of us, we experienced the light of understanding that prepared our minds to explore the vocational fields into which we settled, the authors who fueled our imaginations with thoughts we might never have considered and the risk taking that gave us experiences that helped us stretch and mature in spirit and character. 

     This Labor Day weekend, we are grateful for the stable fabric our society has become for so many of us.  When everyone serves one another through what they do, in spite of how humble or great their tasks are, most of us experience that sense of community and freedom that allows us to live in peace.  This lesson, given to us by Jesus, may be our nation’s greatest export to the rest of the world.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .