"No One Is An Island"
Meditation Delivered By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - January 24, 2010
Psalm 40:1-10; I Corinthians 12:12-27
There are a number of examples where Paul’s stated point of view reveals his personal prejudices. Paul was opposed to marriage. In fact, he suggested that men and women should stay single unless they cannot restrain their desires. He wrote, “It is better to marry than burn with passion.” It is fascinating how marriage was acceptable to Paul based on raging hormones rather than the quality of a relationship. (I Cor. 7:8-9)
He was also opposed to women speaking in church. He wrote: “As in all the churches of God’s people, the women should keep quiet in the meetings. They are not allowed to speak; as the Jewish Law says and they must not be in charge of anything. If they want certain information about the church, they should ask their husbands about it and do so at home. It is a disgraceful thing for a woman to speak in a church meeting.” (I Cor. 14:33b-35)
Aren’t these quotes just the best? I have often thought that if the Bible had been written by women, we would have an entirely different book. Without all the testosterone flowing through many of the pages of Scripture, we might have a very different portrayal of the nature and spirit of God, particularly the one that is often revealed in the Old Testament.
What we are going to learn this morning is that Paul surrendered his narrow beliefs about people and embraced how everyone has acceptable gifts when it comes to the work we can do in helping others to evolve in spirit.
Among the references where Paul made this shift in thinking is the one that was read for us this morning. Paul’s words perfectly describe how a high-functioning church family is made up of people who possess different skills. Actually, Paul’s words could be describing what happens in a well-managed corporation, a scout troop or a Board of Education. Before we place our congregation under a microscope, let us first examine where specific skills have their origin. How do we know we have a skill that would be useful in a church? The truth is that we do not know we have skills or gifts until we use and develop them.
During my high school years, I watched people who performed their tasks flawlessly. There were coaches, teachers, administrators and our family doctor who appeared to have great skill at what they did. Not only did I admire them, but I also envied them because their identities were focused on being good in their respective fields.
I had no idea what I wanted to do or be. During registration at Albright College at the beginning of my freshman year, I had to declare a major. Quite honestly, at that time, I did not know what “a major” was or why I had to declare one. Talk about being naïve and green -- I was totally unprepared. While looking around at all the array of subjects that could be one’s major, I asked myself, “What area of study has always fascinated me?” I settled on History.
There are a lot of young adults today who experience what I did. Colleges and universities are prepared for them. The students of today can select a major called, “General Studies.” During that period of my life, uncertainty ruled. I was lost in terms of setting goals for a career. Lots of other students either knew what they wanted or they decided on careers that would produce a comfortable living for them.
My insecurities mounted when an upper classman said, “Dick, History was a very poor choice. The vocational fields where you can use a History Major are few and low paying.” I dug a deeper hole for myself by also majoring in a dead language. I took four years of Classical Greek. These choices were made long before the ministry was on my horizon. After years of pondering my decisions, I learned that I had made good choices from a seventh grader.
This was no ordinary seventh grader. His name was Ralph Burkhart. He had already retired when I met him. He told me that he had only gone as far as the seventh grade because the 8th grade was not offered at that time. He repeated the seventh grade three times before he begged his father to allow him to quit school. The permission was granted.
Ralph was fascinated by cars. He had a passion to develop an idea that had been in his mind for years. He built s store that became one-stop shopping for parts of every make and model of car. Then he built a second store and a third. Do-it-yourselfers flocked to his stores. In time he sold his businesses to a new company that later became NAPA Products.
Ralph next established an oil company -- Burkhart Oil. To make a long story short, when Ralph died he gave Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W. Va. twenty-five million dollars. He also gave eight million to Trinity United Methodist Church in Martinsburg, the church that he and his wife attended.
My point in telling this story was to tell you what Ralph taught me. He told me that if History fascinated me, my choice was a good one. Then he said something that stuck with me, “You don’t want to reach the top of the ladder in your field only to discover that your ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”
He taught me that when people pursue what interests them, the skills to perform well will evolve with time and practice. Then he said, “Dick, everyone has lots of interests that they could develop. A number of people, however, continue to chase a dream of having lots of money and they don’t have any fun while on the road to getting it. I have had more fun in my life than anyone should be entitled to because my goal was not money. Believe it or not, my goal, before anything else, was to work hard and have fun doing what I enjoy.”
I knew a NASA physicist who sat up in bed one night and told his wife that he was quitting his job because he wanted to bake cakes in their basement. She thought he was crazy. He quit his job and founded Renaissance Pastries. In two years, he made his first million in sales.
Debbi Fields, mother of five, did the same thing. She loved baking cookies. When no one came into her store for a couple of days, she took her cookies outside and gave them to people walking by her store. Without any business experience, Debbi grew her business to 450 million dollars in sales doing what she enjoyed.
There is a highly educated man with a Ph.D. who chose to become a garbage collector in Manhattan. He had a trained eye for antiques that were unrecognized by many of the young corporate executives who set them by the curb on big trash day. These were articles left in brownstone townhouses when the former owners moved out. Every day he loves being in pursuit of those hidden treasures.
Are these experiences the result of mid-life crises? Or, are they a wake up call that the ladders of some people were leaning against the wrong wall. Paul knew that inside of all of us are talents and abilities that God can use for the good of all.
As we turn our attention back to Paul’s discussion about the different gifts, what becomes apparent is that there was no one person who was superior to the rest. Paul mentioned Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free which was another way of saying that everyone has something the fellowship of Christ can use.
Paul used the human body as a metaphor for explaining that everyone has a critical role within the church. He wrote, “No one can say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I don’t belong to the body.’” He continued, “If the ear said, ‘Because I am not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,’ if the entire body was just an eye, how would it hear? If the body were just an ear, how would it smell?” His point was that every part is absolutely necessary and it works for the good of the entire body.
If we want to have fun while pursuing what we enjoy doing, we will find a home in our church. Every church has people who come for Sunday morning services and that is the extent of their involvement. That is okay. We also have people who really enjoy singing in the choir. They enjoy acting in our theater troupe. They enjoy getting on their hands and knees in the church’s flower beds in order to pull weeds. They are having fun while doing something they enjoy.
For a number of weeks I have been looking at the smeared fingerprints of a child on the wall just outside of room 127 in the Wesley Wing. Last week I came over early for a Staff Parish Relations Committee with a couple of rags and a bottle Fantastic to clean that wall. I was seen scrubbing the wall by a number of people. One of them was Ianther Mills, our District Superintendent who also had arrived a half hour early for our meeting. She said, “Dick, what are you doing now?”
Many people do not realize that preaching is like slinging verbal seeds in every direction never knowing if anything will ever be remembered or acted on by anyone past their 1:00 p.m. dinner hour. When I clean a wall or when I fix something around the church, I can see results instantly and that is the part of my job that often brings the most satisfaction.
St. Matthew’s is a hub of wealthy people who are rich with big hearts, rich in donating their time, rich in their desire to reach out to children and indigent families during Thanksgiving and Christmas and throughout the year. The amount of money we have given during the Tsunami, Katrina and now with Haiti is astounding. The number of people who went to Mission Central in Mechanicsburg, Pa. yesterday with another loaded truck of material was astounding.
No one can remain an island. Paul changed his thinking about the value of all people. Even Jesus gathered his twelve friends around him and each had a gift they could share for the good of all. Just like in and church, however, Jesus’ little congregation did not always remember the lessons Jesus had taught them.
Once, two of his disciples wanted to call down fire to destroy a village. (Luke 9:54). Some of them wanted Jesus to send a large crowd of listeners home to fend for themselves at meal time. (Mark 6:36) One of them even carried a weapon and used it in Jesus’ presence. (John 18:10). Quite mysteriously, however, God’s spirit worked through the individual interests of that small group that have sent ripples that have influence people in our present age. Today, there is no country in the world without followers of Jesus, people who are devoted to making the world a more wholesome place for men and women to live together in community.
Never become discouraged about anything. Remember, God is also at work. If you find yourself in such a state, call someone who seldom gets called, make a pie and take it to someone who just got home from the hospital or come to the church and pull weeds. Everyone has something St. Matthew’s can use. Choose something you enjoy doing and God will multiply your task, no matter how humble, a thousand times.
Loving God, you have given us a great gift in creating us in your image. You have given us spirit, and when that spirit is linked to our abilities and talents, there are no mountains that we cannot move. Inspire us to step up when duty calls and opportunities come. We confess that we do not always live the truth that we know. We seek security rather than the risks loving often requires. We often make hasty judgments that bring decisions we later regret. There are times we hold on to hurt feelings, forgetting that Jesus warned about putting a basket over our glowing spirit. As we begin each day, help each of us to see ourselves as special agents being sent forth to bring healing, comfort and the perspective that this, too, shall pass. Amen
As always we come into our church, O God, wanting to calm our minds and allow our spirits to become reflective. You have created the perfect world for us to accomplish what our spirits came here to do. As we evolve in our understanding, help us to remain faithful to the guidance which you constantly provide. By keeping our minds open to new ways of perceiving what enters our lives, we grow our skills of flexibility and resilience.
When our relationships challenge us, help us to realize that we are being taught the freedom of how to love in the midst of differences. When we learn that the world’s vast populations have values different from our own, help us to realize that we are being taught how to live peacefully anyway. When we sense that we are struggling with overwhelming life-issues, help us to understand that these are teachable moments that help us to persevere in our trust in you for the outcome of all things.
We ask for your comforting spirit to rest upon those of us who are experiencing fragile moments. There are those who cannot move beyond their anger. There are people who are working through losses and unanticipated change. There are people who cannot perceive beyond what their fears tell them. They miss seeing your presence. Thank you for loving us just as we are and for allowing your spirit to guide us as soon as we are willing to be led. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .