"Learning To Polish Our Greatest Skill”

Sermon Delivered By Reverend Richard E. Stetler – September 4, 2011

Centenary United Methodist Church

Proverbs 21:1-8; Romans 13:8-14


    When Jesus walked the earth he told his listeners to serve one another. When we think about it, that is what people do during their years of employment.  Every aspect of every industry is about serving others.  Since we are approaching Labor Day, this is an ideal time to discuss this theme.  Those of us that want to remain fully alive until we draw our last breath have realized that none of us ever retires from being of service to others.

    One of my favorite memories was visiting an 84-year old woman who was bed-ridden. She left me breathless after each visit.  Fortunately, she had come to live with her daughter and husband, so she did not have to face her circumstances without assistance.  With that said, she was a remarkable woman that maintained a busy daily schedule.   The clock on her bedroom wall helped her move through each day from one task to the next.

    The symbols of her busyness were everywhere.  As ridiculous as this sounds, I had to call for an appointment to see her.  Older people frequently are governed by ritualistic patterns and many of them would prefer that their routines not be interrupted.  In the 45-minutes I was generally allotted, she was nearly nonstop chatter, up-dating me on what she had been doing since my last visit.  She knew exactly when it was I last visited.

    She had a small egg-timer beside her bed that looked like an hour-glass. Every day she would call people in her church or in her social network.  When people answered, she turned the hour-glass over.   When four and one half minutes of sand had fallen to the lower chamber, she would end the conversation by saying, “Well, I’ve got to run; I’ll catch up with you again real soon.”

    She knew everything going on in the lives of others. Her conversations were always about them.  If they asked about her, she skillfully redirected conversation back to them.  “My calls have to be short,” she said, “because no one has the time today to chit-chat much longer than a couple of minutes.  And, they certainly aren’t interested in hearing about my aches and pains so I never mention them.”  She kept a record of who she called and when. 

    Her days were filled with many activities.  For example, she consulted the newspaper and prayed for families grieving the death of a loved one.  She prayed for those who had gotten married.  She prayed for families that had welcomed babies into their lives. She wrote notes to people on their anniversaries and birthdays.  Sometimes she sent “thinking of you” cards to spouses on the anniversary of their partner’s death. 

    She used to tell me, “My most favorite moments during the day are those I spend with God and when I talk to my guardian angels.  What makes this time so special for me is that they are my angels that are always letting me know in countless ways that my life matters even at my age.”

    I often commented to her daughter as I was leaving, “She certainly hasn’t lost any energy since the last time I was here.”  Judy would roll her eyes and say, “Dick, you have no idea.  She insists on coming out into the kitchen in her wheelchair to help with supper.  Last night she was paring potatoes, carrots and onions to put around our pot roast.  She is still a fabulous cook. When we tell her to slow down, mom quickly reminds me, “I am not my body.  What lives inside this well-used instrument still knows to make music.”  

    What makes anything we do worthwhile is knowing that our purpose has little to do with the power we have, little to do with the salary we make and little to do with our relationship with the movers and shakers in our industry.  Our purpose is to serve people.  When we forget that, we begin attracting to ourselves a variety of negative influences and attitudes that keep us upset. 

    The spirit of any industry changes the minute everyone puts others first.  There are countless business books on best practices that teach the importance of attitude, clear communication and constantly improving the work environment. The importance of these qualities is summed up in our scripture lesson this morning.  

    While writing to the Christian community living in Rome, the Apostle Paul gave a brief summary of five of the Ten Commandments that began with, “Thou Shalt Not . . .”    The early Hebrews developed the idea that gaining God’s favor meant abstaining from certain behaviors. Paul adjusted this point of view by refining the intent of these commandments.  He wrote, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  If you love others, you will never do them harm; to love, then, is to obey the whole law.” (Romans13:10)

    The story of the 84 year old woman embodied the essence of Paul’s refinement of the Ten Commandments.  When our spirits are communicating, “What can I do to help?  How can I better resource and support you?” they are supportive of others.  How different this spirit is from the one that asks, “How much are you going to pay me? What does my medical benefit package look like?  How about my paid holidays and sick leave?”

    I know several people that are directors of the Human Resources Departments for various companies.  These are the people who do the hiring for their businesses.  All of them have told me at one time or another, “I know within the first two minutes of an interview whether or not I intend to hire the person sitting in front of me.”  That instant awareness about others always mystified me until I began studying Spirituality.

    My sister, Jane, used to be a customs agent that worked the border-crossing between the United States and Canada.  She used to tell me, “As soon as drivers roll down their windows, I know whether or not I am going to have our guys search their cars for contraband.”  When I questioned her about what cues she looks for, she said, “Dick, the car can be filled with a wholesome family, but there is something I can’t fully explain about the spirit of the driver that tips me off.  Sometimes, I am wrong, but not very often.” 

    Whether or not we are religious people, the quality of our spirits is always on display.  If you have ever wondered how Jesus knew what other people were thinking, the process is not that difficult.  The quality of our spirit becomes visible in our eyes, our facial expressions and our body language.

    Once a man named Robert Allen was being interviewed for a position in a large company. After the interview, the group went to lunch at a local restaurant.  During the course of the meal, a waitress lost control of her tray and two cups of coffee plus a creamer went down Bob’s front and back.  Fortunately, he was no scalded. 

    Bob jumped up from the table and immediately tried to help the waitress to regain her composure.  The first thing he said to her was, “Are you all right?” The manager of the restaurant hurried to the table with apologies and offered free meals for the group.”  Bob said, “Thank you, but a company can’t make any money giving away eight free meals.  Please don’t worry about this – accidents happen. My clothes will dry clean just fine.  Please do us a favor -- take care of your remarkable waitress.  She is very upset.”  

    Robert Allen was hired to become the Chief Executive Office of AT&T from 1988-97.  It is unclear whether or not the incident at the restaurant sealed the deal, but it sure did not hurt. That was the kind of person Bob was and he brought that spirit into his company.    

    Paul was correct when he wrote, “When people display loving energy patterns, they are never guilty of treating people improperly.”  This spirit shows up in congregations, our families, our work environment, on the golf course, in the way we playfully use our sense of humor, and in our compassion toward those who have made an error in their judgment. 

    Just in case his readers missed what he was saying, Paul wrote in terms that could not possibly be misunderstood.  “Let us conduct ourselves properly just as people do as they live during the day light – no orgies, no drunkenness, no immorality, no indecency, no fighting and no displays of jealousy.”  (Romans 13:13)

    You may have seen the article in Tuesday’s newspaper that described what happened when “the biggest pool party of the year” was advertised on someone’s Facebook page.  The party was held in Fort Collins, near Colorado State University. 

    This back-to-school party drew over 2,000 people. The site of the party was overwhelmed.  No one could manage the staggering number of people that showed up.  The paper reported that there were a number of arrests.   Others were taken to the hospital due to the overconsumption of alcohol.  Why do people continue to engage in such behavior?

    Historically, the world has had a host of remarkable teachers, e.g., Lao Tsu, Confucius, Siddhartha, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Moses, Jesus, Paul and countless others who are teaching our generation.   All of them have taught that everything in our existence is constantly changing. Paul was teaching that there is only one rudder to our ship that works consistently – to love one another.  Life is never about living irresponsibly under the guise of having fun.

     During our temporary journey in these physical bodies, everything our spirits need to work on comes up for us.  How are we doing with anger issues?  How are we doing with security issues?  How are we doing with the aspects of life that make us afraid?  Our responses communicate precisely where we are in our growth.  

     Our present circumstances provide us with a remarkable laboratory for learning who we are.  Are we in pursuit of wealth?  How will we feel when we get there?  Are we trying to hold on to our physical attractiveness?  Do our looks truly point to where our treasure lies?  Do we chase every opportunity to become popular and well-known?  Think of how much energy we have to expend just to stay there once we have arrived. A number of important and powerful Caesars ruled Rome.  How many of them do we remember?  Jesus taught his listeners that their desires always are guiding them to understand what each of them treasures.

     Does it ever dawn on us that temptations have a creative design to them?  They hasten the growth of our self-understanding once we realize what such attractive urges symbolize. Every day we communicate to the universe exactly who we are and where we are in our evolution spiritually.  We are what our thoughts and attitudes have created.  

    Jesus taught us what we can become by loving, supporting and energizing others. As he was dying on the cross, he kept pointing with his words to the greatest skill all of us can polish every day – how to express our loving energy to everyone in our presence, even those who dislike us. When we use our lives as vehicles of compassion, God remains an intimate part of all our activities.

    We choose wisely when we hold on to the qualities of spirit that are timeless.  Paul once wrote, “Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.  There are no Thou shalt not laws against such as these.”  (Galatians 5:22)  Let us remember these qualities as we enter each tomorrow with a renewed purpose of serving others. Practicing this each day will always keep our energy flowing away from us.