"When Self-Interest and Love Collide”

Sermon Delivered By Reverend Richard E. Stetler – August 21, 2011

Centenary United Methodist Church

Exodus 1:8-2:10


    Once I was taking a high school senior home from our youth group and she initiated an interesting conversation.  She said, “I am going off to the university in the fall.  I was wondering what advice you could give me about dating. I’m really confused about what I should look for in a guy.  Mom said, ‘When you fall in love, you will just know that he is the one.’  I don’t know what that means.  How will I know some guy is the right one?  Is love really about how I feel?”

    I told her to date as many guys as she can.  When she finds one that has similar values, enjoy a lengthy courtship.  She should go to his parent’s home and look around at all the symbols with which he was surrounded as a child. 

    For example, I told her to look for quality books and magazines.  Is the home neatly organized?  Watch how he responds during irritating and frustrating circumstances.  When you are talking to him, does he easily become distracted?  Does he have any habits that require money to support?   What are his goals?  Ask him about his religious beliefs.  Does he know how to save money? 

    After probably confusing her even more I said, “There is no Mr. Right. There is no perfect mate. Remember that romantic fantasies can disguise many blemishes.  Look for a partner that you want to love rather than trying to find the best person to love you.  After you have done all your homework, there will come a time when you have to throw caution and security to the wind and love him just as he is.” 

    It would be interesting to go around the congregation this morning with a microphone and hear all the thoughts and feelings that flooded your minds when you were dating and trying to make a choice on your mate.  Many of you may recall that accepting someone as they are usually involved a collision between self-interest and love.  We never know if our choice will work out, but as a poet once said, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

    Today there are dating services like e-harmony.com., Jdates.com for Jewish people and even a dating site that promises to bring single Christians together.  All of these social networks try to do some of the homework for their clients.  The question that cannot be answered by such services is, which spirit will win the battle between self-interest and love? Love can be very painful.  Pain is an aspect of extending our loving energy that is seldom discussed.    

    This morning we are going to explore what happened when the love of a mother won over self-interest.  Our lesson opened with these words, “There arose a Pharaoh who never heard of Joseph.”  Scholars have estimated that the Jews that were cared for by Joseph grew to approximately two million during those four centuries they were in Egypt.  The Israelites had outgrown the borders of Goshen and had become the skilled builders of cities that had become Pharaoh’s major supply centers.   

    The Egyptians became fearful of the Hebrew’s ever increasing numbers and enslaved them.  Later the Egyptian government attempted to control their numbers by killing male babies soon after their birth. Very few people obeyed such an insane order.  During the initial stages of this partial genocide, however, a couple named Amram and Jochebed had a son. 

    Jochebed devised a plan to save her son’s life even though the implications from her decision were extremely heart-wrenching.  She created a water-tight basket and placed her son in it.  Her plan was to have the basket float a short distance following the reed beds that grow in the shallow waters along the shoreline.  She timed the release of the basket so that it would coincide with the daily bath routine of Pharaoh’s daughter. 

    Jochebed asked her daughter to watch what would take place.  Once the princess found the Hebrew boy inside the basket, she wanted to save the child’s life.  His sister approached the princess and said, “Would you like me to find a Hebrew woman who might consider nursing him for you?”  When permission was granted, she brought her mother.

    At no time did Jochebed understand her decision in any other terms than giving her son a chance to live his life.  Her love overcame self-interest and she surrendered what, in those days, was considered the greatest joy for a Hebrew family – having a son to carry on his father’s name. Jochebed showed no emotion as she listened when the princess named him Moses.

    Once Moses was weaned, Jochebed returned him to the Princess who adopted him into the royal family of Egypt.  Moses would grow up and be treated to the finest education afforded the members of the royal family and be taught the skills of a warrior by the finest teachers.    

     Such stories of love that involve people giving without counting the cost can really give us pause as we look at our own responses.  It is challenging to set self-interest aside.  In her pain, Jochebed was not thinking that her son would one day change the history of her people.  She did not have the vision that her sacrificial love would eventually lead to the Ten Commandments and a subsequent law code.  The drama of Moses life took place approximately fourteen centuries before Jesus was born.      

    As we live day to day, we have little ability to look into the future and sense how many people’s lives might be impacted by any decision we make.  Most of us do not give much thought to the impact our decisions make on others we do not know because we are blind to events in the future.

    Once there was a couple who married over one hundred years ago.  They had a daughter and a few years later, they had a son.  The husband became a very successful telegraph operator that earned him a very handsome salary during those years.  He was one of the fortunate ones whose job and salary did not go away during the crash of Wall Street in 1929.

    However, having enough money to more than satisfy the needs of his family was not enough for him.  He wanted more.  He began to place small bets on various horses and as his gambling losses grew, he placed larger bets in order break even.  In time, he became a compulsive gambler, sometimes betting and losing his entire paycheck. 

    Her husband denied having a gambling problem and made numerous excuses for not being able to pay the household bills.  His wife sought help from everyone who wanted to listen to her situation. The best advice after months of consulting various friends was that she should take the two children and return to Ohio where they could be among relatives.

    The wife was a very stubborn woman and decided that her love for her husband and family would not permit her to abandon the unity of the family.  She began to rent rooms to nurses and college students.  She took in the laundry of neighbors and friends and did house cleaning just to make ends meet. 

    That couple has had an impact on everyone in our church this morning.  Had that woman taken her two children and moved back to Ohio, her daughter, Ruth, would never have met a young man named Roy.  Roy and Ruth were my parents.  Obviously, had they not met, I would not be in this world in my present form.

    The rub for each of us comes when our self-interest comes up against what would best serve others.  If there is one issue today that dominates the headlines of most newspapers in countries around the world, it is the struggle that takes place when self-interest and love collide. 

    In the United States, for example, the world watched recently as elected officials could not find any common ground to resolve the financial future of a country both sides claimed to love.  Clearly this was an example of what can happen all too frequently when self-interest and love collide. 

    Democracy demonstrates its frailty when the race for office by our elected officials is funded by special interests groups who later seek political favors.  When do political leaders put the future of their country and its people above their own self-interest?

    Right now our own country is struggling because of this issue.  The bus drivers were divided over self-interest and love of Bermuda’s people and visiting guests.  The Bermuda Industrial Union has issued a 21-day strike notice. As if this were not enough, the workers of Stevedoring Services have engaged in a deliberate work slow down as they unload the container ships.   Produce sits and decays on board ships that have other ports of call to reach.

    These activities are the perfect storm as our country continues to deal with similar economic woes that are affecting nations all over the world.  This experience has placed our beautiful island in uncharted waters never before experienced in its history.  There was never any rulebook that lays out a national strategy when houses go into foreclosure, when companies downsize by eliminating jobs and when Bermuda’s tourist trade is dwindling.

    Regardless of the values we hold personally about these issues or what religious beliefs we have in common, the tension is the same in every culture around the world.   Self-interest is colliding with what love for others requires.  When a small number of people have the power to disrupt the lives of 67,000 people, what is being communicated by withholding services upon which so many people depend?  Just think of all the possible unintended consequences. 

    People are still shocked beyond belief of what happened on the streets of London recently.  Roaming mobs engaged in smash and grab activities is another example of the anarchy that can result when people no longer care about anyone else but themselves. 

    As we have learned recently, the Japanese have “love your neighbor” embedded into their culture because of their ancient religions.  It is amazing that the search and recovery teams sifting through the remains of the tsunami located 48 million dollars.  Most of it was returned to its rightful owners.  Imagine the network of people required to make that happen.

    Remember, the issue that Pharaoh and his government faced in Egypt was based on fear and not reality.  The Egyptians were afraid that if Egypt went to war, the two million Israelites might join their enemy, overthrow the regime and flee the country. 

    The Hebrews had grown to become brilliant artisans upon which the Egyptians depended to build their mighty cities. The Egyptians were not thinking of how prosperous they had become when the two ethnic groups enjoyed what they had produced together.  Clearly self-interest was colliding with what love would do, and fear and self-interest won the day. 

    A mystery of this collision is that it brought Moses to the world’s stage.  The episode in London brought Londoners from their homes armed with mops and brooms, an act that far overshadowed what had happened the day before. 

    The question for us is how many times have we set aside something we wanted so that other people might be served? How many times have we experienced emotional pain because of a relationship where our love had become a one-way street?  We never know what will happen when we decide to love our neighbors on the same level that equals our self-interest.

    God is love and when we choose to extend our energy in the same direction as our Creator does, even in our wildest dreams we could not possibly imagine what God has in store for the future.  What we do know is that a carpenter and twelve men living in an obscure part of the world changed how humanity does business.  What we do know is that a small seed can become a giant tree.

    The process of humankind collectively awakening to the value of, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” is very slow.  Our joy is that God is exceedingly patient. What is remarkable is that some of us have the ability to choose to live with that consciousness now.  As a result, we reap the harvest of being able to live at peace, confident that God is in charge.