A Message for You — January 14, 2010

Take an interest in one another

by PASTOR JEFF WILLIAMS
Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church

Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer,” includes this reflection in his author’s notes: During my first year on the Stanford faculty in 1988, I sought out professor John Gardner for guidance on how I might become a better teacher. Gardner, former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, founder of Common Cause, and author of the classic text “Self-Renewal,” stung me with a comment that changed my life. “It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting,” he said. “Why don’t you invest more time being interested.”

The ability to take an interest in each other and especially strangers is a great spiritual gift. With God’s heart, Jesus responded to the people he met with compassion, understanding, interest, and God’s perspective of love and justice. He demonstrated the relational, saving power of God’s love for people in his life, death and resurrection. It is foundational for Christians to be interested in the well-being of others. The new church start pastor known as the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Elaine H. Pagels, author and theologian, observed that two sources of success for early Christianity were their theological understanding that people are created in the image of God, not just the emperors, and the concrete care they offered each other.

As one pastor serving two churches and actively volunteering at the Wolverine World Wide Family YMCA, I learned first hand this week about divorce, job loss, likely foreclosure on a home, death and the family tensions it reveals, a wedding request, life-threatening consequences of surgery, what a family wants to give and receive from a church, the renewal of church leadership, the search for a common statement on ministry directions, the openness to integrating prayer in swimming lessons, and the joyful possibilities of ecumenical worship.

How many times are we too concerned with what we have to give, what we want to say, and how interesting we think our message is instead of being interested in the people we come to know in the course of our daily lives? A helpful corrective for me is attributed to Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” How much can we learn about God and ourselves by being interested in each other? Offering a listening ear before speaking may be a life-saving gift to someone in need. Receiving such care gives us the hope we can then offer to others. I know that is how God helps me.

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