November 16, 2014
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
GETTING ALONG WITH OTHERS
I didn’t used to read the obituaries. Now I do. I think it might have something to do with getting older. As a matter of fact, I read an obituary a few days ago for John Watts. Someone called me and asked if that was me. I said, “No . . . I don’t think so.”
There are all kinds of writing styles in obituaries. Some are just the facts, nothing more. Actually some newspapers take all the interesting parts out and edit obituaries to fit their standard format. Other obituaries could use some editing. They are way too long, as if the family felt it would be disrespectful to their loved one to leave anything out. Most obituaries are too serious. And of course it is a serious occasion when a loved one dies. But I always appreciate it when a little levity is thrown in.
Like the obituary for Doris Vibbert. I went to school with her children, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. They told all about their mom and ended with information about memorial gifts. Then this one final sentence: “Now we can load the dishwasher any way we want to.”
I’m guessing a few of us can relate to that! Helen and I have two very different ways of loading our dishwasher. Her way and the right way. We laugh about it now. We used to fight about it. Now we look at it this way: An incorrectly loaded dishwasher is a small price to pay for a happy marriage.
We’re talking about relationships today. Life is all about relationships. I hope you’ve figured that out by now. You can have everything else you can possibly imagine in your wildest dreams, but if your relationships are strained, or painful, or non-existent, you’ve missed out on life’s greatest joy. God made us so we are happiest and healthiest when we live life in relationship with others.
There are many kinds of relationship. There’s our relationship with Jesus Christ. There’s our relationship with family — spouse, children, grandchildren, siblings, parents. Then we have relationships with friends, people at work, people at church, even people we hardly know.
We were made for relationships, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at them. Some of us got a failing grade back in grade school in the category, “plays well with others”. And some of us haven’t improved much since.
It’s hard. We’re all different. We have different personalities and temperaments. We approach things differently. What one person enjoys drives the next person crazy. No wonder we grate on each other from time to time. Human beings have been described as porcupines caught in a snowstorm. We need each other to stay warm, but we can sure be prickly!
We read today a passage of scripture that is wonderfully practical and impossibly idealistic. All at once. It’s about getting along with others. It’s filled with all this wisdom about how we should treat other people. If we did everything this passage tells us to do, everything would be just wonderful. We would have peace at home, peace at work, peace on earth.
But there are two problems. For one thing, all this business about honoring others above yourself, and hospitality, and blessing those who persecute you, and all the rest is much easier to talk
about doing than it is to actually do. That’s one reason this passage is idealistic. But the main reason is that even if we were to do all these things and behave like perfect angels, that still doesn’t guarantee peace and harmony. Which is the reason for the last verse. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (12:18). As far as it depends on you. In others words, peace and harmony isn’t all up to you. It isn’t all up to me. It takes two to have a relationship. And it takes two to make that relationship work.
So we’re limited in what we can do. We can only work on our side. But we can work on our side. That’s where it has to begin. It’s our move first.
Here’s the script for a failed relationship: “I’ll treat you better as soon as you start treating me better.” You might wait a lifetime for that to happen. While you are waiting, you are both miserable. The ball is in your court. The ball is always in your court. Peace begins with you.
So what do you do? I’m going to suggest four simple things. First, get better at overlooking. We are good at looking. We are good at seeing. We see with 20-20 vision every little flaw and fault and imperfection. We need to get better at seeing past these things. We need to get better at overlooking.
It’s been said that we’re about as big as the things that bother us. Some of us get greatly bothered by the smallest things. We take offense. We get bent out of shape. And usually it was something perfectly innocent with no harm intended. We could take the time and the effort to deal with it. To talk it through. Maybe to bring in a therapist. That would take all day every day for most of us. Or we could just give the other person the benefit of the doubt and move on. Let it roll off like water off the back of a duck. Even if it was something that was intentionally cruel. Everybody has a right to a bad day now and then. Just shake it off. Just let it go. We would avoid a lot of needless grief if we would get better at doing that.
Some of us have 20-20 vision when it comes to seeing every little flaw and fault and imperfection. And some of us have a photographic memory when it comes to keeping track of every little way we have been hurt. There are people who keep a mental list of everything anybody has ever done wrong to them in the
past. And whenever something comes up in the present, they are quick to remind the offender that this isn’t the first time. They can recite every last detail of something that happened 25 years ago! Paul, who wrote the passage we read today, also wrote the Love Chapter, I Corinthians 13, in which he said, “Love keeps no record of wrongs” (13:5). So throw away that record book. All those painful memories from the past serve no useful purpose in the present.
It’s so easy to fixate on what is wrong with the other person! I’ll tell you something you probably didn’t know. Even my wife has faults. But here’s what I keep reminding myself. Those very faults may be what kept her from getting a better husband. So I learn to overlook those faults. Just as I know she is forever overlooking mine.
Second, complete, don’t compete. One of the beauties of relationships is that together we are better and stronger than we could possibly be individually. Our differences are what create friction. But our differences also create traction, so we can move forward and accomplish things. We are incomplete as individuals. But in relationship we become complete. As our unique and varied gifts are combined, what I lack is compensated by you and what you lack is compensated by me. Or in the famous words of Rocky Balboa in the first of the many Rocky movies, speaking of his wife, he said, “I got gaps where she ain’t got gaps.” If that’s not profound I don’t know what is.
Too often, rather than celebrating our differences and working together to accomplish the greatest good, we compete with each other. We step on each other’s toes. We miss the whole point. A successful team is not talented individuals competing with each other to see who is the most talented. A successful team is talented individuals whose varied talents make the team complete and therefore able to compete successfully against the opposition. The opposition is never the one with whom we are in relationship. If it is, there goes the relationship.
Third, love covers a lot. The Bible says it like this: “Love covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8). Which is a good thing, because sin is something we’re pretty good at. Sin has a way of wrecking relationships. It’s a wonder we are capable of relationships at all, sinful as we all are. But God has the sin problem covered. The more we sin, the more God loves us. The cross is our constant reminder of that. God’s love covers the enormous multitude of our sins. God’s love, in Jesus Christ, restores the relationship our sin has destroyed.
And love can also heal broken relationships with each other. Sometimes the harder we try to patch things up, it just seems to make things worse, not better. Sometimes we need to stop trying and start loving. Loving not as a means to an end. Loving not as a strategy to make things better. Just loving for love’s own sake. Just loving because God first loved us.
Eric bought a car for his wife, Christine. Actually it was their car, not her car. It was their one and only car. She got to drive it. He got to wash it and wax it and keep it looking new.
One day Christine was driving their beautiful newly detailed car. Her attention was distracted for a brief moment and by the time she hit the brakes, it was too late. She had plowed into the car ahead of her. No one was hurt. But both cars were badly damaged. Especially hers.
The driver of the other car asked if she was OK. She said she was, but she explained that the car was a gift from her husband. She was going to have to tell him now and she didn’t know how she was going to.
They were in the process of exchanging insurance information. She was looking in the glove compartment for the documents. And that’s where she found the note. It was attached to the envelope that held the insurance information. It read: “Dear Christine, Just in case you ever have an accident, please remember I love you and not the car.”
It’s good to have insurance coverage. But there’s another kind of coverage that is even better. Love covers a lot.
And finally, I’ve saved the most important one for last. I think this one is really the key to getting along with difficult people. Realize that you are difficult, too. We tend to have 20-20 vision when it comes to spotting the faults and flaws of others. But we tend to be visually impaired when it comes to noticing our own faults and flaws.
Jesus had something to say about this. “Why do you notice the speck in your neighbor’s eye and fail to notice that there is a log in your own eye” (Luke 6:42).
Or a louse on your own bonnet. You may not know what a louse is. It’s the singular form of “lice”. This poor woman had lice in her hair and she didn’t even know it. One of those hideous creatures had crawled from her hair and was now crawling on her bonnet. She was in church. Sitting behind her was Robert Burns, the Scottish poet. He saw the louse. He saw what she wasn’t able to see. And then he wrote a poem about it. “And would some Power the small gift give us; to see ourselves as others see us.”
The biggest obstacle to getting along with others is our self-deception. We tell ourselves that they are the ones who are making life difficult for us. We fail to see that we are also making life difficult for them. In fact we may be so difficult to get along with, that may well be the main reason they are so difficult back to us! We are forever wanting them to change. The truth is, if we were to change we might be amazed at the change in them.
Our Silent Preparation today comes from an essay written by C.S. Lewis. He called it, “The Trouble with X”. It’s not long. It’s just longer than we could print in the bulletin. Here’s his first sentence: “I suppose I may assume that 7 out of 10 of those who read these lines are in some kind of difficulty about another human being.” I think 7 out of 10 is a very low estimate. He talks about all the things, petty and otherwise, that drive us crazy about other people. You read along and you say, “Yeah! That’s right! He understands!” But then he turns the tables on us. He tells us the problem is not just them. It is us. And we’re not going to change them. “Of all the [difficult] people in your house or job there is only one whom you can improve very much . . . with God’s help [we] can do something . . . And really, we’d better.”
A couple had moved into a new home. They loved their new breakfast nook. They would enjoy breakfast together and would look out the window at the new day. One morning their neighbor was hanging laundry out to dry. The wife made the comment, “That wash isn’t very clean. She must not know how to do her wash correctly.”
Every time there was wash on the neighbor’s line, the wife would make the same comment. Her husband was getting tired of hearing it.
Then one morning, the neighbor’s wash was sparkling clean. Just like in those commercials for laundry detergent. The wife said, “Would you look at that! She finally learned how to wash her clothes correctly.” Her husband said, “No, that’s not it. I got up early this morning and I washed our windows.”
Dear God, people are wonderful. And people are difficult. All people. Even us. Especially us. Teach us to live in relationship. Not to tolerate each other, but to delight in each other. To find in our relationships that joy and that purpose for which we were created. The ball is in our court. The next move is ours. Peace begins with me. So as far as it depends on us, may we live at peace with everyone. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.