The Endangered Species of the 21st Century

Romans 16:16

16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

Dear Friends in Christ,

It happens more times than we can even remember.  All we know is it happens a lot.  You need to contact your insurance company or the phone company or your satellite TV provider.  And all you need to do is make one request of them or find out one tiny tidbit of information.  But as soon as you dial that 800 number, you know what’s coming.  That much-dreaded yet inevitable onslaught of options and buttons to press, depending upon the purpose of your call.  And if the stars are properly aligned in the heavens and good luck is on your side, after navigating your way through all of those options, maybe, just maybe you might get to actually talk to a real live human being.  Whether that person can help you is another issue, but at least it is a human being with which you can communicate rather than a machine.

You know, the ancients feared being lost at sea.  Our forefathers feared being lost in a frontier blizzard.  Some of our fathers and grandfathers knew what it was like to be lost behind enemy lines.  But no generation has had to face the fear that we have to face day in and day out.  And that is the fear of being lost in the Bermuda Triangle of Computerized Telephone Service.  I understand that even today there are people trapped in their homes, still sitting on hold, still listening to the hits of the ‘80’s.  Some haven’t been seen for years.  But they’re still waiting and hoping and praying that any minute they will hear a human voice come on the other end of the line and ask, “May I help you?”

You know you’re getting old when you start using phrases like “Remember when,” but from all that I just shared with you, I can’t help but play that little game this morning.  Remember when almost everything you did throughout the course of the day required you to have some kind of conversational encounter with another human being?  You’d go to the gas station and you’d shoot the breeze with the attendant while he filled up your car and checked your oil and tires.  You’d go to the bank and I’m talking about inside the building and the teller would greet you and you’d greet them and you’d talk about the weather or things going on in your families.  You’d buy some flowers and visit with the lady from whom you purchased them.  Everything demanded interaction, eye-to-eye/person-to-person contact.

But oh how times have changed.  Now you can literally go from sun-up to sundown, do a lot of things, carry on with your life, and never touch more than a computer keyboard, stare into a monitor, and talk or text on a cell phone.  You can purchase your gas with a credit card at the self-serve pump now.  You can use an ATM card to get money out of the bank.  You can order flowers or just about anything else over the Internet.

So in the light of all that we’ve just been talking about, what do you think is the endangered species of the 21st century that I’ve referred to in my sermon title?  I think it’s personal greetings.  But if the Lord has his way, all of that will change and there will be an abundance of them, especially in the church.  You see, it matters to God that his church be a place where greetings are exchanged and people are made to feel welcome and loved.  In fact, it mattered so much to him that he had the Apostle Paul remind the members of the church in Rome in our text for today to greet one another with a holy kiss.  And by the way, he didn’t just do it with the church at Rome, but also both times Paul wrote the church at Corinth and when he wrote the Thessalonians and when Peter wrote his 1st epistle.  And since God felt the greeting of one another to be so important that he included that admonition in his Word that many times, we’re going to spend some time today taking a look at 3 reasons why it should be important for us as well.

Reason #1, we greet one another for our sake.  You see, a greeting by its very nature is an unselfish act.  It’s your way of acknowledging that there is somebody else in the world besides you.  Now the reason that is so important is because any time you and I can succeed in getting our minds off ourselves, we’ve done a very spiritual thing.  We’ve done a very Christ-like thing.  Because by nature, are we not selfish, self-centered creatures?  By nature, don’t we typically look out for #1?  But when we take the time to greet one another, to visit with another person and show an interest in their life, we are putting someone else ahead of ourselves.  And that is precisely what the Apostle Paul calls us to do in Phil. 2:4 where he says:  “Do not be interested only in your own life, but be interested in the lives of others.”           

Then a 2nd reason why we greet one another is for their sake.  I came across an interesting saying the other day that is going to make you think, so please pay attention.  It goes like this: “Suspicion is the child of silence.”  Now what does that mean?  Well, if you were to enter a room in someone’s house or a classroom or an auditorium or a church where there’s a group of people and no one says anything to you, no one greets you, what does that silence give birth to?  Suspicion, right?  “Something must be wrong…Somebody must be mad at me…Maybe I’m not dressed properly.  Maybe my zipper down.”  Check me on this.  Whenever that type of situation arises and everyone else has been welcomed and greeted and made to feel a part of the group, but you haven’t, I can pretty well guarantee you are not thinking, “Well, they haven’t greeted me because they’re in awe of me.  They’re just so overwhelmed at my presence that they can’t find the right words to say to me.”  That doesn’t happen, does it?  Instead, most of us assume the worst.  We assume that there must be something wrong with us.  That’s what that saying means when it says “Suspicion is the child of silence.”

But when you break the silence, when you extend a hand of greeting to someone who’s facing that type of a situation, you have no idea how much that might mean to them.  That’s why Paul says in our text:  “Greet one another.”  Notice, he doesn’t say:  “Greet only the people you know or only the people you like or only the people who are like you.”  Instead, he issues a call to unprejudiced, unbiased, impartial kindness.  “Just greet everybody,” Paul says.

And if you read the entire 16th chapter of Romans you see Paul doing just that.  I’m not going to take the time to read the whole thing, but just listen to a few verses.  He says:  “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me…Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”  On and on he goes identifying all these people by name that he wanted to acknowledge and send personal greetings to: Ampliatus, Urbanus, Apelles, Aristobulus, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Rufus, Philologus, and Asyncritus.

Now we kind of hiccup our way through those strange sounding names as we struggle to pronounce them correctly, but I would suggest to you that when Paul wrote those names he may have struggled to hold back tears.  Each one of those persons meant something to him.  Each one of those persons had a story behind himself or herself.  Each one of those persons had contributed something to the Lord’s work that was going on there in Rome.  Some of them were slaves.  Some worked in the palace.  Some were males, some were females.  Some were rich, some were poor.  But Paul makes no distinctions.  He greets all as equals.  He doesn’t want anyone to feel left out.  And neither should we because like I said before, you do not know how much your simple greeting might mean to another person.  To put it another way, what is small to you might be huge to someone else.

Kind of like what happened to a church in Georgia that received a very interesting phone call some time ago.  Many years before a visitor had come to this church and he was warmly greeted and received.  He left and was never heard from again.  And to be honest, the church never really thought about him again.  But apparently he thought about them.  And the day came when that church received a phone call from an attorney in New Jersey who introduced himself as the representative of the estate of Robert B. Brown. At the age of 90 he had passed away and had left his entire estate of $178,000 to this church.  The minister told the attorney that he didn’t remember Mr. Brown, so the lawyer explained that Mr. Brown had come to that church some years ago on a day when he was very discouraged and depressed.  He’d been on a business trip and things were not going well in his life.  But the people in that church had greeted him so warmly and made him feel so welcome that he had never forgotten it so he left to that church everything he owned as a way of saying thank you.

So greet one another for your sake, to get you out of your little world and into somebody else’s.  Greet one another for their sake because what is small to you may be huge to them.  And then lastly, and perhaps most importantly, greet one another for Jesus’ sake.  Now what do I mean by that?  Well, you parents here today, don’t you just love the people who love your kids?  I mean, that coach may be a real jerk at times, but if he loves your kid, if he gives special attention to your child on the baseball diamond or the basketball court or the soccer field, he’s not such a bad guy after all, is he?  We love people who love our kids.  And you know what?  So does God.  In fact, God goes so far as to say, “The way you treat my kids is the way you treat me.”

Imagine for a moment that I somehow managed to schedule Jesus himself to come to our church on a Sunday morning – pierced hands, pierced feet, risen from the dead.  Jesus in the flesh.  If he were to come and make a special appearance here, what do you think would happen?  Obviously we’d have an overflow crowd and every eye would be on him, and rightly so.  After the service we would form a line that would go all the way out to the parking lot and stretch around our church and we would wait however long it took just so we could spend a few moments saying thank you to the One who died for us so that we could live with him forever.  Not one of us would pass up that opportunity to greet the Creator of the universe and the Savior of the world, right?

Well, in Matt. 25 Jesus said that we actually have that opportunity each and every day.  He said, “Whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you do it for me.”  So you know that teenager who sits in the back and looks like he feels kind of awkward or bored being to church?  When you make him feel welcome, you make Jesus feel welcome.  Or how about the single mom who comes to church with 3 or 4 kids in tow looking very self-conscious, not knowing where to sit or who to sit with.  When you pat your part of the pew and say, “Why don’t you sit here with me and I’ll help you with those kids,” you are offering assistance to Jesus.  Or how about the family that walks in on Sunday morning with “New in Church” written all over their faces?  They’re trying to figure out where to go and what to do with the bulletin they’re handed and which hymnal to use.  When you go up to them and introduce yourself to them, you’re introducing yourself to Christ.

So we greet one another, for our sake – to get you out of you and me out of me.  We greet one another for their sake because what may seem small to us might be huge to them.  But most importantly, we greet one another for Jesus’ sake, because whatever we do for others, we are in reality doing for him.

How about a little bit of trivia as we draw this sermon to a close.  The word courtesy comes from a British word that means “the way of the court.”  In the presence of the king people acted a certain way.  Should we not do the same for are we not children of the King?  Should we not exercise Christian courtesy whenever we enter the court of our King here at this church and anywhere else we find ourselves for are we not representatives of our King?  Let’s each do our part then in seeing to it that common Christian courtesy is the order of the day here at Salem Lutheran Church and that the phrase “Greet one another” can no longer be listed as an endangered species of the 21st century.