Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Rev. Steve Schafer
September 23, 2018
1Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
3They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
4The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
I’ve always been impressed with people who go to church every Sunday. They get up in the morning, get dressed and head out into whatever weather there might be out there, while many of their neighbors are still in bed or sitting in their living rooms in their pajamas reading the newspaper over a cup of coffee and a sweet roll. You get to church and you see people you’ve come to love over the years. You sing a few hymns, join in a few prayers, listen to the announcements. You stand and you sit several times, you give your money generously (that neighbor sitting in his living room enjoying a quiet Sunday morning doesn’t understand any of it but especially your paying big bucks for the privilege). Then, at some point in the service, you sit quietly as a minister stands up at the pulpit and says virtually anything he or she wants to say. You didn’t choose the topic. You didn’t give any guidance on the theme of the morning. You didn’t even get a preview of what was going to be said so you could decide if it would be worth your time or not. There were no trailers of upcoming sermons last week…
I’ve always felt bad about that. But I’m pretty much a traditionalist, so I haven’t ever overturned the apple cart and done things much differently than anyone else – except for my sermon titles. I’ve always thought that, maybe, people come to church, take their seats and skim through the bulletin to see if there is anything new going on. It’s usually pretty much the same format week after week, isn’t it? And there’s nothing wrong with that. We LOVE things to stay the same. Change makes us uncomfortable. If things were changed up every week most of us would find somewhere else to worship. We LIKE a hymn at the beginning and at benediction at the end and the offering somewhere in the middle. But the sermon title… If I can make it intriguing enough (“What in the world is he going to say about THAT? or “How is he going to tie that in with anything spiritual? or “This should be interesting…”)… If I can capture your attention with the title of a sermon, I’ve gotten off to a good start – at least in my thinking…
I see you’re all looking – except for those of you who saw it earlier and had those predictable reactions. Today’s sermon is titled, “Salami Slicing.” You’ve heard of this haven’t you? It’s a real thing. It has shown up in a few television shows and movies. It showed up, maybe for the first time, back in 1972 on the classic comedy, “Mash.” Some of you remember that show. You remember the little corporal, Radar O’Reilly? He decided that he was going to steal a jeep from the army. But can’t just steal a jeep. He had a plan. The way he was going to steal it was that he was going to mail home a jeep, one part at a time. One lug nut, one windshield wiper, one door handle, one gear shift. His thinking was that they would never miss it if he could steal just one little piece at a time.
Or – if you are a fan of the Superman movies – if you saw Superman 3, you may remember computer programmer, Gus Gorman, who was told, when he received his paycheck one day, that he had a half cent less in his paycheck because his salary, prorated over all the pay periods for the year, came to a certain dollar amount and 48 ½ cents. So they rounded it down half a cent.
Gus Gorman got this brilliant idea. He would create a computer program that would glean all the half cents from the salaries of everyone in the corporation and have a check written to himself for that amount. His first week he got a check for over $80,000. That came to be called “Salami Slicing.”
Who along us hasn’t watched “Shawshank Redemption?” It’s one of the greatest movies around. In it Tim Robbins, over a period of years digs through a wall, taking one pocketful of dirt at a time out into the yard to dispose of it. Doing that every day until, eventually he has tunneled himself all the way to freedom. It’s called “Salami Slicing.”
Look it up. It’s on Wikipedia.
For those of you who are numismatist – that’s a person who collects coins – you will probably know why there are ridges on the edges of coins. One reason is to keep people from counterfeiting. The other is to keep people from Salami Slicing. Back in the day, when coins were made of real silver and a one dollar coin was literally worth a dollar from the sliver in it, people would file off parts of the coin and still spend the coin as a dollar, keeping a little of the silver from each one. They’d melt all the filings and sell the silver. It’s called Salami Slicing. It is that amazing practice of taking little things or doing little things, over time, in order to experience larger consequences. Let me say that again (it really is on Wikipedia) – it’s the practice of doing a series of many small actions that, as an accumulated whole, produces a much larger consequences.
Now in our NT reading this morning, Paul, in writing to the Philippians, understands the negative power of Salami Slicing. Listen to chapter four: “My dear brothers and sisters, remain strong in the Lord. I love you and long for you. Dear friends, you are my joy and my crown. 2 Here is what I’m asking Euodia and Syntyche to do. I’m asking them to work together in the Lord. That’s because they both belong to the Lord. 3 … Here is what I ask you to do. Help these women get along.”
Now, you realize that the book of Philippians and most all of the New Testament ‘books’ are not actually books, don’t you? They are letters that Paul or John or Peter wrote to the churches with whom they had some kind of relationship. So imagine this: The word has spread that Paul, the founder of our church, has sent us a letter. He’s gone on to do some great things in other parts of the world and we are all intensely proud of him. EVERYONE goes to church that Sunday morning because ‘the letter’ is going to be read. So we sing a couple of hymns, we take the offering, we have some prayers and now, it’s time to hear from our saintly brother, Paul. One of the deacons stands up to read and a hush falls over the congregation. “Dear people of Meadowbrook Church, I truly love you. You are simply the best. Of all the churches I’ve founded, I consider you my crowning achievement.” This is good. There’s a smile on every face in the place. WE are Paul’s pride and joy. How cool is that?
Paul talks about Jesus’ servanthood, how he was in nature, God, but he didn’t take advantage of that fact… He talks about his own ‘learning to be content’ even in the midst of hardships and prison. He talks about us all being ‘citizens of heaven.’ ‘This is one of the best letters Paul has ever written,’ you think.
Imagine yourself, sitting about half way back, basking in Paul’s praise and pondering the depths of his thoughts and theology. You know this letter is going to be read in the church for the next thousand years – maybe two thousand… OUR church being praised throughout the centuries… then he takes a bit of an aside and says, “tell Euodia and Syntyche to stop fighting. Tell them they need to get along. All of you – help them.”
What’s it like to get called out in church? It would be like Pastor Ritter being away on a sabbatical or long vacation and sending his church a letter. “I really miss you all back there in Novi. I’m having a wonderful time of relaxation and seeing things and meeting people. I’ve been soaking up the sun and eating great food. Still, you are all the joy of my life and I long to get back to be with you. I know you’re all doing wonderful things to keep the church going while I’m away.” You even have brought in an excellent pulpit supply preacher… Then, in the middle of this wonderful, tender letter, he says, “I’ve heard that YOU and YOU (point) have been in a squabble. The rest of you – be the referees and stop them. Help them get along.”
How would that feel – getting called out, by name, in church?
Paul understands the negative impact of Salami Slicing. Euodia and Syntche were probably stunned. “Really? Did I just hear that right? Did Paul just call ME out in public? I didn’t think he even knew me…. And besides, it was no big deal. We were just disagreeing on the color of the new carpet for the sanctuary. Does it really matter? Is such a little thing worth putting into the Bible that will be read for the next two thousand years – OUR NAMES!”
Yes, it does – because Paul understands the negative power of Salami Slicing… how something that happens, little by little, over time, can create larger consequences.
I’ve been trying to take off a few pounds. Many of us are. But you know, it didn’t get there over night. I didn’t wake up one morning and suddenly discover that I don’t weigh what I did when I got married. It happened one Dorito at a time. It happened one bagel at a time – one candy bar at a time… It’s called Salami Slicing. …the accumulation of many small things to make me tip the scales at a higher number than I can imagine…
I did a funeral a while back and, as I met with the family, it was obvious that one of the brothers of the deceased and his sister didn’t like each other. It was cold in the room – icy. So I did my pastor thing and asked him what the problem was and he said, “She called me ‘second’ when mom died. She called one her friends first.” I was incredulous. I said, “Is that all this is about?” But when we dug a little deeper we discovered it was a long succession of little digs and jabs that had gone on over the years. Little things – inconsequential things – things that didn’t really mean anything. But they did. It’s called Salami Slicing.
Paul knows the negative power of doing little things over a long period of time and how it will, eventually, affect the whole.
But Paul also knows the positive power of Salami Slicing. So he says, “I want you to rejoice always. I want people to know your gentleness. I want you not to worry but to pray. I want you always to think about what is noble, think about what is right and pure. Think about what is lovely and worthy of respect. If you can find these things in another person, praise them – tell them what you see. If anything is excellent or worthy of praise, think about those kinds of things. So fill your mind, your heart, your life with so many tiny acts of kindness, so many small good thoughts, so many little good deeds, that there will be, in the end, tremendous consequences.
You see, that’s how life works. Little by little things can get worse – a lot worse OR little by little things can get better – tremendously better. It’s the power of Salami Slicing and it’s your choice.
Jesus did it. We tend to think Jesus changed people in an instant. He did sometimes. But if you read the gospels that’s not the way it happened in the lives of the people who were closest to him. It was little by little. It was little by little with Peter. “Peter, leave your net and follow me. No, you can’t walk on water yet – maybe some day. Today you need to stay in the boat. You need to feed my sheep. You need to walk with me for a while, step by step.”
Think of the most spiritual person you know. Have you ever wondered who their first Sunday School teacher was? You know, being that most spiritual of people didn’t happen over night. It happened with some faithful teacher telling him or her the story of David and Goliath when they were little – then of Moses and then of Jesus and his parables and his love. Week after week, year after year, one Sunday morning after the other, until those little tiny things made something of real significance. Little things week after week, time after time, faithfully showing Christ, until something significant came of it.
Have you ever thought of the little by little effect of the things you do – or don’t do – in the lives of others? That accumulation, for good or for ill, is nothing short of profound.
Back in 2008, there were some members of our congregation – Mt. Hope – who were hurting financially. There wasn’t anyone in the congregation who could afford anything substantial to help them out. I felt helpless as their minister… Then I remembered the Salami Slicing concept and put benevolence envelopes in all the pews, suggesting that, if everyone could give just $1 each week, ALL OF US could do something substantial for those in need. So many gave a single dollar – it didn’t hurt them in the slightest – but it helped several make it through. One dollar didn’t help much, but a couple of hundred one dollars coming in each week most certainly can… Salami Slicing in the body of Christ.
Paul had no problem calling out two who were having a dispute. It may have seemed small, but he knew the small things add up and ultimately affect us all.
How might the church be different if, little by little we gave differently – if little by little we acted more charitably – if little by little we became more like Jesus? I’m not suggesting that we try to change the world. I’m just saying that, little by little, consistently done, the world WILL be changed.
Go out there and do half a dozen inconsequential kind things today – to your spouse or children or to the stranger at the check out counter. Then do the same tomorrow and the next day and the next – – and eventually you’ll be amazed at the power of those acts – those kindnesses – those words of encouragement or appreciation… not only in the world, but in yourself. The little things in our lives add up and they WILL change your world. They WILL change us.