ROMANS 16:1-16

MAY 11, 2008


            How’s your mood this morning?  How’s the mood of the person sitting next to you?   Does he or she seem to be in a good mood or bad mood?  Does the person sitting next to you seem upbeat or a little down?  When asked what is the best inducement of positive moods, clinical psychologist Lee Anna Clark of Southern Methodist University replied, ‘I couldn’t believe this, but it held true for all my subjects.  It turns out that when people were socializing about 82% of the time they reported being in a better mood.”

            Today we turn our attention to the 7th Eagle Flyer practice which is build lots of love into your life.  When studying Eagle Flyers one is struck by the depth and scope of their relationships.  An oh, how they love!  They love many things passionately: sports, nature, music, but most of all they love people.  Their ability to love and be loved keeps their spirits high.

            The Apostle Paul was this sort of guy.  Did you notice all his friends in the city of Rome?  As Paul brings his letter to the Romans to a close he takes time to greet some of his special friends, and what an interesting list of people.  Of the 24 friends mentioned, 13 come from the Emperor’s household or palace, letting us know that the Gospel of Christ had even penetrated the highest places in the Roman Empire.  Also, in the list of 24, 8 are women.  I thought I would point that out since this is Mothers’ Day.  Paul has often been accused of belittling women, which is an inaccurate assessment of his view of the female population.  For example, he has exceptional things to say about Phoebe.  He commends her highly to the church in Rome.  He also breaks with custom, by addressing Priscilla before the addresses her husband Aquila.  He writes, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers,” suggesting that Priscilla was the more striking and gifted member of the two.  Moreover, he refers to Junias, a woman, as an apostle on equal footing with the male apostles.  He even jokes with a couple of women.  Note the names Tryphena and Tryphosa.  These women were twins and their names literally mean “dainty and delicate.”  They sound like a couple of girly girls, prissy women, but listen to what Paul says about them.  He said that these two “worked hard in the Lord.”  The Greek word he chose for “work hard” literally means “working to the point of exhaustion.”  In other words, Paul s saying, “These two women may be dainty and delicate, but they belie their names by working like Trojan horses for the sake of Christ and his church.” 

            But it is not Paul’s theology of women that I want us to focus upon today.  Rather I want us to focus upon his long list of friends, and these are only his buds and budettes in Rome.  He had a list of people like this in each city he visited.  The point?  The Apostle Paul built a lot of love into his life.  It was one of the reasons he was such a great Eagle Flyer.

            By the way, our Lord did the very same thing.  One of the first things he did in his public ministry was build love into his life.  He formed a small group of traveling companions and at the end of his life he said to them, “I no longer call you my disciples.  I call you friends.”

            How are you doing with building lots of love into your life?  I trust well because we can live without a lot of things but we cannot live without love. 

            A number of years ago a professor at Johns Hopkins gave his graduate students an assignment.  They were to go to the slums, choose 200 boys between the ages of 12 and 16, and investigate their background and environment.  Then predict their chances of success in the future.

            After talking with boys, after compiling their data, and after consulting to social statistics, the graduate students predicted that 90% of the boys would spend time in jail.  90%!

            Twenty-five years later another group of graduate students was given the task of testing the prediction.  They went back to the slum area.  Some of the boys, now men, were still there.  A few had died and moved away, but they were still able to get in touch with 180 of the original 200 boys.  To their surprise only four boys from that group had ever spent time in jail.

            Why was it that these men, who lived in a breeding place for crime had such a surprisingly good record?  Well, the researchers were continually told by the now grown men about one particular teacher.  The researchers went to this teacher, now living in a home for retired educators.  They asked her, “How did you exert such a remarkable influence over so many at risk boys?  Could you give us a reason or two why these men in our study turned out so well and remember you so fondly?”

            She said, “No, I really can’t.  All I did was love those boys.”

            The power of love and our need for it is phenomenal.  For example, in another study conducted at the University of California in Berkeley, researchers tracked 7000 adults over a nine year period.  The conclusion?  People with weak social ties had a death rate two to five times higher than those with strong social ties. 

            So the desire to love and to be loved is no more selfish than breathing.  We all need it.  It affects our well being, but a question I want to ask this morning is how do we get it?  Well, to answer that question fully would take an entire sermon series, but we could at least look at what the Apostle Paul did to build more love into his life.  In so doing I want us to note four things.

            Number one, note that people who have a lot of love in their lives are usually great encouragers of others.  Paul certainly was.  How do you think Phoebe felt when she heard what Paul said about her?  How about Priscilla and Aquila?  How about Mary?  Of Phoebe Paul said, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe ... so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints ... for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.”  Of Priscilla and Aquila, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.”  Of Mary Paul said, “Greet Mary who has worked very hard among you.’

            It’s fun to be around people who encourage us.  No wonder Paul had so many friends?

            Charles Kuralt in his book Life on the Road relates a story about the great broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow.  At the beginning of his career Kuralt wrote the day’s news summary which Murrow would read over the radio, and Kuralt said working for Murrow was a great pleasure, not only because Murrow was a great journalist but also a great encourager.  Murrow made it a habit of sending Kuralt notes of encouragement and praise for the work Kuralt was doing for him, and what particularly sticks out in Kuralt’s mind was his first week on the job with the great Edward R. Murrow.  On his first week on the job, a wartime friend of Murrow’s from Europe met Murrow at his office, and as Kuralt was passing by on his way to the elevator ... and remember Kuralt had only been on the job for one week ... as Kuralt was passing by on his way to the elevator, Murrow stopped Kuralt and introduced him to his friend, and this said, “This is my colleague, Charles Kuralt.” 

            Those words meant the world to a young, unsure copywriter.  Kuralt remembered those words years later when he achieved some fame himself.

            Sir Edward Burns-Jones, the English artist, went to his daughter’s home for lunch.  During the meal his little granddaughter did not behave properly at the table, so her mother sent her to stand in the corner.

            The next day the famous painter came to the home again, this time with his paint box and brushes.  Sir Edward then painted pictures on the walls where the granddaughter stood.  He painted a kitten chasing its tail.  He painted lambs in a field.  He painted goldfish swimming in a bowl.  He wanted to make sure that the next time his granddaughter had to stand in the corner she would have something pretty to look at!

            There are many dull corners in the world.  Corners of disappointment, discouragement, sorrow, bitterness, heartbreak, failure, and rare indeed are those who paint those walls for us, encourage us and give us hope.  No wonder these people have so many friends.

            If we want to build lots of love into our lives, we need to be encouragers.  Secondly, we need to believe in people.  I draw your attention to the name “Narcissus” in the list of folk Paul greeted.  Narcissus may well have been Emperor Claudius’ notorious secretary who amassed a great fortune as a result of bribes.  Narcissus controlled all the correspondence that came to the Emperor, and if you wanted to make sure a certain document reached the Emperor, you had to grease Narcissus’ palm.  Being from Narcissus household was not looked kindly upon.  If you were a part of Narcissus household, suspicion surrounded your name, not unlike today if your last name happened to be “Lay” or “Clemens” or “Bonds.”  Paul, however, believed in the Christians in Narcissus household.  Where others kept them at a distance, Paul greeted them in love.

            One of the more successful companies in America was built upon a belief in people.  Fifty years ago when Mary Kay Ash decided to start her own company, her attorney and many of her friends thought she was crazy to invest her life savings of $5000 in a foolhardy idea for a cosmetic firm.  Ash, however, had some strong beliefs about people that she was convinced would work in the corporate world. 

            After only 20 years the company recorded $323 million in sales with a 40% return on equity.  Furthermore, after 20 years in business there were more women earning over $50,000 a year at Mary Kay Cosmetics than at any other company in the world.

            Her secret of success.  In large part it had to do with her belief in people.  She said, “I wanted to create a company that would give women an opportunity to accomplish anything they were smart enough to do.”  In other words, she followed the counsel of Henry L. Stimson who said, “ The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way to make a person trustworthy is to trust that person; and the surest way to make that person untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your mistrust.”

            Eagle Flyers have learned to believe the best about people, and other people end up thinking the best of them as well.

            Then thirdly, note Paul’s practice of complimenting his friends before others.  Let me remind you what happened to Paul’s letter to the Romans after it was delivered.  After delivery, the letter was read during public worship.  During worship, all the people mentioned here would be publicly affirmed.

            One of my favorite stories is about a pastor who was suffering from discouragement.  He was serving a new parish.  He was just out of seminary.  He was unsure of himself, but there was an Eagle Flyer in that congregation who had a tremendous ministry to that young pastor.  After worship he would put his arm around this fledgling, young pastor and say to people as they walked by, “What is something good you can say about my friend Mark here?” and people would say nice things about Mark in the narthex after worship.

            Mark became a great pastor and ended up staying at that congregation for 25 years, and when looking back upon his time there he points to Bob as the reason for his success.  You see, Bob knew the power of making sure a friend was complimented in public.  You all, by the way, are great at this.  You introduce people to one another and say such things as, “This is one of the neatest people I know,” or “Now one listens better than my friend, Edith here,” or, “Meet, Denny.  You won’t believe all the things he does for the church.” 

            Then, finally, Paul not only was loved because of his encouragement, and his belief in people, and because of his complimenting people in public, Paul also had a lot of love in his life because he told people how he felt about them.  He told others how significant they were to him.  Let me offer a case in point.  Verse 13.  Paul says there, “Greet Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who  has been a mother to me, too.”

            Unfortunately, many are unable to share affection for others openly and honestly.  Remember the old, old story about the woman who was constantly depressed and seemed unhappy all the time?  Her concerned husband took her to see their pastor.  The pastor listened to the couple talk about their relationship, and then said, “The treatment I prescribe is really quite simple.”   With that the pastor got up, gathered the man’s wife in his arms, and gave her a big kiss.  He then stepped back and said to the husband, “See, that’s all you wife needs three times a week.”  Rattled the husband said, “Oh dear.  I can only bring her in on Thursdays.”

            Make no mistake about it.  No one else can substitute for sharing our love and affection with others.  A letter appeared in the Chicago Tribune a few years ago.  It read as follows, “I am not a writer, but I am taking some space in the newspaper to write about Kathy.  We weren’t so special, you know, I’m just a little insurance man, but when someone makes your life so good, you just hate to let her leave the world without some kind of memorial to let people know she was alive.  I want to tell people to look over at their husband or wife or friends and say to themselves, ‘My God, look what I have here.’  People take so much for granted.  It’s as if they think everyone is going to live forever and they can put off their love and appreciation until they have time.”

            The letter continues, but you get the idea.  This guy continued sharing his love and his affection for his Kathy, even after she died.  I would like a friend like that.  How about you?