- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2001

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Rodney K. Stafford at Fairfax Community Church in Fairfax, Va.

Christies Auction House once a year gives a free appraisal, so a women brought in an old piece of jewelry with the designers drawing. It was a 1904 Tiffany worth $384,000. And where had she kept this? In her grandmothers costume jewelry box in a musty attic. She didnt know its worth.
The same happens to our relationships with God and others. They are thrown into an old box with everything else from our jobs to our chores. Jesus had told the young lawyer who asked what was most important, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your strength and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus is saying these relationships are the basis of our life and mission: to take His message into all the world. Our success will depend on these relationships… . Here is where we have our greatest challenges in life, and where God wants us to expend our emotional energy. But we easily substitute that with vocational, academic or physical challenges. Those are all good, but they do not give us the encouragement and, most important, the comfort that we all need. When relationships are not healthy, we look for comfort elsewhere. Food, alcohol, drugs, athletics, jobs, possessions. We are wired to need comfort.
Today Id like to give you seven beatitudes about lasting relationships, and it begins with being connected. There are lots of reasons we resist this. Youve been burned in the past so, "Im not going to get involved, not going to trust again." We stay isolated because of so much mobility, or we are so busy. "I dont have time to be connected to other people."
But see what we miss. Gods primary means for taking care of us, providing for us, is our connectedness to other people. Particularly other people in the body of Christ. Paul tells us we "are to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn." Ecclesiastes says simply, "Two are better than one." Because if you fall, the other lifts you back up. And everyone will fall… . How to do we get connected to the body of Christ? Hebrews says, "We are not to give up meeting together." Now, my father used to read this on low-attendance Sundays, but the broader point is about being with others, face to face.
A second beatitude is, to have relationships, we must be genuinely interested in others. Who is the person you like most? The person who asks you all about yourself, right? Truth is, we are most interested in ourselves. Let me prove it. When you get a group picture, maybe with 20 people, where do you look first? Well, God lets us turn that interest on others, too. To have real friends, Philippians says, "think more highly of other people."
Third, we need to be authentic. Jesus often pointed to hypocrites. But you know, it takes so much energy to fake it, to hide things. Being authentic reduces stress, and a fourth important element is patience. Ephesians 4:2 says, "be patient with each other, making allowances for each others faults because of your love." Relationships rely on allowances. "Love never gives up," Corinthians says.
Think of what a friend really is. The person to whom you can tell your most heretical idea, and not be blown off. The person who can level with you about your blind spot, and you dont have to counterattack… . Finally, the most compassionate thing a friend can do, as Jesus told the man He healed, is to "tell what God has done for you." Only God can forgive our sins… .
Paul speaks of being Gods friend, but how can a sinful humanity have that relationship with a holy God? "We have been reconciled," the Bible says, through Christs death. God loved us so much that He took on our sins upon the cross.

Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Lucius Dalton at Mount Moriah Baptist Church in the District of Columbia.

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