August 13, 2007

Room Service
by Pastor George Van Alstine

In the LA Times “Calendarâ€? section, critic Robert Lloyd recently (August 8, 2007) reviewed two new cable TV series that focus on the staff of an upscale hotel. “Welcome to the Parkerâ€? is a reality series on Bravo Channel. “Hotel Babylonâ€? is a fictional series developed as a sitcom by the British Broadcasting Company. In each, all the episodes deal with issues the working class have to cope with to make hotel living as close to perfect as possible for their rich guests.

Reviewer Lloyd makes this interesting summary statement:
“. . . a hotel is practically a metaphor for life: You check in, you check out, somebody else has to clean up the mess you leave.â€?
How sad! And yet, how true of many lives!

I’ve been cleaning up my office . . . again . . . sort of. I came across a box of old sermons that I’ve dutifully saved. After all, they’re works of art and represent years of study and hours of preparation. I’ve never thrown old sermons out, dating back to 1963. How many have I reused? Maybe three, and only after radical revision. If I don’t find my old sermons useful, who else will? Still, I have saved them.

Until now! I was planning to carry this box up to the church’s new attic storage area, and then this thought struck me. In a few years, when I die, or retire, or am voted out of office, someone will have to clean out my stuff. I picture this person’s dilemma as they look through this box. Recognizing it as years of George Van Alstine sermons, they will probably send it on to the Smithsonian Museum, or they will write to publishers who will compete for the honor of putting out the first volume of Van Alstine’s Complete Works. Or, more likely, they will just look at the top page, identify it as junk and rush it to the dumpster.

So I decided I would be the one to give my old sermons a respectful funeral. I brought a large trash container near my desk and went at the box of papers. I moved methodically through the pile of handwritten sheets, lovingly handling each paper-clipped sermon a second before depositing it in its final resting place. (Semi-final? Maybe the paper will be recycled. My reincarnated sermon notes may still bless humanity in a new form.)

Here’s the point—I don’t want my epitaph to be “He checked in, he checked out, somebody else had to clean up his mess.â€? That would add up to a life-not-worth-living. There’s another possibility, I realized from these two television programs. I could choose the kind of life epitomized by the hotel staff, of whom it might be said, “They punched in, they cleaned up other people’s messes, they punched out.â€?

That’s good. That’s the Christian ideal of servanthood Jesus put before his followers as the way to live fruitfully and with satisfaction. Not to be served, but to serve. Not to make messes, but to clean up messes.

What’s your choice of an epitaph:
“She checked in, she checked out, somebody else cleaned up her mess.â€?
“She punched in, in the spirit of Jesus, she cleaned up messes in other people’s lives, she punched out and moved on to the Eternal Life Luxury Hotel.â€?