“Core Competencies”

“Core Competencies”

Pentecost 6 (NL3) John B. Valentine
Summer Sermon Series: 1 John 3:11-24 July 4, 2021


What do we have here?

It’s a cap ... a graduation cap ... specifically something called a “Mortar Board” ... right?

It’s what I jested we should have made Diana Washington wear when we celebrated her graduation from PLTS last week.

But ... actually ... this isn’t just any ol’ mortar board ... any ol’ graduation cap.

THIS is a graduation cap that was used five or six weeks ago now by one of the graduates of Holy Shepherd Christian Preschool!

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You see ... five of six weeks ago ... back just before Memorial Day ... we had Preschool Graduation here in the Sanctuary ... celebrating the fact that five of our preschoolers were heading off to Kindergarten!

But since we were still living under most of those pandemic restrictions at the time ... Miss Joanna and Miss Pat and I did it all with just the preschool kids in attendance ...

And then I edited the video and sent it out to the families so that they could enjoy our “Graduation Celebration” virtually.

So ... even though there were no parents and grandparents in attendance ...

• The graduates DID walk in with their funny graduation hats all fixed just so ...
• And we DID play "Pomp and Circumstance" ...
• And Miss Joanna DID get to give them a send-off lecture ...
• And I got to lead them in the singing of a couple of our favorite chapel songs!

It was an appropriate culmination of a crazy pandemic academic year!

But right in the middle of Miss Joanna’s farewell lecture to our preschool graduates ... she snuck in a little mini-lesson about ‘core-competencies’.
About the MOST important things that they’d learned during their time in our community.

• That they’d learned to be kind to their fellow classmates ...

• That they’d learned to be respectful of their teachers ...

• That they’d learned to use their words and not their fists ... and

• That they’d learned to make good choices.

You see ... the operational philosophy of our Preschool is something called “play-based learning’ ...

Which means that our preschoolers don’t spend very much time on ‘academics’ ... doing worksheets and homework ... beyond learning their basic letters and their numbers as they can ...

But rather that they focus on the core-competencies that they will need to be good citizens in the school environment to which they are headed ...

Or ... as our graduates hollered at the top of their lungs from the stage just before they tossed their graduation caps in the air ... “BE KIND ... BE RESPECTFUL ... AND MAKE GOOD CHOICES!”

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So here’s something that strikes me as both tragic and sad.

We KNOW ... in our heart of hearts ... that core-competencies like those are important.

When best-selling author Robert Fulgham wrote that little book Everything I Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten ... he wasn’t telling us anything that we didn’t already know ... he was simply reminding us of the importance of some things that ... too much of the time ... we just take for granted.

In fact .... we don’t make a big deal about developing “core competencies” like that among our kids until they somehow go missing.

We don’t really make a big deal about “being kind and being respectful and making good choices” until some kid ... some school shooter ... DOESN’T exhibit those behaviors ... and then we all throw up our hands and ask “Where did such an individual come from?”

But it’s not just kids who need to develop ‘core competencies’.

For instance ... corporations ... and corporate leaders ... are constantly asking the ‘core-competencies’ question ... and when they forget their core competencies ... their “what-are-we-really-concerned-about-doing-wells” ... it often comes with tragic results.

So ... for instance ... any of you remember what Dell Computer’s driving vision was back in the day?

They identified two things as their core compentencies. Two things that they said were indispensable to their corporate identity:

• Good quality hardware ... and
• Excellent customer service.

Those two things ... good quality hardware ... and excellent customer service ... were going to set them apart from the crowd.

But ... at some point during the pandemic ... one of the components of my office computer ... my Dell office computer ... failed ... and I REALLY needed to get it up and running so that I could edit on online worship videos ...

And I had to call Dell’s Tech Support desk to access some of their “excellent customer service”.

Any of you want to guess how many minutes I squandered on a “tech support” phone call that had been outsourced to India ... only to be told at the end of the call that I’d have to send the computer back to Dell for replacement???

The answer would be .... 245 minutes ... 245! ... which ... coincidentally ... is the number of years since our nation’s founding that we are celebrating today!

Anyhow ... methinks somewhere along the line ... Dell forgot its core competency of “excellent customer service”.

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But this sermon isn’t really about computer companies and tech support or even preschools for that matter.

It’s about us ... and about the Word of God ... and particularly about that piece of Holy Writ which we call 1 John ... chapter 3.

For ... in that chapter ... John the evangelist is reminding the folks in his faith-community of what the core competency of Christians IS and MUST BE.

And what ... praytell ... IS that one core competency that supercedes all others?


I mean ... just in that reading that we have printed in the bulletin ... how many times does John mention the word “love”??

• “This is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”

• “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

• “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

Six times in twelve verses ... John says that love is:

• the one thing that we need to work on ...
• the one thing that we need to keep working on ...
• the one thing that we can never neglect working on.

It is our core-competency.

We see what God in Jesus did for us ... and do that for others.

We love God BY loving those around us.

God’s love lives in those who see a need ... and respond with help.

I hope my fellow choir members don’t take offense at this ... but author Clarence Jordan captured the concreteness of this everyday love and compassionate assistance when he translated this text:

“My little ones, let’s not talk about love. Let’s not sing about love. Let’s put love into action and make it real.”

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You see ... making it real ... putting it into action is what John is talking about when he challenges us to love one another.

But do we not ALL ... on occasion ... take our eyes off the ball when it comes to this core Christian competency?

I mean:

• We seem to find it easier to argue with our political opponents than to love them.

• We seem to find it easier to find the faults of others than to love them.

• We seem to find it easier to blame others for the shortcomings in our communities than to love them.

“My little ones, let’s not talk about love. Let’s not sing about love. Let’s put love into action and make it real.”

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A couple of centuries ago now ... the Danish theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard made the point that Jesus was looking for followers, not admirers.

And ... to emphasize that point ... Kierkegaard told a parable about a man who was walking down a city street when he saw a big sign in a window that said, “Pants pressed here.”

Delighted to see the sign ... the man went home and gathered up all of his wrinkled laundry. He carried it into the shop and put it on the counter.

“What are you doing?” ... the shopkeeper demanded.

“I brought my clothes here to be pressed” ... said the man ... “just like your sign said.”

“Oh, you’ve got it all wrong” ... the owner said ... “We don’t actually do that here. We’re in the business of making signs.”

We don’t actually DO these things ... he was saying ... we just talk about them.

And that ... claimed Kierkegaard ... is often the problem in the church.

We advertise ourselves as places that embodies God’s love ... but when people show up looking it ... they don’t actually see it.

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The way I see it ... folks ... it comes down to this:

Are we going to take our marching orders from the likes of Dell Computers ... and forget our core-competencies ...

Or are we going to following the lead of our preschoolers and act out the values of the institution of which we are a part?

But before you answer that question ... let me assure you that ... from my perspective ... it’s a WHOLE lot more fun to hang out with our preschoolers and sing “Love, Love, Love — That’s What It’s All About” than it is to wait around for tech-support for 245 minutes!

“Core Competencies” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our worship service on July 4, 2021.  It is part of a sermon series based on the book of 1 John, and focuses on the text of 1 John 3:11-24.  We apologize that — due to technical difficulties — we were unable to record this week’s worship experience.

To access a copy of the printed weekly Worship Bulletin, click on this link: Worship Order 20210704