When I worked in the pipe organ shop, our coworking team became close and comfortable with one another. Sometimes to get each other’s attention we had fun walking up behind a co-worker and standing uncomfortably close and breathing loudly, and staring at their work. To call to mind the “person watching over your shoulder” while they were concentrating or working. It was a lot more fun than simply walking up and asking a question. Have you ever had a person watching over your shoulder for real? It can be kind of unnerving, and we usually don’t do our quickest and best work while someone is staring at us or what we’re doing. Why is that? I think we fear the embarrassment of our errors being made public, especially if it’s a superior or someone we admire. Or maybe it’s because we don’t want to lower someone’s expectations of us. So, oftentimes, especially when someone was learning a skill, it was good to sort of step back and give them an opportunity to find their way. You could demonstrate, watch them once or twice and then give them a chance to soar without the added pressure of having you right there. But you know, there’s a flip side to that. You show a worker how to do a task and they decide they knew better or they just chose to not follow instructions, or maybe they were just trying too hard to impress, and without understanding the big picture, and they run into trouble. Sanding always seemed like a good place to start people, after they proved they were enough of a team player to sweep the floor. It always seemed to be a disappointment, but a company, at least one that doesn’t want to go broke, will not bring you in, set you beside a stack of $100 per board foot ebony wood and tell you to have at it with some basic directions. No, you generally start with the more mundane and safe tasks where you prove your attention to detail, ability to operate safely, and your dexterity for the work. How about two woodworking parables? A teacher taught a student how to sand and make a woodworking piece smooth and finished. Sanding calls for the operation of a fairly lightweight, relatively safe electric hand tool or a sanding block and a lot of energy, patience and an eye for detail. The student was taught the methods and the pitfalls and the importance of the task. After a while, the student decided to do things differently. When it came time for the piece to be assembled the pieces would not match up and seal off because there were valleys sanded into the pieces and all of the work was from the very beginning of the student and teachers work was ruined and had to be done over. What seemed unimportant or to be low level grunt work to the student was actually a vital and challenging task in the big picture. The second is not so much a parable but a true story where I was asked to lightly sand a very expensive piece. I wanted it to be perfect so I went overboard and sanded for too long. I sanded almost through the thin veneer on THE spot that everyone would notice and see. The thing is, I sanded far enough through that the piece took stain differently and my teacher had to stop what they were doing and fix the whole mess. As a novice, I didn’t understand the big picture and all of the whys and hows. My part, my role, at that stage of the game was to pay attention and follow instructions and to pick up bit by bit the knowledge, the hows and the whys over time. In both examples, the teacher could have hung around, lingering over the students shoulder with each breath resonating in the students ear, just waiting for the first sign of a mistake or even going as far as doing the task themselves not allowing the student the opportunity to grow and succeed. To become a woodworker or proficient at anything really the learner, the novice, the student must have opportunities to fly from the proverbial nest and to shoulder responsibility. So then the question becomes, will the student be humble enough to go forth with what they learned or what they think they know? Some years back I learned a very important lesson about listening to and taking to heart what a teacher was teaching. I was learning to drive a school bus and we had gone over the procedure for a loading stop. Another student was driving and they were told to pick up kids at a certain driveway. We rolled to a smooth stop and the door opened. The instructor told us to get off of the bus and he took us to the middle of the street in front of the bus. The instructor told us that 3 kids just died here. We looked and the lights were not flashing and the stop sign was not out. I know that every time that I executed a stop I would think about the lesson and double check my lights like we were taught I could hear that instructor’s voice like he was behind me. I’ve worked in a fair amount of places and can safely say that behavior and adherence to procedure are different when the boss is present. In following what we are taught, or sticking to procedures at work, how often do we veer from the path? There is, without a doubt a culture of and a tendency toward “Look busy, the boss is coming.” Have you seen the coffee cup, poster or bumper sticker that says, “Look busy, Jesus is coming?” As we emblazon ourselves with the label and title of Christian, be it on our t-shirts, crosses around our necks, fish symbols on our vehicles, our Facebook posts or whatever other means we use to identify ourselves. it’s sort of begs the question, what are we saying? What significance do we ascribe to that title in our lives or to our affiliation with the Christian Community and with its head Jesus Christ. Do we believe his teaching? Do we pick up the metaphorical sander and do it his way? Is what he said important enough to constantly hear his voice as we drive the metaphorical school bus to “be diligent and do all the things we were taught to keep God’s children safe?” Former UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden is famous for a quote where he said, “The true test of a person’s character is what they do when no one is watching.” That’s a great quote for workplace, coaching and ethical situations, but it sort of falls on its face for the Christian that takes Jesus at his word. At least three distinct times Jesus tells us about his presence and nearness. One of them is today. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Or how about, “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The last passage is even very specific about our actions and Jesus’ expectations. Along with the many other instances of Jesus personally welcoming, sheltering, healing and protecting outcasts and outsiders and the command to quote, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” How aware are we of Christ’s presence? How are we as the body of Christ doing with what he taught us? How much time has the church throughout the world spent thinking up reasons and excuses for excluding, hating or omitting our neighbor for whatever reason? Are we sanding in low spots to God’s creation? Are we too prideful and wanting the credit for doing it our way? Are we allowing God’s children to be run down? Are we feeding, clothing, sheltering, loving and visiting? Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, calling us to action, to follow his teaching and to humble ourselves as he humbled himself, to get behind him and be servants to his children and to love one another as he first loved us.