Summary: Done on the Sunday when all members were asked to bring sweaters to support a Southern Baptist missions project for North Korea. As preacher I wore a couple of sweaters and took them off to illustrate points. We are to do more than mouth encouragement.

Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC January 26, 1986

The classroom teacher talks herself blue in the face, teaching the mysteries of algebra to reluctant junior highs, who are silently saying to themselves, "Why do I need to know this stuff? I never met an algebra and I hope I never do." She thinks she has taught the material, but then the California tests scores come out and she discovers that just talking it didn't accomplish it.

The parent finds his son in some sort of inappropriate behavior and wags his finger and sternly warns, "Don't you ever let me catch you doing that again." Don't you ever let me catch you doing that again … and the key word is catch. Right, he may not catch his son in that behavior again. But does that mean that the behavior has changed? Not likely; only that next time junior will be a little more careful and will look over his shoulder first. Just telling somebody what they ought to do does not necessarily get it done. Just talking it does not do it.

And so it goes. The preacher lives all through Sunday with the· illusion that he has solved the world's problems and cured his people's ills with his masterful Sunday sermon, only to find out on Monday morning that he has not been heard at all. The president of the United States goes on television to jawbone the country into seeing things his way, only to find out that at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue nothing happens. And on Thursday night at eight, Claire says to Cliff, “You think that just because you say it loud it's true.” But no, no, saying it is not necessarily getting it done. Pronouncing the answer does not necessarily accomplish the solution. We found out here that just ordering thermostat settings does not produce heat!

Ten or twelve years ago, when the me decade of the 70's was at its height, and it seemed every body was into self-help movements or into touchy-feely groups or into this or into that … back in those days and, I believe, continuing with us, there was the assumption that most of us lived at a feeling level, and they way you fixed us was to say encouraging things. We went to small groups sessions, we joined encounter groups and built support groups, we went in for analysis; and, mind you, all of this is of value. I'll say more about that value in a moment; but it seemed we were falling completely for the assumption that to say it is to fix it, to pronounce it is to heal it.

And during that time someone came up with a set of children's stories that revolved around the notion of "warm fuzzies." "Warm fuzzies." In this children's story, populated, as I recall it, by one Barrington Bunny and his companions, the caregiver types had a supply of little puff ball things they called "warm fuzzies." And they meandered around their little world dispensing "warm fuzzies." Somebody has a scratched knee? Dispense a warm fuzzy – which you soon begin to see is not so much a puff ball as it is just puff: sympathy, encouragement, let me kiss it and make it better. Warm fuzzies; wherever Barrington and his buddies went, there they dispensed warm fuzzies, curing it all and making everybody at least feel better: feel loved, feel accepted, feel understood.

They had declared, you see, that when you get a warm fuzzy it'll be all better. When you get a warm fuzzy your problems will be warmed out of existence or at the very least you will be able to accept what is happening to you. What you need, according to this guru of the 70's, is a warm fuzzy.

Now you and I need to be aware that sometimes, often, in fact, personal encouragement is what people need. Just a hearing, just a kind word, just a word of support, a warm fuzzy of that sort is needed often. And to omit it is a mistake. The poet tells us that the gift without the giver is bare; and so and I can sometimes approach other people in need in such an impersonal uncaring way that their problem is only worsened. Yes, we do need warm fuzzies. Yes, we do need words of encouragement. And yes, sometimes when you cannot think of anything else to do for people in need, the warm fuzzy of a word fitly spoken is the best you can give.

By the way, prayer fits in this category, doesn’t it? So often we feel helpless when we find out about someone's plight. We hear of a death, and we are immobilized. We know of someone' s urgent illness, and we have no medical skill. And so we say with a sigh of resignation, well, all I can do is to pray for you. And I would say, well, that's good. That's important. That's not a nothing, that's a something. That is a warm fuzzy, and that's all right.

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