"Experiencing God's Presence Within"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 7/27/1997
Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21
There was a spin-off game called "Biblical Trivial Pursuit", and for a reason that defies any logical explanation I decided to play it. We divided into teams. The team that secured me felt they had pulled off a sure victory. Little did they know. As the game progressed, one thought kept recurring in my mind -- "It will be many a moon before I play this game again!" The game was like a mirror reflecting back to me every detail I did not know.
How many of us find ourselves reading words of Scripture without being able to pinpoint where those words have application in our lives? It is just like playing "Biblical Trivial Pursuit." We think we know a lot until the questions come. We can frequently find ourselves on a journey having left our map elsewhere. We may even bring our own solutions to life's questions and ignore the testimony of those who have gone before us.
This morning, Paul's letter to the Ephesians captures some incredible insights into the faith most of us believe we have and practice. Everything Paul wrote in this passage has a ring of authenticity to it. For example, "I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit, to be strong in your inner selves, and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith." All the necessary words are there to reinforce our faith: "Spirit," "strong in your inner selves," "Christ will make his home in your hearts."
Then as we move to the last portion of our lesson, we find these words, "Yes, may you come to know his love and be so completely filled with the very nature of God." We find this concept magnificent. As we close our Bibles we may sit there thinking, "Wouldn't it be great if one day I could be 'filled with the very nature of God?'"
We get up from the chair having just read these words and our 11-year-old comes in the front door with mud in the cleats of her tennis shoes and leaves a track on the light-colored carpet that we had installed three weeks ago. Our 18-year-old comes in from her date with Larry who is 24 at 2:30 in the morning. Our husband had to be in North Carolina to assess flood damage for his agency even though it is our 25th wedding anniversary. Our wife is awaiting results of a biopsy before we examine our alternatives.
How easily we allow the issues of life suddenly to loom exceedingly large. How easily Paul's words to the Ephesians become exceedingly small and not applicable to life. When the circumstances of life confuse us, how often do we find ourselves saying, "What Paul was asking for on behalf of the Ephesians I do not have. If I had this awareness of God's presence within me, I could greet life much differently?" Who told us that we did not have it?
Isn't this like playing "Trivial Pursuit?" We know all the buzz phrases. "Perfect love casts out fear." "Where there is light, there can be no darkness at all." "Seek first the Kingdom of God and God will give you everything you need." These are the words of Jesus who would never teach what is not possible, and yet when these same thoughts are challenged by our experiences, why do we claim not to know the answers? Why do we assume that life's circumstances are bigger than what he taught us?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us why this happens. This is what he said:
Jesus is telling us that we do this to ourselves. What our senses tell us is only part of the story. We can say, "How absurd! God gave us our senses. They are all we have to tell us what is happening. What else do we have?" Jesus knew what else we have. We have faith and when we use this implicit trust in God, faith has the power to transform what we perceive and can guide us away from the fearful conclusions we could easily form.
Many of you have heard this story, but I will use it again and again to remind us of the role faith can play in our lives. A 9-year-old boy died of Leukemia years ago. As I was approaching the house, I wasn't sure that I would be able to answer all the questions the parents would undoubtedly have. We know those questions: "If God is a God of love, why this? Why didn't God answer our prayers? What more could we have done? Why would God give us such a beautiful son and either allow him to die or take him away from us?"
As I approached the front door, I was greeted by Billy's dad. All I could think to say was, "I'm terribly sorry." There are times when faith shows up in the most incredible places. The father said, "Thank you Dick, but don't be. We are sad, of course, but Jean and I are so profoundly grateful that we had Billy for the nine years that we did!" There were no questions. There was no anger. Both of them were standing in another place. They knew God. They were living the essence of our passage today, "To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for or even think of: to God be the glory...."
When we bring judgment to our circumstances, we have made a preemptive strike against our faith. We presume God's abandonment. We presume a callous, cruel experience has darkened our door. And yet in all honesty, how can we be so sure where such an experience might lead us? Jesus said, "So, when the light in you is darkness, how terribly dark it will be."
Paul said, "...and so be completely filled with the very nature of God." What Paul is teaching us is that we are filled with the very nature of God, but we don't use it. We know that light destroys darkness but we don't use it. We know that love casts out fear, but we don't use it. Think of the enormous power we have been provided! The only reason we fail to experience it is because we are not choosing to use it. That is the only reason!
What many of us tend to do is make ourselves believe that we already know how our movie will end. We have made up our mind that the lost job represents a failure. We have made up our mind that a communication problem must mean the end of our marriage. We have made up our mind that some of our children's choices will lead them into disastrous results. We have made up our mind that the supervisor at work is a miserable, insensitive human being.
Is God's purpose to make life difficult or is it we who make life difficult because of our desire to cling to the painful, fear-ridden conclusions we create? Why are we so sure we know what our experiences mean? When we choose to take the low road because we truly believe our conclusions are correct, we find ourselves communicating, "God, you cannot help me this time. It's up to me!"
I remember well the letter I received some years ago from some very distraught parents. "Please write Glenn," they wrote. "He is thinking of dropping out of college. People just don't go anywhere today, as you well know, without a college education. We both feel that Glenn will be putting himself behind the eight ball. We love him and want the best for him. He will respect your opinion and thoughts so please, please write to him."
This was a letter filled with what we call "normal fears" of parents. What are "normal fears" Every fear doubts God's presence and ability. How could they know where Glenn's choices would lead him? Even if he wound up behind the "eight ball," how could they know that his personal struggles were not precisely what he needed at his current stage of life?
Suppose these parents would have trusted God and in faith released him to God's creative process? This is difficult for us isn't it? It means letting go and trusting in what we do not fully understand. Yet, faith is not faith when we have an investment in one particular outcome over another.
Well, I wrote Glenn using all the logic that I could muster at the time. He wrote back citing many of the failures of his undergraduate degree program, many which I shared and well understood. He concluded his articulate letter by thanking me for my concern but remained steadfast in his decision that his current semester would be his last.
Glenn did drop out and his life was filled with struggle. He knew, however, that his decision had created his circumstances. Who could have guessed that because of these initial struggles that Glenn would eventually own a business with branches in Crofton, Greenbelt and Germantown? How was anyone to know that the path well traveled by countless others was not the one for him? How often we forget that the road less traveled frequently produces giants.
When we stand in faith, light pours forth from us. When we stand in faith, it is God who makes life-giving events occur all around us. Listen again, "To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: to God be the glory...." We will not know such truth until we choose to go there and live it.
We ignore this when we choose to worry. It is as if we feel the urge and the need to control the outcome of life's events by dwelling on negative thoughts. And we do this in 100 percent ignorance. We don't know what anything means or where it will lead. We completely ignore the power of faith. We completely ignore our ability to trust in God who knows the entire movie backwards and forwards.
The concept of sin rests on the idea that we attempt to take the power away from God for creation. In so doing we create separation without the awareness that our worry and fears were what produced it. We are saying, "Look God, if I don't intervene, this terrible thing is going to happen." Jesus responds, "What terrible thing? Do you really think God does not know how to create? Do you believe God has misplaced your file? Stop indulging yourself with cheap drama. God is not creating your fears, you are!" What a wake-up call!
Isn't it time we let go of the demons that vie for the possession of our minds? God says, "Let me handle this for you. Trust me for all things, even for the outcomes you now do not have the awareness to understand. Soon you will know how all the pieces fit together." When we trust, we will experience God's nature within.