"Why Most Solutions Are Temporary"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 5/25/1997

Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17

     Most of us are very familiar with the Isaiah passage this morning. We find Isaiah being overwhelmed by the awareness of his unworthiness as he stands in the presence of God. Isaiah uses interesting imagery as he provides his readers with a description of his call into ministry. He wrote how a winged creature brought a burning coal to him and touched his lips with it. When this creature did this, Isaiah heard these words, "This has touched your lips, and now your guilt is gone and your sins are forgiven."

     Isaiah was overcome with a sense of complete and utter joy. He was now free from the burden of remembering his sinfulness. As he stood there in the presence of God feeling enormous gratitude, he heard God speak to him. "Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?" Quickly he responded, "Here am I Lord. Send me!"

     How often we have used Isaiah's same words to describe our own desire to serve God. In fact, a favorite hymn of many of us is, Here l Am, Lord a hymn inspired by this Isaiah passage. The chorus says, "Here I am, Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart."

     Definitely, these words are a call to ministry, a call to mission. BUT, what was the mission to which Isaiah was being called? We seldom read the verses that follow in order to find out. His mission may surprise some of us. What God was asking Isaiah to do appears quite strange. Listen to the words that come immediately after Isaiah's declaration, "Here am I, Lord. Send me."

     So he told me to go and give the people this message: No matter how much you listen, you will not understand. No matter how much you look, you will not know what is happening.' Then he said to me, 'Make the minds of these people dull, their ears deaf, and their eyes blind so that Hey cannot see or hear or understand. If they did they might turn to me and be healed.'

     I asked, 'How long will it be like this Lord?' God answered, Until the cities are ruined and empty....'

     What was God asking Isaiah to do with these words? And what kind of message was Isaiah to preach that would affect people with the response of a closed mind? Think now -- what is one thing that most of us do not hear? The answer is Truth. Truth does that. Most of us cannot see it, hear it and generally our minds are closed to it. Yet, most of us would argue with that statement. We can easily convince ourselves that we are quite capable of recognizing truth when in reality our capability lies more with the skill of justifying our position. Just why was it that Jesus taught truth and others labeled his statements blasphemous? We say, " Well, that was different! We know better today." Do we?

     The reason Isaiah's truth and the truth of Jesus do not penetrate our minds is because we do not want to hear it. When Isaiah asked how long will it be that way, God said until the cities lay in runts. In other words, people will ignore the truth until they find that their solutions will not work. This understanding is what supports the thought that "People first have to hit bottom before they will achieve understanding."

     For example, I once had a teenage girl in my office who was heart sick. She was obsessing over a boy in her class. She was not eating or sleeping. Even her parents were worried. Her questions were, "How do I get Jimmy to know that I exist? What can I do to get him to notice me? Boys are so stupid!" She already knew what she wanted.

     How do you think she would have reacted had I said, "God really wants you to be yourself. The person you are is wonderful and attractive. If he cannot recognize that, well, there are a thousand other fish in the sea. If you change yourself to gain his approval, life may become very complicated and you may find yourself engaging in activities that will only serve to further confuse you. Why don't you trust your relationships to God? Why remain fascinated with a boy who does not notice you?"

     She was so convinced that her happiness would only come by having this young man in her life that another point of view would not have been heard. In fact, some teens end their lives over far less. All we have to do is change the age, gender and the nature of the circumstances, and we find ourselves guilty of this several times a week.

     In my last church I dealt with a couple who for four years were locked in a custody battle over their two children. They were in court every six months. He was refusing to pay child support when he learned how his former wife was spending it. He was so bitter that he went to jail for awhile rather than pay. He led the country for awhile.

     What would his response have been had I said, "It is not your former wife or how she spends the money that matters here. What matters here is that your anger is consuming you. Your spirit, mind and emotions are being controlled by everything you believe she is doing. You must let go of your need for fairness and justice as you are defining it. It is your own thoughts and not your former wife that are preventing you from moving beyond this."

     It is not that God told Isaiah to preach a message that would shut down people's minds. That was never the case. Why do we think that people do not take faith seriously as the most vital aspect of human life? It is because faith appears to lack relevance. When we know our truth, nothing else really makers. Faithful Christians can be going through all the motions of worship and participation in the life of the church and still remain uninformed about how faith could change and dramatically enhance their lives. Many of us lack the connection between faith and the way we live.

     I remember an elementary school boy who had been labeled as hyper-active. He was having a very difficult time in school and was facing rejection from many of his classmates. When I mentioned that the mother should bring him to Sunday School, she shook her head and just looked at me. She said, "What he needs, Sunday School can't give him. How will knowing Noah and the ark help him? Come on Dick, get real!"

     So many of us have a difficult time connecting our faith to what is happening in our lives right now. We won't hear truth because we prefer our own solutions. We fight the source of our pain instead of trusting that our pain is pointing to something within us that we are refusing to recognize. That is what pain is ail about. It's about us and identifies the problem with our responses. In this sense, pain is a marvelous gift

     How many times have we gone to God in prayer and said, "O God, please help me repair a relationship. Please help me arrive at a point where I will no longer be consumed with worries over money matters. Please help me lose weight. Please show me what I need to do in order to rebuild my relationship with my son or daughter."

     We want God to intervene in all these areas of our lives. All such prayer requests come from a core belief that our joy will come from something that cannot give it to us. This is why we cannot hear truth because we have already made up our minds what truth is and have convinced ourselves that we know what the answer is.

     We believe that happiness and peace will come from a particular outcome instead of standing forth with confidence that God will and is providing everything we need right now. God hasn't lost our file. Just like the young teenager who felt "If I could only get Jimmy to notice me and ask me for a date my life would be heaven." Jimmy could never have given her what she felt was missing in her life. No one can ever meet such a need.

     For someone who is extremely needy and looking for support, think of how ridiculous these words of Jesus must sound:

     Do not be worried about the food and drink you need in order to stay alive, or about clothes for your body. After all, isn't life worth more than food? And isn't the body worth more than clothes? Consider the birds: they do not plant seeds, gather a harvest and put it in barns; yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren't you worth much more than birds? What little faith you have!

     Do we really think that anyone will hear that the reason they do not have all the things they need is because they have insufficient faith and trust in God? I doubt it. All of us engage in seeking temporary solutions, because it is our nature. The result, of course, is that we experience temporary results.

     We get the good job until our company is merged or purchased. We finally earn the quantity of money we always wanted until we find some other area in life that is lacking. We feel proud that our sons and daughters have done well until we discover that they do not call, write or visit any more. When we recover from a major illness, we only live with thanksgiving until the next one comes along. When we hinge our happiness and joy on what happens here, we will always be disappointed. Why? Because what happens here is always temporary.

     Jesus gave us a wonderful image of this. He told us that when we build our house on sand, as soon as the winds come, it will not stand. But, if we build our house on a rock, when the shifting winds come, it will remain. That house was a metaphor for our emotional and spiritual well-being. When we build our lives on the foundation of particular outcomes, our emotional well-being is placed in great peril. Nothing in life comes with guarantees.

     Isaiah heard God say something that should challenge our thinking. God knew that Isaiah's preaching the truth was going to make his listeners minds dull, their ears deaf and their eyes blind so that they would not understand. At the end, God added the following, "If they did understand, they might turn to me and be healed." Isn't that interesting?

     What does a life based on truth look like? In many respects it is very different than the one that most of us live. I remember a young woman of great faith who was working for the old C&P Telephone Company. She was just like that lily of the field. Jesus said, "Consider the lilies in the field, how they grow. They neither toil or spin and yet I tell you that Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed as one of these." What is that teaching really pointing to?

     This woman was excellent at what she did. Yet, people took advantage of her. Her job performance was of such quality that often she did the jobs of two or three people. Her tasks were always well done and completed in a timely fashion.

     All around her people were moving up the ladder. She did not. It seemed that the squeaky wheels always got the grease. Supervisors only used her faithfulness to enhance their own production quotas, something others constantly pointed out to her. Yet, interestingly enough, she never complained because she honestly believed that she was right where she was suppose to be. She knew God was with her every moment. She remained cheerful and never expected anything. Her values were not based on how success is measured in this world.

     Then one day she received a call from another woman whom she had not spoken to in years. This woman had been one of the fast climbers and indeed was now a corporate manager in another division of C&P. The woman remembered Sarah's sterling track record, her remarkable lack of absenteeism and her people skills with everyone. She said, "Will you come and work for me? I need a person with your shills. " Sarah did and discovered without knowing ahead of time that she was provided a salary and benefit package that was beyond anything she could have imagined.

     People who believe that God helps those who help themselves miss a lot about living. In fact, they may discover before they die that they took a detour many miles back. When we trust God to build our lives, we discover the solution that is changeless and permanent. The river knows exactly where it is taking us. All we have to do is trust that it is taking us there and does not need our help. We are the only ones who can delay our arrival and all because we insist on choosing solutions that are temporary. Jesus Christ taught us a very different kind of confidence. He called it, "Thy will be done."