"The Truth Will Set You Free"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 10/18/1998
Jeremiah 31:27-34; 2 Timothy 3:14--4:5
It should come as no surprise to us that such talk comes not only from children and young people in their teen years, but also from adults. Many of us experience our eyes glazing over when we do not immediately connect with the topic being discussed. This is true for just about any subject that is being verbally presented to us. In fact, most of us determine within the first few minutes if we can stay connected to what is being said about anything. Jesus encountered the same thing.
Once Jesus preached in his home town synagogue and he was unable to connect with the people who knew him and his family well. He was unable to perform many miracles there. In fact, Jesus was surprised at their lack of faith. (Mark 6:6).
Elsewhere in the Scriptures, he told his followers that whenever they found people who could not connect with them and their message, they were to leave that town and shake the dust off their feet. (Luke 9:5). In other words, "Don't waste time with people who are not interested or who are unable to hear your message. There will always be other people who are hungry and thirsty for the kind of knowledge that will inspire their lives."
Today if everyone were interested in what Jesus had to say, our churches would be crowded every Sunday. Our Sunday school departments would be bulging at the seams. But the fact is, not everyone is interested. Of course, the result of such disinterest is quite visible everywhere in our society. Many people lack the skills to understand life's unexpected events. They lack the spiritual tools for coping. They find it difficult to understand their purpose for living.
People often claim that "Ignorance is bliss." But is it? Sometimes we delay our search until life literally confounds us and drives us to our knees. Even the people who have been the most stubborn and resistant toward anything that deals with enhancing their awareness of human spirituality can become the best students. Saul of Tarsus was a good example of such a person.
Last year, there was a tragic automobile accident in Cape St. Claire. A young man had been drinking and driving. His car filled with teenagers left the road and smashed into a tree. All the teenagers walked away but one. Her name was Christen Gough, the daughter of a high school classmate of mine. Her father called and asked, "Dick, will you come?" and I did. The impact of the accident snapped her spinal cord. She was 15. Christen was one of those gregarious, sparkling personalities who had become a leader in the school.
On the day of her memorial service the funeral home was packed with hundreds of her classmates. I had arrived early and when her friends learned that I was the minister, they asked a lot of difficult questions about life, questions that reflected their confusion over Christen's death. They asked, "What kind of a God would allow such a thing? Why Christen? If God had a reason for her death, why at the age of 15? What was the purpose of her living? She was just getting started."
What is so sad is that people often leave an experience like this one and base their philosophy of life on uninformed attitudes about God. To them, God can appear as a killer of young people. Such thinking can go on to develop further assumptions that God created cancer and AIDS, diseases that can affect innocent children. God is often blamed for many things that happen in our experiences.
When people have not made an effort to learn everything they can about the loving nature of God, life can be very confusing for them. Think of what happens to people who never discover how their lives can simply and easily unfold once they learn how to follow the map Jesus so carefully provided.
Jesus' teachings are not just about being good, pleasing God, and loving others. The Sermon on the Mount, for example, teaches us how to save ourselves from becoming our own worst enemies. Jesus message was concerned with one thing -- saving us from ourselves. He taught us how to live so that our lives would conform to the way God designed us. We simply were not created to hate, to fear and to destroy.
Paul wrote to Timothy the following words:
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.
The time will come when people will not listen to sound doctrine, but will follow their own desires and will collect for themselves more and more teachers who will tell them what they are itching to hear.
What makes the teachings of Jesus so magnificent is that his words are true. The truth of his teachings does not depend on what any one thinks about them. Their truth does not depend on whether we believe them or not. Truth needs no defense. When we choose to live what he taught, Jesus' message will consistently bear fruit in our lives.
Some people routinely use accurate road maps when they travel while other people never take the time to buy them. Some people prefer being informed about matters of the spirit while other people form their philosophies for living by listening to the interpretations others give to truth. The truth is that all people must live with the consequences of how they think and what they do.
If Jesus were here today, I am positive he would say, "Look, if you want to experiment with another way to live, go ahead. Try it! See if it works! I will be waiting for you the moment you discover that your chosen path is not capable of giving you what you want. I have shown you the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to an understanding of God but through what I have taught."
Every day we have the opportunity to take time to nourish ourselves spiritually. Do we take that time? Every day we have the opportunity to test ourselves to see how much we have learned. Are we engaging in this kind of self-analysis?
For example, are we as impatient now as we were ten years ago? Are we telling stories that shade the truth? Are we trying to mold our mates into an image we would prefer? Are we taking care of our bodies, the very temples that house our spirits? Are we generous with our income? Are we accepting and loving of all people? Are we timid with our truth or can we confidently offer our observations when they may oppose the thinking of someone else?
In our Jeremiah passage today, he received a message from God that spoke about a day that had not yet come. We must all pray that this day comes. This is what Jeremiah wrote:
"The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this: I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. None of them will have to teach a neighbor to know the Lord, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the Lord, have spoken."
Why delay? What God said through Jeremiah can happen immediately. Learning and living what Jesus taught liberates everyone from the tyranny of so many useless thoughts. It gives our lives wings. If we still victimize ourselves by responding to others in ways that make us appear aloof, judgmental, opinionated and uncaring, we have a lot to learn. Perhaps we are more willing students today than we were in another day. Why wait? There is no other time like today to get serious about spiritually growing up.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you God for giving us life and for enabling us to respond to your call to be faithful to your gift. Yet we find that our faith journeys can easily become distracted. We find that our lives are often governed by concerns that test our discipleship. Thoughts about our children's education, our cash flow needs, our commitment to our church, and the quality of our relationships seldom give us clear options. We come this morning seeking nourishment for our spirits. We come knowing that we need to experience your peace. We come knowing that your word inspires us to seek clarity for our motives and our priorities. Thank you for sending us Jesus Christ who has become the prism through which we view life. We pray for each other so that Jesus' teachings might remain the rudder for our lives. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Ever present and loving God, thank you for creating us with minds that have the ability to learn, grow, and guide us in our decisions. We thank you also for the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Without his coming to humanity, our minds would have no light to guide us in our thinking. We would not understand the nature of love nor understand you as clearly as we do.
The Law failed to protect us from errors in judgment. Self discipline has not prevented unloving thoughts from holding us prisoner. In fact, nothing we try to do has had the ability to create in us the wholeness, the consistency of spirit for which we search.
And yet when we are touched by your Holy Spirit and awakened to become the beings you created us to be, how wonderful it is to be instruments of your peace. We go forth with confidence that your will is being done. We are led to say words that are not our own. We feel compelled to be teachers, healers, and friends–all because we have surrendered the outcome of all things to you.
Inspire us to remain steadfast and faithful so that we can be for other people what we often ask you to be for us. May we never grow tired of learning more of your will for our lives. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ who taught us to say when we pray. . .