"Truth, God's Most Precious Gift"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 8/23/1998
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 13:10-17
We like to think that when we come to church we are being exposed to truth, but if the truth being expressed or addressed does not have application to what we are experiencing, we may not pay attention. Just like commercials on television that do not interest us, we tune them out.
For example, Sunday morning dawns and we find ourselves in the worship service. We remain alert during our getting up and sitting down, the Scripture readings, the anthem, the offering and doxology. The physical activity keeps us stimulated. But then comes the sermon. During some sermons we can not remain focused or even conscious. "Dick is just going on and on about something" and we fuzz out. Our heads bob a couple of times. Most of us have been there.
When what is being said does not connect with what is happening in our lives, our attention spans can fade quickly. What makes truth such a valuable friend is that paying attention to its presence is not a requirement. Truth remains with us day and night without fail. For most of us, however, there will come a time when our lives stop working for us and we will feel compelled to ask the larger questions.
For example, suppose you are a teenager whose period is late. Suppose at 54 you lose your job because your company was sold. Suppose your mate believes "real love" has been discovered with another person. Suppose you have just been diagnosed with stage-four cancer. When unexpected events arrive in our lives, our priorities change. We focus on those larger questions. For some of us, it takes the arrival of the unexpected to discover what has never left our side.
Truly, one of the marvelous gifts of God is truth. Truth stands in our midst every moment of our lives. We can ignore it by being absorbed by one distraction after another. Truth cannot and will not go away. It does not have feelings. It does not care whether we recognize it or not. This great gift of God stands in our midst constantly ready to serve us. What is the truth for human beings? Is it really that abstract? Is it really that difficult to understand?
When we observe carefully what took place in our lesson today, what Jesus was doing becomes very clear. The truth expressed in our lesson this morning is that we were created by God to express loving energy in all circumstances. This was God's gift. This is what Jesus was demonstrating while teaching that something more powerful existed than the Law.
The day was the Sabbath and Jesus was teaching in a synagogue. While he was speaking, he observed a woman with severe curvature of the spine. She did not ask to be healed but Jesus healed her anyway. Jesus saw in her circumstance a wonderful opportunity to express his compassion as well as teach a valuable lesson to his listeners.
What happened next was predictable. One of the officials of the synagogue found fault with what Jesus had done. After all, it was the Sabbath Day, a time when no work was to be done. This official explained to all Jesus' listeners that they have six days to do such things. "If you people want healing," he said, "come during those days, not on the Sabbath."
That official was interested in remaining faithful to his understanding of truth which for him meant strict obedience to the Law. Jesus had to broaden his understanding of truth by illustrating why a strict interpretation of the Law in this circumstance was ridiculous. He taught by using illustrations everyone would understand. Jesus' answer was so good that Luke wrote, "His answer made his enemies ashamed of themselves. . ."
Most of us are not going to find such a story compelling or even useful to us. Since our blue laws have been repealed, business is now conducted seven days a week. However, suppose we take what Jesus was doing (not teaching) and begin to apply that to our lives as soon as we leave the church this morning. I dare you to try it. Let me give you an example.
The other evening I was reading, The Intelligent Heart. In this book, author David McArthur told a story that perfectly illustrated what Jesus was facing in the synagogue. Everyday we face little dramas similar to those Jesus faced with one major difference. Jesus chose to remain uncompromisingly committed to his loving energy. God created each of us with this ability. Listen to how this principle might work for us. In the following story, pretend you are the driver of one of these cars.
David and his wife left their mountain home in two cars. The back road they drive each morning follows a river for about a mile, crosses a one-lane bridge, and then it joins the main highway. Both cars had gotten to the bridge and started across as a VW bus was coming toward them from the opposite direction. Both cars were three-quarters of the way across the bridge when something happened that gave them pause.
The VW bus did not pull over and wait for the two of them to pass. Instead the driver positioned the bus right in the center of the road. The two cars that were now completely across the bridge had to stop. They waited for the woman to back up, but she would not move. David wrote, "It took me a few moments to comprehend that she was not going to let us off the bridge." He motioned for his wife to back up, and the two cars backed across the bridge and on to the shoulder. The driver of the bus then crossed the bridge and drove past them without so much as a glance in their direction.
This is what David wrote: As I pulled away, I felt the anger and frustration of the ridiculous experience I had just had. The truth is, it cost us about two minutes of time and was insignificant to my day. However, my mind would not let it alone. I analyzed it in different ways, coming up with the words I should have said to that woman.
He wrote more about how emotionally upset he had become until he began to think about how God created him to be, a person who was as equally equipped as God to be gracious and to allow all people to be exactly who they are. Once he realized what he was doing to himself, instantly he changed his thinking. In his own words he describes what took place as he left the scene of the bridge:
When I utilized the techniques that gave me access to the Laws of Transformation, I suddenly looked up and realized that it was an absolutely gorgeous day. I was driving through a redwood forest and the patterns of light coming through the trees were exquisite. I felt the joy of a beautiful morning and the release and freedom from the tyranny of my own thoughts and emotional reaction.
By remaining committed to who he was, Jesus began the process of changing the world. We are no different. God made each of us the same way. Just imagine the power that will always be within each person who decides to radiate this same commitment.
The reason we find the incident involving the VW bus so challenging is a core belief that many of us hold. We believe that we are incomplete human beings unless we assert ourselves. We believe we are incomplete until we have convinced others of the validity of our rights. Some of us would have had a difficult time allowing the driver of that VW bus to remain who she was without speculating about her character or wanting somehow to get even. All such responses are fine but they would not be coming from the truth of who we are.
For all we know the driver of that bus was only responding to her own faithfulness to the law just as the authorities were doing in the synagogue. To that extent her behavior was perfectly justified. She may have felt, for example, that people need to take turns crossing the bridge. She may have thought, "You go and then I go. When two cars come together, both drivers are forcing me to be generous and I won't be manipulated! And if I do not have the courage to stand up for my rights, who will?" She would be right but she would not be reflecting the truth of who God created her to be.
The authorities in the synagogue and the driver of the VW bus have something in common with the rest of us -- everyone of us must experience the consequences of how we think. Do we want to experience peace and self-control, or do we always want to be prepared for war each time we meet people who lack manners, courtesy or common sense? Because we are always debating this issue within ourselves, God gave us truth to stand along side our free will.
We can be mistreated. We can be inconvenienced. We can be unloved. We can be manipulated and controlled to some extent but always we have the final word on who we are at all times. Please remember Jesus would have never invited anyone to follow him if the success of that journey were impossible to achieve.
Do we see this elsewhere in Jesus' ministry? Absolutely! We see him living this truth throughout the Gospels. There was the time when Jesus was preparing to enter a Samaritan village. The Samaritans refused to receive him. James and John were so angry they said, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" (Luke 9:54). It sounds like they ran across the driver of that VW bus. This is the way we can react when we refuse to allow people to be exactly who they are.
This question should give us hope when we hear it coming from Jesus' closest disciples. What should give us even more hope is that the question came from Jesus' own first cousins who had been with him for three years. Jesus did not dignify their question with a response. He probably rolled his eyes and wondered if they would ever understand the "big picture."
The Truth that constantly stands in our midst is that God created us for one thing -- to communicate our loving energy. When we venture away from our ability to do that, we will quickly find ourselves engaged in behavior and thought patterns that will never ever produce lasting peace and joy. That is how powerful truth is. Even though we may not recognize it or fully understand it, truth's presence provides constant feedback with every choice we make. All we have to do is "listen" to how we feel.
When we realize the potential of our true identity, we not only experience harmony within ourselves but we will also experience it in our relationship with God. This week experiment with this understanding. Radiate who God created you to be, then watch what happens to others in your world.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving and ever-present God, all of us need to stand before your mirror of truth in order to examine the quality of our lives. We thank you that truth is truth. We thank you that truth stands in our midst as a sentinel that our best reasoning cannot defeat. We thank you that truth needs no defense for it to remain what it is. We thank you that truth judges us as well as instills hope and encouragement when it is followed. We know how easy it is to set love aside. And we thank you that the results of doing so occur instantly. All the unhappiness, the pain and the disappointment we experience are but voices inviting us to be more faithful to the person you created us to be. Enable us to awaken to that awareness with every decision we make. In our faith community, may each of us remain eager to learn the skills of the spirit that Jesus came to teach us. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Eternal and ever faithful God, thank you for these moments of stillness and reflection. As each one of us tunes in to what is happening in our world, in our communities and in our personal lives, we realize that we do not know what to think. We wonder if the world is any different from the days when Jesus lived. And yet we are here today because we have taken seriously his invitation to live in a spirit that is vastly different from the spirit many other people have chosen.
We admit that we are challenged nearly every day to resist turning the other cheek, to resist praying for those who hurt, abuse and destroy, and to resist being the leaven for the loaf. Sometimes we feel we would like to thrust our answers on all the people whose lives do not appear to be working for them. And yet the great paradox remains that Jesus had the answer and Judas did not want to hear it.
Enable us, O God, to live our lives so that other people find it easier to be kind and gracious. May the energy our love radiates help people more easily to find the direction and perspective that brings them peace and confidence. Help us hold steadfastly to our trust that you are working your perfect will in each of us even when our physical senses tell us otherwise. Thank you for the witness to such confidence that Jesus displayed as he was leaving our world. Bless us now as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us to say. . .