"How To Change The World"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 5/2/1999
John 14:1-14; Acts 7:51-60
This is an exciting topic because May is typically the month when high school and college graduates take to the world's stage, the stage where such major changes make their debut. What is so interesting is that most significant changes have occurred in history when unknown people were busy doing something completely unrelated to thoughts about altering the course of history.
For example, Martin Luther had no idea that his 95 criticisms of the Church would cause the Reformation. Susannah Wesley had no idea that her parenting skills would inspire her sons John and Charles, to become influential giants in the formation of the United Methodist Church. Abraham Lincoln, hastily writing his thoughts on the back of an envelope, could not have anticipated that he was creating a document historians would refer to as "The Gettysburg Address."
If there is one characteristic that stands out among all the people we call " the movers and shakers" of world history, it is faithfulness. In the secular field, inventors like the Wright Brothers, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Madame Currie and Steve Jobs, all remained focused in their faithfulness to create or harness what their imaginations said was possible.
As we listened this morning to the reading from the Book of Acts, we heard again the story of the stoning of the first Christian martyr. What Stephen did was use his words to give form to his interpretation of what happened during the unfolding of Hebrew history. Listen again to his words:
"How stubborn you are! How heathen your hearts, how deaf you are to God's message! You are just like your ancestors: you too have always resisted the Holy Spirit! Was there any prophet that your ancestors did not persecute? They killed God's messengers, who long ago announced the coming of his righteous Servant. And now you have betrayed and murdered him. You are the ones who received God's law, that was handed down by angels -- yet you have not obeyed it!"
When the crowd had heard enough words from Stephen's articulate mind, they threw him out of the city and stoned him to death. How did such faithfulness to his passion change the world?
Stephen could not have known that among those participating in and watching his death was the very person who later would introduce Christianity to the Greek and Roman world. Saul of Tarsus was present to hear Stephen's last words, "Father! Forgive them, they know not what they do." Stephen's faithfulness to his faith while being stoned to death became the haunting image that would prepare Saul for his Damascus road conversion experience.
What makes the process of our remaining faithful so important is that we never know who is watching. We never know whose life will be influenced by something we do or say. We never know who will have their imagination inspired by some little act of our faithfulness. History is not formed by wealthy and influential people, it is formed by people who remain faithful to the process of extending their gifts, their beliefs, their passion and their love as far as their imagination says is possible.
Did Jesus believe he could change the world? If he believed that, why would he have passed a loaf and a cup while saying, "Do this in remembrance of me"? Why would anyone think that way unless such a thought grew from an imagination that believed that people might forget and go on living as if none of it ever happened.
The little things we do sometimes without thinking have the power to change the world. Last week during their presentation, we learned how three teenagers made a last minute decision to go to Juarez, Mexico, with 22 others from our church. Is there any way of knowing what imprint that experience made on their lives?
In the same spirit is there any way of knowing what a handshake will mean to someone you don't know this morning? Is there any way of anticipating how inviting someone to our church might help them connect with what has been missing in their lives? How about your writing a letter to someone?
Paul could have never known that his handwritten letters would be saved and copied and recopied eventually to be used as a resource to guide the spiritual growth of millions of people for thousands of years. Just imagine the process of how a group of personal letters to congregations written by one person became a portion of the New Testament.
Live your passion. Allow your spirit to translate love into whatever form you wish to create. It takes many instruments to make an orchestra. The music we create here at St. Matthew's is incredible because so many of us express our love through our instrument. That may include putting mulch around our shrubs to folding and mailing our newsletter. It is everyone contributing in small ways that makes the St. Matthew's experience what it is. When everyone remains faithful to allowing their love to take form, this is how the world experience will change.
Our President may not like it, but I believe he has just been upstaged by Jessie Jackson who believed in talking to your enemy face to face. He believed in using words rather than bombs. No one could have imagined the possibility suggested by the picture that appeared on the front of today's Washington Post -- a prayer circle with Jackson and Milosevic holding hands. Regardless of what spin or interpretation might be given to that picture, one result was that our three captured servicemen were released. Think of what might happen if all of us gave form to love's energy. The world would change. Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, God, for these moments together. We do not come seeking the strength or the power known by this world. We come because we enjoy walking on the path that allows patience, kindness, and joy to be natural extensions of who we have become. We come because of the freedom we experience when we no longer need to blame or criticize. We come because of the peacefulness we enjoy when we co-mingle with others who also wish to laugh, heal, and celebrate their lives. Help us to remain guardians of our thoughts. Help us remain attentive to the need of doubts and fears to create conclusions that the eyes of love would never see. May we understand ourselves as angels on assignment who can change the world simply by being faithful in our trust to you. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Thank you God for creating us with the ability to experience growth. We acknowledge that we are fed in ways that are often disguised. When someone tests our patience, when our schedules are disrupted by the unexpected, and when our trust is broken -- how could we have known that our growth potential to stretch was coming to us in a form that was a challenge to recognize?
We confess, O God, how easy it is to own a wealth of talent that remains underdeveloped because we do not choose to use our tools. We do not select patience as one of our alternatives. We do not choose understanding when others reflect their irritability. We fail to use forgiveness when others miss a cue to reflect the kindness they possess. Yet in our failure, we learn. And the more we learn, the more we can reflect to others the kind of world we want our children to inherit from us.
Today as we celebrate our graduates, we ask that you send them forth equipped with the mission to live with passion as they learn to take the high road in all that they do to extend every ability, every gift, and every creative idea. We pray these thoughts through the Spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray. . .