"The Power of The Past"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 11/7/1999

Thessalonians 4:13-18; Psalm 78:1-7

     I would like to direct our attention to the first two sentences of the Psalm that was read for us this morning. "Listen, my people, to my teachings, and pay attention to what I say. I am going to use wise sayings and explain mysteries from the past, things we have heard and known, things that our ancestors told us."

     Such words immediately capture our attention. Everyone of us should be interested in what promises to enhance the quality of our lives. If we are not, we should be. Underneath our exteriors, most people want the same thing. We want to live with a spirit that communicates: "I am happy. I am fulfilled. I look forward to every challenge that comes my way. I enjoy every person I meet. They all have something they can give me. Everything in God's creation has been designed to serve my highest good; therefore, my confidence in God causes me to be afraid of nothing."

     Did the people we traditionally call "saints" live this way? Absolutely! That is why we are attracted to them. That is why we listen to what they had to say. Can they give their discoveries to us? In fact, can the entire community of saints do anything to put us in possession of the wondrous power displayed through their lives? The answer is "No." Not even Jesus was successful in accomplishing this among his disciples.

     Most of us must admit that the only thing that influential people in our past could do was demonstrate what is possible. Every generation is faced with the same issue that greeted them. Simply stated, the challenge of every past generation was this, "If it is going to be, it is up to me."

     For example, let's examine two areas of life that many people consider extremely important. The first area deals with being financially independent. Most people want enough money in retirement to go where they want to go and purchase what they like, without the cost being a preventative variable. What separates people in this area should be obvious. However, for many people it is not.

     Only six percent of Americans have a plan. Only six percent of Americans read the books that describe safe, step-by-step methods for becoming financially independent. The most powerful voice in our past was that of Jesus. In his parable of the talents, Jesus taught his listeners about the consequences of investing and not investing. Everyone wants the fruit, but not everyone establishes the priority of first planting the tree.

     The second area most people want to experience is quality relationships. We want meaningful and rewarding relationships. Yet only a few people have learned that successful relationships begin with us. Does our love allow other persons to be who they are? Can we love them without wanting to change them? Can we remain fulfilled and contented with or without them?

     The reason such questions may sound foreign and unrealistic to us is that we often enter relationships with expectations. We want something from the person. Or worse, we may feel we need something from them in order to feel complete. To shield us from the greater truth, we have been taught that love is a two-way street when it is not.

     John Denver used to sing, "You fill up my senses." Many of us found that song very meaningful. One of the qualities of romance is that people enjoy being desired. John's words captured the essence of what all believe they want, being needed. Those of us who followed John's career, however, remember that Annie got tired of having to fill that need day after day. Their marriage ended.

     Many of the voices from our past were pointing to something much different. Love expects nothing. Love is an energy that allows people to feel safe and cared for just as they are, warts and all. People who admit to having never experienced such love have forgotten about the love of God. We do not have to do or be anything to earn God's love. Jesus would have never taught us to love this way if it were impossible to display.

     The power of the past stands where it has always stood. It is not back there in some yesterday. What we hear are voices from people demonstrating what it was like to experience truth. What we read are words written by those who were celebrating what they had found. As with every generation, ours sees truth in our midst, daring the parade of people to live it.

     The rewards of living truth are out of this world, but there will never be any fruit if we missed learning that we must first press seeds into the soil of our lives. Jesus tried to convince us of this by saying, "Follow me." The Apostle Paul tried to convince us of this by saying, "Be imitators of me."

     On my office coffee table is a book of quotes. People in the past had such wonderful ways of saying things. That is why we remember their words. We all know the wisdom behind, "A stitch in time saves nine." We all know the quote, "A family that prays together stays together." The power of the past is the same for our present. If this is true, why do the effects of truth allude so many people?

     The other day I was visiting my parents at Asbury Village. On their coffee table was an ornately carved cedar box. My parents told me that the box had recently been given to them by someone who had it for a long time. When I opened the box, its contents revealed an excellent illustration of what has challenged every generation. Inside was a Bible that had never been read.

     The past only has power when we stop admiring its beauty and make it the rule for the way we conduct our lives. Our Psalm this morning also contains these words: "God gave laws to the people of Israel and commandments to the descendants of Jacob. God instructed our ancestors to teach his laws to their children, so that the next generation might learn them and in turn should tell their children."

     The beautiful cedar box containing an unread Bible provides clarity to all the areas in life that trouble us. The conflicts in our personal finances, in our relationships, and in our closeness with God are often the result of our wanting the fruits without understanding that we have to live by certain rules. We want to arrive at a particular destination without consulting and following a map. We try to build a life without examining a quality set of blueprints. The voices from our past remind us that to achieve the power to live creatively and responsibly, we have to do our inner homework.

     The powerful people in our past communicated one lesson that will remain true in every generation: "As you sow, so shall you reap AND, you will reap what you sow." Our joy has little to do with what others do or do not do with their lives; rather it has to do with our stewardship of all that God gave us.

     The proclaimed truth from those in our past only becomes powerful for us when it is given expression in our lives. If such an accomplishment were impossible to achieve, Jesus would not have invited us to follow him. Jesus knew the truth, and that is why he extended the invitation. Have we accepted his invitation or are we still searching for what will empower us elsewhere?


     Eternal God, we thank you for the gift of memory. You have given us the capacity to gather wisdom so that the mistakes of others need not live again in our lives. You have created us with the ability to learn and grow, so that our choices produce a spirit that fills us with joy. Enable us to remember that every healthy branch is connected to a vine and that every tower stands securely because of the strength of its foundations. Today we remember with gratitude that we are the stewards of traditions that produce healing results in life. We pray for the desire to model and teach the source of those traditions. Enable us to remain conscious that the inward journey that Jesus taught, gives us more than we could possibly imagine. As we give away what we have and are, may others surrender their delay and join us. Amen.


     How pleasing it is, O God, to set aside the disciplines that surrounded many of our tasks of last week, and for these moments experience peace. As we sit here in our pews, help us imagine someone with a soaked sponge erasing the backboards within our minds. These are the ones that hold our lists of "things to do," of calls we need to return, of personalities that have made challenging requests of us. Lead us to feel appreciation for how safe we are here. During this one hour, may we all feel the exposure to your Holy Spirit. Spare us from using the mental and emotional over-stimulation that comes from our world to distract us during these moments with you.

     How wonderful it is to be reminded that laughter is good medicine, that shaking hands while looking people in the eyes is so validating, and that calling people by their names reminds them that we are family here. We thank you for creating us with so many ways to express, "I love you."

     Thank you for helping us develop intentional amnesia when it comes to remembering lists of wrongs. Thank you for teaching us how to accept others just as they are. And thank you for teaching us that all such extensions come naturally when our identities are totally secure and firmly rooted in your love for us.

     May these moments together with you nourish us with memories that heal, empower, and enhance all of us to be more peaceful and loving men and women. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .