"Truth Has No Rivals"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 5/30/1999
Psalm 8; Matthew 28:16-20
Often there is a lot of confusion when life calls us to make decisions in areas where we have never been and about long range goals that are far from certain. Many of our recent high school graduates will be navigating in these strange waters very soon. Many of us still remain untested in many areas of experience. There are times when we make repeated mistakes and we fear that life may be nothing more than a series of trials and errors until we "get it right".
I remember watching a program some years ago on public television. The program's subject matter centered on the communication which takes place between animals. One fascinating bit of footage featured three beavers who were trying to construct a dam in a particular stretch of swift moving water. The currents destroyed their work time after time.
After the fourth disaster, the three beavers appeared to confer with each other. What happened next was fascinating to watch. One of the beavers left the other two and returned with an older beaver. The older beaver sat on the bank and appeared to superintend the construction of a dam which stayed.
The memory of that event has stayed with me since I saw it. Even in the animal world, creatures seem to know when it is time to call on the wisdom of one of their own who knows more than they do. While we can understand that truth, quite often we cannot apply it to ourselves.
We have this quality about us which is called pride. Sometimes that word describes a wonderful attribute. In this context it means that we will never intentionally do our second best. Even our smallest responsibilities will be given the same follow-through as if we were performing some task for Jesus himself.
The other definition of pride describes a spiritual barrier. When we are lost, this kind of pride will not permit us to stop and ask for directions. We will not reach out for help. We maintain a posture and attitude that we can manage life ourselves. We are saying, "Thanks, but no thanks!" to those who could render assistance to us. We need to remember that God created us to be social beings. We were designed to work in a team environment.
When news of a woman in our congregation who has breast cancer comes to my attention, I immediately suggest that she speaks to several other women in the church family who have gone through that experience. These women are veterans of breast cancer and know how to superintend the building of a dam that stays.
They have gone through the periods of uncertainty. They have followed through on the prescribed protocols of the medical profession. They have succeeded in navigating through some turbulent, emotional waters. They have arrived at a place where they can help the newcomers get beyond the, "I don't want anyone else to know about this" to the truth of, "I am so glad that I have found others who can help me through this experience."
In another example, I once had a man in my office who brought with him the woman he was planning to marry. She was going to be his fourth bride. During our conversation I asked him, "What has happened in your life that makes you believe that your fourth marriage will work?" He sat quietly for a moment. The question was very personal and had obviously touched a sensitive area. While pointing to his fiancée, he said, "She has taught me that I cannot express love if my will is the only one under consideration each time there is a conflict. My other marriages failed because there was room in my life for only one person–ME! She taught me that I did not know how to love."
It took three broken marriages for him to learn a very valuable lesson. A fourth woman held that mirror in front of him and said, "I will love you if you let me." We can frown at his situation if we wish, but how many times have we failed at some skill and have refused to seek or take advice from someone who knows more than we? We first have to admit that something in our life is not working. Our own frustration and distraction should make this condition abundantly clear.
How many times have we felt that we were absolutely entitled to respond to our hurts with bitterness? How many times have we allowed someone's behavior to be so controlling of us that we have refused to attend a social function where that person was going to be present? How many of us have painful memories which visit us over and over again, dredging up all kinds of twisted thoughts that remain a part of day-to-day living? When we have such thoughts, life is not working. We need to approach someone who knows more than we do.
We have this savior in our midst. God sent Jesus into our world for precisely this reason. Jesus represents the standard by which we can judge how we are doing. God sent him to save us from such thinking. To date, no one has ever successfully proven that what Jesus taught will not work. Jesus embodied excellence. Not only did he teach it, he lived it. One of the qualities of life he taught was forgiveness. Forgiveness does not work only some of the time; it works every time.
Some people still engage in self-torture because they have not learned this very basic skill. They have not learned what forgiveness is and what it will do for them. Forgiveness is an attitude of spirit that protects us from allowing anyone or any event to continue poisoning our thoughts. Who would not want such a freedom?
Once we learn how a forgiving spirit serves us and why a spirit that nurses past hurts destroys us, we graduate. We never again allow other people or events to govern the quality of our lives from a distance. We no longer allow others to take up residence in our heads. By learning this skill, we can construct a life that will stay whole while in the midst of the swift currents swirling around us. Truth has no rivals. We know this because no other attitude will bring healing to ourselves. Even with all this evidence of success, people still doubt.
Listen again to this verse in our lesson, "When they saw him, they worshiped him, even though some of them doubted." Not even the disciples could easily let go of the conclusions they had formed. Like many of us, they felt entitled to their feelings in spite of what those feelings were doing to them. For each one of us there will come a time when we must decide to surrender what we know in order to accept the authority of the one who possesses the truth about life.
Through what Jesus did on the cross, the picture of what is possible could not be any clearer. Jesus was able to hang on that cross and tell those on the ground how much he still loved them. How could something that worked for him fail to work for us? Every circumstance of life gives us the opportunity to define ourselves. We must also allow others the same privilege, even when their self-definition displays vastly different values.
Jesus indicated in our lesson that he had found truth. He had found this elusive excellence for living that we spoke about in the beginning. He said, "I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go then, to all people, and teach them what I have given you." God's power is like electricity. We have to want that power to channel through us before it will light up our lives.
When we are constantly being upset by little things, or we have desires that are out of control, or we are advertising our constant neediness, we are choosing what does not and will not work. Remember, truth has no rivals. If we are experiencing these kinds of results in our lives, we have to change what we know. And Jesus taught the only standard for excellence that we have.
There are many settings where we can practice his teachings in our lives. We are not expected or even being asked to travel to other countries as our lesson implies. We can make the light of a more excellent way to live visible right where we are.
I often tell couples whom I am about to marry that one of the many things they have never done before is live together successfully for 45 years. I talk with them about personal finances, communication, sexuality and spirituality, disciplines that have no forum in our formal years of education. Yet all of us know that talk is cheap.
Couples can hear all about such things, but so what? Truth remains only words until that couple faces their first of many mountains to climb. Remembering the principles that Jesus taught as they begin their climb will make all the difference to their relationship and their accomplishments. It is like having a road map to our desired destination. But they both have to want something more than what they know. This understanding is basic to every skill in life.
There is only one way to learn how to use a hammer, a screwdriver and a saw. We have to use such tools according to the principles that produce the best results. Practice is the only way to learn anything. Practice helps us learn to drive a car, or to play a musical instrument. The same is true with developing wholesome relationships. Marriage provides people with a perfect environment to grow skills when both acknowledge Christ's presence. Without that awareness, each will struggle against the other's point of view. The result is always a winner and a loser.
Every one of us has our circumstances that offer us the opportunity to practice what Jesus taught. Each of us has some environment where we are given the opportunity to allow a little heaven to shine through us. We do not have to go to Kosovo to make a difference. We can make that difference by being faithful with what lies in front of us.
This week the Circuit Rider arrived at our homes. We can read it or lay it aside, but you need to know that one person assembled all of the information in a creative form. Another person expended an enormous amount of time printing it for us. This issue required the printing of 15,000 pages. A group of people sorted the newsletter by zip codes and prepared it for mailing. Their efforts made visible a level of caring that they have for the rest of us.
I received an e-mail the other day from a woman in the church who marveled at the large group of people planting bedding plants in the various gardens surrounding the church while one of our youth groups was busy with their annual car wash. She commented that all the activity was a wonderful sign of a busy congregation.
When people work together, they teach what caring and love look like. In this world of cubicals, computer terminals, and lives that are often marginalized, we need more moments together to practice the excellence that Jesus taught. This interaction inspires and motivates others to do the same.
When we travel on the highways extending courtesies to other drivers and when we light up with enthusiasm during our work day, we are getting in practice time in the midst of our mission field. This is our moment to make the work of others lighter. This is our moment to listen to others in a way that accepts them as they are.
One of our mistakes is to believe that to make a difference we have to do something difficult or challenging. The truth is that God works miracles through us while we are busy being faithful in our small tasks. Truth has no rivals so when it is being made visible everywhere in every moment, the Holy Spirit touches the minds and hearts of others.
Jesus gave us the task of teaching others how to be his disciples. The best way to do that is to practice what he taught in every moment we can. That is how the invisible spirit of love is given form and made visible. This is how we teach others. We can teach with our words, but a better way to teach is to allow others to see our words working in our lives.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, for being so faithful to us. Whenever we come with our cups extended, you are more than willing to fill them. When we realize that we have been seeking our wholeness from our world, you remind us that we have been placing our trust in what will always change. How grateful we are that your love surrounds us, always ready to make its presence known. Thank you for using the moments of our loneliness, confusion, and neediness as opportunities to reveal where our spirits need our attention. Encourage us, O God, to develop thoughts which will refine our spirits so that we can make visible their fruits. As we move through each of life's experiences, enable us to understand who you created us to be. We pray that through us, you will transform the world around us. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Thank you God for these moments together. We have a lot this weekend upon which to reflect and we are grateful that we can do that as a community of faith. So many of our families are experiencing the passage of their sons and daughters across the various platforms of graduation. Some of us are experiencing the joy of a beautiful 3-day weekend. Some of us will be pausing to give thanks for the men and women who have died defending the environment of freedom against those who would take such a heritage away.
It is so challenging, O God, to live in a world where there is cancer and rape, where children die of malnutrition, where bombs fall on a daily basis, and where people remain stubborn and thrive on their ability to control others. And yet, were it not for such experiences, there would have been no need for your son to instruct his listeners to "Go into all the world and teach them."
That is our problem. We need to be taught. So many of us do not know how to live so that peace, joy and happiness become the form through which we express ourselves. We thank you that so many of us have prayed, "Here am I. Send me" and you have heard. Enable each of us to recommit ourselves to flooding the world with what heals and binds men and women together. May our lives radiate the truth that Jesus gave up his life to teach us. May his power for living become ours. May his resolve to make your presence visible become our resolve. May we not rest until your will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .