"Learning To Live The Answer"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 11/05/2000
Psalm 146; Mark 12:28-34
Consider this. Will the outcome of the election have a dramatic impact on how we live? Our culture teaches us that it will. And to some extent this is true. However, the greater truth is that the quality of our lives has more to do with what is going on inside of us than with the changes taking place within our social and political structures.
For example, a good education has more to do with the internal motivation and the eagerness of a student to learn than the number of people in a classroom. Financial freedom has more to do with people deciding early in life to save and invest their money than with the solvency of the Social Security system.
Over and over again politicians have indicated what they are going to do to make our lives better. Jesus taught us that quality of life must be found in another place. While it is impossible for anyone to make our lives better, Jesus' message described the timeless tools for doing so. However, as with all helpful tools for living, their use is up to us.
This morning I would like to take the focus of our Gospel lesson and place it in a framework that might enable us to live its message with greater ease. This very familiar lesson has two parts. The first is that we are directed to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second is that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
How can we live so that these two teachings form the essence of who we are? The challenge has always been to give them daily expression and to have them become the source of our responses. We fail at this task far too often. Is there another method for helping us understand Jesus' wisdom in a context that would help us succeed? I think so.
Let us begin by first understanding God as the artist who created everything. We may not like or appreciate all that demands a response from us. Would our thoughts change, however, if we remembered that it is God who created the vast number of possibilities for everything we experience? This one piece of information might make all the difference in the world in how we respond.
In 1988, people gathered at Christie's in New York City where a number of art pieces were to be sold at auction. For one particular painting the biding was very competitive. The final bid was $480,000. A latecomer to the bidding war had not heard the auctioneer's introductory remarks regarding the painting.
Because she had arrived at the point when the auctioneer's gavel was dropping for the third time, she knew nothing about the painting. When she looked at the piece and the price it brought, she could not believe it. She thought, "Who would pay that kind of money for something so primitive?"
It was not until she found a seat and opened her program that she learned why the painting had brought such a fabulous price. The painting was listed as an early work of Pablo Picasso. The value of the painting had nothing to do with its attractiveness; it had value because of who created it.
Imagine how different our responses to life would be if we understood that we are living in God's Art Gallery. Many of God's creations we do not understand nor can we imagine what purpose they serve. We may consider them tasteless, ugly and counterproductive to life itself. Yet as humanity has evolved in its understanding, we have learned that what is ugly can become beautiful once its purpose is understood.
For example, floods are very destructive. However, once the early Egyptians learned what happened to crop yields when the Nile River flooded, they looked forward to them. Fire was dangerous and destructive until humanity learned to control it. Mold was a sign of decay until one day it became the source of penicillin. When we love the artist, we can more easily learn to value everything that the artist has made. Every piece of art has value once its purpose is understood.
The second point for helping us love God and our neighbors more easily comes from a concept that we firmly believe remains unproven in our experience. Suppose we taught ourselves that in our world nothing ever goes wrong. What would happen to our responses if we trained ourselves to understand that our lives were unfolding for us exactly as they should?
To arrive at such a conclusion, we would first have to energize every experience by giving it a creative purpose. Conflict often causes us to flee an experience. While we generally greet such experiences with mixed emotions, we need to understand that they represent an invitation for us to stay and learn.
Every one of life's challenges brings with it a lesson specifically designed for us. A circumstance would not be difficult to negotiate if we already possessed the skill for dealing with it. Every challenge demands that we either develop a new skill, or we accept the notion that we are a victim.
Try imaging that every experience comes in a unique form as if God were asking us either to use a skill or develop a new one. When we remember to view others in their new role, their purpose for being in our lives becomes clear. They become the means for our growth. Our learning to love them shapes who we become.
Who is elected President of the United States or what political party controls one or both houses of Congress will have the same purpose as anything else. Everything outside of us has the purpose of being a refining tool for helping the spirit within us to mature.
Today is All Saints Day. Jesus was teaching that when we love God and our neighbors with all that we are, we discover how the saints we honor were able to do what they did. Now it is our turn to give away what Jesus' taught. As we do, truth will become more visible.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We thank you once again, O God, for a new day to be alive. We thank you for providing us with our rich heritage in the Scriptures, with numerous experiences to grow in spirit, and with countless opportunities to display what we have become. As we gather, teach us how to change willingly and graciously. When we face mountains we fear we cannot climb, may we begin the journey anyway. When we face people whose attitudes carry a message different from our own, may we remember that this is our moment to be of service. When we struggle to understand what response would be most healing, may we trust you to guide us. When our minds and spirits are filled with stress, may we hear your voice saying, "This too shall pass." Guide us in all things to be instruments of your peace. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Eternal and everlasting God, how grateful we are to be living in this dynamic, unpredictable, and sometimes frightening culture of ours. Tuesday we will participate in one of the greatest privileges any country of this world can experience. We will see the drama of a seemingly infinite chain of single votes that will demonstrate for the rest of the world to see, the American version of what freedom looks like. We will watch as leaders transition peacefully, all because of our collective obedience to a Constitution that has faithfully directed our lives for over 200 of years.
We have no idea what the future holds. Yet what we do know is reassuring. We know that wherever we go, you will be there with us, coaching us, inspiring us, calling spiritual leaders and prophets, as you mold and shape history through those who have discovered your creative energy that many of us simply call "love."
Thank you, God, for teaching us that your light will never be put out by darkness. Thank you that even in the moments of our deepest despair, you prepare a table in the presence of our enemies, you anoint our heads with oil and our cups are filled to overflowing. Thank you for creating us with a hunger to be in closer harmony with you. We pray that that harmony may one day become the creative spirit that will grow a future where there will be peace on earth as there is in Heaven. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray...