"Life's Greatest Secret"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 2/6/2000
Mark 1:29-39; Isaiah 40:21-31
This process of looking to the future never ends. We wait for high school graduation and then college graduation. Then we begin looking for the right job, the right mate, and the right place to live. We grow so accustomed to looking for this other place, these other people, and this future opportunity that we seldom learn how to enjoy where we are.
Last week, I was waiting to turn left onto Millstream Road from Route 197. The traffic in the other direction was coming at a tremendous speed toward those of us waiting to make our turn. The woman in front of me made her turn anyway. There was not a lot of time to spare. I cringed at what she had done. Think about this. What made her turn instead of waiting for the traffic to clear?
There is nothing that makes us more subject to the tyranny of little things than our responding to unrecognized beliefs. In this case, her unrecognized belief was "I will be much happier if I make the turn now than if I wait." The next time you are tempted to run a yellow light, drift through a stop sign or change lanes quickly, think about the belief that you are making visible. We make such statements about ourselves all the time. In hundreds of ways we are saying, "I am not happy where I am."
Several weeks ago, I was with a man who is counting the months until his retirement. I said, "What are you most looking forward to after you retire?" He said, "Freedom. No more going into the office. No more deadlines. No more schedules telling me what to do and where I have to be." Without realizing it, his eagerness for retirement was based on the belief that where he is right now is not as good as where he thinks he will be six months from now. Through the years, these layers of mild discontentment of where we are begin to add up until we no longer are aware of our urgent need to be elsewhere.
What many people fail to learn is that when we enjoy thoroughly where we are right now, the rest of life cannot help but be more of the same. We have all known people who are always looking for love and never find it. Those who are love experience it every day. We have all known people who are always looking for happiness and they never find it.
The greatest secret in the world is that absolutely nothing can make can us happy; happiness IS the way. Jesus used every method he knew to communicate this message. He said repeatedly, "The Kingdom of God is like . . ." and then he gave his listeners many examples. And many of them probably sat there and asked themselves, "What does he mean?" Jesus was telling people what it is like to have joy and peace, while they thought such a consciousness was something they had to find.
Now and then, I listen to Kathy Whiteside while driving in the car. She plays music from the past at 100.3 on the FM dial. I like the energy in her voice. I am very partial to Kathy; she spent six years as a member of our youth group in Cheverly. The other day I listened to a number of songs that had meaning for my message this morning.
Jackson Brown wrote a song that contained these words, "No matter what I am, I'm just a day away from where I want to be." There was another song that said, "Torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool." There was a third song that said, "It's tough to be with someone else when the right one comes along."
This orientation toward life is what many of us operate from without even realizing it. In one form or another, our lives are singing, "Somewhere over the rainbow." But the truth is, there is nothing over that rainbow that is not also available where we are right now. If we cannot learn to enjoy the present moment, we will never learn to enjoy our future. Every future moment eventually becomes the present.
Isaiah wrote quite eloquently about a theme that all of us know very well. His message has to do with the quality of our relationship with God—a relationship that does not change once we have it. The quality he mentioned can be found in the record left by nearly every Biblical writer. He wrote: "Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak."
We pay lip service to this trust-relationship more than any other Biblical theme. We are told, "Trust God! Trust God! Just trust God and your life will soar." Many of us do not. This is another one of those unrecognized beliefs. We would rather spend our time looking forward to and waiting for something else to bring fulfillment to our lives. All that many people inherit is a restless spirit that does not know what it wants. They have forgotten life's greatest secret: Nothing can make us happy; happiness IS the way.
When we trust God with every moment, we are communicating that orientation to life with everything we do. When we fully live in each moment, there are definite results. Our pace may be slowed by illness, but we use that time to discover something we have been missing. The hurt from a painful experience may cause us to discover another undeveloped skill. Our frustration with an unresolved conflict will lead us toward increased creativity in our problem solving. The possibilities are endless when we learn to fully live where we are. Looking forward to some future event to "save us from the present" will give us nothing but feelings of longing.
The artists, Henri Matisse and Auguste Renoir, were great friends even though 30 years separated them in age. Renoir was immobilized by arthritis causing him to remain at home for the last ten years of his life. However, during that time he never stopped his painting. One day Matisse watched his friend creating, fighting pain with every stroke of his brush. Matisse said, "Why do you still persist in painting?" Renoir said, "What is in me must be given expression. Every moment of life is precious, even now. With every stroke of my brush, the canvass is that much closer to completion. The beauty remains while the pain of producing it will pass."
When we trust God in each moment, trusting that where we are is where we need to be for our growth, we seize the opportunity to live in it. We are communicating, "This moment is all I have. In this moment, what is in me must be given expression. By experiencing this moment as a valuable gift, my canvas is that much closer to completion." This morning I want to leave you with one question, "Are each of you such an artist?"
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, for your loving spirit. You surround us every moment, even though our frailty prevents us from noticing. You sow seeds in our path while our eyes are focused on the constant changes in our experience. You stand in front of us in many different forms, and we see only a book, a stranger, or a challenging circumstance. You invite us to trust you and we respond with caution, worry and indecision. We thank you for these moments when such thoughts can be healed. You teach us how to redefine life's challenges. You guide us to become the light in darkness, the peacemaker during confusion, and the giver among those who take. You give us a radiance of spirit when we learn to walk the path less traveled. Teach us to hunger and thirst for the tools of spirit that will enable us to live a message that will heal our world. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Gracious and ever healing God, how many times have we come to church without much enthusiasm and have found that you were waiting for us. You made us aware that you clearly know what is going on inside of us. And you used the words of others to let us know how to rise above the static of this world.
We confess that there are times when, like Jonah, we want to run away from what we need to face about ourselves. Nevertheless, your love has stayed with us and you seek us like a shepherd would a sheep who has gotten away from the security of the rest. You remind us that others are counting on us for character, honesty and integrity. You remind us that healers must be those who have healing to give away.
We pray that as each of us experiences our lives unfolding that we will do so knowing that every moment we spend with others is an opportunity for laughing, listening and learning. We have learned that life was meant to be enjoyed. We have learned that we were born to create. May our thoughts be those that teach. May our actions be those that assist others to climb to higher ground. Spare us, O God, from experiencing moments of timidity when we find ourselves where we would never choose to be. Help us understand that we are in the midst of such experiences to be a source of light. Remind us of the words we have often spoken, "Here I am, Lord. Send me." May we learn that time and time again you do just that. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .