"Our Two Greatest Abilities"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 5/7/2000
Psalm 4; Luke 36-48
We could easily debate the kind of body Jesus had and never come to an answer that will satisfy everyone. Some of the resurrection experiences featured Jesus walking through walls. Other stories had Jesus capable of appearing and disappearing. Discovering what kind of body Jesus had after his death will not inspire anything of permanent value. The fact is, it does not matter. 2
What can impact our lives is something Jesus wanted his disciples to do. This statement can easily become lost in the much more dramatic imagery of a crucified Jesus returning to life and eating fish. Jesus gave his disciples some final instructions. He said, "You must preach to all nations the message of (1) repentance and (2) the forgiveness of sins, beginning in Jerusalem."
This morning, we are going to consider these two abilities. They are the greatest two abilities that we possess. But how universal are they? Does everyone of every race, religion, and social creed have the same capability? The answer is, "Yes." Does everyone have to accept the authority of the teacher, for these abilities to work? And the answer is, "No." Success is guaranteed when we use and develop them.
This past week, I met with a couple from the former Soviet Union. The man was from the Ukraine and the woman was from Moscow. I performed their marriage ceremony on Friday in McLean, Virginia. During our premarital counseling session, I went into my litany of my four major talking points: Personal Finance, Personal Communication, Sexuality and Spirituality. I had no idea how their cultural bias and my own might influence our time together.
I always preface my remarks by telling couples that nowhere in our society is the subject matter of these four areas covered during our formal years of education. In spite of this neglect, they remain the four basic areas that can make or break any of our relationships.
When people behave poorly, it generally has to do with low skill levels in one of these areas. We cannot perform well if we have not developed the skills associated with that area. Most of us can understand that. What happens to us is that we forget that understanding when our lives are being impacted by someone who appears to lack the necessary skills.
When I finished talking to them I said, "Did you resonate with any of these points, or were my words only applicable to Americans who live in this culture?" They said, "Those four areas are the most important areas of life. It is interesting that in our two countries, such topics are also not covered in our education. The mastery of these areas is not only important for Americans, they are also important for everyone in the world."
My point is that there are many cultural and religious differences between people, but for the essential aspects of life, the aspects that are timeless, there appears to be no deviation in the result areas. What is true for one is true for all us. For example, when we master the two abilities to repent and to forgive, we are on our way to experiencing an incredible adventure. Absolutely nothing can stand in our way. This will become clear once we give these two abilities their definitions.
First, repentance has little to do with feeling sorry for what we have done and vowing not to do it again. That has been the traditional interpretation of what it means to repent. The Greek word for repentance translates to mean, "To have a change of mind." All of us have the ability to change our minds. This ability can teach us new skills while refining our spirit. If, on the other hand, we refuse to develop the skill, experiences in life can pull us apart and make us bitter. God has left that choice up to us.
If we are faced with a choice of either growing or tearing ourselves apart, there would appear to be no contest. But there is more tension in many of us over this decision than we can possibly imagine. Growth always means struggle and pain as we experience moving beyond our "more human" responses.
Jesus was saying to his disciples, "Please, get that word out." Jesus knew that we do not have to hate. We do not have to make demands on each other. We do not have to be envious or jealous. We do not have to associate our feelings of success to our possessions. We do not have to blame others for skills we never took the time to develop, or vice versa. We do not have to be driven by thoughts that we need to please everyone. We can change our minds and select responses that better serve us.
The second ability is forgiveness. Literally translated this word means, "To let go completely of what has hurt us." Another definition is, "A state-of-mind where one is not offended." Can we imagine how much inner work is needed to arrive at such a skill? Think of the power we would hold over all of life's events. Jesus wanted his disciples to teach others that we can live our lives peacefully when we stop wanting people and events to be different from whom and what they are.
Part of Jesus' mission for coming to the earth is to teach us how to live creatively. "Turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile and forgive 70 times 7" are result areas coming from those who have learned the skill of changing their minds and letting go of issues that at one time held their minds prisoner. Suddenly, "Follow me" has a different spin.
Radiating such responses does not make us the doormat we might first suppose. Far from it. Is an Olympic Gold Medal winner a doormat? Why should we ever label people this way who have developed life's two greatest abilities? They have paid a price that is equal to that of any athlete. All through their lives they have struggled to move beyond the responses that are more typical for most people.
The reward for their success is rich indeed. Such people have enormous power over their destiny if we compare them to those who are daily ruled and manipulated by their hurt, anger, frustration and resentment.
In essence Jesus was telling his disciples, "If you love people as I have loved you, you must teach others what I have taught you." The Kingdom will come on earth when everyone understands how these two abilities can be used to create whatever kind of life we wish. The two essential questions for us this morning are these, "Are we getting out the word Jesus asked us to share?" and "Are we living what Jesus asked us to teach?" Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We thank you, merciful God, that our moments together can take us to levels of thought that are often missed by the world's wisdom. When Jesus broke the bread and gave the cup, he invited us to remember him. And so we do. Attending worship services makes our faith look easy. Saying, "I forgive you" after being hurt makes "follow me" a much greater challenge. And as we remember him today, strengthen us to trust instead of being afraid, committed instead of walking away, and eager instead of feeling defeated. Open our minds to your love so that we can experience your power moving us to become the leaven in the loaf and the light set on a hill. Help us recognize what causes us to resist change so that your will may be done on earth as it is in Heaven. 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 need to stretch was coming to us in a form that we least recognized?
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 compassion 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 one day inherit.
Today as we celebrate our Lord's last supper with his disciples, we ask that you empower us to be sent forth with passion as we learn to take the high road in all that we do to extend our abilities, our gifts, and our creative ideas. We pray these thoughts through the Spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .