"Our War For Independence"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 7/2/2000

II Samuel 1:17-27; Mark 5:21-43


     Many years ago Americans began to mark the 4th of July with travel plans, picnics and fireworks. Today we express ourselves in much the same way. Most people enjoy time off from work. Most of us celebrate even though the guest of honor does not appear. The guest of honor, of course, is gratitude for the Colonist's victory over tyranny 224 years ago. We enjoy hot dogs and barbecued chicken because of a turning point in American history that few of us know much about or can remember with any detail. What counts is that we won, so we display our American flags and enjoy ourselves.

     This morning I want to use this metaphor of "war" to describe what goes on in our lives nearly every day. Over 200 years ago the Colonies collectively stood together against tyranny and engaged in a struggle that would give them freedom. When the Colonists won, another issue surfaced. They had to ask themselves, "What do we do now? There is no one to guide us or tell us what to do."

     We have all heard the saying, "Be careful what you pray for; you are likely to get it." The Colonists won their freedom and that meant that they had to organize themselves to ensure that freedom would not slip away. Tyranny is always waiting in the wings. It can take many forms and wear many faces. If we ever fall asleep at the wheel, our freedom can slip away.

     One of the ways all of us have experienced this happening is in observing how our commonly held values have been shifting ever so slowly during our lifetime. How many of us remember walking through metal detectors during our high school experience, or remember cameras being installed at busy intersections to catch people who ignore red traffic signals? And who can remember the use of drugs that "promise" to help people escape their having to deal with life's challenges? There are some people who cannot navigate in an environment of freedom. They have no one to direct their lives because as yet they have not taken responsibility for self-direction or self-discipline.

     Grand Central Station in New York City is a setting for many dramas. On one particular day, a business executive happened to notice a ritual being performed by an old Roman Catholic priest. He watched as the priest picked up a piece of trash and deposited it in a waste can. This event happened every day. You could set your watch by the priest's daily arrival.

     After observing this daily routine for some time he approached the priest and said, "I have been watching you for two years and everyday you always pick up a single piece of trash. Why do you do that?" The priest was amazed that anyone had been watching for that length of time and was only now prepared to speak.

     He said, "I know one piece of litter doesn't make much difference, and my example doesn't either. But I remember Grand Central when it was a lot cleaner than it is now. It could be spotless. The world could be spotless. It all depends on people. I figure as long as one person still cares, there's hope."

     He thanked the priest for his explanation and went to board his train. He looked back and saw the priest still watching him. The executive smiled, stooped down and picked up a crumpled cigarette pack and threw it away. After two years, the priest had made another convert to cleaning up his much-loved Grand Central Station.

     That old priest is symbolic of the role that Jesus plays in our lives. We are all capable of winning our struggle for maintaining our personal freedom. However, a number of us need someone to remind us every day who we have been created to be.

     In our lesson today, we find two people who were struggling for independence. We find Jairus who was an official in the local synagogue dealing with thoughts of a sick and dying daughter. We also find a woman who had been trying to cope for 12 years with the tyranny of a physical condition. These two people were locked in to an issue that was directing their lives. Our question this morning is this: What liberated them? What stood in front of them reminding them that there was something far greater than what their thoughts were imagining?

     All of us can think of areas of life where we want more freedom. We pray that God will give it to us. We may spend time daydreaming about that day. When we were children we thought, "I can hardly wait until I get out of grade school! I think teenagers are awesome, and I can't wait until I am one. Just imagine when I will drive a car."

     Too many of us are always wanting more than what we have, or wanting to be in a place different from where we are. We say, "I can hardly wait until I am out of high school. Then I'll be free. I won't have to listen to the advice of my parents anymore." Or, "I can hardly wait until I'm married and have children." Or, "I can hardly wait until the kids are gone." Or, "I can hardly wait until I'm retired, and my schedule will not tell me what to do anymore. At last, I will be free!" Our war for independence is constant. How can we access freedom every day of our lives?

     There are times when we are struggling with issues of character. There are moments when we struggle with loneliness, confusion, or perhaps issues of health. There are occasions when our moral values are challenged by what looks like an opportunity to gratify some unmet need. There are circumstances where we struggle with a faith that appears not to work.

     The solution can be found in two areas of life. First, we must understand that every thought and feeling is perfect. They have a role that is specific and perfect. They tell us who we are every moment. We should never run from, be afraid of, or deny a single thought or feeling. Each of them tells us if we are equipped or ill-equipped. Each of them empowers us or warns us that our current skills are no match for what stands in front of us.

     Second, we need an interpreter of life who loves us and encourages us. Every day we can be victorious in our struggles. What we need to understand is that God will not fill up the hole that we feel inside ourselves. What fills our emptiness is our experience of God. Jairus experienced God. The woman who hemorrhaged for 12 years experienced the power of God. Both of them choose to seek Jesus, and both of them found the power to defeat what had been tyrannizing them.

     The initial victory is the easiest part. The life challenge is to keep Christ central in our thinking during every moment we are making decisions. Jesus said, "Your world will make you suffer. But be brave! I have defeated the world!" If we can remember that, we will face every circumstance with the same resolve as did the Colonists who fought for their freedom. They were prepared to face death rather than remain subject to tyranny. Do we assert ourselves with equal resolve to maintain our own?

THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

     We thank you, God, for enabling us to discover the power of ideas. You have equipped us with the ability to put cooperation over conflict, to prize freedom over enslavement, and to pursue peace over war. Your Son's death on the cross taught us many things. You demonstrated love and forgiveness rather than revenge and attack. And when we had done our worst to your gift to us, you presented humankind with an empty tomb. Help us learn to demonstrate the nature of such freedom. Lead us to win the struggle for independence while we stand in the midst of circumstances that hold the potential to bind us. Teach us to reflect only thoughts that permit your light to shine through us. Amen.

THE PASTORAL PRAYER

     Loving and gracious God, this morning we are reminded once again of the importance of the many signposts that stand in our midst inviting us to remember our inheritance. Our collective memories recall that July 4, 1776 is one of those symbols. Our great tendency is to take our culture for granted. Our tendency is to complain when life is not exactly the way we want it. Our tendency is to expend energy on causes that mold others to conform to what we value. Yet the vast majority of us, O God, have our minds and hearts filled with gratitude for the environment that allows us the freedom to express ourselves in such ways.

     Today we would ask that you move us beyond the flag waving, the memories of a war, and the fireworks so that we might recall the qualities of character, courage and resolve that belonged to those who pledged their wealth, their lives, and their sacred honor to shatter the yoke of tyranny. Move us beyond the feelings of nationalism so that we might value the memories of those who created our form of government with all its allowances for human frailty. Move us beyond a holiday glance to our past so that we might renew our own personal commitment of valuing the dignity of everyone everywhere.

     May each of us vow to remain as sentinels who understand well that personal freedom has only been experienced by a few people for a very short time within the tapestry of humankind's history. Guide us, O God, that we might never lose it. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .