"Seeing Beyond The Familiar"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 1/2/2000
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
Following our Tuesday morning Bible Study Class, Nancy Perry showed me a unique Christmas card she felt I would appreciate. The cover of the card featured a snowman peering into a Christmas stocking. In the word-bubble above the snowman's head were these questions: "What's this? Two lumps of coal?" When the card is opened, the snowman had stuck the two pieces of coal into his head just above his carrot nose and is shown exclaiming, "I can see! I can see!" The snow man could see because through a new interpretation, he found a better use for the two lumps of coal.
Friday morning many Americans were treated with news about the smooth transition into the New Year from New Zealand, Australia, and Guam, the place or origin for the New Year time line. To insure a smooth transition, old enemies were invited to stand side-by-side in both the United States and in Russia as together we guarded our nuclear arsenals.
Because of international fears of massive computer failures, many of the world's nations gave a new interpretation to an old-world view and acted as a world community. Yet can we honestly exclaim with that snowman, "We can see! We can see! This is the way we should behave every day!" Is this the beginning of a new "Love thy neighbor" approach? Time will tell.
We are centuries away from what Jesus was pointing to with his life and his words. We experience glimpses of it as many countries reach out together to help earthquake victims in Turkey or flood victims in Venezuela, but will only a few of us prove capable of permanently fixing our dreams to something beyond the familiar? Put on a very personal level, how many of us are really willing to give up our old habits, old attitudes, or many of our traditional ways of understanding what we see? Such change is difficult. Again, time will tell.
Many years ago a book was published called Space and Sight by Marius Von Senden. When eye surgeons discovered how to perform safe cataract operations, they shared their newly acquired skills with the rest of the world. Across Europe and the United States, they gave eyesight to people who had been born with congenital cataracts. Before the surgery such people were totally blind.
What Von Senden reported was astonishing! After the surgery, most of the adult patients could no longer understand anything their eyes were seeing. They had to give new definitions to everything they had once defined by touching, listening, smelling, and tasting. They resisted. They actually preferred what was familiar, comfortable, and non-threatening. Some of them put blinders on, preferring the darkness to light. Those of us who can see can hardly imagine such a reaction.
One disappointed father said that his daughter preferred to walk around the house with her eyes closed. A newly recovered fifth sense forced formerly blind people to reevaluate their world view, a task that upset everything that had once represented truth to them.
Remember, among all the astrologers who studied the heavens, only three of them gave an interpretation to the event that earned them a place in the Gospel of Matthew. What happened to the others who were unable or unwilling to see beyond the familiar?
The error we continually make with our faith is our desire to stay with "the truth" we have always known. This is why some people hold so tightly to the Scriptures as their authority for living. Any departure from them is very frightening. There is nothing wrong with the contents of the Bible; the problem has been our refusal to give ourselves permission to move beyond our current understanding about what was written thousands of years ago.
Just the other day someone commented, "Isn't it a shame that today there are so many modern translations of the Bible that children cannot memorize the same key Scriptures any more?" Maybe that is a shame, maybe it is not. Jesus did not invite us to develop our keen memories; Jesus invited us to experience a new way of interpreting life.
He invited us to be like a lamp set on the lamp stand so that light could be given to everyone in the room. God is like electricity, but we have to be that lamp. God is like water, but we must be the faucet. The only way we can do that is to understand the wisdom behind what was written by people thousands of years ago. They experienced the love and power of God surrounding them every bit as strongly as many of us do today.
A lot of Christians love to claim that they cling to Jesus. But I can tell you that clinging to Jesus is the last thing he would have asked anyone to do. He wanted us to become and give away what he taught. He wanted our experience of his truth to be felt so confidently that we would feel compelled to give it away every moment we could.
The world will not become a more enlightened place to live because people are clinging to Jesus. As we have discovered, such a proclamation is easily misunderstood among the world's people. We create barriers. "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done" will happen when people consistently become motivated to live by the loving spirit about which he taught. And that has more to do with being than with clinging.
Very soon more of us will become aware that world religions are evolving in a manner the likes of which the world has never seen. Old traditions and beliefs will surrender to new insights that empower our abilities. It is happening already. It will happen as more people allow God to lead the way, instead of following beliefs that many people have elevated as "more sacred" than the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Remember, the future is coming faster than anyone anticipated or imagined. It is picking up momentum in every major discipline as more people become willing to move through and beyond many of the traditional beliefs and values they once held. These pioneers are like the three Wise Men, who gave a unique interpretation to an astrological event, and with gifts in hand, embarked on a journey. Will we become motivated by the same challenge? Will we be capable of seeing beyond what has been so familiar to us that we, too, will give away our gifts? Again, only time will tell.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We have crossed another threshold in our minds, O God, and yet we feel that little has changed. The past is gone and the future is yet to be. We know only this moment as we come to you in prayer. We have taught ourselves that today is the first day of the rest of our lives. We know that every day is like the gift of a diamond that needs to be polished. Remind us to desire the sounds of silence, the peacefulness of reflection, and the simple joy of laughter. Remind us to enjoy quality time with those we love. Remind us to use our minds to think. Remind us to spend more time reading and to immerse ourselves in the healing medium of music. Remind us of our need to nurture ourselves so that we will always have plenty to give away. Thank you for leading us thus far in life, for being our constant companion, our source of strength, and our provider of comfort. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving God, as we enter the New Year keep teaching us how to set our needs aside so that your will may be accomplished through us. Thus far in life, we have learned that there is quite a difference between what we want to do and what we ought to do because we are disciples. Help us to remain equally faithful to the unexciting tasks, as we are to those we thoroughly enjoy. Help us in all things to place honoring you, above so many activities that beckon us to be much less. Grant us the motivation to inspire others to be their best. And when they stumble and fall, rather than being critical and disappointed, may we help them to their feet and encourage them to try again.
Help us to learn why it is important to question everything that we do and much that we believe. May we never seek to evade or to leave for others that which we ourselves can do. Spare us from avoiding the decisions we need to make, and from shirking responsibilities we ought to shoulder. Grant in the New Year, that we may experience the deep contentment from knowing that the quality of our faith, character, and spirit are constantly being revealed in everything we do. And as we slowly move into our tomorrows, may we do so as eager participants in the wide-open playground and mission field of your creation. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray. . .