"Seeing The Big Picture"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 4/23/2000

I Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-9

     We have just listened to one of the resurrection stories. This one and a several others have a curious twist to them. After receiving the news, people continued their lives with business as usual. During this episode, Mary Magdalene had just told Peter and John that the tomb was empty and they raced to see for themselves. The final verse of the lesson reads, "Then the disciples went back home."

     In Luke, we find a response that is equally unenthusiastic. These verses are: "Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women told the disciples what two spirit beings had told them. But the apostles thought that what the women said was nonsense, and they did not believe them." (Luke 24:10-11) And, of course, we have the story of Thomas, who would not believe his friends when they reported seeing Jesus alive.

     Some of us may find it equally as difficult to grasp the significance of Easter morning. The big picture, that life for us does not end, is perhaps God's greatest message to us. Yet when we look at our behavior, the evidence is everywhere that such information has not influenced us very much. We still find ourselves caught up in the dramas of the little picture.

     We allow the words or behavior of others to disappoint us. We find ourselves being irritated by the tyranny of little things. We get confused about our responsibility in our relationships. And after seeing what happened yesterday in the Elian Gonzalez situation, undoubtedly many of us have opinions. The commentary about how our Justice Department handled this unprecedented circumstance will last for months. Would such distractions be so controlling of our thoughts if we truly had a grasp of the big picture?

     What changed the lives of everyone completely, including Thomas, was when they all saw the big picture. Their belief or disbelief was replaced with knowing. From that moment, it was their certainty and not their "faith" that brought them out of hiding and motivated them to take their message into the world. They had overcome fear. Seeing the big picture has the ability to do that.

     Noted author and lecturer Wayne Dyer tells an engaging story about his sister-in-law. I quote:

     "My sister-in-law, Marilyn, was driving on the Lodge Freeway in Detroit with her husband, my brother, and their three children in the back seat. Now, she is a hard-core, linear, left brain skeptic and is worse than any banker or accountant could ever be. ‘You have to show me, otherwise it doesn't exist' is her motto. With anything that had to do with the mind or spirit, she remained very skeptical."

     "This car jumped the guardrail on the southbound lane and landed right in her face. At sixty miles an hour, she saw the wheels coming. Every bone in her face was broken. Her kidneys were punctured. She had internal bleeding."

     "They took her into the hospital unconscious. No one thought she was going to survive the night. They performed surgery on her for 14 hours. There was a team of surgeons, six of them, and they were talking during the surgery, as you might imagine."

     "My sister-in-law reported to me that she watched the entire surgery. She said, ‘Wayne, you are the only person, you are the only weird one in the family, and you are weird enough to believe this.'"

     "‘I left my body and I went up to the corner of the room. I was surrounded by this light and I was in the presence of God. It was like a consciousness. I can't describe it because it doesn't have boundaries. It doesn't have form, but it was a magnificent light. I was there and there was this tunnel. And I could have gone through this tunnel, but I had the choice. It was the most blissful I have ever been in my life. As I watched the surgeons performing on me, I knew that they were working on my body. At the same time I realized that that body wasn't me.'"

     "During the surgery, two of the surgeons were in favor of not continuing. ‘She had very little heartbeat. She was badly punctured internally and her bleeding was very difficult to control. "Two of them were saying, 'Let's give up on this one and go on to other patients.' The four other doctors prevailed. They said, 'We really believe we can save her. Besides, we need the practice time.'"

     "She was given the choice. She had three little children at the time, 2, 4, and 5. And Marilyn decided that she could re-enter her body even though it would be painful. And she went back. She was in Intensive Care for 13 weeks. And when she awakened from her surgery, she told the surgeons which ones had said, ‘Let's give up on this patient' and which ones had said, ‘Let's stay with it.' She told them word for word."

     "Then she said, ‘It was at that time that I became truly aware that life is more than we think it is. And since then I have gotten to meet others who have had similar experiences and they all report the same thing. When they come back, and they do so reluctantly, they have what we call, 'The Big Picture.'"

     "And since then, you would not believe my sister-in-law. She is the calmest, most loving, easy going . . . you can't get to her. She has an inner candle flame that never flickers though the worst goes before her. When there is a big family squabble and people get themselves all upset, she picks up a book and politely excuses herself. In other situations friends will ask, ‘What's with your Mom?' and her kids will say, ‘Oh, she has the Big Picture!'"

     "And it is true. Such people are no longer drawn into the issues of life that used to create stress, tension, anxiety, disappointment, fear and all of that stuff that occupies so much of our lives. It is gone. It is not part of their consciousness any longer."

     End quote. A number of us have heard or read stories like this. The ones who have their lives completely changed are the people who understand the big picture. Once Jesus appeared to them, the disciples set aside doubt, faith and disbelief and took on the knowing that came from their experience. Regardless of what anyone else said, wrote or thought, nothing could remove that experience from them.

     What is interesting about Easter people is that we do not have to prove anything to anyone about the big picture. We could not do it even if we wanted to. When our confidence rests totally in God to make all things new, to have created reality much larger than we can possibly imagine, and to be offering us insights just as soon as we are able to understand them, we understand that all Jesus was doing with the empty tomb was once again showing his disciples the way, while inviting them to follow.

     Why argue about what happened or did not happen on Easter morning? There is no need. All the evidence in the world will not convince some people. They will all learn the truth of it soon enough because our physical lives are very short. Our beliefs and our lack of beliefs about exactly what happened on Easter morning cannot change what God created. But as Jesus said, "Blessed are those who believe who have not seen."

     When we live with the knowledge of the big picture, how insignificant everything else becomes. It sounds like we are escaping the major issues of life. We are not. We are merely taking our understanding of the big picture and making it visible while living in the little picture. That is what Jesus did while on earth.

     We must continue doing so in a world full of people who would love to see something more than what they do. It must always be our task to remain Easter people. Every Sunday we pray, "on earth as it is in Heaven." This is how we must live if we are going to make a difference and remain part of the team whose purpose it is to bring healing to our world.


     What a joy it is to be in the magnificence of our sanctuary this morning. You created so many marvelous life forms in nature and our Altar Guild has meticulously arranged them. In so many ways, we share a partnership with you. You gave us your Son, Jesus, and it is we who must share his truths with others. You provided us with the insight that life does not end and we must learn to live as infinite beings who radiate our calling in a limited world. You gave us a spirit that is capable of enhancing the lives of others and we must set aside the limiting thoughts that can easily dim the brightness we intend to give away.

     We sometimes find ourselves wondering why life is uncertain, why so many people are either hurt or angry, why children are often caught in the middle of games we adults play, and why Americans are surrounded with enormous abundance and yet happiness still eludes so many of us. Inspire us to grasp our role in such a world. Reveal to us the place of Easter people in a world that cries for peace on earth. Remind us of the thought, "And let it begin with me."

     This morning we ask that you bring healing to troubled spirits this day. We ask that you encourage people to release those thoughts and feelings that have held them captive for so long. We ask that you touch us with truth so that we might live unafraid in our relationships or circumstances. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus . . .