"What Inspires Us?"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 11/19/2000

Psalm 127; Mark 12:38-44

     Our Gospel lesson this morning contains an inspiring story that has been used for centuries to give guidance to our own sense of financial stewardship. Today, however, we are going to look at this passage from an entirely different point of view. We are going to be examining not only what inspires us but also what transforms us. What about inspiring experiences that cause us to move beyond our current thought and behavior patterns so that we adopt new perspectives and can become more creative and thoughtful? What inspires us?

     Many of us will answer "God. It is God who inspires us." Yet if that were the case, God could simply change all of us in the blink of an eye. We know that does not happen. What, then, inspires us to make changes? What lifts us to a point beyond where we are allowing us to grow?

     This week a woman said to me how much she appreciated Dust & Ashes being with us last Sunday. She told me that her week had been so distracted by the issues swirling around the Florida vote count and all the legal maneuvering by both political parties that she came to church searching for peace.

     She said how much she looks forward to Sunday mornings because entering our sanctuary represents a brief respite from a world that never stops trying to influence her thinking. She said, "Everyday there is something else in the news that tries to keep us off balance."

     She told me about an experience she had. She said, "Last week, near the close of the service, Tom asked us to hold the hand of someone standing next to us. I saw something absolutely precious that made an already beautiful service even more inspiring. A little boy who was with his parents left his pew and went into the pew in front of him where a man was standing by himself. That gentlemen had no one to hold his hand until the little boy found his way to his side and took it. That image has been with me all week."

     Sometimes when we become so caught up in our daily routines, we may believe that very little in our life has the power to transform us. Does that mean that inspiring elements are not present in our lives? Not at all. For inspiration to occur, we either have to have someone point it out to us or we have to be ready to receive it.

     God does not change us in the blink of an eye, but has chosen instead to surround us constantly with inspirational alternatives. We have to participate if change is to happen. Worship services have a way of providing us with a frame of reference different from the one the world seems to offer. The love of God is always waiting for us and will come in a form that we least expect.

     The setting of our lesson places Jesus near the Temple. He was addressing a large crowd of people, warning them to be cautious around those who have become experts on the Scriptures. He asked them to observe how they associate with all the "correct" social groups, wear their clerical collars and are greeted with respect in the places of business. He told them to watch how they choose the best seats in the sanctuary and at church dinners. He told them to listen for the pride behind the eloquence of their prayers.

     Why would Jesus be warning his listeners about being attracted to overly religious people? Actually, that is not what Jesus was teaching. He was only warning his students to be careful when they were around those who can only exhibit the trappings of having a religious faith. Jesus knew that those who have faith need no fanfare or ceremony. They have no desire to advertise who they are or what they have found.

     Then Jesus drew his disciples' attention to a sight that was very familiar to them. People were dropping their money into the offering box of the Temple. This was a very common scene with which the disciples were most familiar, but Jesus pointed out something they apparently missed. Jesus and his disciples watched as a poor widow put into the treasure box two coins that were worth a penny. She had just given everything she had.

     Here was a woman who was celebrating the presence of God in her life without fanfare. They were watching a person who had learned to dance on life's stage as she trusted God for the outcome of all things. God's outcomes are among those we could never anticipate.

     When Paul wrote his letters to the various churches he helped establish, he never thought that they would be saved and shared. It would not have occurred to him that one day his letters would be put together into a collection referred to as the "Word of God." The preservation of his letters happened completely apart from anything Paul did. It is what Paul's words did to people that caused his letters to be saved. That is what inspiration does.

     The same is true with the poor widow who gave everything she had. Whoever she was, she could not have imagined that her humble act of giving would be witnessed by someone who would make her generosity known all over the world.

     Inspiration is what invites us to become more than we know ourselves to be. Inspiration makes visible what we know is timeless. Inspiration transforms thought and behavior patterns which have become ingrained in us. In fact, such patterns cause us to believe that our responses are who we are. Such beliefs are incorrect. Who we are is capable of change. If this were not so, inspiration could not influence us.

     There are times when our lives become stale, stubborn, inflexible, and absolutely fixated on our need to be right. There are times in our lives when we are held prisoner to thoughts that we have been violated, that our freedoms have been ignored, and that we are a victim. The truth is that we do not have enough information to be that pessimistic. What we are experiencing instead, are all those ingrained responses that we have developed and empowered through years of constant use.

     It was Thanksgiving Eve and a very frustrated, angry woman went to church by herself. She had to get away from a recurring fear that life was passing her by and she had so little to show for it. She sat in pew amidst a sea of strangers. She needed to experience something that could move her beyond where she was.

     As the service began to unfold, almost every part of it impacted on her. At one point little children stood up with paper plates. From the words written on those plates, the children recited the joys that made them happy to be alive. And the kids' gratitude covered the landscape of their experience, from school teachers, Mommies and Daddies, to pets and playmates. Their unspoiled innocence had a way of reminding the woman of what she had been too preoccupied to see.

     The service progressed to the point where the minister spoke. He was not a particularly good speaker. He read every word of his message and frequently he lost his place when he tried to maintain eye contact with his congregation. None of that seemed to matter. The woman was so thirsty for something that might heal her that she willingly absorbed every word he said.

     She was ready to be reminded that she lived a world filled with wonderful things much bigger than her frustration. She was ready to hear that when we judge others, we do not define them, we define ourselves. She was ready to hear about all the wondrous blessings that she missed experiencing because her focus had remained on her pain. She was ready to hear that God loved her just as she was. She was ready to hear that God would gladly receive all that she carried if only she would let go of it and put it into God's care.

     That service, as common place as it was, transformed her. She came there believing that her world had to change before her pain would leave. She left that church knowing that her world would change because her thinking had changed.

     There are people who doubt that such a transformation is possible. Anyone who believes that such an experience is "too good to be true" does not know about God's power. Jesus came to teach us about this power. We do not need to energize the areas of life that are not working for us. That 5 percent would never overwhelm us if we kept ourselves aware of the incredible 95 percent of life that we take for granted. Inspiration causes us to change when we are ready to open that door.

     When our District Superintendent was here for our Charge Conference, she reminded us of the painting where Jesus is shown knocking on a door. She asked how many of us could remember something odd about the construction of that door. Someone said, "It had no handle on the outside." That was correct. The only way that door could be opened is when the person on the inside opened it.

This Thanksgiving do we have something we need to give to God in order to liberate a heart that wants to sing? Let inspiration take you there. Remember, God is the author of all that inspires. Open that door and be surprised by joy.


     We thank you, God, that our lives are a work in progress. You have placed within us a love that does not count the cost. You have blessed our spirits with the ability to be generous and kind. You have prepared the earth to provide us with valleys and mountains, sadness and joy, darkness and light. You have created us for growth and refinement. You have placed your spirit within us. Yet we sleep. We make decisions based on our needs and not on the giving of our gifts. We can easily walk away from love in order to embrace fantasy. We dream of greener pastures, while neglecting the call to shine where we are. Awaken us, O God, so that your spirit is made visible through us. Touch our minds with understanding, so that we may greet each new experience with the peace of doing your will. Amen.


     Thank you, God, for these moments when we can reflect on issues affecting our lives that are timeless. So many of our moods and attitudes hinge on aspects of life that are more fleeting than permanent, more reflective of our inexperience than our maturity, and more indicative of our self-interest than our display of faithfulness to you.

     We find ourselves once again in the season of Thanksgiving, when so many symbols cause us to move beyond the issues of self-interest so that we are invited again to look at the larger tapestry of abundance that surrounds us. The freedom to be here this morning. The freedom to determine the direction of our lives. The unlimited amount of choices we have when we purchase food. The vast assortment of products, goods and services that have improved the quality of our lives. Truly the harvest has come that men and women have longed to see for thousands of years.

     Yet only the grateful can see it. Only those who can see beyond their personal concerns can appreciate the abundance, express their thanksgiving, and sing praises to you who made it all possible. Free us, O God, from the paper prisons we have built that may prevent us from celebrating our joy and thanksgiving. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .