"Being a Projector of God's Spirit"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 20, 2001
Acts 16:9-15; John 14:23-29
There are probably very few people in our congregation who have not heard of the AFLAC Insurance Company. AFLAC is an odd name that was basically unknown outside of the insurance industry until a couple of years ago. The company's name became a household word almost overnight because of its exposure on television. Commercials for AFLAC feature a duck's relentless pursuit of communicating to people who have questions about their insurance needs. Everyone smiles when the duck says, "AFLAC! AFLAC!! AFLAAAAC!!! The ads are very clever. Many television viewers eagerly await the next installment.
How many of us have had thoughts about how to translate this process into a working model for the church? There have been a number of attempts but the results have been mixed. What is our message? And what "product" do we want people to have as their own? What does that product look like? God is spirit, and we have been educated in an environment where something is given meaning because of its form.
For example, when someone says, "money" we immediately understand. When someone says, "I am a CPA or I have an MBA, or I work for the NSA, the FBI, or the CIA -- various images outcrop. We associate a person's educational or vocational orientation with these letters. But what about God? What springs into our minds when we hear the name "God"? And how do we communicate what can happen to people who enjoy a relationship with God?
Christians perceive God as an invisible being who was given a form through Jesus Christ. Yet the word "God" may also mean a million things to many people. Through the ages, however, God has stirred in the spirits of individuals quite often without warning.
Several years ago a family had rented a cabin for a week. It was nestled among the thousands of interconnecting lakes in Canada. They had their own private dock. They could hike, canoe, fish and relax. No one else was near them, nor were there any televisions, stereos, or computers. This was one of those total escapes that transported the family away from most of the familiar patterns, products and routines. I recommend this to all of you. Do not become preoccupied with resorts and how many stars they have!
While the 13-year-old son was trying his skills at preparing supper under the careful supervision of his mother and dad, their 1l-year-old daughter, Rebecca, went for a walk. The land was teaming with wildlife. Eagles soared through the skies as fish leapt at insects that were hovering just above the water's surface. As they walked in silence, Rebecca said, "Dad, where is God?" Caught completely off guard by his daughter's question he responded wisely, "Tell me what you think?"
Rebecca said, "I think God made everything we see. I believe God designed all of this to change the way we feel." He said, "So, you feel differently?" She said, "I feel peaceful. There is really nothing here for us to do except enjoy where we are. It is as if God wants us to see Him through our feelings."
He did not know how to respond. His daughter had just taken him to the edge of what he knew. He realized that it was better be a listener rather than make an attempt to contribute during this conversation. He said, "What else?" She said, "I think this is what it must be like in heaven where we understand everything with our hearts." He was impressed by his young daughter's insights, yet he remained curious about the origin of her thoughts.
The family did not go to church nor was there any exposure to Biblical teachings. As far as he knew, Rebecca's thoughts had bubbled up from his daughter's awareness, not from any stimulation from their family life. God had not been the focus of any discussion he could remember.
As the family sat down to eat supper the father said, "Why don't we join hands and pray. Rebecca, would you please lead us in prayer?" As they hesitantly joined hands and Rebecca bowed her head there was eye contact between the other three that communicated, "Where is this coming from?" Each knew that the family had never prayed before any meal.
Without even a hint of self-consciousness, Rebecca began to talk to God as though she had done so all her life. It was a beautiful, spontaneous prayer that offered touching insights, caring, and depth. When she finished, tears were streaming down her mother's face. Dad had to look away. Bobby merely sat there silently trying to grasp what had just happened.
That family was not the same after that meal. Their daughter had just placed something in their midst which each instantly recognized had been missing from their lives. Rebecca's prayer changed their outlook, their thoughts about each other, and kindled their desire to have more of such moments. Rebecca had projected the spirit and presence of God when no one was expecting it. Because this is one of the ways God communicates, we can do this, too.
During the last supper Philip said, "Just show us God and we will be satisfied." That really is the ultimate issue. We would prefer to see something that has form. We want to behold God with our eyes. Rebecca understood God differently. She thought we could understand God through our hearts. What is interesting is that we can and do.
In our lesson today Jesus said, "Those who love me will obey my teachings." Is living our faith strictly a matter of obedience? Is Christianity made visible when people conform to another set of laws? Of course not. This was Jesus' chief complaint of the Pharisees. Jesus could have said the same thing another way. He could have said, "Those who are living what I have taught will reveal their love for God." When a person is being motivated by a loving spirit, it always shows. We simply cannot hide it.
Throughout the Scriptures, God's spirit has always been given form through human beings like Rebecca. When people are close to God, all those around them frequently become transformed. We do not know how this works. It just works!
Every time we are with someone, there is another opportunity for God to become visible. We are not in charge of the results. God is. We will never be able to define what happens to others when we touch them, hug them, stoop down to talk to their children, send them a "thinking of you" note, give them a word of encouragement, a smile, or an invitation to church. We seldom know what is happening inside someone else. God does. Perhaps that is why we are with them.
Like Rebecca, all we can do is show up, stand in their presence, and radiate what is working in our lives. That is all Rebecca did. God did the rest.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, that our hearts and minds are known to you. That understanding gives us comfort in coming to you with openness and honesty. There are so many themes in our lives that reveal who we are. Our choice of words has not always been the best. Our conclusions are more often based on emotional responses than understanding and reason. Our goals are more reflective of self-interest than on the desire to make you visible. And yet, O God, we know that we are beings who are still learning and evolving. We struggle for perfection when you would prefer our trust. We want to be correct when you would rather see us live in peace. Inspire us to be more gentle and patient with ourselves. Guide us to the understanding that when it is time, our lives will bear fruit. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Eternal and always loving God, thank you for creating us with the ability to respond when our spirits are touched. We dream of what we want. We develop plans for the houses we wish to build, vacation adventures we wish to experience, and group gatherings that inspire our relationships. Yet you often stand in our midst and bless us with the unexpected. You let us know what has been missing in our lives. You bring books into our hands. You inspire friends to speak the right words. You have built our bodies so that they warn us when we need to change how we order our lives.
Not all of us live as a "visual thank you note" to you, but this morning many of us vow to do better. We have the freedom to give as much time to being grateful as we do to our fault-finding and excuse-making. We have just as much freedom to accommodate others as we do wanting others to live up to our expectations. O God, if we find ourselves out of balance, may we err on the side of being too kind, too understanding, and too patient. May we give others plenty of room to be who they are. And may we do so by remembering that the harp and the clarinet are very different but together with the other instruments, they make up the orchestra that plays the symphony.
Bless those who join the orchestra of our church family today. Together, may all of us create the environment where love and peace can be found and given away. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .