"Can Truth Sustain Us?"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 24, 2001

Christmas Eve 2001

     Tonight I have entitled my meditation, "Can Truth Sustain Us?" There are a lot of examples in our recent history where the truth is still out there for many people.  Some of us act from an unrecognized belief that there is no captain at the helm of our ship.  For people who cannot accept responsibility for how they think and feel, frequently they blame anyone and everything for their inability to respond creatively to life's many uncertainties.  And what may be worse is that many of us do not know where to go or to whom to turn to deepen our spiritual awareness.

     Lois recently gave me an article she clipped from the Washington Post that perfectly illustrates this confusion. This was written by Krista Adams who lives in Bethesda.

    My father was a minister.  My husband is half-Jewish, half-Roman Catholic. We have two young daughters.  We don't go to church.  Yet I find myself longing to reconnect with my spiritual side and to give my girls some grounding in the life of the soul.  But how?  Where?  Who would take us?   

One Sunday morning, watching my daughters dancing around in their fairy princess garb, I mused out loud:  "Aren't we a picture?  One lapsed Baptist.  A secular Jew. And two little pagans."  My oldest daughter heard me and her reprimand was stern.  "Mommy," she said, "we are not penguins."  Well, at least that issue is settled.

     I believe her questions surfaced as a result of her fears of rejection, a response that can lurk within many communities of faith. She longs for what will nourish her spirit.  She wants to rear her daughters in an environment without all the denominational exclusivity that frequently confronts newcomers. How quickly some of us forget that "Our way is the way" was the same intolerance that allowed some very religious-minded people to rid themselves of Jesus Christ.  Krista asked, "But how?  Where? Who would take us?"

     Shortly before his death, Jesus found himself with the Roman governor of Judea.  Pontius Pilate asked, "Are you now telling me that you are a king?"  Jesus replied, "You say that I am a king.  I was born and came into the world for this one purpose -- to speak about the truth.  Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me."  Pilate asked, "What is truth?"  The Gospel writer did not record Jesus' answer.

     To find out how Jesus could have responded to Pilate, we have to turn to something he said earlier in his ministry.  In these words we find his truth.  Here they are:


Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the most important truth.  The second most important truth is like it.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets have their basis in these two truths.

     Truth does not depend on anything to exist.  Truth does not care whether anyone believes in it or not.  Truth does not care whether someone takes the time to discover it now or that it's ability to enlighten must await for more eager minds hundreds of years in the future.  Regardless of what anyone thinks or believes, absolutely no one will evolve spiritually without having discovered it.

     What Jesus taught is capable of being expressed by anyone, whether that person is a United Methodist, a Roman Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu or someone not associated with any spiritual group.  Jesus taught and demonstrated the enormous power that can arise from within us when our spirits, energized by love, reach out to all living things.  

     It was Christmas day in England during the final phases of World War II.  Three G.I.s found themselves with nothing to do.  Since the weather was warm they decided to go for a walk.  While being lost in conversation, they came to the outskirts of a village where they found themselves facing a rundown pub.  Having developed a thirst by this time, they thought a little English libation would taste pretty good.  When they tried to enter the front door, however, they found it was locked.  To their complete chagrin a nun opened the door.

     She explained that the place used to be a pub and now it was an orphanage.  She invited the three Americans to come in.  The children, who had heard so much about the Americans, were very excited to see them.  One of the men noticed a small tree in the corner decorated with many ornaments that had obviously been made by the children. He whispered to the nun, "Where are the Christmas presents?"  She said, "We have so little money to feed them that I'm afraid the tree is all we could afford this year."

     When the three G.I.s heard this, they emptied their pockets of pens and pencils. They gave away everything from their hats to their chewing gum.  After everything was disbursed, one of the Americans noticed a shy little guy hiding behind an old piano.  They looked at each other realizing they had nothing left to give him.  One of the soldiers walked over to the boy, knelt down to his eye level and said, "What would you like to have for Christmas my little man?"  The boy's eyes filled with tears as he silently reached out to be held. 

     The soldier picked him up and asked the nuns if they could borrow him for a little while.  They carried him back to the barracks where they summoned the troops.  Over a hundred G.I.s responded with their trucks filled with blankets, food, and clothing, enough items to stock that orphanage with everything those nuns would need for quite some time.

     It is in us to do such things every day even when we have been hurt.  This is who we are regardless of our color, religious heritage, or culture.  This is how God made us. All of us have the ability to reveal our identity as angels in the flesh.  We saw this response when the World Trade Center buildings collapsed.  We saw this as people rallied around the uncertainties at the Pentagon.  We saw people donating everything from blood to money.

     Yes, there are a number of misguided people in the world but Jesus came to show us another way.  Some may have to wait until they learn that expressing hatred and anger is nothing more than desiring spiritual cancer to attack their own souls.

     Those of us, however, who have found the truth have discovered how creative and filled with light our spirits become when we give ourselves away. This is what Jesus came here to teach us.  This was the purpose for his being born.  Merry Christmas!


    What a great time to be gathered together for Christmas Eve.  O God, all humanity needs the arrival of the Prince of Peace.  We have a 126 nations in our world and right now 59 of them are engaged in some kind of armed conflict within their own borders or with their neighbors.  Our technology moves the world forward at warp speed, while emotionally and spiritually humanity still does not know how to sing its song with one voice.  How fitting that we gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We need to hear again his plea to us, "Learn to love each other as you love yourselves." 

    As we are here in the comfortable space of our church, may we collectively send our thoughts and prayers to those who cannot be with their families this night.  They are performing emergency surgeries.  They are patrolling our nation's highways.  They are preparing for the morning additions of their newspapers.  They are fighting fires, fixing broken water pipes, repairing fallen power lines, and making late deliveries so that our lives will not be inconvenienced.  And many of them are in other countries trying to stabilize regions filled with people who keep alive their ancient hurts.  

    As we renew ourselves tonight with familiar Christmas carols and candle lighting, touch our lives with truth.  As we come to the table and receive the bread and the cup, help us remember all that Jesus said we could be.  In our haste to live creatively, may we not forget how to live peacefully.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .