"Hearing God's Voice Through the Noise"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 4, 2001
Isaiah 6:1-8; Luke 5:1-11
Driving alone for the 300 plus miles this week, I kept thinking to myself, "How can we help each other maintain our relationship with God when we are completely surrounded and absorbed by the noise and static that our world produces?"
How many of us stop to think about how our lives are impacted by barriers, by disappointments, joys, and even opportunities? There appears to be a nonstop rush of stimulants that we must react to or thoughtfully respond to almost on an hourly basis.
When I returned to the office, I entered a realm where the concerns and issues were quite specific to our church. As our staff was trying to publish the Circuit Rider, our copier jammed about every 25 copies, a condition that would challenge the thought patterns and language of any of us. The staff had to bring a halt to the printing process until a technician arrived to fix the copier. We can imagine the frustration of those who had to change their schedules to accommodate the disruption.
A local company was to lay new carpet in the church's shelter. The installers found the bunk- beds too heavy to move. They carpeted one room and then requested that we disassemble the bed before they could service the other room. A team did so and we hope to have the job completed tomorrow morning.
We were to receive seven bids this week for constructing our educational wing. The committee was going to meet last Thursday to examine them. A couple of glitches, however, forced the postponement of that meeting until one day this week. Once again, all concerned people on the Building Committee had to rearrange their schedules to meet the new deadline.
Our lives are like this everyday. There is nothing new in these experiences that should alarm us. These inconveniences come with the territory of being alive in our world. While each of us may be stuck or preoccupied with a particular circumstance, we realize that everyone else has their plate just as full as ours. How do we factor into this constant stream of stimulation our relationship to God? How do we keep from feeling as though we are nothing more than a human ping-pong ball being slapped back and forth by the paddles of our experiences?
In this morning's Gospel lesson there is a sequence of events that took place allowing three men to rise above their circumstances. We are grateful that they found the power to remain there. Had they not found such staying power, the chances are very good that we would not be here this morning. Perhaps by modeling what they did, we could achieve the same results.
In a story that is familiar to all of us, Peter, James and John had been fishing. The lesson states that they were practicing their skills all night without success. Frustrated with their failure, they had just pulled their boats up on the sand and were washing their nets. Jesus got into Peter's boat and asked him to push out into the deep water. He reminded Jesus that they had already been there and done that, but because he wanted to go fishing, they consented to weigh anchor once again.
Upon arriving in the deep water, Jesus told Peter to lower his nets. Immediately he caught an enormous number of fish. He yelled to James and John who were in the other boat to come and help. They filled each of their boats with fish to the point where they nearly sank.
Following the catch, Peter made a strange request. He said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man." Jesus ignored the statement as if to communicate, "What you believe about yourself is not as important as what I know about you. From now on you will be fishers of other people." The three left everything and followed him.
Once again the sequence was: (1) Peter was frustrated by his lack of success. (2) Once Jesus joined him, Peter had an experience that went beyond his wildest dreams. (3) He and the others decided to leave their way of doing business in order to follow him for the rest of their lives.
What happens to us all too frequently is that we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by the wave of nonstop requests, demands, and changes in our lives. We cannot think, let alone be creative. We do not take a break because we believe there isn't time. And we do not talk with God about our circumstances. We are like Peter; we are out on the water all night and what we catch in our nets is frustration that we allow to produce unhappiness.
If we can remember and proceed to the next step, we bring God into our situation. When that is done quite often we experience a surge of energy, a miracle, or the answer to prayer. What happens next is that we share the miracle. With tears of joy, we thank the church family for their prayers, but after that, we frequently head right back into the noise and static.
To complete the sequence, we must remain conscious of God's presence even when we find ourselves in the midst of experiences that are far from being "religious." We easily forget that Peter, James and John abandoned their boats. Like them, we must abandon the attitudes, responses and habits that have made our experiences sound like noise and static.
God is not a magic carpet that carries us off to awaiting successes, nor does God fix for us our painful life-issues. That is not what relationships are designed to do. When we believe that, God becomes like a rescue squad or fire company, someone we call upon only in emergencies. It is our day-to-day relationship with God that changes how we deal with the nonstop demands on us. We become the fishers of people when our relationship allows us to rise above our circumstances.
Rather than feeling sorry for ourselves or being overwhelmed by "one more thing," we can bring a different kind of power and attitude. Because of our consciousness of God, our lives will communicate something much different. We will say, "I am here to bring healing where I can." "I see these moments of challenge as my opportunity to bring a spirit of creativity." "If I have been "commissioned" to carry this burden, may I carry it with such joy that it will help others to carry theirs." We hear God's voice through the noise by remembering, "Follow me."
When we are fishers of men and women, we invite others to follow because of what our discipleship has made of us. Hearing his voice amidst all the noise and static is often a simple matter of remembering who Jesus called us to be and what he asked us to do.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Eternal God, how often we feel blessed by the abundance we have inherited. We thank you for our successes. We acknowledge you as the source of all that we have accomplished. Yet how often our gratitude is rooted in our material world. How many times have we missed hearing your calling us to a greater faithfulness. Our desire for security often blinds us to the risks that faith requires. Our need to please often prevents us from being honest with our values. Our hope for a savior often inspires us to wait for maturity to come as a gift. May your forgiveness of us inspire our renewed commitment to follow Jesus Christ. As we follow his teachings, may others see you in what we do, hear you in our words, and experience you through the way we care for each other. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
With humble and grateful hearts, O God, we have come into our church to celebrate life and the vast number of possibilities you have given us to reach for the stars. And we have learned that we can extend our reach with a paint brush and canvass, with our telephones, our e-mails, our smiles, our choices, and in our willingness to take risks.
Thank you for our confidence to step into the rapid waters of life, knowing that we no longer need to fear the sounds and the pull of the currents. Thank you for teaching us how to release to you the outcome of our next surgical procedure, business decision, or the choice of life's next uncertainty.
Help us to move beyond the right and wrong of the law so we can think more of how best to serve, how best to make a difference, and how best to redefine our discipleship so that our lives represent your presence and not any image we may have.
Inspire us to play big, to wear more smiles, to bring more laughter, and to spread more joy, while we breathe new life into all our relationships. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . .