"Learning To See With Our Spirits"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - June 3, 2001
Psalm 104:24-34; John 14:8-17
Those of us who observe the frequency of such stories can become detached from them. These events are so commonplace in certain parts of the world that we are no longer shocked by anything we read. Yet are we detached? Have you ever lived through extremely challenging circumstances only to find that you ignored most of Jesus' teachings during the experience? Of course we have.
We consider our faith a vital aspect of life. Yet we become frustrated with ourselves by the ease with which we set our values aside when life becomes confrontational. While none of us has walked in the shoes of the Crown Prince of Nepal or operated from the belief system of a suicide bomber, we have experienced the paradox, "I love this person, but I am extremely angry over what he did."
For years we have engaged each other during our Sunday School classes with lively discussions. We have said things like, "But we are supposed to forgive. We are supposed to take the high road. Jesus wants us to be a light in darkness." Or, "Dick says that our most challenging experiences are nothing more than opportunities for us to learn and refine our life-skills." Such understanding does not ease our confusion about God's love when our circumstances nearly destroy us emotionally.
The Apostle Paul wrote, "Give thanks to God at all times and for all things." (Eph. 5:20) In the book of James, we read this, "Happy are those who remain faithful under trials, because when they succeed in passing such tests, they will receive as their reward the life which God has promised." (James 1:12)
We have a problem! We read such things, but how many of us find these Scriptures useful? Yes, they are marvelous to read. And yes, they are a road map for what the Kingdom of God would look like if everyone lived that way, but today their truth is not easily embraced. Something must be missing.
In our Gospel lesson today, we learn why such a credibility gap exists between our faith and our behavior. Our frustrations occur when we try to bring spiritual solutions to a world that is filled with conflicting value systems. Our world is constantly changing. Nothing, including our values, ever stays the same. Everyone perceives life a little differently, and as people mature in their thinking so do their perceptions. The failure of people to conform to one standard of truth is a foregone conclusion. We are incapable of doing this at humanity's current level of understanding.
For example, we cannot sit down with people who have hated each other for 800 years and say, "Look, the answer is very simple! Love one another." The failure of such a strategy is an absolute certainty. As long as people are bound by the "right" and "wrong" of their individual perceptions, they will not see clearly to use truth from the part of creation that remains invisible to their physical senses.
However, if there was no hope for us, Jesus would not have invested his life in trying to teach us about the part of creation that we cannot see. Listen to what he said, "God is the Spirit who reveals the truth. The world cannot receive God's Spirit because it cannot see him or know him. But you know him because he remains in you." (John 14:17) Learning the significance of Jesus' words is absolutely essential if we are ever to understand the purpose and context of our lives in the physical world.
When we do not have the entire truth about anything, we respond to our circumstances with the knowledge we have. Jesus tried to correct this by filling in some of the blanks. So many people, including we Christians, have not been listening. We still live around the margins of vast light Jesus provided. Let me give you an example.
Currently in northern Idaho, six children of the MuGuckin family have barricaded themselves in their home. The children reportedly may be armed, have more than twenty dogs, and a lot of misinformation. Their father died a month ago and their mother was recently taken into custody because of parental neglect. The standoff with authorities lasted for five days.
The point is that we respond to every threatening situation as if our survival depended on it. These children are frightened because they cannot see the big picture. We respond in much the same way when we are threatened. Jesus was teaching his listeners that our survival does not depend on anything we know or do. God's love of us is bigger than that. Most of us, however, govern our lives by incomplete knowledge.
We are taught that we live a certain length of time and we die. Jesus taught us that we do not. We have been taught that good and decent people fight for justice. Jesus taught that when we fight for anything, we place ourselves in danger of developing the same attitudes and thought patterns as those we attack. We were directed only to love and this includes our enemies and people who hurt us. Responding this way appears insane unless there is an extra ingredient we do not have that will complete the recipe of our understanding.
The missing ingredient, the one aspect of life we do not easily grasp is this -- we are spirit. We are not our bodies. We live in these bodies only temporarily. Our bodies change as we age. Almost anything can happen to them. The issues we have made real by experiencing them through our bodies do not hold any meaning anywhere else except here. Jesus was saying, "The world cannot understand anything about God but you can, because now you have been made aware that God is within you." We are spirit. More than that, we are God's spirit. Yet we sleep.
Actually God is within everyone, but if people do not know that, such a truth is useless to them. This is why the Sermon on the Mount appears to be nothing more than a code of ethics. Without knowing that we are spirit, Jesus' teachings become near impossible to live. Our earth experience is too intense and fraught with elements that evoke our greatest fears. We are easily frightened by what we do not understand.
Fear is why people frequently communicate through the use of violence. This was the barrier Jesus found almost impenetrable during his ministry. This is why Peter had a sword in the garden. This is why Judas betrayed him. This is why the disciples argued about who was the greatest. They could not view life from any other vantage point but the one dealing with their perceptions and physical circumstances. This same barrier is alive and well in our own lives.
When we learn to see through our timeless, infinite spirits, we will understand the need to bring the light of such information into the darkness of humanity's limitation regardless of the cost to our bodies, our reputations, and our future. If we do not, history will repeat itself over and over again. The issues will remain the same, only the bodies and personalities will be different.
The reason Jesus gave no thought to such "sacrifices" was because he knew that God was within him. He was able to do the things he did because he discovered who he was. He was Spirit, something nothing could hurt or destroy, something no fear could encroach upon. His message was so are we. The Spirit of God is also within us. Only when we act from the knowledge that we are Spirit will mountains move.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We thank you, O God, for the gift of memory, a faculty that has caused us to remember the birthday of the community of faith that gathered around the life and teachings of your son, Jesus. We stand in absolute amazement at how a tiny group of people, in a relatively obscure part of the world, managed through the ages to duplicate itself in every nation under the sun. We thank you that your Spirit inspires people and by word-of-mouth the Gospel continues to change lives.
We are grateful for the young people who will become part of our church family in the next service. As the word-of-mouth story of your love continues to unfold, may the seeds sown in their lives take root and grow so that you become visible in what they do. Fashion within them the means by which they carry themselves with the energy many of us call love.
As we continue to absorb the news from around the world, we pray that such a spirit will surround those who still communicate through violence. Bless those who will never understand. Bless those who mourn the results of terrorism performed in the name of justice. Touch our world's current leaders with compassion that renews their desire to build bridges, bury ancient wounds, and heal relationships so that the promise of tomorrow will not reflect the mistakes of yesterday. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .