"Not Everyone Understands"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - July 1, 2001

II Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Luke 9:51-62

     At one time or another we have either lived through episodes ourselves or listened to stories that began with, "My son is running with the wrong crowd." Or, "Honey, you received a 4-year-academic scholarship to the university. Why would you choose to ignore such an opportunity to become a race car driver?" Or, "Your mother and I are saddened that you have decided not to attend church anymore."

     The common theme in such experiences is that loved ones have begun making decisions that we believe are not in the best interest of their future. To put it quite frankly, they have disappointed us because they are not living their life-script the way we wrote it. From our vantage-point, we had their lives mapped out for them and they chose not to follow that map.

     It was not that they were being disrespectful or unappreciative of what others had done for them; they are making their own choices now because it is their turn to assume full responsibility for their lives and see where their decisions will lead them. They have become the creators of their own destiny. It is they who must learn what works and what does not.

     One of the most painful lessons we must learn is how to let go of those we love. Another painful lesson is to realize that not everyone understands the incredible possibilities God has made available to us. We can be told such things and memorize Scriptures that are insightful; however, many of us have to learn by doing. We can be told that the stove is hot, but we gain an entirely different perspective once we burn ourselves. Who among us has not been there?

     In our lesson today, there are several illustrations describing people who were not honestly interested either in Jesus' ministry or in what he had to say. Their reasons were as numerous as there were people. In our present day a number of us are so involved with our physical experiences that matters of the spirit can be put off indefinitely. For whatever reason, we do not authentically connect with what the Church has been teaching through the centuries; further, we have no interest in any of it whatsoever. Issues of spirit are not among our priorities.

     The message that I want to leave with you this morning is that the universe is big enough to accommodate such people. In God's infinite wisdom such a possibility has already been written into the script of how creation will unfold. What God created is all encompassing, whole and complete just as it is.

     Yet some of us may have a problem with this kind of thinking. We become confused about our responsibility when we love people who are completely aloof in their attitude toward God. There are times when we feel so compelled "to make them understand" that we use every weapon in our arsenal to pry open their mind's eye. For their own good, we want them to be who we know they can be!

     The words "weapon" and "arsenal" are accurate ones in describing how some of us respond to others. Disappointment can produce hurt and anger in some people. And included in the category of "some people" were James and John.

     In our lesson today they had gone ahead of the rest of the disciples in order to prepare for Jesus' arrival in a Samaritan village. Once the two arrived, the villagers said, "Get out of here! We do not want Jesus coming anywhere near our town." James and John were so angered by their rejection that they said to Jesus, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" (Is it not a relief to discover that two of Jesus' closest disciples sometimes said insane things?)

     If we use our imaginations, we can see Jesus rolling his eyes and thinking to himself, "Well, I guess when I taught the lesson about praying for those who despise you, they were out to lunch." Jesus probably said, "No, we are not doing that today" as they went on to the next town. The universe is big enough to accommodate people who do not understand.

     Later in Luke's discussion, we discover a person who claimed that he really wanted to follow Jesus but first had to take care of some personal matters. There was another person who was equally eager to follow but he had family matters to attend to. Jesus finally remarked, "Anyone who starts to plow and keeps looking behind him will find the Kingdom of God of little value." Not everyone understands with a depth of spirit that will produce the desired results.

     If we gathered a group of people and asked them to give us their personal mission statements, we would have quite a spectrum of thoughts to listen to. At issue is this: God did not design a particular way for people to think. What God did was give us everything we need to think any way we wish. And if we believe that God did not anticipate everything about which we are capable of thinking, then we have greatly underestimated God. God knows a little more about creation than we do.

     Jesus did not appear to be troubled by the response of the Samaritans. Our lesson says, "Jesus and his disciples went on to another village." During his ministry he said, "My sheep hear my voice and will follow." He knew that he would always find people who would instantly resonate with his spiritual insights. Obviously there would always be others who would not.

     Some of us assume that those who did not choose to be attentive to Jesus' message were dooming themselves. Yet if we have understood Jesus' ministry, we know that the people he cared for the most were those who did not understand. And he was most critical of those who claimed they did.

     There is great hope for all of us. There will come a time in our faith journey where issues concerning our lives in the physical world will no longer matter to the extent that they do today. The time will come when we will understand that it is better to be kind than right, to display compassion rather than quote Biblical passages, and to extend a helping hand rather than pointing a finger of blame. People need to experience being loved, not managed. Sometimes our concern for their well-being blinds us to which one we are doing.

     Thank goodness, God is in charge. God has plenty of time to fashion and shape everything that God has made. If we are worried about someone's spiritual future, let God handle the details. Our only responsibility is to make visible what we know, and to do so without masking our witness with analysis.

    If others do not understand, we must trust God that a time will come when they will. We need to remind ourselves about God's capacity to accommodate everyone to whom God has given the gift of life. Can anything God wants, fail to happen? Can anything God created fail to fulfill its highest purpose?


     O God, all of us would love to have a singleness of mind in our relationship with you. We enjoy the sensation of being at peace. Our spirits soar when we give without counting the cost. Our lives radiate with joy when we are kind. We are happy when we complete each task to the best of our ability. Yet we also know our struggles. Greener pastures look attractive. The thought that more is better still lingers within us. The lure of physical attractiveness draws us toward what will always change. And we still find the pull of the external elements in our world almost irresistible. As our nation celebrates its independence this week, may we strive for spiritual independence from our world. May a day come when we rely only on our trust in you for guidance, strength and skills of spirit. Amen.


     Loving and always patient God, all of us thank you for creating us as beings who enjoy freedom. This week we celebrate the historical moment when Americans stretched their wings and declared their independence. Today we are witnesses to all that we have created with our freedom. So many people are able to earn a living by serving one another, whether by stocking the shelves of a grocery store, building highways, or by growing crops on their farms.

     Yet we are aware that so many people have inherited what they do not understand. They have only known freedom. Rather than celebrate this great gift and all the opportunities that are possible, they have chosen instead to give up their freedom. Their thoughts have led them to embrace the prisons of alcohol, drugs, and anger. Some people have learned how to take what is not theirs and have polished the art of unfaithfulness, deception, and deceit. So we know that we can lead a horse to water, but we cannot make it drink.

     Today we thank you for St. Matthew's and churches throughout this land. We thank you for loving people who point with their lives and who teach others how to use wisely the freedom so many people of our world will never live to see. Help more of us to use our gifts to create an environment where peace and prosperity become aspects of spirit. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .