"Why Truth Will Always Endure"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 14, 2001

Psalm 66:1-12; II Timothy 2:8-15

     Most of us can tell that life as we have known it is not yet back to normal. We are still preoccupied and distracted by threats to our national security that remain beyond our control. Of course, our collective healing process is not encouraged by the kind of headlines that appeared in Friday's Washington Post, "Terrorist Attacks Imminent, FBI Warns." There has been a spiritual disturbance that has affected our lives. What is different about today's circumstances is that we are experiencing them together.

     A couple of weeks ago I was having lunch with Gordon Harvey at Grace's Fortune and I counted only 15 other patrons in the restaurant. I said to Grace, "Where is everyone?" She said, "People are still very sad and do not feel like coming here to eat."

     Last Monday Lois and I were driving home from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where we had spent time with our extended family. As we entered the Harbor Tunnel, there was no one in my lane for as far as I could see. We cannot remember a time when we returned from a three-day weekend like Columbus Day and found the roads as empty as they were. There has been a spiritual disturbance that has affected our lives. What kind of thinking will best serve us during this healing process?

     Back in the 1980s, I can remembering hearing reports that Mt. St. Helens was about to erupt. This long dormant volcano was located in one of the most beautiful places in our country. Spirit Lake was surrounded by magnificent rolling hills that were teaming with wild life. It was a backpacker's paradise.

     Within minutes this beautiful setting was reduced to a barren wasteland when the sleeping volcanic giant awakened with the furry equal to ten times the combined energy released by the two nuclear devices that were detonated during World War II. In spite of how violent that explosion was, it only represented a disruption to the on-going creativity of nature. Today the area looks as though nothing had ever disturbed this precious wilderness.

     Truth always endures in spite of brief interruptions. Destructive forces do their damage and then nature heals itself. Eventually, all traces of the damage vanish from the landscape. They vanish because they are not part of the creative process. That which does not create cannot sustain itself.

     In our lesson today, Paul discussed this same enduring quality of truth in his letter to Timothy. He wrote, "Because I preach the Good News, I suffer and am even chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not in chains."

     These words are very timely for us to hear, particularly since the Gospels had not yet been written. There was no New Testament when Paul wrote to Timothy, thus he was not talking about the Bible when he referred to the "word of God". He was talking about the creative nature of God. Paul knew that God's will works creatively every moment of every day. We must remind ourselves of this truth as we consider how to process what our country has been experiencing.

     Terrorists will never build hospitals. They cannot sponsor the growth of educational institutions that inspire new ideas. They cannot support the efforts of agriculture. They cannot build highways and bridges. They cannot generate enthusiasm for the research and development of an entire array of products that heal, nourish, and simplify life. They cannot encourage the entertainment industry. The nature of their spirit is very much like Mt. St. Helens; it can only destroy. It cannot create.

     The spirit of terrorism is so contrary to the way God made us that it cannot endure. What is not true will not survive. History has a unique way of remembering those who have made contributions to the growth of civilization. And for the John Wilkes Booths of history, yes, they are remembered as well, but such people do not stand out with the same significance as the one who signed the Emancipation Proclamation and who delivered the Gettysburg Address.

     Jesus once said to Judas, "What you must do, do quickly." Judas did just that. Thousands of books have been written about Jesus, but not one has ever been written about the contributions of Judas. This is an accurate commentary on how the collective will of humanity continues to sustain its hope in the qualities that help to build civilizations of value.

     We may be hurt. Our lives can be disrupted. For a while we may feel the need to live a bit more cautiously. But the creative word of God will never be extinguished. Two thousand years ago, Paul reminded Timothy that the word of God is not in chains. It will be this understanding that will continue to nourish us while we are sustained by its truth.

     Today there is a lot of media commentary about whether the United States is adequately prepared for more terrorist attacks. Are we ever prepared for any reversals in life? The answer is "no." Is any woman prepared when a malignant tumor shows up on her routine mammogram? Were the parents prepared when their two daughters were killed by the tornado that struck the University of Maryland a couple of weeks ago?

     To live in a constant state of preparedness that covers every possible contingency is to exist in a cave. This is not who we are. This is not who we have been created to be. Those who choose to live in cocoons, let them. Fear always does ferocious damage to those who open their minds to its alternative reality. For the rest of us, we must remember God's word is that we continue to create with our thoughts and activities.

     We must remember also what we have created in this country. We must support that creation and stand by it. Regardless of our flaws and mistakes, our prejudices and premature judgments, we have built our society on the concept that we serve one another. Every worker in this country performs tasks that are like threads that hold the fabric of America together. This concept is timeless and will continue to serve us for as long as our collective will inspires its results.

     When messes are made, like those in lower Manhattan and in Virginia, we clean them up and build again. That is our spirit! We have to bring creativity to whatever confronts us. John Bridgewater captured this thought recently when he commented about his cancer. He said, "You simply play the hand that you have been dealt to the best of your ability." I like that. This is how we must all think as we walk toward tomorrow.

     Such faith allows us to look threatening circumstances in the face and say, "I will be fine regardless of what you do." When we live in that spirit everyday, it removes the poisons from the fangs of anything that attempts to frighten us. When we think this way together, we underscore our commitment to the absolute certainty that truth will always endure. Because it is God's will, truth will always endure. To make truth visible, we must live it! Doing so is our responsibility. Let's do it!


     Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O God, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

-- Prayer of St. Francis


     Loving and ever patient God, as our lives continue to evolve, how grateful we are that through Jesus Christ, a new awareness has been added to our consciousness. So many of life's blessings have automatically come to us because he taught us how to care. No longer are we ruled by anger, resentment, frustration and impatience. He showed us in all circumstances how to allow your power to flow through us.

     Thank you for the joys and peace that come as we develop increased spiritual depth, as we remain committed to the values that are timeless, and as we extend the attitudes and spirit that literally prevent us from over-reacting during life's many teachable moments.

     O God, as we attempt to reflect your likeness, teach us how to develop the faith that will move mountains. Challenge us to become healers to those who are least like us. With all that we have experienced in our society in recent days, help us to be walking advertisements who announce that the Kingdom of God is here and is alive and well. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .