"Images Of What Is Invisible"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 1, 2002

Romans 8:31b-39; Matthew 13:33-45

     One of the most challenging tasks of preachers, teachers and parents is to teach life's lessons so that those who are listening will be interested in learning. This goal is increasingly becoming challenging to achieve.  In our particular culture, for example, people ask and they get, they seek and they find, they knock and the doors are opened to them. However, not every door on which we knock, not everything for which we ask and not everything we seek is as attractive and enticing as it first appears.  How can we make the essentials of life stick to people who appear coated with Teflon?

     As a very attractive teenage girl was about to graduate from high school, she sat down with her parents one evening to have a heart-to-heart talk.  She reminded them that she had faithfully applied herself during her high school years as her grade-point-average demonstrated.  She had been responsible with her popularity.  She had been accepted at the university of her choice and was well on her way toward the adventure tomorrow represented.

     Her parents nervously looked at each other wondering where this conversation was going.  Rebecca had been slowly building her case as skillfully as any highly talented prosecuting attorney.  Following graduation, she wanted her parents' permission to spend a week at the ocean with 8 of her friends.  The parents of one of her classmates owned a beach house 100 yards from the surf at high tide and they were happy to allow the kids to use it. 

     What would make the event exciting and challenging is that this would be an opportunity for her friends to show their parents how responsible they are before going off on their own.  "After all," she said, "there will come a time when I will have to test my values anyway and I would like to do that now.  When the week with my friends is over, you will be pleased that you reared me as well as you have."

     Fears began to dart through her parents' thoughts. They knew about teenage hormones, about their carefree, "nothing can hurt me" attitudes, and about their frequent need to show off while generating laughs that frequently signal instant approval. The parents thought to themselves, "Who would be there to set the acceptable boundaries?  With all the peer pressure to comply with whatever is happening, would any responsible parent give their graduating senior such permission?"

     Her parents had to admit  that their daughter had made a strong case.  Sooner or later they would have to allow her to experience life for herself. They were just not ready to make such a choice this soon. Reluctantly, however, they consented to let her go.  She screamed with enthusiastic delight as she bounced around the room. She assured them that she would never disappoint them.  Her parents looked at each other with facial expressions that communicated, "What have we just done?"

     Her father took his daughter to dinner several weeks later. This was quality time when a father and daughter often experience bonding.  He discussed with her a number of his own personal struggles in establishing his own identity and goals.  He told her that there is a big difference between making your own mistakes and putting your life into the hands of someone else while they make theirs. He said, "Do not ever get into a car when the driver has been drinking.  Promise me that!"  She understood and promised.

     The two of them strolled around a lake in their community.  As they walked, he told her this story:

There was once a beautiful princess who would one day be Queen of her people, an honor she had looked forward to since she learned of her future roll at the age of twelve.  One day her father said, "To prepare yourself to become our country's leader, I want you to assume a disguise and become a member of the crew of one of our merchant ships. No one must know your connection or identity with our family.  You will work in the galley as an assistant cook.  I will arrange everything.


You will sail to many ports. As you travel you will see characteristics in people that you will admire and some that you will find tasteless, cruel and primitive.  You will meet people who will insist that they must become a part of your life. They will offer you everything from security to expressing their affection to you physically.  When these things happen, you must remember that one day you will be our country's Queen.

     When the young woman returned from her week at the beach, she invited her father to accompany her on another stroll around the lake. She told him everything she had experienced. There had been alcohol use by some of her friends.  Two of the boys had made unsuccessful romantic advances toward her. She mentioned that there were nights when some of her friends had not returned to the house until morning.   

     She said, "You learn a lot about people when you are with them day and night.  Not everything about my friends was as it first appeared.  Experiencing total freedom can change some people. I have learned a lot, and I want to thank you and Mom for trusting me.  I did not disappoint you and I honored my promise.  

     “What came in real handy was the story you told me about the princess.  All during the week I kept reminding myself of the words her father had said to her, 'When these things happen, you must remember that one day you will be our country's Queen.'  While I will never be a queen, I will be somebody and I did not want to prevent that from happening because of some moment of carelessness that I made during my teenage years.  Thanks for telling me that story." 

     Stories are often the vehicle which carry many of life's sacred truths.  Stories recreate truth  in a form that listeners can apply to themselves.  We can see ourselves in a story.  Truths come and go, but stories linger long after the lesson has faded from our memory.  Stories help us remember our identity when life challenges us to trade who we are for a moment of instant gratification.   

     In our Gospel lesson this morning, we find these words, "Jesus used parables to tell all these things to the crowds; he would not teach them anything without using a parable." Jesus engaged in story-telling.  He used the metaphors of a mustard seed, yeast, a hidden treasure or a fabulously perfect pearl to enable his lessons to stick.  He knew that the essentials of life are invisible.   

     We cannot see happiness or joy.  We cannot see a spirit that wants to create; we can only see the results of what a life has accomplished.  We cannot see the source of spirits that exude flexibility, confidence, resilience and enthusiasm.  We only sense how contagious their spirits are when we are around them. 

     Jesus was teaching his listeners that if they wanted qualities that are timeless, they must first be willing to make a trade.  In the case of the yeast, people wanting to be leaders must enable a group to accomplish something together. In the case of the hidden treasure and the pearl, people had to be willing to part with everything they have before they could achieve what has real value.  Such choices are not easy to make.  We become very attached to things.  

     This past week Lois and her sister, Ellen, spent considerable time sorting through the belongings of their parents in preparation for a sale this Fall.  Their folks will soon move to a retirement community and they had come face to face with the agonizing task of downsizing. What should they do with belongings to which they had attached so many wonderful memories?

     Today many adult children have their own dishes, stainless flatware and their share of heirlooms. The set of Lenox china which the couple had placed on their wedding registry is often packed away shortly after their honeymoon. We now live in the days of Popeye's chicken, carry-out Chinese, and pizza, even though many of us grew up with china plates in a family that ate supper together at 5:30 p.m. most evenings. Times have changed.  We tend to be in a hurry to go somewhere else. 

     The symbols that made our lives meaningful may not fit into the next generation's family culture.  It is difficult to allow an auctioneer to get a few dollars for something that belonged to Mom's great-grandmother.  There is a reality that Jesus addressed that most of us never want to hear.  Everything we love and cherish will one day either change hands or cease to be.   

      Every relationship will one day dissolve.  A time will come when our homes will be sold.  The contributions we made during the days we worked may be forgotten.  Our corporation may go out of business,  may be sold or the passing parade of people who followed us may have no institutional memory about who built their company.  We entered the world with nothing and that is how we leave it.    

     While we may believe that such a truth is depressing to hear, it is nevertheless true. Giving up everything we acquired, earned or created is the way life is.  This is the way the physical world was created.  Jesus merely wanted his listeners to focus on the aspects of life that must remain invisible by their nature. 

     Jesus had to watch from a cross as the Roman soldiers gambled for the robe which was his only possession.  Yet what was essential to Jesus he never surrendered.  That is what he was trying to teach to others.  He would say, "The Kingdom of God is like this . . . . "     

     To know peace, to know only kindness, to express our creative energy in whatever form we like, and to be loving toward all others in spite of their different values -- these are what we take with us when we leave this world. 

     This afternoon at 3:00 p.m. we will be celebrating the life of Art Egerton.  Two weeks ago when I visited him, he got out of his chair and demonstrated how he could walk around the room.  We had a nice visit.  He had no regrets.  He accomplished about everything he wanted to do.  He had found the pearl of great price.  He had bought the field wherein the hidden treasure lay buried.   

     I visited him last week about three hours before he left his body.  His life force was very weak.  He could hear my words but little else was necessary or required.  After I left, Barrie knelt beside him and said, "Daddy, you have had your talk with everyone in the family.  Would you like to visit with me some more?"  Knowing how Art loved baseball, Barrie used a metaphor.  She said,  "Daddy, it's the bottom of the 9th and it's time to go home." 

     No sooner had she finished giving him permission to leave when Art did just that.   Barrie said, "I felt his enormous spirit rise from his body.  It was as if a hole opened.  He shot through it and was gone.  Mom felt it as well.  She was walking behind his chair at the time.  Dad had to pass right through her.  Shirley said, 'He's gone, isn't he?'"  Barrie said, "Yes, Mom, he is.  Just now." 

     The day is going to come when each of us will be right there.  Perhaps then we will remember a story, a parable, which inspires us to have all conflicts worked out, all worldly burdens surrendered, and every disappointment released.   

     Art Egerton had all those things worked out a long time ago.  So can we.  Jesus was teaching his listeners what was possible for them that day.  After all, this is what the Kingdom of God is like.  We can live in it now or later.  If one day we have to surrender everything as we inherit the riches of the spirit, why wait?  By making that decision now, we can change the quality of our lives today.  Nothing is worth holding on to once we have discovered the pearl of great price.  Find that peace now. 


    O God, our lives are always overflowing with activities that require much from us.  There are times when the lines are not clear between self-interest and our service to others.  We struggle with how to love.  We are often confused about what to hold on to and what to let go.  Lead us, Lord, to find a different place to stand so that the uncertainty of our lives may be more fully understood.  Enable us to sow seeds that produce what is essential and supportive of others.  Help us reveal what your kingdom looks like by remaining one of its citizens.  May our words, our smiles, and our fellowship be that which allows the light within us to radiate. Amen.