"The Main Thing"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 3, 2002
Micah 6:1-8; Matthew 5: 1-12
Many of us came to church
this morning because we believe that Jesus taught and showed us the
way, the truth and the life. This is the main thing! The rub
comes when we try to keep the main thing the main thing. According
to Jesus, those who can accomplish this are the owners of the pearl
of great price. They live in the Kingdom of God.
In his Sermon on the Mount,
Jesus defined "the main thing" during the opening verses of our
lesson this morning. He gave a frame of reference to his more
abstract " I am the way, the truth, and the life."
The Gospel writer into a
specific literary form placed Jesusí words. Since our earliest days
in Sunday School we learned that these verses were called, "The
Beatitudes." They are attitudes of being. When such thought forms
naturally flow from us, there is little in this world that can
permanently distract us.
Jesus described what such a
life is like. He mentioned humility, empathy, reflecting our divine
nature, mercy, maintaining wholesome thoughts, peacefulness and
perseverance in the face of adversity. He also mentioned that such
a person could allow others to be whomever they choose to be without
evoking our judgments. After he listed these skills of spirit,
Jesus went on to teach that by keeping the main thing the main
thing, even greater abilities than these will be ours when we
eventually leave our physical bodies.
Many of us can keep the
Beatitudes in our minds UNTIL some event, appearing either as
a "gift" from God or as a major source of frustration, distracts
us. Distractions come in the most unique forms. Every one of them
will prevent us from perceiving clearly. They try to convince us
that the main thing can be replaced by something else. While most
of us need no illustrations of how this happens, let me give you
three forms that are among the most common.
Let us suppose that a friend of yours comes seeking your advice. She has worked 12 years for Verizon when it was still Bell Atlantic. She tells you that an opportunity has come to work for a new start-up enterprise. The promise is that if she joins this new company, she will be on the ground floor of a corporate structure, which many believe will be the next Microsoft. Many talented people have already joined the firm. The grass appears mighty green over there and she wants to know if you agree.
Number two: Someone you know is
in a relationship that has grown stale. Communication skills between
the two have remained on a primitive level. He is bored. He claims to
have found someone else. He is finding his current life too confining
and not leading anywhere. He is coming to you for advice. Again, the
grass appears wondrously green with a new person who appears to embody
everything he needs.
Number three: A couple has come
to you seeking alternatives for a set of their aging parents. The
parents are increasingly becoming more opinionated and judgmental. They
are spending their money as though they have an endless cash stream.
They resist the thought of entering a retirement facility yet they can
no longer manage the yard work and the general maintenance of their
home. They want to know what you would do under similar circumstances.
We could go on listing a host of
distractions that many of us have or will encounter. Their form does not
matter. Every one of them can impact us. Each of them appears to
demand that we make a decision. Any decision could produce substantial
life-changes for us or for the lives of those around us. If the main
thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing, what was Jesus teaching
when he was using these attitudes of being to instruct us?
In spite of how much we claim to
love the Lord, life will never be free from our having to make choices
between very challenging alternatives. This is what life brings.
There are many experiences over which we have absolutely no control.
There are some we do. However, we can always have control over how we
greet all of them. Jesus came to the earth to give us a frame of
reference that will enhance our decision-making ability.
Jesus was teaching his listeners
how to keep their inner world centered and focused on the main thing.
His internal attitudes of being describe how the branch remains
connected to the vine, or us to God. Nothing distracts, corrupts or
destroys our lives UNLESS something external convinces us that it
represents our salvation and it replaces the main thing.
There are countless people who are very skilled at solving many of life's problems. What such people do is make decisions and begin acting on them. However, not everyone is skilled at keeping the main thing the main thing. For many people life is nothing more than a treadmill of ancient behavioral patterns. People may believe that they are in new territory, when in reality, they are bringing responses to the same distractions that have been circulating in the minds of humankind for thousands of years.
Knowing this, Jesus came into our world to teach us that "the main thing" remains invisible. A rich universe of creativity lies within us. This inner universe has nothing to do with rearranging the externals of life. It has to do with how lovingly we can navigate while living in the midst of them. This is what Jesus would have us remember as we remember him. Keep the main thing the main thing.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Merciful and always loving God, we welcome
these moments to open ourselves to your spirit. We confess that often
we come before you as divided people. Part of us defends our
self-serving desires, while another voice calls us to a higher
standard. We are torn between wanting justice and turning the other
cheek. We are confused about when to use "tough love" and when to show
compassion. We do not know when to endure with patience and when to
confront. Comfort us, O God, as we grow much slower than we would
like. Help us remember that the caterpillar crawled before the
butterfly developed wings. Enable each of us to place our lives into
your care. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving God, Jesus came into our midst so that
we might learn how to become more loving, patient and peaceful men and
women. In spite of all the truth he taught, it was you, O God, who
chose to grant us autonomy. Even though our thoughts and actions
frequently do not serve us, you gave us free will anyway. What a great
gift that has been.
In the drama life represents, you have
allowed distractions to intrude on the teachings of your son. As many
tantalizing alternatives parade in front of us, it is we who must choose
between the pearl of great price and the idol. It is we who must select
between what will enhance our spiritual skills and what is only an
imitation that pretends to offer us what we believe we lack.
Thank you, God, for being so confident in us. We are frail. We make mistakes. We frequently forsake the substance for the shadow. Yet, O God, we understand that you would have it no other way. You want us to come to you unencumbered. You want us to learn that all that glitters is not gold. You want us to choose wisely, once we have learned that all other alternatives are only reflections of what cannot survive. What a joy it is for us to know that your love is so big that it surrounds us and protects us even when we are yet blind. With grateful hearts we pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .