"The Power Of An Overwhelming Moment"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 14, 2002

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; Luke 24:13-335

     My routine on Tuesday morning is to come to the office and brush up on my preparation for the Bible Study class that begins at 9:30 a.m.  However, one day last Fall there was a considerable distraction. The normal activities of the office had come to a standstill.  All eyes were riveted to the television set where we were watching one of the World Trade Center towers burning in New York City.  As we watched, a second aircraft plunged into the other tower.  We stood speechless in complete disbelief.  

     In less than an hour the numbers we normally use to make an emergency telephone call became permanently etched in our memories as a date we will never forget.  We were witnessing an event that would send a shock wave around the world. Once again humanity's collective consciousness was reminded how a small group of terrorists can tear the delicate fabric of a society that is based on trust. 

     The power of an overwhelming moment was being felt everywhere.  When a third airplane crashed into the Pentagon and another aircraft went down in Pennsylvania, anxiety increased everywhere.  I recall how relieved Lois and I were when our son, who lives and works in Manhattan, left a message on our phone machine that he was fine.  For quite some time, however, people found it difficult to concentrate on anything beyond the events of that day.

     Most of us are veterans of dealing with such moments because our lives have been full of them.  They start very early in life.  Often our first introduction to them comes when Mom and Dad leave us in the care of someone we do not know.  After that, episodes come fast and furious:  when our best friend moves to Pensacola, Florida, when our first teenage romance does not work out and when we go for two sleepless nights in anticipation of our first job interview. How many of us remember our reaction to the first major scratch on the car we just bought? The power of a moment to overwhelm us is nothing new to our generation.

     What makes Bible stories so relevant is that we have a very human connection to our brothers and sisters who lived thousands of years ago.  We know, for example, what was going on in the minds of  two of Jesus' followers as they walked the seven mile trek from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  They could think of nothing else but their loss.

     As the story goes, Jesus joined them as they traveled.  One translation put their meeting this way, "As the two were walking, intensely involved in a discussion about what they had witnessed in Jerusalem, Jesus drew near and walked with them.  They saw him but somehow they did not recognize him."  Think of how much power that moment had for them.  Jesus was standing in front of them and they could not recognize him.

     When we feel overwhelmed, the drama of an event is so highly charged with emotion that nothing else appears to matter.  Jesus asked them why they were so preoccupied. One of them was surprised by the question. Cleopas said, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who

     does not know what has happened there during the last several days?"  Perhaps interested in their interpretation of events there, Jesus asked, "What things?"

     Let me pause here and reflect on what was happening. Any mountain, barrier, frustration, or confusion were all thoughts manufactured in their minds.  Nothing else had changed. Their universe was as gigantic as it always was.  The number of alternatives available to them was still there.  God was still present, totally surrounding them.  It was their fearful thoughts that had overwhelmed them when tragedy struck. 

     Several articles  have appeared recently concerning what is happening to people who cannot move through and beyond overwhelming circumstances.  Some people appear to freeze.  They remain traumatized.  They shut down and can literally become immobilized for years.  Occasionally their conditions can become life-threatening. 

     To accommodate such thinking, the medical community has come up with a "syndrome" for nearly every debilitating response that people can create with their thoughts.  Every year the list grows longer and longer.  If we have a syndrome and if we want to remain in control of our lives, we demand and receive a medication.   As we emerge from a catastrophic event, just like the followers of Jesus, we can miss seeing the greatest resource for successful living standing right in front of us.

     Many people do have a difficult time when events in life overwhelm them.  There can be absolutely no doubt that their conditions are real. But it is not because they have run out of alternatives.  It is not because God has abandoned them.  Most of us are well aware of why some people cannot move forward. It is possible that for them the entire spiritual dimension of life is missing.  They may know very little about Jesus Christ, what he taught and how his understanding of life could guide them safely through every storm.

     Wayne Dyer's most recent book is entitled, There's A Spiritual Solution For Every Problem.  This is precisely what Jesus Christ came to teach us.  Jesus came here to awaken us to our true identity.   We are spirit beings who are having a physical experience.  When we ignore our identity either by choice or by our unawareness of it, such an understanding cannot possibly serve us during moments of tragedy.

     As we return to our lesson, an interesting thing happened to the three travelers.  Once they arrived in Emmaus, Jesus acted as though he were going to journey further.  Our lesson says, "They held him back.  'Stay with us;' they said, 'the day is almost over and it is getting dark."  This seems like such an insignificant thing, but it was not.  In spite of their being overwhelmed by Jesus' crucifixion, the two followers had not forgotten something he had taught them.  They extended hospitality to this stranger.  As they did that, the bubble burst, the spell that held them captive was broken, their eyes were opened.   

     Many of us, swept up in the events of September 11, have read countless articles about how the aftermath has affected people's lives.  One magazine had a pull-out for its front cover.  It showed wives who had lost their husbands in the World Trade Center.  They were with newborns their husbands had not lived to see.  The magazine had stories of how the women moved through and beyond the events of that incredible day.

     Those who had successfully navigated through troubled waters had reached out beyond themselves in some capacity.  The turning point for Jesus' followers came at the moment they said, "Stay with us; the day is almost over and it is getting dark."  Thoughtfulness, kindness, generosity, hospitality are symptoms of yet another "syndrome."  We prefer to call it, "Discipleship."  It is highly contagious while it heals, inspires and motivates. 

     Survivors who grew taller spiritually after the event had gathered with other women, other fire fighters, or other police officers.  They went on crusades to raise money for fire-fighting equipment to replace what had been lost.  They formed support groups.  They did not remain frozen by an overwhelming event. 

     This past week, a new rescue apparatus was delivered to a fire company which had lost an entire specially trained and equipped team.  The wife of the unit's captain said, "My husband would be so proud of this new truck. We have lobbied long and hard to get it.  It is equipped with everything he would have wanted.  Thank you, America, for making this possible."

     We always have choices.  We do not have to remain stuck.  Regardless of how overwhelming one moment may be, there is always another day. From a cross, Jesus understood this.  No person feeling victimized could have said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."  He was thinking healing thoughts about those who had just driven nails into his hands and feet.   If such a response was humanly impossible to make during one of life's most overwhelming moments, Jesus would have never taught us that love conquers all things. 

     The moment we let go of our interpretation of an event, healing begins.  In the Viking Book of Runes there is a teaching that parallels this.  It says, "The greatest challenge for the spiritual warrior is the relinquishment of control."  As Jesus hung on the cross,  there was nothing more he could do but continue to emit his loving spirit just as he had done during his ministry. 

     We can overcome any life-changing moment when we think beyond what has just happened to us.   When we do that, we prevent our interpretation of that event from repeatedly attacking us.  We move on when our thoughts focus on how we can create light in the midst of darkness.

     Once the two travelers recognized who had been walking with them, the story took another interesting turn.  The Scripture says, "They got up at once and went back to Jerusalem to tell the other eleven disciples.  The two explained what had happened to them on the road and how they had recognized Jesus when he broke the bread." 

     When we have something to do, we always move forward.  It was dark and it was late, but such conditions did not hold them back. Their report further influenced the resolve of the remaining eleven disciples to move forward themselves. 

     Jesus once said, "I have come among you as one who serves."  When we remember that this is the role to which we have also been called, we notice that all the necessary resources to accomplish any task are there.  The universe is as big as it always was.  God is still with us.  Our eyes begin to open to the numerous alternatives and opportunities that were there all the time.  When we trust what we cannot see and remain faithful to a vision of tomorrow none of us will experience, our spirits remain free to create.

     Once Mikhail Gorbachev was asked what inspired him to move in the direction of dissolving the Soviet Union.  He said that among the many factors, the most influential one was a person named Lech Walesa.  Lech had no political training whatsoever. All he knew how to do was to stand forth with his values during a critical moment in history.   His leadership of the Solidarity Movement changed the political infrastructure of Poland.

     Walesa received his inspiration for passive resistance because it was written about and practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Again, we see the power of one person to move mountains. Dr. King became inspired to create a new American consciousness when he learned that Rosa Lee Parks had refused to move to the back of a bus.  Who inspired Rosa Lee? We now have that information. 

     Rosa Lee Parks remembered a Sunday School teacher who was still teaching in her late 70s  when Rosa and nine other girls were in her class.  She remembered being taught that every person counted in God's sight.  But the inspiration for Rosa's refusal to move to the back of that bus came from one particular comment made by that Sunday School teacher. "Never, ever allow anyone to take away your dignity as a child of God."  Rosa Lee said, "I remembered her words through the years and I got to the place where I had to live them."

     Single moments in time can overwhelm us.  They can distract us so much that we cannot think of anything else.  As long as we understand that this is God's world and that Jesus Christ called us to become part of the creative process, our minds and spirits are in the best place they could be to defeat moments that could easily consume us.  All it takes is one person to influence the rest of humanity. 

     All of us in this sanctuary this morning will have to make choices throughout our lives  between creation and self-erosion. When we choose creation, we can count on God to build a better tomorrow than we have today. Being faithful to our calling is the only ingredient we need to supply; God will do the rest.


    God of creation, you know what is within us long before we speak.  We hear your truth with grateful hearts, while often we lack the confidence to give that truth away.  We want you to accept us as we are, while we often use our kindness selectively.  Teach us, O God, how to listen to your voice.  Guide us in the art of letting go, so we can remain participants in the flow of your spirit.  Your love is sufficient and complete.  Inspire our understanding when our neediness communicates that we desire more.  This morning we ask that you lead us beside the still waters, that our souls might be restored with peace.  Amen.