"The Power Within Our Grasp"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - November 24, 2002
Psalm 100: Ephesians 1:15-23
When I was taking a course in Geology many years ago, one of the concepts that was challenging to grasp was learning how to distinguish between a young river and a mature river. The difference did not become clear until the class could understand the nature of a river's power.
For example, the rushing torrents of the Colorado River are absolutely incredible. When tourists visit the floor of the Grand Canyon, this is one of the more dramatic aspects that people notice. Like a razor, this river has cut through hundreds of layers of sedimentary rock that date back millions of years. In spite of its awesome power, the Colorado is considered a young river.
Mature rivers are barely visible.
They wind serpentine through wide valleys seemingly powerless. The slow
moving water forever seeks the lower ground. What the viewer does not
realize is what happened in that gentle plain over many millenniums. For
millions of years, the power of such a river eroded all barriers that
once stood in its path.
Even though most of us know the story of the tortoise and the hare, we are more apt to have our attention focus on the high energy of the rabbit. Historically, what we notice is an Alexander the Great who mobilized massive armies that easily conquered any nation he approached. In fact, he wept when he felt there were no more worlds to conquer.
Such a display of power is like
the hare or the young river. The flash in the pan always grabs and
holds our attention for awhile. The power of God, however, is like that
of the tortoise. Like the mature river, God's power slowly makes smooth
every barrier in its path.
One of our failures of faith
comes at this very point. Our American culture guides us away from this
understanding of power. Year after year, we continue to learn that we do
not have to wait for anything. Patience is an attitude of spirit that
is not reinforced in our culture. We teach ourselves and our
children that instant gratification is the value we honor.
Listen to your thoughts the next time you have to wait for something.
Where did such thinking have its origin?
If it takes two hours to prepare
a fine meal, something cooked in a crock pot becomes infinitely more
appealing. If we find a web site that is too cumbersome to navigate, we
abandon it for one that is more "user-friendly." When we go into Sam's,
Cosco or BJ's and we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find
something we want, discover that there are no customer associates
available to assist us, or we have to buy three of them that are "glued"
together with shrink wrap, it makes us wonder why we shop there.
If we move this mind-set into the area of our faith, we will become disillusioned. "Oh, I tried St. Matthew's. I attended that church every Sunday for three months. My life is still a wreck." "Prayer doesn't work. I've been on my knees pleading with God for weeks. All I have to show for it is a sore back and aching knees." "The Bible? Shoot, I've read that thing six times during my life. Reading it hasn't worked for me. I don't get it, and I can't apply the parts I understand."
If gratification is the value we
seek, we will not understand the power at our disposal. We must think
like the tortoise and act like a mature river. This is not how our
cultural icons are guiding us. Our computers must be faster. Our
traffic patterns must be more efficient. We want 16 checkout lines in
our grocery stores. We want our dry cleaning by tonight. Ever so slowly
these energized desires can drive a wedge between us and the kind of
power the Apostle Paul said can be ours.
Paul wrote about his
understanding of this power in our lesson for today:
I ask that your minds may be opened to see
God's light, so that you will know what is the hope to which he has
called you, how rich are the wonderful blessings he promises his people,
and how very great is his power at work in those of us who understand.
This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength which God
used when he raised Christ from death . . . "
What kind of power is Paul
describing? If we cannot experience results, if there is no component
that brings us gratification, why would anyone search for it? If we
cannot move mountains and tell people to "get up and walk," why would
such a power be appealing to us? There are answers to these questions.
One of the reasons why the message of Jesus has been received and taught for thousands of years is because it works. His truth would not have survived if it failed. Jesus was not teaching about goodness, he was teaching about power. Goodness is merely one of the results. Wise people have known this through the ages.
The French priest and philosopher,
Teilhard de Chardin once wrote, "One day, after we have mastered the
winds and the waves, gravity and the tides, we will harness the energies
of love. With this gift of God in hand, we will understand how to
create. And then, for the second time in history, humankind will have
This power comes once we have mastery over our inner lives. Nothing more is needed. This power is what enabled Jesus to walk comfortably and confidently among those whose authority for living rested outside themselves in scriptural Law codes, a mistake many of us can make. Such laws enable us to judge one another, feel guilty for our own noncompliance, and think that salvation rests in our belief system or our performance. The Pharisees thought the same way.
What does Paul's understanding of power look like? Last week I had a woman of our church tell me, "I cannot afford not to tithe my salary to St. Matthew's. I have so much for which I am grateful to God." There is another woman in our church who spends a lot of time helping people creatively network with others so they will not be evicted or have their utilities shut off.
St. Matthew's is fortunate enough to
have many such people. The critical ingredient in their lives
appears to be that they are not particularly concerned about what Jesus
said they should do; they are doing these things because they want to.
Such helpfulness becomes an act of will rather than a duty derived
from a disciplined obedience.
Paul says that we can bring into every circumstance, ". . .the same power as the mighty strength that raised Christ. . ." It happens not because someone says, "Come forth! Come forth!" but because a person is very conscious that God's presence is in the midst of whatever is happening. Remember, when we have a particular desired outcome in mind, we are in charge. We have a stake in what happens. When we understand that God is in charge, God is creating. The best thing we can do is get our will off the stage. We must get our personal interests out of the way! Like a mature river, we must understand that no barriers can possibly resist the slow moving currents of our Creator. Our task is to remain a part of that river.
Most of us can mount powerful arguments against this kind of thinking. We always have excellent reasons for judging someone else's character, values or behavior. We have to. We believe it would be irresponsible to do otherwise. We would be remiss in our duties. We cannot pretend that we do not see.
We can say, "It certainly wasn't
responsible for that father to give his prodigal son the inheritance he
demanded. That boy needed to be marched out to the barn and thrashed
within an inch of his life." Or, "It was very ill-advised for that
widow to put her last two copper coins into the Temple treasury. That
was all she had. Faith isn't going to put food on her table." "Jesus
should never have healed the daughter of that Roman officer. Did he
believe that in gratitude that centurion was going to leave his
obligations with the Roman army in order to become a disciple?"
Understanding our role in life is not as
difficult as we might suppose when we remember that we can only be in
charge of what goes on inside of us.
We cannot micro-manage what God is doing in someone else's life. The
world and those who live in it will go on just fine without our
constantly trying to fix things. We bring power to our world when our
heart, mind and soul are at peace with God. When that happens, we become
part of that mature river that is slowly dissolving the barriers
preventing love from becoming visible.
Teachers can only take
responsibility for what comes out of them, not what their students do
with it. Builders can only put integrity in everything they create;
they can do nothing about what happens once their products are sold.
True artists make visible what they see; they cannot govern how their
creations will be judged.
What comes out of each of us
springs forth from the universe that we have developed and nurtured for
years. When loving energy flows
away from us, mountains move, arguments cease, forgiveness embraces,
generosity gives, patience endures, peacefulness persists and gratitude
abounds. This is the power of which Paul wrote. Such power cannot be
achieved without our being entwined in the creative energy of God.
Eight years ago in Zaire, cholera
was devastating thousands of people in the city of Goma. CNN did a
piece on what was happening there. Christiane Amanpour was reporting
that approximately 10,000 people had died that day. Bodies were piled
up in the streets. It was a ghastly sight for even her stoic
Henry Crichlow was being
interviewed. He is a physician who was working with an organization
called "Doctors Without Borders." During the footage, Henry's son said,
"Dad, is God in Goma today?" Interestingly enough, the videographer
kept recording. His son, Reggie, had seen children his own age dying in
the muck, mud and filth. Written across his innocent face was the
age-old question, "Is there a God? If so, is God in Goma today?"
Henry put his arm around his son as
Christiann waited patiently for his answer, and he said this:
Jesus reminded us that when we choose to remain part of the vine, we will spend the rest of our lives dancing, even when that means dancing among the least of these. When we have found such power, every day is Thanksgiving Day.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Lord God, we come this morning desiring to
see with our hearts and to care with our thoughts, words and deeds.
Teach our spirits how to soar over the trivia and the mundane. May the
sense of your presence overwhelm us with joy. Challenge us to become
blind to the frailties present in each of us. Could the one we judge in
haste be you in disguise, testing the integrity of our awareness? With
grateful hearts, we bring before you who we are. In humility, we thank
you for your grace, peace and pardon. We do not deserve what we have
received, but we can give it away without counting the cost. Thank you
for being our guide and friend. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Gracious, loving and ever faithful God, we
find ourselves approaching the time of year when many Americans throw an
anchor into their swift moving currents of life and slow them to a much
Together we have
declared a day when we consider a period in our nation's history that
none of us experienced. We recall the brave people who left every
symbol of security they knew, sailed an ocean and set up camp in an
unknown world. We remember the crude meal that found colonists sitting
around a table with Native Americans during that first Thanksgiving. We
can only imagine their faith and their trust in you, O God, that allowed
them to push against all the unknown horizons until American was born.
We thank you for all that calls us to be more
than we believe ourselves to be. We thank you for the skills that
surface within us when life requires it. We thank you for the ability
we have of sharing, giving, helping and producing so that future
generations may stand on our shoulders much as we have stood on the
shoulders of those who have gone before us.
Lord God, help us never to take a single aspect of life for granted. Each day is precious. May we be on our knees everyday thanking you for your presence, your guidance and your grand adventurous gift to us of life itself. We pray these thoughts through the Spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .