"The Result of Being Informed"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - March 17, 2002

Psalms 130; Romans 8:6-11

     Most of us have heard the expression, "Knowledge is power."  Certainly our experience has given us abundant testimony to the truth of this understanding.  The landscape of humanity is littered with people who either did not think or they did not have specific knowledge when they attempted new experiences.  

     One of my favorite activities during an earlier time was climbing Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.  The White Mountains offer one of the most beautiful settings for hiking that our country has.  Yet each year people die while hiking on that mountain because they are unaware of how rapidly weather conditions there can change.   

     Frequently the warm sun can make even a 78 degree day feel like the blazing heat of summer.  People begin their hike wearing only shorts and tee-shirts. Mt. Washington, however, can be very cruel.  Out of nowhere clouds can form and the temperatures can plunge into the low 30s within 45-minutes.  More people die of exposure than from falling.  Had they only been prepared, had they done their homework before taking that hike, they would still be alive.  Knowledge is power. 

     When Lois and I lived in West Virginia we learned how growers can extend the sale of their apple harvest.  We had numerous orchardists in our church family who owned cold storage facilities.  Once the apple crop is picked, much of the fruit is graded, packed and shipped.  The rest of the crop is put in bulk bins which are stacked in their cold storage units. 

     The apples are placed in an environment just above freezing.  All the oxygen is pumped out of these large sealed refrigerators where the apples are held in suspension for months. Then after months in storage, the apples are brought out, packed and shipped.  

     There have been occasions when someone uninformed about cold storage protocols has entered a storage unit just after it has been opened.  They have no idea what awaits them. They lose consciousness and die within minutes. Such deaths need never to happen, but they do. Had these people been more informed, they would still be alive.   

     These are rather dramatic illustrations that seem far removed from the experiences of our lives until we study our lesson this morning.  The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to a community of Jesus' followers that lived in Rome.  He wrote, "To be controlled by human nature results in death; to be controlled by the Spirit results in life and peace."  

     So many people ignore this insight.  They assign Paul's words to some category, some belief system, or they label his statement as  "a religious teaching" as though it has no universal application for all humanity. Such ignorance can be every bit as deadly as hiking the trails on Mt. Washington during a warm, Spring day completely unprepared for rapid changes in the weather.

     People can easily associate knowledge with how to refine our life-skills for living in the physical world.  When your car is not operating properly, there is no better friend to have than an excellent auto mechanic.  We see immediate results when our car is returned.  When we associate knowledge, however, with how to fine tune our inner world, people can lose interest.  "Such thinking belongs in a church," they might say.  Does it?  This morning we are going to explore what happens to us when we learn about our inner world. 

     Think about what we have experienced recently.  More teenagers have been killed in high speed automobile accidents.  Most of us know someone who is in a relationship that is teetering on the brink of destruction.  During the last two years, the large pharmaceutical companies have been taking information about their products directly to the public.  "Just ask your doctor," they say, "to see if Prilasec, Lipitor, Flonaise, or Vioxx is right for you."   The message is that if you have a problem, we have the right pill for you.  Paul wanted people to look for answers elsewhere.   

     If we move our discussion away from us individually, we can see examples of Paul's insight everywhere. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict spilled over into Manhattan and northern Virginia.  In fact, the issue of terrorism will have intellectuals debating for years. 

     There can be no conflict resolution when people are willing to detonate explosives strapped to their bodies.  When such displays of hopelessness and frustration are violently expressed among the helpless and unsuspecting, we are being given very clear examples of people being controlled by "what human nature wants."  Such human bombers destroy the fabric of what makes civilized societies work.               

     Societies function reasonably well because of the inner-world qualities that we take for granted.  We leave our homes because we believe it is safe to do so.  When we go shopping, we trust that other people are there for the same reason. When we eat our food and drink our water, we do so without questioning, "Is this safe for us to do?" When such patterns of security are destroyed, and when we can no longer trust or have confidence in what we have always depended on, societies begin to break down.   

     What would be the result if we drew a line in the sand and refused ever again to be controlled by what our human nature frequently demands that we become?  What would it be like to remain detached from the world where conflicts, restlessness, boredom, and chronic anxiety keep the lives of many of us in constant turmoil? What would that be like?  

     Paul outlined the fruits of the spirit in a letter to the Galatians: 

But the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.  There is no law against such things as these.  Gal. 5:22-23

     Today we find people taking courses in anger management. They are trying to learn how to control themselves.  Learning techniques on how to ventilate our anger in more acceptable ways is no substitute for knowing how to experience peace every day of our lives.     

     Those who have never learned how to do this are the ones who cry out the loudest, "Impossible!  You are not involved in life if everything you experience produces peace.  I am glad that my values show.  I am glad that I can intervene and get involved. I am glad that I can stand up and be counted among those who care about what is happening in this world!" 

     Knowledge is power and yet when we express the same powerful emotions as someone or some group whose values we oppose, we have become just like them.  Having knowledge about the spiritual dimension of life is what set Jesus apart from the rest of his listeners.  What did he know that many of us can frequently miss? 

     In her book, Adventures in Prayer, Catherine Marshall described a family that was becoming destroyed with constant stress and anxiety caused by a nagging, fault finding aunt who had come to live with them.  Ellen had prayed that God would take away the aunt's hostile, bitter attitudes.  After praying for weeks, the aunt actually became worse making life in the home intolerable. Catherine said to Ellen, "Why not forget trying to change the spirit of your aunt?  With a sincere, open heart simply ask God to bless her."  

     After much discussion concerning this new approach Ellen prayed the following prayer: 

Lord, I know it is Your will that we should be happier in our home than we have been. I know that condition cannot happen while even one of us remains unhappy.  Bless Auntie now in whatever way she needs.  Please give her the gift of happiness.  Help the children to love and respect her -- and show me how I can be kinder to her.  Amen. 

     Catherine wrote that within a week, the atmosphere in the home had completely changed. Why did such a prayer work? Why did Ellen's other prayers fail?  When Ellen worked on her inner world, everyone in her outer world was given cues that they could change as well.  When we are free from frustration, our face, indeed our entire body posture, reflects a much different spirit.  It is this spirit which can change others in our environment. 

     We forget that Jesus said, "In the world you are always going to experience troubles, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."  He knew how to do this. He had learned that we do not need to be transformed by others who may know nothing about what drives them from within their inner worlds.   Jesus was always standing on higher ground and that is what makes Jesus so attractive.       

     During Lent, we study Jesus as a man of sorrows, a person who was acquainted with grief.  Was that true? Yes, of course.  But an attitude of gloom would have never attracted children as Jesus did.  A troubled spirit would never have succeeded in inviting rugged fisherman to become his disciples.  A person saddened about the conditions of the world could never have inspired the sick to get up and walk.  He was well informed about the power of our inner world to enhance the quality of our lives and world. 

     Relegating matters of spirit to religion can be dangerous to everyone's health.  When the inner world of uninformed people can dramatically affect our lives, we can better understand why Jesus sent his followers to become teachers.  

     The early Church, however, turned his request into a religion and religions typically exclude those whose values differ.  Generally people cannot produce the fruits of their inner world until they have been taught how to do so.  We are going to experience different values as long as people continue to look for life's answers in everything from pills to ideologies.    

     Our world will remain as it is until more people become informed about the spiritual dimension of life that so many ignore.  We have much work to do.  The security of our world depends on our success.  God will not do this for us.  God gave us the tools.  It was Jesus who invited his listeners to go into the world and use them.  They did.  Now it is our turn. 


    Thank you, God, for being able to touch us with love, mercy and peace.  We thank you for giving us the Christ, who has become the light on our path and a signpost directing our destiny.  We are grateful that you continue to nurture us in spite of the times we do not use good judgment.  There are moments when we are faced with rapid change and we grasp at stability and ignore the possibilities.  We find it easier to assign blame than to examine the choices we have made.  O God, lift the shadows from our eyes that we might see more clearly.  Deepen our desire to seek understanding that we might fully live.  Amen.


    Loving God, we thank you for sensing our desires long before we use our thoughts.  We thank you that you have filled our lives with the treasure of being able to experience peace, hope, patience and joy.  When our lives experience such qualities of spirit every day, turning the other cheek is not a chore, remaining flexible in challenging circumstances is not difficult and being creative in our thinking comes naturally.  When our minds are not burdened or cluttered with conflicts and worries, we radiate all the qualities Jesus told us were possible.

    Lead us during these Lenten days to learn how Jesus navigated through waters that were storm swept.  Allow us to experience his stillness of spirit when his detractors challenged him publicly.  Guide us to learn how to remain at peace when we are faced with others who have not learned many of the values we display. In every way Jesus modeled his ability for us and then invited us to follow him. 

    In all that we do, may our lives serve to make you visible.  Even when we may not notice it, may others learn how you empower life when they see it displayed in us.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .