"True Substance Remains Invisible"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 5, 2002
Acts 17:22-31; John 14:15-21
Two businessmen were
attending a convention in northern California. They decided one
afternoon to hike through Sequoia National Forest. They walked
silently for quite some time. Finally one of them commented to his
colleague, "It is hard to believe that these trees were small
seedlings when Jesus walked the earth nearly 2,000 years ago." His
friend responded, "Yes, that is hard to imagine. I was thinking how
many redwood decks we could build if we harvested all this timber."
Some unseen aspect within
these two men provided the information which defined how they would
respond. No one escapes this process. We make our choices through
an invisible chain of command that can make us sensitive and
engaging or self-absorbed and calculating.
In John's Gospel Jesus
offered help to his listeners in dealing with life's many
challenges. He said, "The Holy Spirit will reveal the truth about
God." Then he added this, "The people of the world cannot
understand God's Spirit because it is not visible to them. But you
know God because I have told you that God's Spirit remains with you
and is in you." Jesus was giving them an orientation to life
during a time when many of his people had been training their
responses through obedience to the Hebrew Law.
Life is always changing.
Sometimes it changes very dramatically. A loved one can suddenly be
swept from our lives when we believed we would be spending the rest
of our lives with them. Who could have been prepared for the class
5 tornado that recently struck La Plata, Maryland? Change for an
entire community was swift and devastating. People of faith could
have said, "Where was God? How could such a thing happen? Why did
this happen to us?"
In response God might say
something like this:
Stop placing value in elements of the physical world. They will always bring disappointment if you want them to remain permanent. They have no permanence. Teach yourselves to expect change. Look for it. Use the changes in your experience to expand your abilities and skills. You will not recognize and use creatively what I have given you if your outer world never challenged you to grow beyond where you are today.
There is no easy way to climb a
ladder except to climb it. We can remain on the lower rungs for as long
as we desire. We can even curse the ladder and feel badly that the
climb appears so difficult, but we will not succeed without negotiating
each step one rung at a time. The climb means facing what we fear.
It means being completely honest with who we are and where we are in our
growth. It means being willing to let go of something we want, working
through our sadness and grief while knowing that healing awaits.
We need to remember that God will not violate our free will. If we insist on responding in a way that does not serve us, God willingly allows us to thrash about just as children often do when they want something they cannot have. Some of us do this to ourselves. No one is forcing us to worry, to stay awake at night, or to take medication to curb our stress. Yet we often do such things.
Jesus was talking about an unseen
force, the understanding of which many in the world will miss. It has
the power to mold our consciousness, shape our thoughts and will create
who we become. Turning uncertainties over to God means letting go of
them. Frequently when we do this, how to respond becomes clearer.
Caught in the throes of his own decision making, Jesus said, "Not my
will but thine be done." He made his decision and let go. We know the
Imagine the difference such a
response would have made in the life of 19-year-old Robert Steinhaeuser
last week. Twelve teachers and four others would be alive today had he
realized that his school's rejection letter was an open door to attend
classes somewhere else. Instead, he engaged in a murderous rampage of
revenge which culminated by taking his life. The Mayor of Erfurt,
Germany said, "This is a terrible day for us! What happened here is
When we allow justice to
remain with God as we follow a path which is missed by so many in the
world, the power behind creation will extend through us. Who would
have imagined an empty tomb coming from a crucifixion? Absolutely no
one. Yet it happened. That is precisely the point. In the moment of
acute uncertainty or unexpected change, we cannot see the possibilities
that are open to God.
Invisible feelings and
perceptions will motivate us to respond and act whether we like the
process or not. By trusting the source of life itself, we can
extend God's presence. When life appears unfair, unjust, and
callous, immediately release such invisible thoughts and watch what God
creates. When we allow it, God's light and love shines through
Such power is inside of all of us whether we are believers or not. We have to choose either to use it, or to complain, blame and feel sorry for ourselves when life takes us where we may not want to go. We must make that choice. Only one choice, however, allows us to remain as a shining light in the midst of darkness. Jesus came here to teach us how to do that. Are we listening? Are we willing to take the risks necessary to allow God to create through us? Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving God, we
come seeking inspiration for our lives. Guide us so we do not forget
our calling to be a guide and teacher for others. Jesus patiently
taught us the art of letting go of our judgments, yet we find the ease
of expressing forgiveness a challenge. There are moments when we give
greater care to our outer appearance than we do to the quality of our
inner thoughts. May we discover every day a greater harmony with you
when we allow our sunshine to brighten the day of the just and the
unjust alike. In all of life's decisions, enable us to seek
alternatives which uplift and embody hope. Lead us to the awareness
that greater confidence comes when we are helping to build a more
wholesome and gentle world. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Merciful God, how hungry we are to
learn and discover more creative ways to live. We come to worship and
open ourselves to your presence. Many times we are blessed by seeing a
new horizon toward which to walk. We leave here knowing who we want to
Yet when we reenter the world, immediately we
are impacted by others who frequently stir our passions. When we
experience the injustice and insensitivity of some people, how often we
become as rigid, callous, and uncaring as those we would love to
Help us, Lord, to learn the art of loving. Only your light drives away darkness. Your justice reflects forgiveness and not revenge. Your justice brings peace and not war. Your justice understands that some of us desire harmony with you while others have not yet made that discovery. Spare us from making decisions about the quality of people's lives so that we might make the way home for everyone very clear and well marked. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .