"True Substance Remains Invisible"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 5, 2002

Acts 17:22-31; John 14:15-21

     Have you ever thought about how much our lives are ruled by what we cannot see?  Our responses to daily events depend completely on thoughts and perceptions which have no material substance.  Science tells us that how they develop is still a mysterious process.  Scientists only have theories.  For example, what causes people to respond differently to the same experience?  The answer is, they are not having the same experience.  

     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 result. 

     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 unimaginable." 

     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 us.     

     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.


     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.


    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 become.

    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 correct.

    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 . . .