"What Are We Communicating?"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - June, 2, 2002
Psalm 46: Matthew 7:21-29
In this week's lesson, Jesus spoke a very different message, one that contained a warning. He said, "When the Judgment Day comes, many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord! In your name we spoke God's message; by your name we drove out many demons and performed many miracles!' Then I will say to them, 'I never knew you. Get away from me, you wicked people!'" (Matt.7:22-23)
There were a number of issues that evoked Jesus' strong passion. He did not want his teachings to become another "law code." He wanted people to display the fruits of the spirit because that is authentically who they had become. Equally, he did not care for how some people used words of love while posturing themselves with religious attitudes when clearly their hearts were elsewhere.
The ancient world was filled with religious people. We can remember Jesus mocking them as he described how they enjoyed their long robes as they made their eloquent prayers in the market place. (Mark 12:38f) Jesus cautioned his listeners about such people because they consistently lacked a vital quality in their lives -- an ability to love others. Sometimes love comes in a strange package but for those of us who have learned to recognize this quality in people, its presence is seldom missed.
A story that grew out of the lore surrounding the early stages of World War II featured an OSS demolition expert who had parachuted behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany. He had just destroyed a bridge and was making his way through the forests when he came upon three Roman Catholic nuns and eight orphaned girls.
They told him that they had left Munich a week before and were heading for Innsbruck to the south. They told the American that God had been guiding them. He looked at them with a stone-faced glare that defied description. He told them that God needed to use better maps. He informed them that they were not walking toward Austria's border. They were, in fact, headed northwest toward the location where Hitler was amassing one of his panzer divisions.
He had to make a hasty decision, to travel alone or to become their guide. He made his choice and the adventure started with eight very frightened girls and three nuns who were constantly preaching to him about love and compassion while voicing their concern for his salvation. He just rolled his eyes, acknowledging how even his most carefully laid plans could go astray.
There was one occasion when he made them lie absolutely still as a Nazi patrol was approaching. One of the nuns said, "They won't hurt us. We represent the Church. God will protect us." He threw his body on hers and slapped his hand over her mouth. In soft whispered tones, he said, "With all due respect, Sister, shut-up! If I hear one sound out of you, I will bury you right here! Have I made myself clear?" She said, "Perfectly."
As the story continued to unfold, there were a number of lighter moments between this rugged warrior and the eleven females. He was like Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and John Wayne rolled into one. He swore irreverently while smiling at the innocence and naivete of their faith.
They had left Munich with so few provisions and none of them possessed survival skills. He showed them how to find water and food in the woods. He made the nuns and the girls bathe regularly in the ice cold creeks with his cake of soap. They walked during the night and day, which forced them to demand more of themselves than they thought possible.
The twelve eventually arrived in a German village where the people knew nothing about the armored division forming to the north. They made arrangements for transportation to Austria. Once they crossed the border, the nuns were telling everyone about their adventure of faith. Before they parted ways, one of the nuns reminded their American guide that God had shown up and had provided for them in all ways. God had merely come to them in a different, somewhat unique form, admittedly one they had not been expecting.
We have all known people who could scold us with words that were coarse, insensitive and unrefined, but never once was their love of us in doubt. Most of us can tell the difference between a mean-spirited person and one who has not yet learned how to express love very well. We might never cast someone like this in the role of a religious person but maybe we should.
Once when Jesus was refused
entrance into a Samaritan village, John said, "Lord, do you want us to
call down fire from heaven and destroy them?" (Luke 9:54) John
obviously had some growing to do in the area of facing rejection more
graciously. Jesus said, "No, we are not doing that today" and they went
on to another village.
Love sometimes comes in a form
that we would hardly characterize as being religious.
This was Jesus' point for denouncing those
who wear their religion as some sort of sacred honor, a privilege that
clearly separated them from everyone else. He knew that such
individuals frequently build more walls between people than bridges.
The construction of the new
building that many of us are going to visit after lunch today was
managed by a very interesting man. We called him "Junior." He was no
junior. He was more like a drill instructor that tenderfoot Marines
encounter during basic training. He had a building to build and he
wanted it done correctly. He could throw his clipboard across the room
as he was barking out his disapproval over some decision that had been
made, but today we have a wonderful building as a result.
The point of this message is that we do not have to understand some "correct theology," know the proper words to say, or have our minds around the "right" formula for salvation, before we can do what Jesus' asked. Sometimes the lofty notions we develop have absolutely nothing to do with our ability to care for nuns and orphans, or build a building, or remain kind, considerate and patient with people whose values are clearly different from our own.
The nun had it right; God comes
in different forms. Many of them are not even close to what we
typically associate with being religious. When we feel loved by someone
just as we are, remember that is God's Spirit being reflected.
Not all angels can quote Scripture but they know how to care. This is what Jesus was asking his followers to do long before there was a New Testament and something called, "Christian Theology." Maybe you are such an angel. In our lesson today Jesus was reminding his listeners that in our world this quality of person is needed more than any other kind.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Merciful and ever
present God, each morning our lives awaken to the freshness of a new
day. We are surrounded by many personalities who need to know of your
love. We confess that our slavery to routine often limits our vision.
Our daily list of things to do can blanket our minds. People become
invisible each moment we miss touching them with our words, smiles and
spirit. Lead us, O God, to remember that we are creators not critics.
Reveal through us the power of our faith so that we escape being
consumers of religion. May our identity as followers of Jesus Christ
serve to make your will known in all that we do. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving and ever present God, in the quiet of
these moments, still our spirits with feelings of reverence and peace.
How grateful we are that regardless of who we have been or what we have
done, you love us just as we come. Make known to our spirits the true
meaning of "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who" have
broken their promises to us, who have betrayed our trust, or who have
displayed values very different from our own.
As we come to your table this morning, allow
us to release all thoughts that will never serve us by holding on to
them. If we have burdens and disappointments, may we leave them at the
altar. If we face the uncertainty of surgery, changes that are taking
place in our lives, or apprehensions about new beginnings, enable us to
release such feelings so that our trust in you may begin.
As we broaden our horizons, we would ask that you touch the lives of world leaders with wisdom. Help them to see the obvious. May world peace prevail soon so that all troops on soil not their own may return to the lands and families they left behind. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .