"When Life Is Out Of This World"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 10, 2002
Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17: 1-9
At first the disciples were
enthusiastic. Then when they heard a voice coming from the mist
that had descended, they became so fearful that they threw
themselves face down on the ground. Jesus, however, treated the
event as though nothing extraordinary had happened. Could it be
that Jesus was so accustomed to such experiences that his hands-on
knowledge of such events made him immune to what startled the
This experience represents the mystical side of life, a side that is rarely discussed except around Easter. Yet as we shall learn, the mystical side of our lives is what helps us rise above the often chaotic whirlwind of experiences that we call life. Once we understand this aspect of ourselves and develop it more keenly, we will never be satisfied again with anything less. Let me give you an example.
Jamie Penshaw was a teenager
whose identity had not yet developed creative patterns. His parents
constantly struggled to communicate to him. He had the ability to
look at them with his expressionless face while receiving their
words as meaningless nonsense. No one was going to tell him what to
do, when he could come and go, or with whom he could associate.
With words that had a swagger to them he would say to his parents,
"These are my friends and there isn't anything you can do about it."
His attitude changed 180 degrees in a matter of two seconds.
Jamie and his friends had
been drinking and now they were driving. The volume of the car's
enhanced stereo speaker system was turned to a level that was beyond
the capabilities of the human ear to relay meaningful music patterns
to the brain. The powerful bass bombarded their bodies with shock
waves of sound.
Their world of "music" had so
encapsulated them that they could not hear the siren of the
ambulance that was fast approaching the next intersection on its way
to an emergency. The boys ran through the traffic light just as it
turned red and the two vehicles collided sending the car into a
tree. The accident took only two seconds. The four boys died
The paramedics rushed to the car while the driver radioed their situation to the dispatcher. Jamie's heart had stopped and he was not breathing. He was the only boy wearing a seat belt and he had fortunately chosen to sit in the back seat along with a large cooler filled with beer. They believed there was a chance that they might be able to save him. The bodies of the others were too severely damaged.
They carefully removed Jamie from
the vehicle as precious seconds slipped away. They had a window of 4
minutes to attempt their rescue. What no one knew at the time was that
Jamie was standing by the ambulance watching and listening to everything
that was happening.
He stood transfixed as two women
cut the clothing away from the chest area of his body and prepared to
use their defibrillator. He did not know how or why this was happening
but it was. He heard one medic begin to cry as she sobbed, "Why do these
kids do this to themselves? What is it they are trying to prove?"
Jamie observed his own body
writhe from the shock. There was no response. The paddles were applied
again and a second shock was delivered. Miraculously, his heart began to
beat. Next his breathing was restored. He heard the other tech begin to
coach him, "Hot Dog! Come on, baby, you can do this! Come on! Stay
with us!" Jamie felt himself floating toward his body and that was the
last scene he would remember.
When he regained consciousness in
the hospital he said, " Mom and Dad, I am so sorry for everything. I
need to tell you something very strange that happened to me. I know my
friends are dead. I saw their bodies. I saw everything that happened
after we crashed." He told them the entire story. The three of them
hugged and cried together for the first time in many years. Jamie
Penshaw had been transformed in a single instant by a mystical
experience. For those of us who believe that we cannot change our
lives, think of the implications of those two seconds.
Today Jamie is a high school
teacher. He still carries the scar where surgeons removed his spleen.
He is trying to make a difference in the lives of his students, many of
whom are right where he was. Each academic term he tells his students
that before the end of their semester they are going to meet a part of
themselves that they may not know.
I have often wished all of us
could have such a life-transforming experience. Jamie Penshaw
described his change of mind this way, "It was as though someone removed
my self-indulgent, self-absorbed, no-one-can-tell-me-anything attitude,
and replaced it with an imagination that was filled with wonder and
excitement." He had been touched by his own infinite nature and it
changed how he would view the rest of his life.
What made the experience of
Peter, James and John different from Jamie's was that the three
disciples saw figures that they believed to be Moses and Elijah. Jamie
experienced himself as alive once he left his body. He returned to
consciousness with accurate information he could not have possibly
known. Is this a mysterious one-of-a-kind experience or is this an
aspect of life that is quite normal, one that will eventually happen to
all of us?
What is missing from many of our lives is the awareness that we are angels wrapped in a physical cocoon. Jamie now knows this truth and it changed him. He could no longer go back to whom he was or engage in the activities that had defined him much differently. What about us?
We have the Ten Commandments. We have the
teachings of Jesus. We have lots of theological concepts. Some we
agree with and others we do not. We can read the Gospel record and
interpret it very differently. None of the laws, teachings or stories
has any power to change the direction of our lives. People could have
preached to Jamie for years and never penetrated his awareness with
their insights. He did not care.
Jamie did not have any understanding of God. He had no defined religious beliefs. It was not until he stepped out of his body that he became aware that something out of this world was at work in his life. That "something" got his attention. That "something" changed forever how he would conduct himself from that moment on.
What is so easy to do with today's lessons or with stories like Jamie's is to think, "These are not my story. Such things are not part of my experience." And that is precisely my point. The mystical side of our lives, that part of us that is out of this world, in so many cases is completely undeveloped. How can we act like angelic beings if we have never been made aware that that is who we are?
Jamie was most fortunate. Once
he experienced a rare mystical moment that few of us are afforded the
opportunity to have, he understood something grand and wonderful. With
his and so many other stories just like it, we might be open to an
alternative reality that life is out of this world. We came into this
world through the birth canal of a woman, we stay a while and then we
leave. It is the one experience everyone has in common. Are we open to
the possibility that we are more than what our senses tell us?
Jesus once said, "Where your
treasure is, there will your hearts be also." Jesus spent his days in
ministry trying to breathe meaning and purpose into our lives by sharing
from his world, a world where we must first leave our physical forms
before we experience it.
When we pay attention to Jesus' message, our constantly changing physical bodies and experiences no longer define the timeless angel in us. When we understand that our lives are out of this world, all other experiences can be seen as being illusions. Just like it did for Jamie, everything will change for us as well. When life experience and worldview is broadened, we will have hold of what can never die. It is from this orientation to life that we can change the world.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Merciful and loving God, we cannot live
through a single day without sensing the joys of our world. We have
discovered that when we are eager to learn, understanding comes. Yet we
confess that too often routine ways of thinking block new insights.
Change frequently makes us hesitant and uncertain. When life is not the
way we want it to be, we find it easy to assign blame. When we cannot
communicate, we seldom look at ourselves for the reason why. As we
approach Lent, rekindle our desire to stretch in the areas of our
weakness. Help us learn that our greatest moments come when we
encourage others along the way. May we sense that what we give away, we
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Our lives experience so much confusion, O
God, and we are grateful that we have you to help us make sense of it.
We are not good communicators with each other. Our feelings can become
easily hurt by trivia. We hold on to the unkind words of others and
personalize them as though they were spears that found their mark. How
we wish we could develop some form of amnesia, so that all unpleasant
memories would fade as though they never happened.
Guide us everyday to surrender our
experiences to Jesus Christ. He warned us about the judgments we make.
He reminded us that our judgments describe who we are and have little to
do with those that surround us. Then he gave us the cleanser he called
"forgiveness" that has the power to wash everything away. Help us to
let go of all the baggage we seem destined to carry.
Guide our thoughts away from our frequent preoccupation with our personal, inner world so that we might lift up those still trying to find healing and peace in Afghanistan, those who face conflict in Zimbabwe, those who strive for wealth by stealing from the poorest of the poor, and those who believe that terrorism is their court of last resort. Lead us to a higher resolve, O God, to build community where love can thrive even in a climate of diversity. We pray that we can accomplish your will through the spirit of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .