"A Judge Is Coming"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 7, 2003
Luke 1:68-79; Malachi 3:1-4
In the last book of the
Hebrew Bible, Malachi described quite vividly that God would soon be
sending a messenger who would come in the form of a judge. He
wrote, "He will be like strong soap, like a fire that refines
metal." After these strong, descriptive metaphors, Malachi
indicated the purpose for the messenger's coming. "He will come to
judge like one who refines and purifies silver and gold." The
mission and purpose for this judge's arrival is to bring out the
best qualities in people.
Years ago when Vince
Lombardi was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, he gave a
unique talk at half time to his team who had been playing
miserably. He stood in their midst and said, "Gentlemen. This is a
football. The object of the game is to move this ball into our
opponent’s real estate and cross the goal line with it. When we do
that we score 6 points. We can only accomplish this when we work
together as a team!! Is everyone with me so far?!!!" The rest of
his little half-time chat with the boys would not be appropriate to
recite from a pulpit.
Lombardi was known for his
skill at motivating his players. He also did not mince words when
it came to defining personal weaknesses, team failures and poor
attitudes. He did not worry if his words might traumatize someone
nor did he care what his players thought about him. His men had a
choice. They could either execute well while on the playing field
or they would not remain in the game. Malachi wrote, "He will come
to judge like one who refines and purifies silver and gold."
As we enter the second
week of Advent, I want us to examine the kind of judge Jesus turned
out to be. He taught highly specific rules of spirit, rules
that had consequences that went beyond life as we know it in our
physical form. Contrary to some Christian teachings, these rules
apply to everyone on the planet regardless of what they believe.
For example, when people have their feelings hurt and they smolder with a grudge, the consequences of such an energy pattern are just as disastrous for atheists as they are for faithful believers. When a person lives a manipulative, deceptive and conniving life style, the effect on their spirit is just as profound for a Buddhist as it is for an agnostic. Beliefs only sharpen a person's motivation to achieve the goals they have chosen to pursue. The absence of an understanding of God in someone's life, however, does not alter or diminish the consequences when these timeless rules of spirit are violated.
Imagine Jesus standing in
the midst of his listeners and saying, "People, it is your life.
Use your creative energy constantly when you are expressing your
thoughts, feelings and deeds. Succeeding at this will enhance your
health, your relationships, your self-esteem, your skill levels,
your consciousness of God and your flexibility when you find
yourselves in the midst of unanticipated change. It is your
Walking this path gives us
the power to be kind, humble, forgiving, tolerant, enthusiastic,
self-starting, supportive and faithful to our responsibilities. When
we carry ourselves with these qualities of spirit, the Judge has
refined our "silver and gold" so that now it is visible to others.
We need to polish our stones in such a way that when people approach
us they will see a reflection of what is possible for them.
Not all people choose to
live by the timeless rules of spirit Jesus taught. Some
people clearly pursue goals the results of which must remain behind
when they leave their bodies at death. Again, their beliefs about
life's purpose and goals are what energizes their pursuit of them.
God, however, is infinitely patient. This is good news!
Such people may believe,
for example, that the more toys they acquire, the more
confident they will be. They may believe that the more intimate
partners they have, the more they will experience being alive and
fulfilled. They may believe that the more they have "the look of
perpetual youth," the more they will be appreciated and loved by the
passing parade of personalities. They may think that the more
connected they are to powerful people, the more deals they will be
able to broker. Vast numbers of people thrive on achieving such
Not everyone desires to
learn that there is a greater purpose to life than the pleasures and
successes found within our material existence. They find
fulfillment in the classroom rather than from the lessons they came
into it to learn -- something that is very easy to do. They
forsake the substance for the shadow.
When Jesus entered the
world, he reflected and taught what is possible for human beings to
achieve. He instructed his followers on how to live in Heaven now
by following him, or they could remain as many human beings have for
thousands of years -- inspired by what defines their identity from
their pursuits and successes within the external world. Clearly,
not everyone is ready to grasp the truth that life in our world is
about spiritual evolution and nothing else.
As we prepare to draw
ourselves closer to Bethlehem, let us be mindful that a judge did
come into our midst. His judgments about humanity did not come from
a spirit that wanted to punish people because they could not display
qualities of spirit they never learned. Jesus' desire was and is to
refine the silver and gold we have within us. When we follow him,
we do not easily lose our resolve to be angels in the flesh
when confronted by the mixed signals that have and will always come
from our world.
On the cover of our bulletin this morning are these words, "Lead us to the way of salvation." That is exactly what Jesus did. We have to be clear on who we want to be -- someone defined by the world's standards or someone who reflects qualities of spirit that remind others of their own silver and gold. This is a choice we must make every day. How are we making it?
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, for the days of
Advent. The calendar moves us closer and closer to the birth of Christ
regardless of what is happening to us or within our world. Sixty-two
years ago today many Americans were experiencing their second Sunday of
Advent just as we are only to be awakened by news of the unthinkable --
Pearl Harbor had been bombed, an event which would plunge our country
Remembering such a time helps us to
understand our own perspective of your coming into our lives when
circumstances appear so uninviting and ill-prepared. You know how to do
that so masterfully. There was a taxation, a very challenging ride on a
donkey for an unmarried woman who was with child, an inn that had no
room, an unsanitary stable lighted only by the stars -- and yet Jesus
came into the world anyway, a world that did not recognize that
something extraordinary had just happened.
When life is uncertain, clouded and filled with anxious moments, may we understand that you always come to us when life appears the darkest. May we also learn that you frequently come in a form we do not recognize or understand. You come to us disguised as an event, a person, an experience which redirects our lives in ways that we later call miraculous. Thank you for being so close even when our perceptions try to convince us that you stand at a distance. Nurture us now through the loving spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .