"Gratitude For Stuff Or Spirit?"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - November 23, 2003

Revelation 1:4b-9; John 18:33-33

     Our lesson for today features the interesting conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate regarding the nature of Jesus' kingdom.  Pilate asked, "Are you the King of the Jews?" The answer that Jesus gave should have answered that question for everyone for all time.  It did not.  Christians throughout the ages have compromised his answer with beliefs of their own. 

     Jesus responded to Pilate, "My kingdom does not belong to this world; if my kingdom belonged to this world my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the authorities.  No, my kingdom does not belong here!"  Not only is his answer abundantly clear, but he stated it to Pilate twice.  Jesus kingdom is not of or about our material world.   Why is there so much confusion about this?  Actually, the history of our co-mingling God's presence, activity, and will with the physical aspects of our lives is quite extensive.

     For example, in the first book of Samuel we remember the story of Hannah who was deeply distressed because she was barren.  One day she was praying so long and fervently at Shiloh that Eli, the priest, thought she was intoxicated.  After some discussion, she convinced Eli that she was not drunk. When Eli learned why she was praying, he said to her, "Go in peace and may the God of Israel grant you what you ask." She rose after the priest's blessing and returned home. (I Samuel 1:9f) 

     Hannah delivered a son and she named him Samuel. She had every right to believe that God had been so convinced by her pleas that her request was granted.  Is that what God did, or was it that Hannah changed her anxious, fear-ridden energy pattern after receiving Eli's blessing, a blessing which perhaps made it easier for her to release her fear allowing her body to conceive?

     Part of the dilemma of believers is learning and knowing how to separate the stuff of the material world from the evolving spirit by which we live.  We want God to be involved in our lives and yet there are moments when we also can feel completely abandoned when God appears absent.  Such a faith response is unfair to ourselves and unfair to God. We so much want God to be what God is not.

     We plead for God to open the right door for a job that best suits our talents, to bring into our lives a person who will love us, to bring peace to our troubled world, and, yes, to bless America.  The question we resist answering is this:  "Does the God who is the same yesterday, today and forever, bless one and not another, bring some couples together and obviously not others, help us find the right house to purchase while allowing others to live in public housing, enable some students to score well on their final examinations without helping others who also long to succeed?" 

     Does it come as a new awareness to us that Jesus answered Pilate twice, "No, my kingdom is not of this world?"  We want it both ways and can cite dozens of miracle stories that suggest that God does lavish material blessings on the faithful. The truth stands, however, that the world from which Jesus came features a very different consciousness from the one that desires the stuff of creature comforts. While in the garden, even Jesus did not receive the answer he would have preferred.  In spite of their faithfulness, all but one disciple died a martyr's death.  

     What, then, should inspire our gratitude during this season of Thanksgiving? Our stuff Is our joy for living based on our abundance of stuff or is it because we have evolved into beings who understand where our true power lies?

     Some of you may have read the story about the woman and her two children who were left behind because her husband was killed as a passenger on the large troop-carrying helicopter that went down in Iraq several weeks ago.  She said,

I could be angry and devastated but that is not where I am right now.  I have been told that such strong emotions are quite normal. Such feelings, however, would not hasten the healing of my broken heart or bring my husband back to us. A huge piece of my life is now gone, but I am so grateful that I have other pieces that are still in tact: my faith and my two children.

     She has the skill of acceptance when she came face to face with a life issue that she could not change.

     There was a family who lost their home in the recent fires in California.  Their pets, their four horses and their livestock all perished.  The husband said,

     When God made us, He built into us flexibility and              resiliency.  Many of us have moments when everything caves in at once. This is one of those times for us.  We have lived here for 15 years and we are not going to allow one fire to wipe out those  memories.  We intend to build again. 

     His power of faith was preventing him from allowing one horrible moment to erase all the wonderful life experiences that had become part of a much larger tapestry. 

     What becomes abundantly clear in these episodes is the control we have over our emotions, thinking and spirit when we, too, understand that our real treasure is not found in the stuff of this world, stuff that thieves can easily break in and steal.  In these two life dramas those thieves were death and fire.  But, thieves can also come in many different forms, e.g. divorce, illness, losses of every kind, low self-esteem, failure, etc.  

     When our identities are tied to the stuff of this world, we have very little.  This is why all terrorists remain spiritual infants.  When they commit suicide in the name of whatever goals they hold, even the little they had has been taken away.  It is impossible for humanity to build a better world on a foundation of hate, fear and violence.  Regardless of how noble they believe their cause to be, they walk in darkness.  They know not what they do.

    This Thanksgiving let us remember with gratitude that we can change our world and our circumstances by changing our attitude about them. Jesus brought to the earth the awareness of a world we cannot see. In that sense he is our king. We only know the results of living in his kingdom when we experience the reality of what Jesus taught.  

     When we bring into our life's circumstances kindness, laughter and joy as well as values that are timeless, we can be that eternal flame that burns brightly in tornado winds. We can be the leaven that causes the entire batch of dough to rise.  These are the things that remain, even when all else is stripped away from us.  These are the spiritual treasures that no thief can break in and steal.  


     Loving God, every year we approach the season of Thanksgiving with reflective hearts and minds.  We are led to recall the new frontiers that greeted those seeking religious freedom.  We remember the meal shared between the residents of America and the pilgrims.  We recall the harsh winter, the death and disease that stalked the early colonists perhaps causing them to doubt why they ever left the comforts they once knew. 

     Each of us always experience stretch marks on our consciousness when we try what we have never done, when we take challenging steps of faith knowing it is easier to stay with the responses of our youth or when we experience the pain of not having the skills to cope with what is now confronting us.  O God, thank you for the life and teachings of Jesus, whose testimony about another world inspires us to live more confidently in a realm that fills our physical senses.  Thank you for the timeless values he pointed to.  Thank you for what happens to us when we have the courage to follow him. 

     Just as the early travelers to these shores had their successes and failures, so do we.  Yet we persevere, knowing that your will is being done in ways we cannot see.  May we always remain humble as your spirit pours through us into a world that needs light and understanding.  We pray these thoughts of gratitude through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .