"The Intrigue Of Two Paths"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - June 1, 2003

Psalm 1; I John 5:9-13

     Each of us is very familiar with the tug of war that takes place during our decision making.  Do I want to do this or would I prefer to do something else?  As we discussed last week, most of our decisions are made emotionally, a process that can send our lives in countless different directions. We know that sometimes our feelings can lead us into some very unproductive areas.

     With time and an acquired perspective, however, those areas may eventually prove to be the most valuable. They can teach us that we need to choose again.  There are always two paths.  No one ever has to remain stuck where they are in life.  Growth implies that we can never stay where we are.    

     Last week I was listening to a father tell me his concerns regarding his daughter.  He said, "She is doing her best to flunk out of college.  She did beautifully during her freshman year, but as a sophomore, she was diverted from her studies by a boyfriend.  This guy is very high maintenance and she's been pulled into the sticky web of his controlling personality. I am so frustrated with her!" 

     I said to him, "Have you ever thought that she is doing exactly what she wants to do? She may have to lose her identity for awhile before she realizes that there is more to her life than her response to guys.  Besides, she may learn that she wants to date a man who can deliver more than, 'Me, me, me!'"   

     He said, "Yeah, I hear you, but I bargained to pay for only four years of college.  It bothers me that she does not value her education as much as I want her to."  Then he laughed at what he heard himself say.  Rob is a practicing Clinical Psychologist who knows that his daughter's values can only be learned when she is ready to learn them.   

     Lots of families go through some version of this mini-drama.  If we look back over our lives few of us have arrived at the port-of-call toward which we initially sailed.  We all make plenty of mistakes in judgment along the way.  In our love of labeling behaviors, we frequently call such choices "failures" or "personal defeats," but are they?   

     Sometimes our ability to strengthen our identity, values and vocational skills has come from mid-course corrections after we have made some counterproductive decisions. When something does not work, we can choose again.  Yet how do we know which experiences will benefit us and which ones will not?  This is a challenging question and one that is not easily answered.

    In John's first epistle, the author addresses this question. His letter described two paths:  (1)  How life will be lived when we follow Jesus' teachings and  (2) How life will be lived by those who, either by ignorance or by an act of will, choose to find their own way. We can pay attention to a guide or use our own compass.  We can follow our doctor's suggestions or take our own advice.  Essentially these are the same two paths that John described. 

     As life meets us head on, we have to decide, "Do I want to do this or would I prefer to do something else? How do we decide?  In what form do we expect our guidance to come? Many of us can weary ourselves by telling God how we want our lives to look in order for us to be happy. God appears silent when we plead for something that will help us feel more complete. Why do we suppose that is? The answer is that God knows how all of us are made.  The fear that we are incomplete exists only in our thoughts.  Such a reality exists nowhere else.  

     During a recent commencement address the comedian Bill Cosby said, "People say, 'God will find a way.'  But God cannot find a way if we are in the way."  My psychologist friend was not content to allow his daughter to paddle her own canoe. Yet he has absolutely no idea what life-lessons she is in the process of learning.  Even though her grades were poor, this past year may have taught her more life-skills than she could possibly have learned from a professor in a classroom.  

     If we study the thoughts in our lesson today, John provides us with guidance in how to make choices. First, he described the big picture.  He wrote, "God has given us eternal life. . .  "  This aspect of creation does not require our personal beliefs for it to be so.  Eternal life is not a gift or a reward because we believe a certain way, anymore than beliefs are required for the sun to come up on schedule or for the moon to go through its phases each month.  The universe unfolds as it was created to do and we are a part of that creative process.  What is interesting about our beliefs, however, is that they provide us with an orientation toward life. 

     John wrote that this unique focus is critical if we wish to live in harmony with our Creator.  His words describe how one path will enable us to create lives that reflect generosity, kindness, acceptance, faithfulness, honesty, self-control, authenticity and caring -- attitudes, values and qualities that will be welcomed in any environment by anyone.   

     The other path does not give people the same rudder or provide the same road map. Without these tools for guidance, and our hint of the bigger picture, our tendency is to stay close to our comfort zones, self-interest and security needs.  The physical, visible world is all that we know.  Jesus gave instructions on how to navigate in the world of spirit, a world we cannot see.     

     John was telling his readers that those who "have life" are those who no longer have to think about which values will serve them and others.  The line in the sand has already been drawn. That decision has already been made. That anchor has already been thrown into the water. He wrote, "Those who believe in the Son of God have this testimony inscribed within their hearts."

     Imagine what it would be like to show up in every circumstance with responses that reflect,  "I have come among you as one who serves." Or, "Even though there is chaos in the office today, I never worry during times of rapid change." Or, "I cannot solve your problem for you, but I can walk with you as a friend until you do."

     Such spirits walk among us brightening our days, listening to us as we describe our hurts and regrets, turning a deaf ear when we use expletives and a blind eye as we act out our unpolished life-skills. Jesus said, "If you follow me, you will become one of  these."   

     We cannot fail in our choice of paths when we arrive on the scene as "an angel of light." In fact, it is impossible to know failure.  It is never the path we walk that matters, what matters in life is the spirit we bring when we show up on one. 


    As our spirits seek greater growth, how easy it is to take the path of least resistance.  We know the struggles when issues of pleasure confront those of character.  We are no strangers to the attractiveness of compromise.  We know how blinding self-interest is when faced with a decision that will be unpopular with our friends.  Evoke in us, O God, the memory that we are created in your image.  May we carry that awareness into each relationship and circumstance.  Remind us that our lives reflect everything that we believe.  We pray that we will make visible the values that create community, friendship, healing and wholeness.  May your will be done on earth because we are alive in your service.  Amen.


    We have drawn ourselves into your presence, O God, with a deep sense of appreciation for how worship centers our lives around the needs of spirit.  When we come here and open ourselves anew to the healing of your presence, how peaceful we become when we truly do let go of all that makes demands of us.  Somehow you become like a sponge that absorbs our cares and you replace them with encouragement and hope.  You never tire at giving us new ways to define our lives. Your inspiration provides us with fresh insights into our struggles and frustrations.