"The Intrigue Of Two Paths"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - June 1, 2003
Psalm 1; I John 5:9-13
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
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,
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
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.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
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
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
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.