"Trust God's Logic"

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

Psalm 19; I Corinthians 1:18-25 

     For our third Sunday in Lent we are going to be discussing one of the most challenging transitions in thinking that human beings have to make.  The Apostle Paul appeared to be struggling with this very challenge when he wrote the words of our lesson today.  He found himself caught between the realities of his world and the reality God created.  As we explore his words this morning, we will soon discover that this is our struggle as well.  

     In verse 21 Paul wrote, "For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their understanding." Yet several verses later Paul told his readers what God was thinking, "By means of a message of 'foolishness' God decided to save only those who believe."  His own words betray his confusion.  How could Paul tell what God had decided, if it were impossible to know God's mind? 

     The heart of Paul's struggle is a theme that drives to the core of our confusion about America's struggle with Iraq, the struggles that take place in our relationships, or our personal struggles with our own identity while living in a world where right and wrong appear to change places when we want our particular point of view to be correct. 

     Paul was caught between these two worlds.  In his world, Roman soldiers had killed a man whom he believed was the Son of God.  In the spiritual world of his faith, Paul realized that God must have permitted this event to happen.  Paul's dilemma was, "How could God have allowed such an ugly, defeating murder to occur?"  During the Holocaust, the Jews asked the same question.  "Where was God during the terror and horror?" 

     All of us are faced with having to answer this question ourselves.  We become confused. We look to our faith to give us guidance or at least some kind of divine confirmation or affirmation that we are reflecting God's love.  Yet the disciples of Jesus had their faith devastated when the Master whom they believed had the power of God with him and in him was crucified like a criminal who had committed a capital offense against Rome. 

     Do we ever find ourselves questioning our faith?  When certain events happen in our lives, do we find ourselves wondering what God has in mind?  Just like Paul, many of us find ourselves caught between the world of our physical experience and the world of our dreams, hopes and expectations that we call, "Heaven."  This is a very difficult crossroads. 

     Many years ago, a new born named Aaron stopped gaining weight.  A few months later the child's hair began to fall out.  At first, the boy's pediatrician said that he would probably be a dwarf, but all his vital signs and physical indicators appeared normal.  The child's health did not improve.  They sought a second opinion after which Aaron's parents received news that was beyond their comprehension.

     Aaron had a condition called Progeria.  This is a rare disease that causes the body to accelerate the aging process.  Aaron never grew taller than three feet.  Hair did not form on any part of his body.  The boy died in his early teens of symptoms associated with old age. He looked like a little old man. 

     Aaron's father is a Rabbi who found himself doubting God's presence.  He could not comprehend the unfairness and the lack of justice of a disease that would rob an innocent child of the rest of his life. He stood torn between the world his senses understood and the world he knew was governed by a loving God. He struggled with himself for a year and a half.  Then he realized that his preoccupation with his son's death had infiltrated his mind and taken up residence there.

     The Rabbi began to realize that God never promised us a life free from pain and disappointment.  He reasoned that God would never cause anything that is debilitating, devastating or incomprehensible.  As his thinking slowly changed, he began to notice the community of supporters that surrounded him. This was something he had not noticed during his preoccupation.  He learned that when he carried his loss peacefully, allowing his faith to show, he enabled others to shoulder their struggles with equal grace.

     From the death of his son, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book that has inspired millions of people to manage their lives more creatively when circumstances took them into the realm of the shadows.  Many of you have read his book. It is a book worth studying.  It is called, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Of his experience, Rabbi Kushner wrote,

I think of Aaron and all that his life has taught me, and I realize how much I have gained.  By reframing my experience, I am now at peace with God and with myself. Yesterday's experience of Aaron's loss seems less painful.  Today I am not afraid of tomorrow.

     In recent days we have seen people stretched to the point of exhaustion with their frustrations over a number of life's current events. When we hold others responsible for how we feel, we often assume the characteristics that we resent in them.  Our cause may appear more just and noble, but our behavior and attitudes are often very similar to the people whom we believe inspired our anger. 

     Most of us followed the story of Dwight Watson who last week held hostage a portion of the District.  The headlines in Thursday's Washington Post read, "Unhappy Man Grabs the Spotlight."  His self proclaimed mission was to protest the government's control of tobacco subsidies and the damage such policies have caused farmers like himself.  He wanted national attention and he got it.  He could have grown another crop, but instead he came here to protest even though that meant he would disrupt the lives of others.

     We have watched people angry about the war with Iraq join hands to ventilate their frustration.  In their attempt to send a message to the Bush Administration a small number of them blocked the flow of traffic during the most vulnerable part of the day -- rush hour.  Because they  were singing, praying and carrying candles, their actions did not make their cause endearing to those whose freedoms they were not violating.

     Paul  began to understand that when people choose sides during the various dramas that play on the world's stage, they can easily lose their footing in the world Jesus invited them to enter.   Paul  wrote, "For what seems to be God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God's weakness is stronger than human strength." (I Corinthians 1:25)  Given this understanding of Paul, what is God's logic?   Where do we receive our guidance?  Does it come through the filters of our feelings, our values, our intellect, or all of the above?

     A missionary of another day was Dr. E. Stanley Jones.  While teaching a group of people who were eager to enter the mission field, he told the following story. A Methodist teacher had become hopelessly lost in the African bush country.  He saw nothing but dense jungle.  Only now and then did he find clearings where it was obvious that animals slept at night.  He stumbled through the thick foliage until he discovered a hut. He explained to the family who lived there that he was lost and that he needed to find his way to the mission station.

     It so happened that the man knew the way and graciously consented to be his guide. They hacked their way through the jungle for more than an hour.  During one of their rest periods, the missionary looked around. A sense of doom crept over him.  He said, "Are you sure that this is the way?  There is no path nor markers."  The African looked at him with an understanding smile and said, "Bwana, in this part of the world there is no path.  I am the path."

     Dr. Jones later made the point that in this world there is no visible path.  We may not find the validation we seek that our path is correct. We must trust that the way Jesus taught will guide us correctly.  Sometimes when we follow, our responses make absolutely no sense within our circumstances. This is why Paul wrote that God appears to look "foolish" and "weak" to those who do not know.  Our senses pull us one way while Jesus invites us to take a path far less traveled.

     In the reality God created, there are no armies, no protest marchers, no weapons of any kind, no issues that require debate, no labels, no fault finding or excuse making, no one lords it over another, no rebellions, and no discontent over who is wealthy and who is not.  Such issues are only here and they have been cycling through human experience for thousands of years.  Every generation believes that these issues are new to them.  They are not.

     Once again Paul wrote, "For what seems to be God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God's weakness is stronger than human strength."  It may be that humanity is barely out of the starting gates when it comes to its collective understanding of God's world.  Jesus knew that world and he demonstrated his confidence in it while dying.

     If there were a nuclear or biological holocaust where billions of people lost their lives, I have no doubt that God would have something to say to those who survived.  More than likely God's words would sound something like this:

     My children, maybe now you will learn to choose differently. As you have discovered, it does little good to speak of love and peace when you create what does not preserve and enhance the quality of life for all people. It is not your religions, governments, constitutions, or standing armies that guard the quality of your lives, rather it is character, integrity and the authentic desire to care for each other. 

I want you to know that all the people who once lived on the earth are safe when they transitioned from the form that you reverence.  As you once again try to live peacefully together, know that I am always with you.


Try to remember that you will not be able to see me or understand me until you become like me.  Then you will know that we are One.  This, my dear friends, is Heaven. Such a state of mind has always been available to you. It is one decision away.

     We were commissioned by Jesus to go into the world and teach the awareness that Heaven is here, not somewhere else. All we have to do is teach one another how to care for each other.  Such an understanding does not mean that there will soon be an end to wars, to hatred and strife, to the bickering and bitterness in our relationships or to stealing, lying and cheating.  It will only mean, that for more people, the day of recognizing Heaven's presence is that much closer. 

     Without leadership from those who are aware of this truth, the blind will always be leading the blind even when the righteous banner of "truth" hangs from the highest places of our temples.  

     This leap of faith is the most difficult one in life.  It means we must rise above the world we experience with our senses to embrace the world of our highest dreams and hopes.  While this makes no sense, as Paul suggested, and while some people may accuse us of living in denial, this path is the way home.   All we have to do is trust God's logic each time we are challenged and confronted by our own.


     Thank you God for reaching out to all of us.  We come searching for inspiration to be more than we know ourselves to be.  Some of us do not know your Word as we should.  Some of us have not learned how to share a tithe of our money for your work among your people.  Some of us know forgiveness only as a concept.  Some of us do not know what worry communicates about the quality of our faith.  During these Lenten days, inspire us to examine ourselves more thoroughly.  Help each of us to understand that to grow, we must risk our identity to stretch and change.  Heal us of our unspoken desire to remain as we are.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus.  Amen.


     Loving God, we thank you for these moments when for awhile life can be still.  We need to have moments when our minds receive guidance from a source other than what we can perceive with our senses.  Speak to us of your wisdom.  Let us rise above the pictures of war, the pressures of our jobs, our dislike of those whose values differ from our own, and our confusion over which response best reflects your will. 

     Teach us how to still the wind and the waves that rage around us.  Guide us how best to be a light that is set on a hill.  Mold us after the likeness of your spirit so that others may understand that there is a world very different from the one in which we live.  Who will know of its existence unless we show them?  Who will know how to live in it unless we first teach them as our Master taught us? 

     May we carry ourselves with peace when others cannot.  May we speak softly while others are shouting.  May we reflect a gentle spirit when the passions of others are raging.  May we seek a wisdom greater than choosing sides and raising our truth as we would a sword.  May we guide others to discover the source of joy, peace and happiness.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .