"Trust God's Logic"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - March 23, 2003
Psalm 19; I Corinthians 1:18-25
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
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
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
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
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.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
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.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
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
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 . . .