"Wanting To Learn Is Key"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - March 9, 2003
Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 15:1-10
process of learning new information happens to us every day. We use
what we have learned in our decision making, our relationships and
our work environment. Think how much easier life would become if
we remembered that we are students who one day will become highly
effective, skilled human beings. Without this awareness, we
remain mere recipients of what happens to us.
For example, when a teenaged boy listens as his steady girlfriend tells him that she would like to date other boys, he is learning that relationships can change. When a well-liked, highly skilled employee in a Federal agency gets bumped by someone who has more years of service, she is learning that skills are often secondary to seniority. When a mom and dad decide that they no longer wish to live together, their children learn that life can be confusing. No one asks for such experiences to come, but they come nevertheless. We often agonize about life if there is no one coaching us on what such experiences can mean.
many of us were younger, we learned that, "Sticks and stones may
break my bones but words will never hurt me." The problem with such
wisdom is that it only applies to those who have learned a
particular skill. Words do hurt us. For those of us who
have not learned how to rise above the insensitivities of other
people, words can profoundly affect the spirit by which we live.
Indeed, they can hold us prisoner for months and even years.
How many of us are truly eager to learn new skills? Of course, we all say, "Yes! Absolutely! Who would not want to learn new skills?" Even though we read, study and join churches, often we find ourselves spinning our wheels when it comes to developing new habits, better ways of communicating and more wholesome attitudes toward the "old crimes" others appear to commit against us.
While Lois and I were in Arizona, we were in daily contact with a number of seniors. Each family unit had several shoe boxes filled with bottles of natural remedies for blood pressure regulation, cholesterol, arthritis and a host of maladies we associate with aging. We were probably looking at hundreds of dollars worth of bottled promises. Also we were surrounded with magazines filled with the latest health tips about green tea, garlic and esoteric sounding herbs grown in China, India and Tibet.
sets of our parents and so many others like them have become
apostles of over-the-counter life-extenders. Lois and I heard more
about controlling our intake of carbohydrates and about the cancer
fighting properties found in the skin of tomatoes and grapes than we
care to admit. However, last Sunday we went to brunch at a place
called The Old Country Buffet. How much we had learned was
about to be tested!
For $6.50 you could eat anything you have ever conceived of having for brunch. The freshly baked sticky buns and cinnamon rolls filled the air with aromas that would shatter the dining disciplines of even the most resolute disciples of healthy eating habits. The line of patrons eager to eat their weight in food extended into the parking lot.
we were eating brunch, the staff of the restaurant began their
transition into the dinner menu. The eggs, Belgian waffles, sausage
and bacon surrendered to sliced ham , prime rib, real mashed
potatoes and gravy. In checking with the waitress, we learned that
customers could stay at their table all day if they wanted to
without paying another cent. Needless to say, we left the
restaurant in the early afternoon.
quickly we discover that learning all kinds of information has
little value if we cannot apply it during our most vulnerable
moments. If, however, we could understand that everything that
can produce pain and pleasure comes to us for a wonderful reason, we
might become more aware of how God guides us toward higher levels of
awareness, consciousness and fulfillment.
15 is entitled, What God Requires. It begins with the
question, "Lord, who may enter your Temple?" The verses that follow
are like a menu of behaviors and attitudes that will better equip
people to be in fellowship with God. Similarly the Beatitudes of
Jesus offer the same kind of spiritual flow chart of attitudes as
that of the Psalmist. Jesus said, "Happy are those whose greatest
desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully."
Perhaps the key question that each of us could ask ourselves during our Lenten season is this, "How can we understand every episode of life as an invitation for growth?" How do we learn this? We can meditate each morning. We can study and memorize Scripture. We can pray without ceasing. We can be faithful in our responsibilities to our church. Will such activities help us accomplish the goal we seek?
we recognize this invitation for growth when we are verbally
insulted, abandoned, betrayed or deceived? Are we equally aware of
this opportunity when we are facing more food than anyone could
possibly eat for $6.50, or when we are asked to dance by the
Homecoming Queen, or when someone leaves us an inheritance of a
2-acre parcel of real estate on Martha's Vineyard?
must always keep in mind that our feelings are not perfect
indicators of what is happening to us. Only the student who
really wants to learn how to reveal their inner light will sort
through the pieces of each experience so that their spirit will
shine- not get even, not demand justice, not clamor for a re-vote,
not gloat over our superiority or good fortune but shine. This
means learning how to allow our divinity to show.
cannot have information in our heads and call ourselves "informed."
There are many brilliant people in our world who do not know how to
reveal peace, harmony and self-control. They may not know how to
understanding someone's hurt feelings or enjoy the pleasures that
come from generosity. It is one thing to know about such things
and quite another to reveal them.
The retirees who live next to Lois' parents in Arizona loaned me several power tools for a project my mother-in-law had asked me to do. During the course of our conversation, they told me an incredible story.
The couple had sold their home in another state and put their furnishings into a local storage facility until they could make other arrangements. Within a matter of days, a truck entered the storage area, thieves broke into their bins and took their belongings. These individuals got into the couple's file cabinets, stole their identities, and were in the process of emptying their accounts and extending their credit card debt when an observant employee at the bank alerted the couple.
They have good reason to suspect that the theft was an inside job, but there were no witnesses, no video tape and little they could do but file a police report. The things that adequate insurance will not replace are memories, keepsakes and antiques that were mom and dad's.
For a while they were very bitter. Then they realized that not only had the thieves stolen their belongings, but they had succeeded in stealing something over which the couple still had control -- their minds, hearts and spirits. The woman said, "Of course, we were very saddened by this experience. When we die, we were going to leave everything behind anyway. With help from the thieves, we just did that a little earlier than we had planned." After saying that she smiled. I told her that she was in possession of the pearl of great price. What they knew served them during a very fragile moment and it showed.
us know that we live in very challenging times. We have successfully
gotten through the ordeal of two snipers who were predatory in their
world view. There have been the code orange days where the
sounds of jet aircraft flying over head may have heightened our
anxiety. Our President talks about disarming Iraq one way or
another. Many of us are connected to people whose life-paths have
been diverted by military obligations. The Psalmist wrote, "Lord,
who may enter your Temple?" and the menu of attitudes follows.
Fellowship with God is not a given to us. To experience that, we
must first clean up a lot of our thought patterns.
The moment we awaken each morning, events begin to happen to us. Husbands are hogging the bathroom, children are irritable, we cannot find the right pair of shoes, the car battery is dead -- if you can name it, it will happen. This is just the beginning of our day.
When we become aware that our experiences are nothing more than a
parade of events prodding, encouraging and cheering us on to pick up
heavier spiritual weights, we have successfully learned how
to become eager students. When we are ready, we plunge into
life with one objective -- to create a better version of ourselves
than we were the day before. This is another definition of what it
means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Such changes are not
automatic simply because we hold certain beliefs. They appear when
we choose to let what we know show.
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus "overturned the tables of the
moneychangers and scattered their coins; and he ordered those who
sold the pigeons, 'Take them out of here! Stop making my Father's
house a marketplace!'" (John 2:15) There is no mention of him using
such violent behavior again. He changed and moved on to more loving
steadily watch Jesus mature in spirit until he arrived at a place
where he said, "I have come into the world as light, so that
everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness. If
people hear my message and do not choose to believe it, I will not
judge them. I have not come to judge the world, but to save it."
This is true for all of us. We live in a world where not everyone can see the light of God's Temple. Not everyone knows how or wants to be in fellowship with God. As we have heard before, "If our only tool is a hammer, we will tend to see every problem as a nail." God has equipped us with an infinite number of tools that are far more creative to use than the violence that comes from a hammer.
This Lenten season, let us spend time finding them and move beyond the tools we have used for years. Perhaps on Easter morning we, too, may experience a resurrection of our spirits. Let us allow this Lenten season to better prepare us for the rest of our lives.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Eternal God, how
grateful we are that you love us. We are aware of our confusion over
what is important in our lives. We often are drawn to areas that appear
to add to our security and physical comforts. Our relationships are
often defined by how others respond to us. We remain uncertain how our
decisions and judgments create the experiences we have. We pray that
during this Lenten season, each of us might examine our lives more
honestly. Encourage us to make our decisions more thoughtfully. As we
strive to be more peaceful in our attitudes, we thank you for sending
Jesus to be our guide and friend. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Merciful and loving God, during these Lenten days we are glad that we can experience our walk together. We look eagerly for the winds of inspiration to give flight to our wings, and for the stream of spirit to enable more warmth and kindness to become part of the spirit by which we live.
As we reflect on
this past week, we remember with gratitude the times when we checked our
anger and replaced it with patience. We remember a moment when we gave
time to listen to the thoughts of another. We thank you for the
privilege of giving before being asked, of being caring in the presence
of another's frustration, and of carrying our burdens with peace as we
realize that frequently they are much lighter than those others must
We thank you for the quality of faith that has enabled us to take risks. We thank you for experiences that have allowed us to broaden our horizons. We thank you for the voice of conscience that has called us back when we have found ourselves entering circumstances of compromise.
Continue, O God, to
challenge us with life's many alternatives while we attempt to walk
peacefully in a world where so many are crying out for a community where
acceptance, sharing and love abound. We pray these thoughts through the
spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .