"What Changes The Chemistry Of Experience"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 17, 2003
Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20
example, people who "suffer" from low self-esteem as teenagers
should not continue to use that as an excuse for justifying their
lack of motivation when they are in their mid-twenties. People who
have experienced the death of a loved one should not continue to
define themselves around that painful episode for the rest of their
lives. People who have difficulty managing their anger should not
defend their response by saying, "It's because I'm Irish or because
I have red hair." We each know our frontiers. How do we move
through and beyond them?
would be the first to say,
If you want to stay where you are for the rest of your life, that's
fine. But God has given you an incredible life filled with talents
and abilities. When you use them, you will bloom in a way that no
one else can. I came to instruct you in the art of living, but if
you want to remain frozen in a particular phase of your growth and
advertise how unfair life is and how sad you are, you can do that.
But that is not why you came to the earth.
these words sound harsh if Jesus directed them toward you? Would
they sound as though he had grown insensitive to your needs? Those
of us who have a tremendous stake in staying the way we are could
easily think so. There is a certain comfort level we have grown
accustomed to by living in our current life-patterns. Change could
threaten that security.
was a chapter in my life when I used to be the Playground Supervisor
every day at lunch time for Cheverly Tuxedo Elementary School. My
experiences with certain children have formed memories that have not
yet faded. Some children have incredible abilities to perceive
beyond many of their counterparts who live in bodies considerably
I met a fifth grader who was wise beyond her years. She had broken her arm and was wearing one of those heavy plaster casts of yesteryear. One day I asked her, "Has the doctor told you when the cast will come off?" She said, "In about a week." I responded, "I'll bet you can hardly wait." She smiled, hesitated and said, "I don't know. As you can see, there is no more room on it for anyone else to sign their name. I'm going to miss the attention this thing has brought to me. Look, I even have the names of four teachers."
Children love to wear big bandages, causing others ask, "What
happened to you?" Here stood this young lady who had a thorough
understanding of how people often use their wounds to gain
recognition. Today, she is probably a psychologist or teaching
at some university helping young adults to move beyond their hurts
which have a strange way of defining the rest of their lives.
Change is frightening to many people. To them life is not the grand adventure that some people talk about. For them risk-taking is not one of their tools for growth. They may have taken the boat across the rapids of uncertainty, but when they reached the other shore they chose to stay in the boat. For too many of us "faith" means the things in which we believe, when what we need is a way of life that trusts God in spite of what life brings.
know our frontiers and are not willing to take the next step, Jesus
Do not try to follow me. You will only be paying lip service to
what I taught. You must be willing to change the way you order your
life and the way you think. You must be prepared to abandon the
world that means security to you for the one I am offering. I want
you to come only when you are ready to risk taking that first step.
There is no other way to grow.
lesson today, Paul provides us with one of the most powerful tools
for changing our behavior, our moods and our attitudes. Paul does
not mince his words. He puts his thoughts right in front of his
confronted many of the excuses people were using for staying exactly
as they are. For example, he wrote, "Be careful how you live,"
"Make good use of every opportunity," "Don't be fools," "Don't get
drunk with wine," "Speak with generous, accepting words." His crown
jewel came with these words, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
always give thanks for everything to God the Father." This
orientation toward every experience is the greatest tool we have to
overcome all that makes us afraid.
of the most challenging aspects of life is to trust God when our
life is being hammered on the anvil of circumstances that are beyond
our control. Our moments of struggle come AFTER
we have assigned meaning to an experience and we have to live with
woman had graduated from college and was disappointed that she had
not met someone suitable to be her life partner. She had met and
dated a number of men but each had failed to measure up to the high
standard she was using. She went on to graduate school and was in
the middle of a Master's program when she was involved in a fairly
serious automobile accident.
some spinal injury and several lacerations on her face. Some
unthinking person honored her request and gave her a mirror. After
looking at herself, she was overcome with a sense of hopelessness.
She even asked why the emergency medical team at the scene of the
accident had not allowed her to die.
There was a
staff physician who was assigned to her. He violated one of the rules
for personal conduct. There was something about this woman's spirit
that triggered his interest and he found himself coaching her through
many of her dark periods of self-doubt. Some of his colleagues warned
him to remain detached, but he chose not to listen.
of his more vulnerable moments with her, he said something that would
change the quality of Loren Brendel's experience. He said, "I honestly
believe that this accident happened to you so that I would have the
opportunity to meet you and fall in love with you." Can you imagine the
impact that hearing those words had on her?
Loren began to make enormous strides during her physical therapy.
All that doctor did was give Loren another interpretation to the same
event which had caused her to create feelings of hopelessness and
abandonment. She got well and the two were later married.
How do we
know when some massive rejection was essential if we were to gravitate
toward something far more suitable for our talents and abilities? How
can we be so sure that failure is not a disguised vehicle for moving us
into a circumstance that we later will call, "a gift from God?" Even
the death of one of our children can give us sensitivities others will
never have for dealing with people who have lost one of theirs.
The tool of
gratitude is not so we will say to someone, “I am so appreciative that
you overcharged me.” Or, “This cancer is the best thing that ever
happened to me.” Or, “Thank you for totaling my car.” Gratitude is
not about the substance of any experience, but rather for the resulting
changes that the experience brings to our lives and what those changes
will require from our faith, abilities and talents. We grow when we
travel through our experiences, not around them.
telling his readers that when we approach each experience with a sense
of gratitude, no episode in life will ever defeat us. When we have this
tool of spirit, our vision, understanding and our entire orientation
toward life will always be looking for what is going to enhance our
skills. We will no longer spend our energy developing an attitude that
communicates, "Well, this is one more nail in my coffin. Even God has
turned away from me!" When we refuse to define experiences that
shatter our comfort zones, we are revealing, "I am trusting God with
what is to happen next."
of having such an orientation in life has nothing to do with our living
without challenges, bad hair days, and moments of despair. We all have
them. Such an attitude is not something that allows us to by-pass
the unpleasant episodes that test our patience and trust in God; it
allows us to move through them without fear. Paul focused on this theme
quite often because the spiritual tool of gratitude proved its validity
in his own experience. He wrote:
We are always glad when we suffer because we know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
it is helpful to engage in a little fantasy. Imagine Jesus walking with
us to a gymnasium. He tells us to begin lifting the 5 pound weights. As
we work with the weights for awhile we become weary with the
repetitions. When we complain, "How much longer do I have to do this?",
Jesus does not answer. He accompanies us to another part of the gym.
He says, "You can stay with the 5-pound weights for the rest of your
life, or you can choose to grow so that you become like this person."
In front of us is an individual who is bench pressing 480 pounds.
Christianity is not a feel good "happy, happy, happy" orientation toward
life. It is also not a passive way to greet what many people have
labeled as "hardships" or "life-reversals". Many people believe that
to accept Jesus' teachings as the model for our life-patterns means that
joy will fill our cups to overflowing day after day. It does not.
It means we will graduate from 5 to the 10, 20 and 50 pound weights as
we build our spiritual musculature.
understanding is not a path of "good works," as some may suggest. It is
more a way of describing how our spirits evolve. Such an orientation
means approaching our spiritual frontiers, whatever they are for us,
crossing them, and moving beyond with a sense of gratitude that will
continue to build momentum for the rest of our lives.
experienced the wind, earthquake and fire, he found that God was not in
them. We remember well that God was in the "still, small voice." That
voice said, "Elijah, what are you doing in this cave?" (I Kings 19:13).
That cave can represent anything in our lives that is symbolic of
security, comfort or our desire to keep our lives exactly as they are.
We simply cannot grow if there is no movement away from where we are.
Jesus knew that. Paul understood that.
not cross a spiritual frontier knowing ahead of time what will greet
them. This one aspect of life is certain-we have to risk and
experience change in order to get there. Jesus was nailed to a cross
before he could give humanity the gift of knowing that life does not end
when we leave our bodies.
Are we ready to face, cross and move beyond our frontiers? A wise person once said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." When we take that first step in gratitude and trust, we change the chemistry of that experience, indeed, we change how we will greet the rest of our lives.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
All of us desire, O God, to fill our cups
with the water that will cause our needs to be silenced. We search for
the fulfillment that comes to us by doing your will. Yet we confess to
having moments when we say, "This for God and this for me." There are
times when our being "right" is critical to our identity. When we
experience conflict, our sense of justice often obscures our
ability to love. How easily we lose sight that the outcome of all
things will be resolved within your spirit, in your time, and not ours.
Teach us, that our faithfulness in living what Jesus taught, is our
greatest gift to each other. May our lives become the signposts for
people we may not know, as we each walk our paths toward eternity.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We come into our
sanctuary this morning grateful that you are a God of mercy and peace.
When we stand in the darkness of night, we can recite with the Psalmist,
"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the
stars that you have created; who are we that you are mindful of us, mere
mortals that you should care for us?" What a wonderful sense of comfort
that comes to us because we know that you do.
We confess, O God,
to the moments when we forget the gratitude we feel while standing under
the stars. Our fears magnify certain episodes of life and our resulting
anxiety has the power to block out the stars of the Milky Way as well as
our awareness of your closeness. We can become so blinded that we do
not see the smiles that are directed toward us. We no longer hear the
music of the song birds. We do not pause to enjoy a sunset. Enable us,
O God, to communicate our faith as a way of life and not as a mere a
system of beliefs. May our complete trust in you block the cancerous
thoughts that are born from our fears.
Continue to enrich our lives with more horizons toward which to walk, more strangers who we can make our friends and more occasions to still the storms that swirl around us with our trust that your will is being accomplished. Help us to stay on the path Jesus outlined with his words, "Follow me." We pray these thoughts through the Spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .