"When The Invisible Becomes Visible"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 3, 2003
There were twelve of us in my
class. What was so refreshing to experience was the number of
students who were thinking for themselves. Of course, I did not let
up on sharing my thoughts which are frequently very different from
those held by any number of my colleagues. The professor got into
the habit of looking in my direction when he wanted additional or
alternate points of view. His glance often caused the class to
laugh. We all had a wonderful time learning together.
Theological preferences can be as varied as there are people who are willing to share them. There are those who remain convinced that there is only one way to look at God, that the Word of God has to be interpreted a certain way, that salvation rests with our beliefs and that "life in Christ" must mean the same thing for all humankind. What is the ultimate fate of those who may differ widely with such beliefs? What we must understand about God's creation is that we cannot accurately define it nor will our beliefs change creation into something we need it to be.
From the days of the early
disciples until the present, people of great conviction have
presented their understanding of God's plan for salvation. Many of
them today are highly informed and deeply ensconced in Biblical
tradition, but they do not always agree.
For example, this morning we
recited The Nicene Creed which was a product of Christians
in 325 CE. Its wording was formulated by delegates of the first
world-wide council of the Church which had been ordered by Emperor
Constantine. The creed they developed represented the best thinking
Christians could formulate at that time concerning a number of
critical areas of faith.
For that creed to reach the
form which now appears in our hymnal, many delegates expended
massive amounts of energy struggling with each other over the
precise language. There can be little doubt that there were sharp
and often angry exchanges between members of that body. Several
members stormed from the Council chambers in disgust simply because
their insights were not deemed important enough to be included in
this statement of faith.
In our lesson today, Paul's words attempt to desensitize people regarding their differences in belief. He advises his readers to live in a spirit of humility, gentleness and patience. He advises the faithful in Ephesus to show their love by being tolerant and to do everything possible to preserve their unity by being peaceful with one another. His words appear to direct believers away from arguing over specific theological beliefs and toward displaying skills of spirit. Further, he reminded them that God is in everyone and works through all of them.
Several years ago, St. Matthew's
sent a large contingent of people to Juarez, Mexico. As many of you
know, every year we went, we built houses for those living in dwellings
made of cardboard and shipping pallets that are wired together. During
this one particular year, we experienced a series of dramatic sand
storms. Work in our one site became extremely challenging. It became
clear to us that we could not finish. Visibility was 15 feet at best.
Some Church of God folks were
working on a house near our site and they could see our struggle. These
people were incredibly kind and generous to us. They had a cement mixer
and a gasoline powered generator which they loaned to us. A few of us
stayed behind. I shoveled cement, sand and gravel into that mixer while
other workers hoisted buckets filled with the mixture and poured them
into the four corners of the house.
Had the two groups shared their
beliefs and faith, no doubt there would have been wide spread
disagreement. Some of the beliefs held by the Church of God people may
have appeared to us as narrow, intolerant and judgmental. Some of the
things we United Methodist believe may have reinforced a popular notion
that our denomination is nothing more than a pot luck dinner club who
has little or no expectations of our membership. Fortunately, we never
had that conversation. We all had a job to do -- serve others. As we
did, we enabled the invisible love which brought us there to become
Paul's point to the Ephesians was
to accept the differences in each other. He reminded them to look at
what their beliefs enabled them to become. If our faith focuses
on issues concerning our personal salvation, or "you are either with me
or against me," what do such beliefs communicate?
Differences in beliefs can
tear families, churches and denominations apart. When our mission is to
give form to our invisible loving energy, such self-destruction cannot
happen. Think of it this way -- what happens when Jews, Muslims,
Roman Catholics and Protestants build a house together? That house gets
built. This very thing happens again and again with Habitat For
Humanity. All their supervisors want to know is this: "Are you willing
to build houses with us? For those who don't know how to swing a hammer
or use a skill saw, we'll teach you. Welcome!"
Paul reminded the Ephesians that everyone has different gifts, and when love inspires their use, the entire world will sing. Why is it that people in many of our churches fail to embrace this understanding? As Paul suggested, the witness to Christ's presence in our lives has more to do with our attitudes than our theology. Love does not need a theology before we give it form.
We must never forget who Jesus called us to be. We come to his table this morning because thousands of years ago, he wanted his followers not only to remember him but also to recall extremely vividly what we communicate when we make our discipleship visible.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We enjoy using
our voices to sing about your presence in our lives. We enjoy learning
about your faithfulness, O God, through the Scriptures. Our presence at
your Son's table unites all of us. He gently reminds us not to forget
what he taught, when life surrounds us with friends, circumstances and
life-patterns that are always changing. Yet how often we use expediency
to justify our compromises. How easily it becomes to separate our faith
from living life in the "real world." How easy it is to allow our
beliefs to prevent our loving those who believe differently. Lead us, O
God, toward a day when more of us remember that you are the only judge
that matters. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, for being the infinitely
creative Being that you are. When we learned how to see life through
the prism of faith, so many marvelous qualities of life became visible
to us. All of us are capable of performing tasks that a number of
others cannot do. Your plan of creation has been designed so that each
of us has come equipped in a very unique fashion to make our
one-of-a-kind contribution to those around us. We cannot thank you
enough for the vein of gold that runs through each of us.
Yet we are aware that our gifts remain
dormant until we use them. We also understand that frequently it takes
trauma, struggle, a disruption of the familiar and a shattering of our
comfort zones before we open our eyes. Often we do not use our skills
of spirit until life's experiences demand that we develop them. We more
readily turn to the external world to save us instead of understanding
how growth was designed to happen.
Help us always to remain open to others who may bring some word of grace. Help us find you in a book, in a newspaper article, in the advice of a friend and in the quiet voice that reminds us, "Be still and know that I am God." Remind us, O God, that we do not have to understand life before we become a hinge upon which the pages of history swing. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .