"When The Invisible Becomes Visible"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 3, 2003

Ephesians 4:1-16

     I always appreciate your tolerance when I have to leave St. Matthew's for a week of study. There is no other place I would rather be than right here, but in order to be appointed each year, I have to accumulate a certain number of continuing education units.  This was my week to earn some of them at Wesley Seminary. 

     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 visible.  

     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.    


    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.


     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 . . .