"Why The Starving Still Starve"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 24, 2003
Psalm 84; John 6:60-69
starvation I want to address this morning, however, is of another
kind even though it can be just as deadly. It is the kind that
motivated Jesus to say,
Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the
messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms
around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her
wings, but you would not let me! (Matt. 23:37)
his teaching, Jesus had to pierce centuries of cultural conditioning
which had taught his people to remain obedient to the Laws of Moses.
His new emphasis was not something they could readily accept.
Obedience is a matter of discipline, a commitment the Jews were used
to making. What Jesus taught had to do with the spirit in which
an attitude was being formed or a deed was being done. Such
lessons were well illustrated in his Sermon on the Mount.
happens when something comes to us in a package we do not recognize?
There was a moment several years ago when Glenn Swisher and I were
painting the shelter we have in our building. I am not a bad
painter but I suspect on this one day, I looked as though I had more
paint on me than I had put on the walls.
I had a
can of paint thinner in my office and I went to retrieve it. I took
the path through our playground where lots of children were
playing. Immediately I was approached by one of our school's new,
young staff members. She said, "Can I help you with something?"
She was not about to let me walk by her or get anywhere near the
children. Actually, I was very pleased with her quick
responsiveness to an approaching stranger.
Even after I introduced myself, her facial expression remained poker-faced. Her look communicated, "Why are you not convincing me?" I was not packaged the way a minister "ought to look." Ministers in her past probably looked "professional." Her eyes continued to follow me with suspicion as I walked to the back door of the church where I produced a master key to the building. Miss Carly is still here as a member of our staff.
lesson today, Jesus received a taste of what happens when people
could not recognize his message because of the way it was packaged.
His message took this form, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my
blood live in me and I live in them." How would most of us react to
such a teaching? Remember, these words were used early in Jesus'
ministry -- the 6th chapter of John. The bread and
wine did not become meaningful symbols until Jesus used them at "the
of his followers heard what he said, Jesus instantly lost credibility.
The first sentence of our lesson describes this scene, "Many of his
followers heard this and said, 'This teaching is too hard. Who can
listen to it?'" Once more Jesus tried to explain what he meant and
again the message failed to communicate meaningfully.
Jesus possibly having a crisis of confidence at this point. The passage
of Scripture continues, "Because of this, many of Jesus' followers
turned their back and would not follow him anymore. So he asked the
twelve disciples, 'And you -- would you also like to leave?'" We cannot
imagine how profoundly sad this moment was for him. Jesus was being
rejected after trying so sincerely to connect. Obviously Jesus was not
suggesting cannibalism, but his choice of metaphors was too foreign for
some of his followers to grasp. What was he to do with those who lost
we find people who are starving for spiritual nourishment and they will
not become involved in the life of a church, synagogue or mosque.
Classic symptoms often outcrop in people's lives revealing that a key
component is missing in their orientation toward life. They have become
weary from a world that is constantly changing. Their identity may be
anchored outside themselves. Many of them do not know where to go to
silence their restlessness, the source of which remains a mystery to
was never real for them. Perhaps the message of the Church appeared too
primitive when it suggests that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, that God
played favorites with the Jews and turned away while gentiles were
destroyed, or that God arranged for the death of Jesus to show God's
love for humankind. Perhaps people turn to the golf course as their
sanctuary, or they simply want their cup of coffee and newspaper while
wearing their shorts and tee-shirts on their day of rest.
starve because they are not aware that a major element of life is being
neglected. To what or to whom do they turn when life becomes uncertain,
when loved ones die, when people about whom they really care cease to
communicate, when business conditions cause them to lose their jobs or
when their identity becomes less clear during certain periods of their
have happened to people for thousands of years. Jesus wanted so badly
for his followers to understand life as he did, but he could not instill
in them what he had learned. There is this element in life called
choice. Not everyone is looking for what will enhance their
spiritual growth. So many people do nothing but indulge themselves in
whatever produces pleasure and they do not know why. We have grown too
dependent on externals for our orientation toward life. We do not think
about our dependence on such things until they change or are taken
abound concerning what happened when 50 million people lost electricity
a short time ago. Many of the things that make life work suddenly were
no longer available: no Internet, no television, no microwaves, no
cellular telephone service, no public transportation, no banking, no
gasoline and no water. You may not believe me when I tell you this, but
once we leave our bodies, life is just like this! Who will we be then?
unique culture has fueled our desire for instant gratification. We
have an allergy to spam appearing in our e-mail, long lines in the
supermarkets, commuter traffic, and life patterns that make us wait in
doctors’ offices or the Department of Motor Vehicles. We want our hip
replacement tomorrow. We want our doctor to call in a prescription
without first evaluating us.
culture on earth has created such demand for instant gratification as
our own. We spend so much energy reacting to inconvenience and so
little time practicing stillness. The times and circumstances were
vastly different in Jesus' day but he knew that his people were relying
on what could not possibly serve them.
When do we
reflect about our lives? When do we read books that encourage us to
plumb the depths of our spiritual identity? Where can we share who we
are and feel safe? My hunch is that every human being has this hunger
and thirst to be loved just as they are, free from people who say, "Have
I got the answer for you!" Few of us resonate with such unsolicited
analysis or with those who feel compelled to "fix us" with their recipes
for salvation. It is a challenge for truth to gain a foothold
in people's lives when their desires and needs are focused elsewhere.
Lois and I traveled with some friends by ferry to Tangier Island. On
the way back we began talking to a couple from Canada who were bicycling
through the eastern part of the United States. When we learned that
their next stop was Washington, D.C. we offered to take them home with
us. At the time we lived four blocks from the Capitol. They were
four of us were getting acquainted over supper, they asked me what I did
for a living. My response started a very interesting discussion. They
were amazed at how active we Americans are within our religious
communities. They were not. When I inquired about how they meet their
spiritual needs which I defined, they knew exactly what I meant. They
said, "There is nothing in our lives that successfully addresses what
you are talking about."
understood that they were here on earth without a book of instructions
that would apply to all people. One of them said, "I'm sure that your
church has one message and another church will have another. What we do
is quite simple and it works for us. We go toward what brings us
enjoyment and we retreat from what brings us pain. When we get
frustrated with life, we ride our bicycles in order to see how everyone
else is doing."
man and woman were wonderful and wholesome like so many others at their
age. My point is, how many people are living without knowing how to
creatively use each experience to enhance the quality of their lives?
The answer is millions upon millions. The spiritual skills Jesus
taught remain dormant when they are not accessed and used. We cannot
spend our time running away from pain nor can we always pursue what will
bring us joy. We have to learn how to thrive in the midst of both.
audience today is every bit as difficult to address to as it was in
Jesus' day. How do we convince someone that they are spiritually
starving when basically that is none of our business? How do we get
beyond the past experiences people may have had while visiting churches
that were less than hospitable or which delivered a message that was so
fear based that they vowed never to attend any church again?
It is so
hard for us to watch people tear themselves apart emotionally, as they
are doing in Iraq or in the Middle East, because they lack the tools of
spirit that would enable them to respond otherwise. This was Jesus'
dilemma and it is our challenge as well.
lesson Jesus tells his listeners how he coped with the rejection of
people who refused to give his message a second opportunity to grow
within them. He said, "This is the very reason I told you that no one
can come to me unless the Father makes it possible for them to do so."
made a very interesting observation. When the consciousness of some
people is totally wedded to the things of this world, they may have no
interest in understanding or exploring other possibilities. "Life
has been good to us," they say. They may have a good education, an
incredible job, a lovely home, a nice family, great cars and a nice
retirement package. What do they care about the claims of religious
communities? Why would they be interested in reading books that might
enhance their universe of ideas? A hundred quality teachers could come
to them but such students are not ready to learn anything.
when someone is authentically searching and reaching for a higher
authority for life than the one presented by the material world, the
teachers do come. Jesus was absolutely on target with his words. When
he asked his disciples, "And you -- would you also like to leave?"
Peter said, "Master, to whom would we go? You have the words that
provide understanding about eternal life."
Jesus challenged his followers to help other people awaken from their slumber. Frequently the greatest vehicle for helping others to move the mountains in front of them is with our friendship. Once our relationship is deemed safe by them, we can bring them into our fellowship, a fellowship that is filled with like travelers, who are working on moving many of those same mountains. This Fall, why not invite someone to come with you into our community of faith. God will do the rest. Perhaps in some small way we will bring healing to someone’s life and to our part of the world.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We come to you this morning, O God, with thankful hearts that our
lives have the ability to reflect your will. We confess, however, that
too often we are more creatures of habit than people who live by faith.
We confess how often our routines write the script for our responses to
life. So often our familiar patterns of living prevent us from seeing
more creative solutions to the challenges we face. We live according to
what we have been trained to understand. Awaken our spirits, O God, to
all the wonderful alternatives that surround us. Teach us to affirm the
beauty in others, the role of your presence in our lives and the
perceptions that your spirit enables us to achieve. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
As we enter the
sanctuary this morning, O God, we readily recognize how the paradoxes of
life surround us. We find peace during our morning meditations only to
have them challenged when we listen to the news. We find clerics in
various parts of the world mustering their legions with the voice of
violence. We find Arabs and Hebrews, who share Abraham as their father,
seeking to destroy each other as if an ancient sibling rivalry never
found resolution. We often question our role during these unfolding
moments in history.
Teach us, loving
God, how to refine our message so that it resonates with more of your
people. Heal us of our timidity so that we may more easily say to a
friend, "Why not try my church and you be the judge?" Guide us to people
who would find our friendship a welcomed recognition that they belong.
Encourage us to use smiles of acceptance. Teach us how to lead without
judging, to encourage without finding fault and to stimulate a search
without hinting at all the discoveries that will be made. May your
spirit, O God, soften attitudes, elevate our thought patterns and
inspire each of us to see more possibilities as we fellowship with you.
As the world continues to grow smaller, and diverse populations cross one another's national borders, may we learn to value and appreciate what each other brings to life. May the day come when mutual respect will grow into peace and a true sense of community. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .