"Yes, It Is Feast Or Famine"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 2, 2003
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Jeremiah 17:5-10
For example, what are we to think about the cloning of human beings? Should Chief Charles Moose profit financially from his book about the October sniper incident? Should allied forces invade Iraq because of Saddam Hussein's refusal to comply with United Nations Resolutions? Was America's loss of the orbiter, Columbia, avoidable? Is NASA's budget large enough to insure it has everything it needs to fulfill the agency's mission statement?
There is no end to the
number of issues that can awaken our passions and inspire debate.
And heaven forbid if the preacher should start using the pulpit as a
platform for proclaiming "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but
the truth" about such topics. This morning I want us to consider a
question. What is the prophetic role of the Church in today's
rapidly changing world?
We may find it interesting
that Jesus never mired himself in the societal issues that were
affecting his people. For example, he never labeled or mentioned
the Roman occupation. He did not protest the tax burden borne by
his people. He never addressed what should be done by the governing
authorities regarding poverty, the education of children, or the
inequities of his people at every level of life. Was Jesus not
concerned about such things? What does his silence communicate?
Perhaps his lack of commentary in such areas of life came from his firm understanding that his world was not the one his listeners were seeing with their eyes. He appeared committed to teaching that when the internal world of people enabled them to create loving responses, that their external world would one day follow. He remained convinced about those things for which he prayed, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."
When people debate, there are
always several streams of logic vying for superiority in the minds
of people. Have we noticed that what Jesus taught did not allow for
gray areas? For example, we cannot pretend at being forgiving, kind
and caring. We either are or we are not. We cannot act as though
we trust God with the outcome of all things. We either trust God
with total confidence, or we do not. We can engage in a charade if
we wish, but the scales of true justice hang within each of us.
There are two beings we cannot fool, ourselves and God.
The acid test for us comes during
circumstances that we interpret as threatening, insulting, unjust or
seductive and attractive. It is only during such times that we know who
and what we really trust. Are we easily manipulated by
people and social structures, or do we trust that we are at the right
place and the right time for God's will to be done through us? How
we answer this question goes to the heart of whether or not we
understand Jesus' request that we follow him.
The prophet Jeremiah understood that there is no middle ground. People experience feast or famine depending on how developed their inner world has become. He spoke for God when he wrote:
People who put their trust in human beings
are like shrubs in the desert which grow in a dry wasteland. Nothing
good ever happens to them. However, people who put their trust in me
will be blessed, like a tree growing near a stream that sends out roots
into the water. It is not afraid when hot weather comes, because its
leaves stay green; it has no worries when there is no rain; it keeps on
bearing fruit. (Jeremiah 17:5-8)
Because of Jesus' level of consciousness, he could tell his listeners that no matter what was happening around them, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." He could tell an adulterous woman, "Rise, go and grow up." He could eat with tax collectors with comfort. He could teach his listeners that if one of the occupational forces made them carry his military gear for one mile, they should offer to carry it an additional mile.
During his ministry Jesus kept the external influences that impacted on the physical lives of people separated from what they must do to refine the skills of their inner world. He taught people how to change their thinking, not how to fix their social structures. He knew that his Kingdom would never come through external laws, no matter how fair and beautifully they were written, but through changed attitudes.
We cannot display timeless values or become the leaven for the loaf when our minds and hearts have become invested and entangled in the outcome of the highly complicated, forever changing web of relationships, structures, laws, language and beliefs that appear to govern our world. Even people with a highly evolved social awareness often find themselves exhausted as they run from one cause to another.
Perhaps there is a purpose for life's rapid changes and for the enormous variety of choices that parade themselves before us seemingly requiring a response. Jeremiah believed there was. He had God say, "I, the Lord, search the minds and test the hearts of people. I treat each of them according to the way they live, according to what they do." What better way for God to test us than by allowing our spirits to be exposed to a world exactly like the one we have.
The constant challenge for us is how to view the physical world through the eyes of our eternal spirits as we teach others how to receive comfort, joy, peace and nourishment from a world they cannot see. While Jesus' physical world was collapsing around him just prior to and during his crucifixion, his inner world remained unscathed. It was this world that he wanted us to find.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, God, for creating us with the
ability to give and receive love, mercy and peace. You have given us a
great gift in your Son, who has become the light we have chosen to
follow. Yet there are times during our journey when we feel
fragmented. We know we should forgive and we cannot. We wish for more
patience and it will not come. We want to be more helpful, but our
schedules drive us toward other goals. We desire to model character
strength but too often we find ourselves settling for what is
expedient. Touch our minds and hearts with your word. Shake us if we
have grown complacent in our faith. Guide us to become more intentional
in our daily walk with you. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Space exploration is a fascinating frontier,
O God. You would not have placed the seed of curiosity within us were
it not designed to grow. We creatures of yours have this urge to push
against every limitation and frontier that we can find. There are times
when our pioneers into such areas leave us only with memories as they
beckon us from beyond the grave to carry on and follow in the tracks
they have made. And so we do.
Bring peace to the families of the men and women of the shuttle Columbia, a crew that was committed to offering themselves as stepping stones into tomorrow for the rest of us. Bring peace to the troubled spirits of those who looked upon themselves as being responsible for bringing our space travelers home safely. May this experience inspire our resolve as a nation to resist fear and to embrace the unknown as we would a welcoming friend.
O God, while we explore our physical universe, may we not neglect the world we cannot see. May we learn to uncover the secrets of the final frontier Jesus showed us. May we learn the strength of will, purpose and character that comes as a result of developing our intuition, our hopes and dreams, our vision and understanding -- none of which is visible to our eyes. May generations not yet born be blessed by what we discover today. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .