"An Ignored Ancient Prophecy"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - June 6, 2004
Psalm 8; John 16:12-15
This morning's lesson has a
very mysterious quality to it. It represents one of the few
prophesies that reportedly came from Jesus. As he spoke to his
disciples he said, "I have much more to tell you, but now it would
be too much for you to bear." Then he foretold the coming of the a
Spirit that would reveal more truth about God.
What is so intriguing about
this passage is that this coming Spirit would not have a mind of its
own. In our lesson Jesus indicated that the Spirit will not speak
on its own authority but will communicate to people precisely as
Jesus instructs. It is as though this Spirit will be the vehicle
for giving voice or expression to truth long into the future as
humanity's ability to comprehend continues to expand.
If what Jesus had to say was
too much for his current disciples to bear, when would they be
ready? What would have to be accommodated or set aside by the
disciples in order for them to be open to even more insights into
the nature of reality? Clearly what Jesus had presented during his
ministry was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to
understanding humanity's weaknesses, the purpose of creation and the
nature of God.
How do we know this? In
earlier verses within the same chapter we read, "When the Spirit
comes, it will prove to the people of the world that they are wrong
about sin, wrong about what constitutes correct beliefs and
wrong about God's judgment." (John 16:8)
One of the most difficult
steps for religious people to take is to become open to information
and insights that might represent a departure from what they have
been taught for centuries. This is why many believers in the
world's great religions find themselves remaining passionately loyal
to how others before them have interpreted their respective
Being open to new information and insights has always required a leap of faith. When Jesus tried to bring new understanding to Judaism, he was crucified as a heretic and labeled as a leader of revolutionary ideas. He was a threat to the prevailing thinking about sin, the source of inspired living and the nature of God.
In early Church history, there
are scores of similar atrocities recorded. When people dared to think
for themselves, the Inquisitors arrived and held court, a court
very similar to that which Jesus encountered. When certain
individuals were found guilty by the Inquisitors of having departed from
the predetermined orthodoxy of the day, they were burned at the stake.
The god of fear demanded loyalty
and Christians bowed in reverence.
Fear inspires total, unwavering commitment and only a few have ever
developed the courage to stand forth with correctives to the prevailing
beliefs. Most of them paid for it with their lives.
What is so interesting about
this morning's lesson is that Jesus was describing a process that can be
extremely unsettling to those who consider themselves as the
guardians of truth. The fear that God's Word can be corrupted
has often dominated Christian thinking.
The perception that Almighty God
needs our help to protect correct beliefs is one of the reasons
why the Church Councils closed the Scriptures to additional material.
Jesus was discussing a process that is larger than humanity's ability to
control. A new Spirit was coming that had the power to shatter the
cocoons housing many of the most sacred beliefs.
The early Church was not a stranger to the unpredictability of the Spirit. There was a time when Peter and a number of the disciples were taken before the High Council. They were being threatened by the authorities because of the message they were preaching. Gamaliel, one of the Council's well respected leaders said,
Do not take any action against these men.
Leave them alone! If what they are preaching and doing is of human
origin, it will disappear, but if it comes from God, you cannot possibly
defeat them. You could find yourselves fighting against God! The
Council followed Gamaliel's advice. (Acts 5:39)
Why has the Church remained
inattentive to Gamaliel's model? Fear rather than God has determined
many of our religious formulas and steps to salvation. Almost
all of them have to do with the way we think rather than with how God
loves. The question is, are we open enough to change our
perceptions, our beliefs and our attitudes to accommodate new truths
that the Spirit is bringing? This means assuming many risks, risks more
and more of us are prepared to take.
For example, are we open to the
possibility that God's love for all people is so enormous that, in
addition to the path Jesus pointed to, God has also provided the world's
people with spiritually nurturing paths that are labeled, Hinduism,
Judaism and Islam? Is it possible that God has called us to live in
community with others regardless of the belief systems they may
espouse? Is it possible that this is not a request, but a necessary
requirement if humanity is to survive? Is it possible that we must
learn to trust God instead of religious zealots who preach separation or
"my way is the only way"?
The more we look back to a
time when the theology surrounding God's Word was being
formulated by the Church's leadership, the more we may be blinded from
seeing what is coming and from receiving new guidance. We simply
cannot become a meaningful part of the emerging world community by
staring in the rear view mirror.
This new world community is
forming right now whether we think so or not. The lines formerly
separating the world's cultures and people are disappearing. The speed
of travel and information coupled with our ability to overcome language
barriers are propelling us toward each other. This is a process no
stand alone belief system has the power to stop.
The fulfillment of Jesus'
prophecy requires that we remain open to new possibilities. The Spirit
Jesus promised continues to bring information that Christians must
transcend what is preventing our full participation in the new world
community. Separatist attitudes are antithetical to God's Will. How
can we preach love while holding others at arm's length in aloof
One of our Trustees, Bruce Thoman, sent me a
quote from the poet, Rumi.
The Spiritual Path wreaks the body and
afterwards restores it to health. It destroys the home to unearth the
treasure and with that treasure builds it better than before.
As long as we ignore Jesus'
prophecy for whatever reason, the Spirit will continue to communicate
through a host of people generation after generation until we are
prepared to take the next step. The faithful, clutching to the
teachings of our world's great religions, have stood still far too long.
Humanity needs to reach across the extremely limiting boundaries
established by our systems of belief and recognize that we are one in
the mind of God. We are all God's creations and God would not
leave any of us without light to guide our paths. Only religious
arrogance assumes otherwise.
Let us hope that one day we will
awaken to discover that Jesus' prophecy has been fulfilled. The truth
is that the opportunity to do so is ours today. Are we open to make
that leap of faith so that God's Kingdom might make itself more fully
known? If not, the alternative is very, very difficult to contemplate!
We come this morning, O God, with a profound
sense of gratitude for your being the sustaining source of our strength
and energy. You surround us with the knowledge of who we are, while we
often blame low self-esteem for our perceived weaknesses. You surround
us with people and often we feel excluded. You surround us with
opportunities to shine and we often build walls of self-protection. You
surround us with challenges designed to strengthen us and too often we
feel victimized. You are the Good Shepherd surrounding us with your
summoning guidance, yet too often it remains invisible to us. Heal us,
O God, so we no longer remain our own worst enemies. Lift us above the
clouds we have made, so that we might see ourselves as you do. Amen.
Loving God, it is such a different experience
to enter this place of worship and have our spiritual roots refreshed.
So much is required of us every day and it feels good to be still and
reflect on your presence among us. So often, life is like a trust
walk. It is as though we are blindfolded and being led in directions
that remain uncertain.
So often the unexpected has forced us onto
the stage where we are faced with drama that was not part of the
story-line we would have preferred. We confess to our struggles with
faith. We do not know when to control and when to release. We do not
know which fears point to reasonable caution and which ones point to our
lack of trust. We frequently do not know how to decide when faced with
choices that appear equally attractive.
Lead us, O God, to learn the value of faithfulness, regardless of our choices. Encourage us not to judge the worth of any experience until we have the opportunity to use the talents you gave us in dealing with it. Lead us to become instruments of your peace, the embodiment of your generosity, and bearers of your love and compassion. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .