"An Ignored Ancient Prophecy"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - June 6, 2004

Psalm 8; John 16:12-15

     There is an aspect in many of us that enjoys the mysterious, the mystical and the magical.  Children and adults alike are drawn to read books about Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings or The Da Vinci Code.  We tune into documentaries focused on reports from people who have had out-of-the-body experiences or who have had strange encounters with angels.  Research scientists are drawn to places humanity has never gone as they attempt to unravel the mysteries of the human genome, the results from stem cell implantation, artificial intelligence or the behavior of sub-atomic particles.  

     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 scriptures.   

     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 truthThe 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 tolerance? 

     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 . . .