"Beholding The Inclusive Vision"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 2, 2004
Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-18
This passage describes people who
have achieved a certain level of awareness. They are together in
afterlife in spite of their very different cultural backgrounds and
heritage. Listen to the make up of this group:
There was an enormous crowd -- no one could
count all the people. They were from every race, tribe, nation and
language, and they stood in front of the throne of the Lamb, dressed
in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. (Rev. 7:9)
When one of the elders asked,
"Who are these people?" the answer was given, "These are the people who
have come safely through the terrible persecution."
This is one of the remarkable
passages in the Scriptures that should give every religious group in the
world pause if they preach and practice the belief that they alone
possess the truth. Of course, Christianity is one of major
religions of the world that proclaims such exclusivity.
Yesterday's The Washington
Post featured an article describing how Bishop Carlton Pearson of
Tulsa, Oklahoma was declared "unorthodox and heretical" by the Joint
College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops Congress. Bishop
Pearson believes that Christians far underestimate the power of God's
love, a love he believes extends to all people whether they believe in
God or not.
Listen to the ruling of this
Congress, "Because of our concern for many people that could be
influenced to adopt this heresy and in so doing put at risk the eternal
destiny of their souls, we are compelled to declare Bishop Carlton
Pearson a heretic." He was found guilty by this collective of bishops
for preaching that God's love reaches beyond what they deem plausible.
These bishops believe people are saved by their beliefs rather
than by God's love and grace.
During many worship experiences we pray, "Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven." In spite of this request of God, many Christian denominations today remain separatists in their beliefs, rituals and practices. The prayer Jesus taught his disciples spoke of God's will being done, not of how essential it was to hold specific beliefs. Why is it that so many Christians are unable to express this very basic behavior? God's will is expressed by people simply caring for each other without expectations, not by lifting up specific beliefs that make claims about the nature of God's love.
When we consider this vision in
Revelation, what was the common denominator that brought them together?
The answer is that they had made it through the persecution. What
spirit did each of them have that brought them through their trials?
What spirit enabled them to rise above the possible temptation to fight
fire with fire during their unjust persecution?
There was a story that surfaced
recently that might shed light on what connected the individuals in this
group. An Israeli man and a Palestinian woman who lived in Gaza had
developed a deep love for each other and planned to marry. When their
families learned of this, each became enraged and vowed to disown their
children if the couple moved forward with their plans. The daughter's
response to her father was classic.
Father, I love this man. His spirit sees
beyond the ethnic boundaries and limitations our peoples have imposed on
each other. I want to spend the rest of my life with him. If you
disown me because of my love of him, then you must do what you must do.
Yet, I will always honor you and mother as my parents. I could never
pretend that you no longer existed. You taught me to love
Take a moment and consider where
you are in your thinking. Could this Jewish man and this Islamic woman
be part of that enormous crowd of people featured in Revelation? The
author of Revelation went out of his way to be very specific in
describing how inclusive this group in paradise was, "They were
from every race, tribe, nation and language."
Suppose this couple had opened
their minds and hearts to love's power? They had turned their spears
into plows. They had learned how to be compassionate. The Word of God
had been inscribed on their hearts as God promised in Jeremiah. They
had learned how to perceive beyond the old tribal rivalries and their
love for each other had helped them transcend the differentials in their
respective ideologies and traditions. Is this possible? Of course it
Many years ago I belonged to a
clergy group called United Christian Ministries of Prince George's
County. One day Father Aldo Petrini celebrated a mass with all of us.
There were 35 clergy in our group. Among us were nine priests. During
the mass I noticed that a number of the priests had become emotional, a
display I did not understand. \
While presenting his homily,
Father Petrini said that he and his colleagues have longed to see a day
when Roman Catholics and Protestants could be one at the table of the
Lord. He said, "Today nine of us have broken the Law of our Church and
have discovered that we can be one. This is a great day for us!"
Think of the possibilities if
leaders of the world's great religions, religions rich in cultural
traditions and practices, began to perceive beyond the boundaries they
have fought to maintain for thousands of years. We might awaken to a
world where people cared more about each other than about their own
The setting referenced in this
Revelation passage is exclusive even though it is inclusive of everyone
who has this universal consciousness. Not everyone wants to
transcend their belief in barriers, in separatist attitudes and their
belief that they hold an exclusive right to God's love. Those standing
together in our lesson were those who defined themselves very
differently. They had come to realize that they were one because of
how they loved.
The Lamb in this passage represents the spirit of Jesus, not the spirit of Christianity. Jesus taught a way of being not a new system of beliefs. He said, "My sheep hear my voice." The rest will not be able to hear that voice until they are ready to perceive beyond the barriers that their own beliefs have created and maintained. In Christ's vision, we are one. As disciples, we are sent into the world to share the Good News of God's love for all humankind. Can we learn to live that way today?
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Ever present God,
you have provided us with so many gifts of the spirit, yet we are never
at a loss for finding ways to block their effectiveness. You have given
us the capacity for inner peace and we fill our minds with worry. You
have created us to be loving, while we invest energy in doubting the
sincerity of others. You have created us to be generous and we give
with expectations. You gave us the ability to trust, and we seek
reassurance at every bend in the road. You have created us in your
image and we choose to dwell on our perceived failures. O God, lead us
to rediscover the aspects of life that are eternal, that reflect your
nature and that will carry us to victory over all our earthly
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Fill our minds and spirits this day, loving
God, with the indwelling of your spirit. As in no other time in
history, we have coming into our living spaces images of the ravages of
war. We have watched as people grieve over their losses, over their
hopelessness to change what is happening and over their lack of vision
for a future where peace reigns.
We talk of love, yet even among the faithful,
fear makes us cautious with each other. We hold people at armís length
if they do not mirror our particular beliefs and values. We want so
much for the world to be other than what it is. Yes, Jesus called us to
stand in the midst of it and be a light.
Teach us the power of a smile. Guide us to extend validation and assurance to those who may be carrying silent wounds they cannot acknowledge. Empower us to extend the gift of understanding, a gift that could easily become a turning point for someone who has missed seeing the sign posts that would have guided them. Teach us, O God, how to be that guide. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .