"Living With Distracted Angels"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - March 7, 2004

Philippians 3:17-21; Luke 13:31-35

     As many of you know, Lois and I have just returned from our annual trek to Arizona. It is fascinating to live in a culture that is outside our Metropolitan area.  For example, we had exposure to the two major newspapers while in the Phoenix area.  The front pages of both featured only local news articles above and below the fold. One of those articles discussed Governor Napolitano's appeal to President Bush to take action concerning the escalating price of gasoline in Arizona.   

     Even though there were not many articles of national or international importance, few readers considered themselves less distracted because of news that never reached their senses.  No matter where we are, there are just as many provincial distractions as those coming from the Presidential race or from speculation about when Iraq will be given the authority to govern itself.

     We are talented enough to distill our distractions even further by dwelling on what is currently impacting our individual lives.  We may be facing surgery.  We may have recently had one of our parents diagnosed with a terminal illness. Our marriage may be facing communication or financial pressures. Depression may be "stalking" one of our children.  The list of life-issues that can hold our minds and spirits captive is nearly endless.    

     Jesus came into the same kind of world that we live in today. The distractions were different, of course, but the people were not.  Not only did he find it a challenge to hold people's attention with his message, but his words frequently inflamed the passions of both the politicians and religious leaders.  Intensely curious people always gathered to see Jesus perform miracles; it was his message of what they needed to do with their lives that often went by the wayside.   

     Everyone listening to Jesus was a creation of God.  Everyone listening had the potential to discover happiness, peace and emotional stability within themselves, but they had become distracted angels.  Their hearing filters quite often did not allow much of substance to nourish their spirits unless Jesus' words reflected their own passions or provided guidance to meet their perceived needs. Are we any different today?       

     Jesus once suggested that people often resembled scattered sheep.  He also knew that people were drawn to life-issues that fed their self interest. During their rich heritage, the Jews were frequently given guidance by the prophets.  When that guidance was opposed to the feelings and thoughts to which they felt most entitled, the Jews frequently became indignant, agitated and even violent.     

     We can empathize with the frustrations of Jesus when he said, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem!  You kill the prophets, you 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."   Is spiritual blindness a unique condition that only visited people who lived thousands of years ago?  Do we have the right to examine the lives of others under a microscope without also looking at our own?  I can tell you unequivocally that distractions are not going away.  Anyone who wishes to communicate their insights and criticisms about life is going to do so.  This is one of our freedoms, the definition of which is debated almost annually in our nation's court system. 

     While in Arizona, we experienced an Overgaard family reunion.  A number of us had gathered in the home of Lois' 99-year old Uncle Sigurd.  He has a house keeper.  From my observation she does a fine job for him.  One shortcoming, however, might be that she talks a lot.  In fact, she talks nonstop.  She had opinions and observations about most things and did not hesitate sharing them.   

     Two of Lois' aunts were there -- both in their 90's. These women could easily run circles around most of us. One of them, who obviously had heard enough from Elaine, turned to her and said, "Will you shut up?!"  Ninety year-old women can get away with such outbursts, but even such an abrupt directive did little to still the verbal volcano which continued to spew forth her unsolicited commentary on everything and everyone. 

     Most of us would enjoy turning off the sound on life's distractions, but it will not happen.  We can only manage such a feat by ourselves as we learn how to sift through what is essential while discarding what is not.  The question comes, "If Jesus wanted to guide us, would we be still enough, silent enough, calm enough, open enough, or tuned in enough to allow his teachings to impact our lives?"   

     Do we take enough time to center ourselves in order to represent God's consciousness within the circumstances that are bound to come our way during each new day?  Or, are we destined to remain distracted angels?  The world does not need more lives who are governed by cross currents and confused priorities.  The world needs leadership. 

     We may not find God active in our lives until we begin behaving like God ourselves.  That may sound a bit presumptuous, but is it?  Such words communicate the same message we find coming from Jesus, "Take up your cross and follow me." "Go into all the world and make disciples."  "Let your light so shine among others."   

     We can constantly call upon God  to save us from what we fear the most.  God did not save Jesus from the cross nor will God rescue us from distractions that appear to be absorbing most of our energy. That response will always be ours to make. Being rescued was never the message of Jesus nor was it the message we are sent forth to deliver.   

     Jesus taught his listeners how to allow love to radiate from them while in the midst of all their struggles.  Are we ready to be such witnesses or are we too busy praying for deliverance?  We must remember that creation will always unfold according to a design we are unable to discern.  We are all angels in the flesh, but we do not have to define ourselves by what tries to distract us.  Even a cross did not distract Jesus from his mission.  Only his body was nailed there.  His spirit still wants to gather us around himself as a mother hen her chicks.  The big question for us is, "Will we let him?" 


    Each day, O God, we can see everywhere a reflection of what we value.  We can cherish and develop friendships or choose to feel ignored.  We can experience generosity or create the insecurities of a miser.  We can sense the blessings that surround us or believe your world is reflected in the headlines.  We can become involved in our church family or wonder why no one ever invites us to participate.  Even though Jesus taught us that we can change, we still cling to familiar ways of perceiving.  Free us, O God, from all that disempowers us.  Lead us to take risks, in spite of the cost to us, to make your Kingdom visible on earth.  Amen.


    During these Lenten days, O God, allow our life experiences to penetrate the protective shell we often build around ourselves.  Lead us to moments that cause us to reflect on our character.  Give us confrontations with enough rude people to keep our spirit of forgiveness highly energized and easily accessible.  Direct us through a number of unexpected life-events, so that our spirit of trust can be tested again and again and be found strong.  Bless us with enough frustrating circumstances so that we may learn how authentic the staying power is of our inner peace.  Enable us to reflect our discipleship as our strength remains built on the rock of faith and trust in you that knows how to weather all storms.