"Nothing Stops God's Will"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - January 4, 2004
Psalm 72:1-7; Matthew 2:1-12
For example, we hear grieving
people say, "I guess God needed our son in Heaven more than we
needed him here on earth." When someone meets the love of their
life they may say, "Considering when and how we met, only God
could have brought us together." People keeping watch over someone
slowly dying will frequently ask, "Why doesn't God take her? What
purpose is there for allowing her to suffer like this?" We
assign a lot of responsibility to God even though we are the ones
interpreting events through the lenses of our limited understanding.
The story of Mary and Joseph is one
of those episodes in our faith history that encourages us to
conclude that God is a masterful architect. As with this and other
Biblical accounts, God appears very busy in the lives of some people
who have been chosen to serve some highly unique Divine
purpose. If our assumption here is correct and we are drawing the
right conclusion, where and how do we fit into God's creative
Let us review the story in our
lesson. The astrologers arrive in Jerusalem and ask King Herod
where the Messiah is to be born. The chief priests and
teachers of the Law indicate that ancient prophecies pointed to
Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah. The astrologers travel
to Bethlehem with their gifts and find the baby and Mary in a
house. On their return trip, however, they by-pass Jerusalem
because God had warned them in a dream to do so.
In verse 13, we read about more
Divine guidance: "After the Magi left, an angel of the Lord
appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, 'Herod will be looking
for the child in order to kill him. Get up, take the child and his
mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you when it is
safe to leave.'"
Such details suggest that God
appears to be highly involved in the lives of some people. Is this
a correct assumption and an accurate conclusion? For thousands of
years our faith has answered this question with a resounding "Yes!"
Might there be more to this question then we think?
What makes discerning God's will such a challenge is that we are never clear on the meaning of any event while it is happening. Secondly, we have no way of determining what is actually an act of God or merely our perception of an event as we view it through the eyes of our faith tradition.
For example, I told the Bible study
last Tuesday morning that as my biography was unfolding, there were
numerous close encounters with incidents that could have ended my
life. Many of us have such stories. The physical world can be a
very dangerous place. We make mistakes in judgment. We may find
ourselves at the wrong place at the right time and be killed by a
stray bullet as happened Friday to a young man who was walking near
his home. We are fortunate to have survived for as long as we
have. Have we been spared because of some Divine purpose? We
give events their meaning by how we interpret them. Is this the
same as perceiving God's will?
The arrival of the astrologers, for
example, had only limited meaning to Mary and Joseph until
they arrived in Egypt and found that they could use the gifts the
Magi brought to support themselves economically until Joseph found
We remember the story of the angel
coming to Mary to announce Jesus' birth. We can only imagine what
traveled through her mind as she waited and waited for Jesus to
begin his life's work. For years Jesus remained in the carpenter's
shop in order to provide for the family. As the eldest son, that
was his responsibility. There was no "kingdom without end" as the
angel had predicted.
We can empathize even more with
Mary when several years later she stood at the foot of the cross and
watched everything about which she had hoped and dreamed come to an
end that was unthinkable. She could not have understood the meaning
of any of it. All she could do was agonize over the loss of her
son. Some of us know her anguish very personally because we, too,
have experienced the death of a child.
When we study Jesus' life, it
becomes clear that he understood how challenging it was to discern
God's will. He once referred to God's activity with these
words, "The wind blows wherever it wishes, you hear the sound it
makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is
going." (John 3:8).
What we must ultimately trust is
that God is the purposeful Creator of everything. God's will for
every person will eventually achieve the end that God planned.
We can say anything we want about "free will," but having choices
does not give us the freedom to establish the curriculum God
created for each soul. Nothing can interrupt God's will from
We tend to express our faith about
God's activity based on our limited experiences while living in our
current physical forms. Our days here are all that we know. How much
can we honestly discover about God's will for any of us? Since we
are infinite beings, our sojourn on earth may represent an inch
compared to the miles of spiritual evolution we have yet
ahead of us.
In spite of what we may believe to the contrary, we cannot stop God's will from unfolding in each of our lives. The skill a vast majority of us appear to have mastered is knowing how to engage in delay. Many of us have not yet learned how to detach from the classroom our physical world represents. Through our choices from among the world's many distractions, we delay our own growth. God, however, has infinite patience and will await the moment when each of us awakens to a greater truth than what we currently understand. This is good news for all of us!
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
O God of infinite wisdom, with the New Year
upon us, help us to consider the importance of living in the present.
Too many of us define our lives by mistakes we made in the past. Guide
us to consider the events of yesterday as teachers. You did not intend
for us to become victims held in the prison of painful memories. You
taught us to forgive and let go. Enable us to trust you with our
spirit-draining perceptions, so that we might invest all our energy in
the present. Bring to us opportunities to express everything you
created us to be. We forget that no two of us are alike. Help us to
learn that it is our kind that is needed right now in the world. Guide
us to understand that you are with us every moment as tomorrow comes.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
As we enter our place of worship, O God, we
constantly seek guidance for better ways to manage our lives. We often
feel the tension between our wanting more control over our destinies and
our wanting to let go and trust you for the outcome. We find events
coming into our lives that evoke our fears even though we have no idea
where such events might lead us. We do not know what to avoid and what
has come into our lives with the purpose of helping us to sharpen our
skills for living.
Is there no rest, O God, for the inner debate
that reigns within us? As with every person ever born, we face a maze
of choices that often take us in directions we could never anticipate.
We suffer losses that appear "unfair" and yet our faith teaches us patience and trust. We advance in our careers knowing that perhaps others may be more deserving. We do not understand what path is the one that would best serve you, so we ask, O God, that you shine through us every moment even when we do not notice. As we look at the lives of Mary and Joseph today, may we learn as they did to live through our fears as we leave our mark in history. Help us to trust the flow of life as we discover that we can bloom wherever we find ourselves planted. We remain confident that your will is being done. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .