"Nothing Stops God's Will"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - January 4, 2004

Psalm 72:1-7; Matthew 2:1-12

     One of the fascinating topics that we seldom study in depth is the will of God and how that will becomes translated through our life-experiences. We find ourselves talking about it as though we have intimate knowledge of how this process happens. Do we? As we have discovered, we can easily become confused, frustrated, bewildered and yet also awestruck when we interpret God's will as a force that has directly influenced our lives. 

     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 will?  

     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 work.   

     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 being accomplished.        

     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! 


    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.  Amen.


    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 . . .