"The Infinite! Plan On It!"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 11, 2004
I Corinthians 15:19-26; John 20:1-18
Understanding ourselves as
infinite beings grows from a conscious desire to plumb the depths of
who we are as a specie. If we have little or no interest in delving
into and tapping the potential of our mystical side, we will have
little motivation to examine the implications our immortality
presents to us for interpreting life's events. Think about this.
What would change about you if you understood your immortality as
being an absolute fact of creation?
I grew very close to a colleague while ministering on Capitol Hill. We frequently went to lunch and very often the topic of conversation was theology, more particularly immortality. She was not convinced that we survive our physical death. She was a pastor of a large Unity congregation that was located very near to my own.
Many times she said to me,
"Dick, when I die, I just want my life to be over. I have no desire
to go on." I would say to her,
do not have a choice in the matter. Your beliefs, thoughts,
feelings and desires have no power to change the created order.
Creation is what it is. Humanity's beliefs are always changing each
time our assumptions and awareness of creation expand. So get over
it. You are an infinite being whether you want to be or not!
She would laugh. She was cute as a
button, an absolute delight. I enjoyed being with her.
At the age of 92 she died and we held her memorial service here at St. Matthew's this past January. She must have changed her thinking because she told at least two people that if it were within her power, she would come to them in some unmistakable way to let them know that she is fine. She did just that.
Jim Messick from Muskegon,
Michigan e-mailed me some time ago. He said that he was in a restaurant
with his friends. He was on his way to the men's room when suddenly
Amalie surrounded him with her presence, a presence that was beyond
anything he had ever encountered. He had not thought about her in
weeks. In his mind came words that were not his, "Jim, I want you to
know that I am not old anymore." He was totally enthralled by the
experience. It was one of those defining, life changing moments.
The second person was Michael
Patterson, who was part of Amalie's staff. He coordinated the church's
music program. On a regular basis, Michael played Scrabble with her.
He called me late one afternoon and was very excited. He said,
Dick, you are
not going to believe this! Amalie said she would come to me after her
death but nothing happened. I figured that she had not learned how to do
that so I stopped waiting for something to occur. Last night a group of
us was playing Scrabble. As we started the game, I picked up my 7
initial tiles. I paid no attention to them until I focused on what they
spelled. I had randomly drawn A M A L I E F. Do you believe that?!
Her name was Amalie Frank, so the "F" on
his seventh tile had significance.
Multiply these experiences by
a hundred and we might approach an understanding of how the disciples
could overcome their fear of the Romans and the religious authorities
following Jesus' death. These once fear-ridden individuals were the ones
who kept Jesus' message alive. Great power comes to us when our
identities are transformed from being who we think we are to knowing
that we are infinite beings. The insight of this reality was God's
gift to us on Easter morning.
This morning we celebrate the
glorious reality that Jesus did not die, but also the truth that neither
do we. When we tap into this area of our spiritual energy, it
releases the enormous potential for retro-fitting our minds with thought
patterns that allow us to transcend or change what our senses tell us is
real. How else did Jesus get through the incredibly emotional,
intellectual and spiritually draining period that we call Holy Week?
That week was everything but Holy for him.
Think about how our lives
would radically change, if we traded our current identities for ones
that knew we are infinite and that absolutely nothing can ultimately
harm us? The nails of this world were clearly driven into Jesus' hands
and feet, but his spirit remained untouched by them. While hanging on
the cross he still cared for his mother, for the thieves on either side,
even for those who were killing him. Think of what it would mean to
have that kind of power over our world. Jesus once said, "Be of
good cheer, I have overcome the world." When we follow him, so do we.
Our lives can appear empty
when we do not access the remarkable energy that is within us, energy
that comes from our mystical, infinite spirits. All the spiritual forms
in our society are in place, but if we have missed harnessing and
developing our power, the forms will remain empty. Every culture has
its spiritual icons. These icons or forms have great significance but
they only become energized when our inward journey gives power to them.
For example, the power of the
Torah was in place for the Jews. The Sabbath was a permanent fixture.
The rituals, ceremonies and oral traditions were centuries old and well
ensconced in the minds of the Jews. The forms, however, could not
motivate and inspire anyone if the interests of believers remained
focused only on what their senses communicated about their world. We
have our Bibles but are we motivated to read them? If we have no need
for spiritual nourishment and guidance, the Bible remains a book that
easily grows dusty.
Only those who have knowledge
of the infinite can bring their understanding of that world into our
own, an understanding Jesus called the Kingdom of God.
It is a
distinct thought system into which he invited his followers to enter.
What we bring is the profound awareness of a reality we cannot perceive
with our senses, yet it has the power to govern lovingly every decision
and perception that remains at work in our lives.
Always there have been beings who have walked among us in every culture through the many millennia fully aware of this. They have been Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, Roman Catholic, Baptist or United Methodist. These beings have preserved our forms, our signposts that people through the centuries have used for guidance.
Think of it. The Torah,
indeed, the entire Hebrew Bible was preserved through some of the
darkest periods of human history. How and by whom? Even more
interesting was the preservation of many of Jesus' teachings when he
wrote nothing. Again, how was this accomplished and by whom? There is
an answer, but we have to understand and respect the nature of the
infinite before we will accept such a response.
Henry Nouwen, a
Roman Catholic priest and a former professor at Boston University School
of Theology, wrote a book entitled, Letters to Marc About Jesus.
This is what he wrote which may help answer these questions for us:
I don't think you will ever be able to penetrate the mystery of God's revelation in Jesus until it strikes you that the major part of Jesus' life was hidden and that even his public years of ministry, outside of a few people, remained totally invisible to the population of the world that was alive at the time.
Whereas the way
of the world is to insist on publicity, celebrity, popularity, and in
getting the maximum exposure, God prefers to work in secret. You must
have the ability to allow the mystery of God's secrecy, God's anonymity,
to sink deeply into your consciousness because, otherwise, you will
continually be looking in the wrong direction for the results you want
God to reveal. In God's sight, the things that really matter
seldom take place in public. It is the totally unknown people,
praying and working in silence that make the difference in God's
creative patterns. Perhaps the greatest saints remain anonymous!
It is through people such as yourselves that the forms and spiritual icons have been preserved, energized and handed down to each generation who may or may not appreciate them.
We are infinite beings
regardless of what some of us may believe to the contrary. Not only are
we spectators as creation unfolds, but we are also privileged to be
participants. While the revealing of God's will appears slow by our
standards, there is nothing powerful enough to prevent God's will from
being accomplished in every life. Few people teach this but
it is nevertheless true.
This is true because we are
all infinite beings. These lives of ours are but a small paragraph in
a much larger work that now is hidden from our understanding. "What
we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; but the time will come when
we will experience truth face to face." (I Corinthians 13:12)
How we use this orientation toward life to heal ourselves and others is up to us. The simple truth is that Jesus did not die and neither do we. Plan on it. When we make this understanding part of every response, every decision and every goal toward which we reach, we will be able to see forever. Again, plan on it!
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
God of all ages and of all people, we thank
you that the shadows, fears and gloom of Good Friday have surrendered to
the insight of Easter morning. We are filled with gratitude that your
power turns sorrow into joy, despair into hope, defeat into victory, and
evil into a window through which we may view the infinite. Help us, O
God, to translate this event of 2,000 years ago into what is useful
today. Help us burst forth from tombs of selfishness and pride, of
cynicism and skepticism and of doubt and hopelessness. Open our spirits
to possibilities not known to our rational minds and our discerning
emotions. May we sense the infinite everywhere and choose to be a part
of it today. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving and infinite
God, this morning we celebrate one of the great surprises while dwelling
in our solid forms. Few of us can understand the depth of joy that was
experienced by the women as they came to the tomb that first Easter
morning. We thank you that the clouds which covered our faith-history
on Friday yielded to the sunrise of a new day for all humanity.
Jesus once told his
disciples, "Do you believe because you have seen me? How blessed will
be those who believe even though they have not seen me." We thank you
for this truth, even though there will be others who doubt.
O God, may we learn how to radiate fearlessness in the face of adversity, as our confidence builds upon the foundation that we, too, are infinite. Thank you for loving us and guiding us through Jesus who taught his disciples to say when they prayed . . .