"The Task Of Translating God's Love
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 3, 2004
Isaiah 49: 8-13; I Timothy 3:14-16
As a result of such thinking, some of us may be moving toward a
relationship with God inspired more by our expectation of having
spiritual security and comfort. I have often wondered if the concept of
Salvation was more based on our receiving a reward than on our
trust-walk with God even when we are confronted with some emotional
crucifixion. When life-experiences shatter our comfort zone as they
often do, our responses from the reward frame of reference are quite
predictable. We may feel betrayed, forsaken, abandoned and angry.
For example, Jewish theologians questioned where God was during the Holocaust. We wonder where God was when our teenager was killed in a car accident. Where was God when our wife or husband permanently disappeared from our family because of a fantasy that someone else had the ability to fill his or her imagined vacuum created by perceived unmet needs? Where is God during life’s painful and frustrating episodes?
During the clean up efforts in Florida a woman recently said, “God never tests us beyond our ability to endure, but let me tell you something. By experiencing four major hurricanes within six weeks, I am reaching my limit of endurance.” Such a statement, as accurate as it may be, is defining this woman’s expectations with God.
Perhaps without realizing it, our expectations have defined how we want God to behave toward us. We may look upon our faith as a safe harbor that provides us with the physical and emotional comforts of the world until we remember that Jesus died on a cross, that all of the original disciples except John died martyr’s deaths, that he asked us to be a light in darkness, to forgive 70 times 7 and to be the leaven for the entire loaf. Jesus guided his listeners to rethink their understanding of God. God’s role is not to protect us, not to insulate us from chaos, not to spare us from defeat and hardships and not to prevent failure in our relationships.
Even Jesus failed in his relationship with Judas because relationships always involve someone else whose responses we cannot define or determine. Besides, how can we become a guiding light if we never encounter darkness? How can we hone the skill of forgiveness if we are never offended? How can we experience faith if we never face circumstances that appear to have no creative alternatives?
In our lesson today, Paul supplied his readers with a statement of faith. He wrote, “No one can deny how great is the secret of our religion.” Then Paul gave us a formula: “Jesus appeared in human form, was shown to be right by the Holy Spirit, and was seen by angels. He was preached among the nations, was believed in throughout the world, and was taken up to heaven.” Notice how universal Paul understood Jesus’ role to be among humanity. He came to teach all of us how to make God’s image visible.
There is nothing in Paul’s words about believers being excused from anything. What we have the opportunity to do, however, is to respond with our own wave of loving energy, a wave that travels away from us in an identical fashion as God’s energy flows.
Today we celebrate World Communion Sunday. What is remarkable is that from a humble group of disciples, who learned to harness and use their loving energy, has come a drama that supports a cast of millions of people around the world. Today we celebrate our unity.
Paul wrote, “He was preached among the nations and was believed in
throughout the world.” That loving wave of energy attracts others who
have found meaning from living the way he taught. We participate in
creation itself. All human life is enhanced when we discover that we
have the power to change our attitudes, reframe our past and present
experiences and learn to perceive others with kindness.
God’s love is very patient, constantly surrounding us, invisibly nurturing the seeds we sow yet operating independently from our perceived goals, needs and desires. It has been said, “If you want to make God smile, tell God your plans.” Let me give you a simple illustration that may be helpful in revealing how God’s love is directed toward everyone with great consistency.
When we lived in West Virginia, we had a colony of feral cats in our backyard. I enjoy this unique animal that was considered sacred by the ancient Egyptians. As I also enjoy doing with birds, I fed them. I put the food in front of me, sat on the ground and waited. Some cats eventually learned to trust me. They were eager to see me coming and would allow me to pet them as they ate. I spoke to them constantly and they grew accustomed to my voice.
There were other cats that did not care to be around me. When they saw
me coming they immediately scampered from the backyard. Other cats were
more curious and they sat at a distance and watched me, a distance that
continued to shrink as their levels of confidence became stronger.
The cats who knew me and who had overcome the fear of their
circumstances experienced my touch. But my touch was available to the
While the world is filled with people, only some of them have gotten to know the One who has provided for every life form on earth with what it needs to grow and bear fruit. Some of us are in daily contact with God with our thoughts of gratitude. Some of us need our Sabbath inoculation of spiritual nourishment. Some of us remain more casual when it comes to giving form to our faithfulness to church attendance. A round of golf holds equal or more value than being in the pew. There are still others of us who live as though human beings resulted from some mathematical probability and the frame of reference that gives our lives meaning is the changing events of the physical world.
Unfazed by where we are individually, God’s loving energy flows consistently over, around and through each of us. When we respond, an entire unseen universe of remarkable possibilities unfolds before us. While this dimension of values, skills, and abilities existed from the beginning of human consciousness, only some of us have developed the vision to see it and the desire to use what we have found. It is this dimension that Jesus called, “The Kingdom of God.”
Now it is our turn to continue being the leaven for the loaf of humanity so that others will one day recognize what it is we Christians celebrate today – we are one. As we come to the table, let us remember not only our identity but also our responsibility to share Christ’s message with others – in spite of what label we wear, God loves each of us equally. God wants to touch all of us, but only when we are willing to come freely and without fear.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving and always merciful God, we often
come to your son’s table because it is our habit to do so. Like saying
the Lord’s Prayer, communion is easy to receive. Just as forgiving
others as we want to be forgiven becomes difficult, so does leaving his
table to become a light in the world. So often our faith is not
translated into a visible form. So often our attitudes reflect self
interest rather than kindness. So often we enjoy love’s energy only
when it is coming to us. Our need to be right hides our ability to
love. Kindle our remembrance of Jesus so that our discipleship speaks
with clarity. May others come to know him and you because of our
presence in the world. We pray these thoughts in Jesus’ name. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Eternal God, how
grateful we are to be here today. Jesus reminded us that if we have
faith the size of a mustard seed, we could move barriers the stature of
mountains and cast them into the sea. Today Christians all over the
world are witnesses to that.
Jesus never traveled
more than a hundred miles from the place where he was born. He never
wrote anything that has been preserved. He began his ministry with only
12 people in one of the most obscure places in the world. From such
humble beginnings, your spirit of love has inspired people of every
race, culture and region of the earth to follow his example.
Their cultural frame of reference is different. We might not recognize many of their forms of worship. Yet radiating from their music, their prayers, their enthusiasm for life is the very contagious love that unites us all. Thank you God for giving form to what happens when people like us tell other people about you and how you have made such a difference in how we view the world. Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans and on and on we can go with our labels – we are all members of the chorus of those who recognize something wonderful has happened because Jesus came, taught, died and conquered death. Thank you for these moments when his disciples all over the earth will break bread together and share the cup as each of us remembers the task he gave to us – witnessing to how radiating loving energy empowers life. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .