"Co-Creating With God"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 8, 2005
I John 4:7-12, 16-19; Proverbs 31:10-17, 25-31
I am going to ask you to use your imaginations this morning. Consider the issues connected with being a single parent. Assume that by the guidance offered by parenting books, you are performing your tasks in a magnificent fashion. You are brilliant, creative and intensely loving. You have at your command an infinite number of resources. Your talents and abilities are without parallel.
Let me complicate your circumstances. The major challenge you face is that you must rear your children without their being able to see you. They will never be able to hear your spoken words, nor will they ever be able to feel your arms around them. As a matter of fact, your children will never have any objective evidence that you exist aside from a vast array of insights and comments others have made about you from their thoughtful prospective and pre-conceived notions.
Even under such severe handicapping conditions, your greatest desire is to rear your children so that they grow up well-balanced, loving and mature men and women. To accomplish this, you try to use everything at your command to teach them that they have many of the qualities you possess. You must deliver such careful instruction while they live in an environment that tries to teach them many skills that will prevent them from reflecting your likeness. Think about this challenge for a moment. At first this task appears to be an insane possibility. What would you do? What methods might you use as you attempt to communicate with them?
Let me venture some suggestions. You might surround them with symbols they could recognize, signposts that would inspire recognition that someone loves them. You might create something called consequences that are intimately connected to their choices. When they reflect your nature they feel creative, happy and energized. When they choose selfishly they feel pain, discomfort and hurt.
By now most of you recognize that I am not talking specifically about the plight of just any single parent but the issues that confront only one – God. Admittedly, the image is crude and only touches the tip of the iceberg of possibilities. Yet, such a portrayal of God’s relationship with us is not without merit. Even for God, there are no guarantees that during this lifetime we children will make the connection with our single parent.
One of the interesting anecdotes from our past demonstrates a close parallel to what I am describing. As many of you may remember Kate and the Captain Keller enjoyed the life of their young daughter, Helen for only 18 months. Up until that point she was a normal child. Suddenly a rare illness robbed her of the ability to see and hear. Obviously, the parents were devastated by this result. They found themselves in a similar place as God -- they had become invisible and silent to Helen.
They hired the services of Annie Sullivan who established meaningful contact with Helen within several weeks. The relationship between Annie and Helen grew, as young Helen extended herself with patience, attentiveness and an authentic desire to know more of a world she could no longer see or hear.
Helen developed some very unique skills. She became a mystic. She learned to accept what happened to her as a unique gift. She became acutely aware of God’s presence through her Mom and Dad as well as Annie Sullivan, who had become co-creators. Helen learned to communicate in several languages. She could identify accurately various varieties of trees by touching their bark.
Perhaps the most unique skill Helen developed was her ability to sense the vibration of a person’s presence to the point where if that person silently entered a room where she was, even 15 years later, she could call that person by their name. Helen became an inspiration, teaching others that it is possible to sense God’s presence even though such love came from a source that appeared invisible to their senses.
Helen Keller’s life mission statement was, “To help the blind to see and the deaf to hear” as she had learned to do. She also was co-creating with God. She learned from her walk with the Divine presence, the profound responsibility of passing that knowledge on to others. She knew vast numbers of people could have normal eyes and not see and have perfectly healthy ears and not hear.
Last week, Lois and I had to leave the CROP Walk a bit early because our presence was required in Annapolis where our godson was having a birthday. While four of us were visiting, the mother said, “One of the most profound experiences I have had while carrying each of our four children was the closeness I felt with God. There are not words to describe that feeling, but I recognized that God and I were co-creating each of our children for nine months.” She gave me the title for my message today.
Her sense of being connected with God during the creation of a new life is a unique, fragile perspective. It is fragile in the sense that she understood that after the moment of birth the real work begins. Even though she knows that she continues to co-create with God, she realizes that there are no guarantees that the message she sends will be received by her children who hear it. Again we come back to this theme of uncertainty.
Once there were parents that reared two daughters who were half-sisters. One developed a dependency on drugs and alcohol and the other had a baby at the age of 14. The infant died shortly after it was delivered. The young mother was heart sick, even at 14. As the one sister continued to deteriorate with her addictions, the other one had grown to accept the loss of her baby and became a news reporter.
The girl’s mother, who struggled with her own fears of failing as a parent, tried to encourage the young reporter to believe in herself. Life, however, remained difficult. During her broadcasts, her ratings plummeted and she grew despondent. She was fearful that her contract would not be renewed. She visited a pastor whom she had known for years, Wintley Phipps. She said to him, “I’m done. It’s all over for me. I’m history in this field.”
Sensing her deep pain and despair, he put his arms around her and said, “Do you know what? I don’t believe God is finished with you yet. You might lose your job, but I believe God is preparing you for something else even though your current experiences are telling you something else. It will be something wonderful, well beyond your imagination’s ability to anticipate.” By planting such a seed, Pastor Phipps was engaged in co-creating with God. He used the same process that allowed Helen Keller to break free from her darkness and silence.
Indeed, this news reporter soon received her pink slip and she plunged again into despair. She spent many long hours crying as most of her fears became real. Even though her reversals in life came one behind the other, nothing was powerful enough to wipe away the light from Wintley’s words, “God is not finished with you yet. There is a purpose for your being born. Eventually you will find it.”
Because of a very strange, unpredictable set of circumstances, another opportunity came available. As she walked through this opened door, she remembered the words of her pastor friend. Most Americans easily recognize the name of this woman who was in the pit of despair when a friend seized one moment in time to become a co-creator with God. Oprah Winfrey has become one of the great business personalities in the entertainment field, a woman who has never forgotten her roots.
Co-creation is helping others to discover and remember that they were created in the image of God. Only our inability to remember can cause us to believe we are failing in life. Each of us has been called to remind our children and each other that God does not create failures.
Only we can create such a mindset when we forget how much equipment God has pre-installed within us, when we forget to notice God’s handiwork in the physical world that surrounds us or when we forget to sense the nurturing, loving care of our mothers and others as they co-create with God. We can be like the earlier versions of Helen Keller or Oprah Winfrey. Sometimes it takes someone co-creating with God to open the shades of the window that reveals our vast possibilities. We are co-creators with God.
In 1931, Arturo Toscanini was asked to conduct a concert tour across Latin America. Outstanding musicians were selected from the finest orchestras across America. One of the pieces to be played during the tour was Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, a masterwork that the musicians had known since their earliest days.
During their first rehearsal, something incredible happened under Toscanini’s leadership. The musicians realized that under his guidance, something magical was happening to the score. After the first movement, many of the musicians had tears. Their emotional intensity grew to near overwhelming proportions. When the symphony was concluded, all the musicians spontaneously jumped to their feet and gave Toscanini a thunderous ovation. Most of them were in tears.
Toscanini also had become highly emotional. The look on his face was not one of achievement, but one of deep humility. He raised his head and encouraged the musicians to settle down. This is what he said, “That was not Toscanini, my friends. That was not Toscanini at all. That was Beethoven. Beethoven! And just now, you had the opportunity to hear him for the first time.”
Sometimes we can consider ourselves as people who have held on to our beliefs and lived our faith for years. God may be so familiar to us, that like Toscanini’s musicians, we may have missed sensing God co-creating through what we do.
The Sunday Washington Post carries a brief series of personal vignettes entitled, “Autobiography as Haiku.” Recently I read one submitted by a pastor that made me smile at the truth he was communicating. Listen to what he wrote: “I’m starting to sweat; this feels like the worst sermon I’ve ever preached. Most weeks it all comes together, but not this time. I look out at the upturned faces and read nothing. Mercifully I finish one of the longest 18 minutes of my life. I retreat to my hymnal, grateful for some cover. At the door, one of the faithful lets me have it: ‘That was one of the best sermons you’ve ever preached.’ Once again I am reminded that this is not about me.”
We need to remind ourselves that God is still creating in ways we cannot understand. God is saying, “Do not let the joy of co-creating remain only with mothers, many who instinctively know how to do that so well. All of you can extend yourselves in love as they do. I know; I made you.”
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Eternal, faithful and ever present God, we confess that we have much to learn in understanding the art of loving. We want to hold on while knowing we must let go. We wish to remove the pain our loved ones experience while knowing we cannot. We want to give them what is within our storehouse of wisdom, while realizing they must cultivate their own. We want to teach them how to escape the hurdles, tears and failures of life, while neglecting to remember the tools such struggles gave to us. Enable us, O God, to trust you with the destiny of our loved ones. May we find comfort in the truth that you hold the eternal security of all of us. Inspire us to lead by example, teach by a consistency of spirit, and encourage others by accepting them as they are. We pray these thoughts in the spirit of wanting to enhance how we serve. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Ever faithful and loving God, this morning we come filled with thanksgiving for your creating us with such wonderful abilities to care for and nurture each other. You have given us the capacity to teach through our guidance and the thoughtful attitudes and deeds we have learned from you. We realize that the mystery of life continues to unfold around us as many of our yet to be discovered talents remain dormant until our further experiences of life require their use.
Today we celebrate the life of the woman who carried us within her body during the initial phases of our life. Indeed, we pause as a nation to honor and appreciate this woman who sang to us and read to us, who stood vigil over us until our fever broke, who expressed her wisdom and impressed upon us her values even though, at the time, we thought of her in less than loving terms. Somehow she understood that life becomes even more complicated when we try to recover our character and integrity once we have lost them. Indeed, she is an extension of your presence.
May each of us learn to radiate the kind of love that does not count the cost, that does not look at itself as sacrificial and that does not give so that rewards will come. Above all, thank you for Jesus who came to show us and tell us who you created us to be. It is through his spirit that we now pray the prayer he taught his disciples to say . . .