"Our Response To Ignorance"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - June 3, 2005
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Jesus was such a visionary. He did not see things as they are but as they could be. He knew that the human potential was far beyond the comprehension of even the most brilliant minds. However, Jesus found himself living among people whose attitudes, habits and routines had not changed for centuries.
How does one bring change to such people? How could Jesus convince his fellow countrymen that God’s plan for them meant they had to begin living in and taking their cues for truth from a world they could not see? Furthermore, what is our response when we feel called to go into the world and invite people to become involved in the work of this same invisible world we now call consciousness?
There is an element in most of us that does not like change. Change is frightening. Change introduces uncertainty. Jesus message challenged how the Jews looked upon the sacred Law of Moses. According to Jesus’ teachings, obedience to the Law was not the only game in town. Jesus taught that what was more important than the Law was the spirit in which a deed was done. People could observe obedience; they could not, however, see the quality of spirit that inspired that obedience.
Joseph Lister, the surgeon to Queen Victoria, began to believe that something invisible was causing infection in his patients. The scientific community had not yet discovered the existence of microbes. Dr. Lister insisted that the physicians who were under his purview should scrub their hands vigorously before each procedure, even if that procedure was a routine examination. His colleagues scoffed at the idea and thought Lister had gone insane. Yet the infection rate in his patients dropped dramatically.
Some of us would rather cling to the discoveries of yesterday than to stretch toward what remains new and challengingly different. People were no different in Jesus’ day.
There is nothing more remarkable than to observe the acceleration of change caused by the evolution of the computer’s role in our lives. Think how this product of visionaries has contributed to every aspect of life. For example, once computer information was stored on a floppy disk, then on a CD and now on a memory stick. All the material on a computer’s hard drive can now be stored on such a stick and carried in a person’s pocket. We can carry our office information with us anywhere, plug it into another computer and have access to it.
People are no longer laughing at what appears absurd or ridiculous as they did when Dr. Lister spoke. People no longer have the luxury of remaining skeptical or closed minded. The wisdom of, “He who hesitates is lost” is as valid today as when it was first uttered. A question looms: What has changed the minds of the agnostics, skeptics and doubters? This morning we are going to examine our response to those who cannot accept change or grasp the significance of new ideas.
Interestingly enough, Jesus provided a universal response to ignorance nearly 2,000 years ago. In our Gospel lesson this morning, we find Jesus defying the prevailing opinion of a group of very intelligent people. As you recall the story, a Jewish official had asked Jesus to lay his hands on his deceased daughter. By doing so he thought Jesus could restore her to life.
Upon his arrival at the official’s home, Jesus asked the mourners to leave. When they learned his reason for doing so, “They started to make fun of Jesus. Jesus, however, went into the girl’s room, took her hand and she got up.”
What is the message here? His universal response is one that has worked in every century within every level and vocational discipline of life. Regardless of what others believe, results communicate loud and clear. Our lesson states, “The news about this spread all over that part of the country.” Results always spread the “good news.” Skeptics sooner or later either jump on the bandwagon or they are left behind.
There was a time when several disciples from a skeptical John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked, “John wants to know, are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” Jesus never answered them with a “yes” or “no.” Jesus allowed the results of his life to tell the story, e.g., He said, “Go back and tell John what you see; the blind can see, the lame walk, lepers are made clean,” etc. Results deliver God’s message with far more clarity then our articulated reasons for believing as we do.
Few of us can successfully address the ignorance of someone’s closed mind. Jesus failed repeatedly at this same task. Many skilled and intelligent people refused to understand the revolutionary ideas that accompanied Jesus’ inner world. The same closed minds are with us today. We must change how we perceive God, each other and our world. If we do not, we will be left clinging to yesterday’s beliefs that will no longer work for accomplishing the task before us -- that of building a world community.
When we carry ourselves with joy and peace while living in harmony with God’s presence – it is God who speaks through us. People connect and resonate with that presence. This is why the Jewish official in our lesson came to Jesus. This is why a woman wanted to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. This is why Nicodemus sought the counsel of Jesus. This is why a Roman centurion came to Jesus hoping he would heal his servant.
How do we respond to ignorance? We don’t; we let the spirit of God do the communicating. When we build a life with God at the center, we become agents of change for others. We have seen this theme repeated time and again in the life of our church.
We are sent forth to do God’s work, but we were never expected to accomplish that task alone. Jesus said, “I will be with you always.” When we have total confidence in this truth, we can relax our concerns that the success of a particular outcome is up to us. It is not. It is God who creates. We are only privileged to be the agent of that change. All we need to do is show up in a challenging circumstance and God will do the rest. When you trust this process, your worries about success and failure will cease.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Kind and compassionate God, we are drawn to you as a moth to the flame. Yet, as we approach you, we are not consumed. Instead, we are given life in abundance. We have been taught to know only the way of Jesus Christ, yet the voices of the world are many. The prizes of this world often define our success. Tradition and our interpretations of the Scriptures have defined our faith. We confess that our definitions of truth have enabled us to find fault with others. Enable us to hear again the words of the Master, “O Ye, of little faith.” Enable us to hold within ourselves a simple and humble trust that it is your will that is unfolding and not our perception of it. Lead us to accept life as it comes, even as Jesus did in the garden on the night that he was betrayed. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Thank you, O God, for calling us to center our lives around matters of spirit. There are moments when life confuses us. We do not know why events occur as they do. We find ourselves searching and hungering for what appears to lie beyond our grasp.
We are grateful that we do not need to understand life’s complexities before we trust. We do not have to possess the reasons for life-reversals before we experience peace. We do not need answers before happiness becomes a by-product of our lives. We thank you that you never tire of giving us new ways to define ourselves, skills to use during our struggles and a renewed resolve to strengthen our faith after a fragile moment has come and gone.
Loving God, teach us the art of perceiving with our spirits rather than through our physical senses. Teach us to view life as a privileged journey rather than a series of successes and failures. Truly our lives become more meaningful from our experience of both the valleys and the mountain peaks. Caution us about making judgments that more define us than what stands before us. As we continue our pilgrimage, may the spirit underlying our words and deeds teach others that you are our friend. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .