"Discovery, A Lonely Process"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - March 5, 2006
Genesis 9:8-17; Mark 1:9-15
During my ministry in West Virginia, I received a call from a man whose young wife had died of complications resulting from breast cancer. He said, “Dick, I need to see you as soon as possible. I am about to go nuts.” Believing that the man needed to talk through his grieving process, I drove to his home in Winchester, Virginia that afternoon.
When I arrived, he gave me a freshly brewed cup of black coffee. He told me that he had been living on coffee for the last 7 hours. Then he told me the experience that prompted his call. He prefaced his remarks by saying, “I would not feel comfortable telling anyone what I am about to tell you. They would either think I am crazy or that I have created some elaborate fantasy as a way of coping with Linda’s death.”
He proceeded to tell me that he had gotten awake about 3:00 a.m. He saw a two-inch circle of light on the wall of his bedroom. He got out of bed to see what was causing it. He looked out of his bedroom window believing that a light must be coming through his shades. When he returned to his bed, he noticed that the light grew brighter and larger. Suddenly his wife appeared in that light which now filled his entire bedroom. He sat frozen on the side of his bed.
He had told his wife the day before she died that he would never remarry. He could not possibly consider another relationship because of the deep love that both of them shared. He vowed that he would wait until he could join her after his death.
Linda was now completely surrounded by light. She appeared as she did in her physical form but her lips were not moving as she intuitively communicated directly through his thought processes.
I know what you promised me. Now I want you to promise me something else. Promise me that you will find someone else with whom to share your life. I am fine! Believe me, I am fine. Do you hear what I’m saying? You are too fine a person to remain alone. Cherish what we had but please learn to love someone as you did me. Do you hear what I am saying?”
He told me that he was so unprepared for the experience that he could not answer her. By this time his pajamas were saturated with perspiration. The image of his wife faded along with the light. He told me that he got up, brewed a pot of coffee and stayed awake until he felt the hour was appropriate to call me. He said, “I know it was Linda because she kept saying, ‘Do you hear what I am saying?’ She must have said those words to me a dozen times a day. Dick, what did I experience last night?”
Scores of people have shared their stories with me. Almost always their story telling is accompanied with, “If I told this to anyone else, they would think I’m crazy.” Ponder for a moment what your thoughts would be if elements from our next reality suddenly broke into your consciousness.
The Scriptures recall numerous events like this, e.g., Moses at the burning bush, Jesus at his baptism, the disciples on the Mt. of Transfiguration and Paul while traveling the road to Damascus. We treasure these stories. What happens to us when it is our turn to experience one of these?
Any time our awareness is dramatically expanded by an encounter that clearly is not of this world, our lives become radically changed. Everyone who has ever told me about their unique experience has rearranged their life’s priorities.
Our lesson this morning describes an experience of Jesus that so shattered his reality that he went into the wilderness to think through the meaning and implications of what had just happened. Larry was fortunate. He simply brewed a pot of coffee and stayed up all night until he could talk through his experience with someone. Jesus was alone with only the wild animals. Our lesson piques our interest by making a passing reference that angels attended to his needs. The details of that angelic presence, however, were not recorded.
An important aspect in this lesson was Jesus’ struggle with alternatives. His known identity was now being assaulted by an internal power struggle. He now had to ask himself, “Who am I?” His life had been tracking in one direction and now his experience was summoning him toward another.
This is such an authentic example of what happens to us during various phases of life. Making decisions that will cause a major shift in our life’s direction can place us in a rather lonely circumstance. There is no one who can sort out for us what we need to decide.
Just so you know how the Larry/Linda drama ended, Larry remained convinced that what he experienced was Linda; he did remarry and he and Jennifer currently have three grown children. Both Larry and Jennifer remain extremely grateful for Linda’s mysterious appearance. Without her intervention, the two might have remained like two ships that passed quietly in the night.
Back to Gospel lesson -- why did the author inject angels into his story? Possibly he was informing his readers that we are never alone in our decision-making. Aspects of life necessitating change will constantly be with us. We find ourselves repeatedly in the role of being such a decision maker.
The tension is always between what serves self and what serves others, what serves maintaining our present circumstances or walking through a doorway to a different experience and what serves fear or our trust in God’s faithfulness.
When we remember that each of us is a son or daughter of God, we will also realize that we are never left alone. God’s love could not possibly abandon any of us. However, our fear that God does often results from our fear of the unknown future toward which all of us move. Jesus identified with the words, “You are my son whom I love very much.”
We grow by faith and trust, something that Jesus demonstrated to his followers by word and example, whether by his mentally wandering in a wilderness at the beginning of his ministry or his wandering in a garden shortly before and after his final prayer at the end of his journey.
When Jesus asked his listeners to follow him, he did so knowing he also followed a similar calling. The question is -- are we as open to God’s faithfulness as he was? We may not experience the Holy Spirit descending on us like a dove, or experience a voice coming from a burning bush, but following our guidance will always remain a lonely process UNTIL we remember that God’s guidance comes in many forms that provide lots of support. We are never left alone. I want you to remember that when the dark times come.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving and merciful God, we are constantly humbled by your constant, unfailing love. There are moments when we question our worthiness. When we become satisfied with our lives, it is our habits that reveal the distance we need to grow. When unresolved conflicts remain, we learn the value of making new decisions. When we fail at waiting in peace, we learn of our lack of patience. When we are dominated by the need to be right, we learn how little we value the points of view that others provide. Help us learn, O God, that both our strengths and weaknesses can guide us. Though there are times we stumble, guide us during these days of Lent toward the horizons of your will. Amen.