"God's Greatest Challenge - Communicating"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 27, 2006
Exodus 32:1-9; John 6:56-69
Keep in mind the obvious barriers to your effective communication. We are physical beings that think in material terms, i.e., social skills, education, vocations, relationships, housing, families, accomplishments and health. We define most aspects of life by their physical forms and applications.
There is the issue of language requirements. In numerous countries like China and India there is no common language that everyone understands. Some people make claims that they manage relatively well but true communication is often rare where dialects are involved.
There are also the issues surrounding the cultural distinctions among the world’s people, distinctions that have molded how they perceive. If a person was born in Thailand, for example, or reared in China where the Communists tried to wipe out all vestiges of religious practice, he or she may never have heard the name of Jesus.
There is the issue of what to do about communicating to people who are not predisposed toward any concept of God. In the same society where such people live, there are others who are extremely religious. They may have defined their beliefs so rigidly that authentic communication may be impossible to achieve with them.
For example, in many Christian groups a BIG question still lingers regarding the nature of the Scriptures. Has God literally spoken through the Bible word for word as some suggest or, are the Scriptures a record of the faith journey made by people who have gone before us? With such passionate feelings being expressed on both sides of this issue, how would you communicate to these people if you were God?
This is not an empty exercise I am proposing. People spend a lot of time praising God and others vent their anger by blaming God for a host of difficulties they cannot solve. All I am suggesting by such thinking is for us to empathize a bit more with the challenges that even God faces.
We may think that we are talking about communication between human beings in these instances, but not really. If we think that God is the ultimate communicator, we need to think about the form in which we imagine this dialogue is taking place. God has been communicating for thousands of years. What message have we received?
Look at the thought forms circulating in societies all over the earth under the banner headline of “The World’s Great Religions.” Who has the correct message? Quite obviously the followers of each religion think they do. Again, how would you communicate if you were God?
Last week I received an article from a friend of mine entitled, Jesus Is Not A Republican. The accompanying e-mail said, “Dick, this is an excellent read.” The piece was written by Randall Balmer and was printed in The Chronicle Review. In preparation for my message this morning, I engaged in an experiment in communication. I sent the article to our District Superintendent, then to an Islamic friend of mine, and five others.
Our D.S. wisely wrote back and said, “Thanks for sharing.” My Islamic friend did not respond. However, the five others who sent a response were off the charts in terms of their passionate disapproval of the article, replete with name-calling.
It was interesting to read their responses filled with riveting counterpoints evoked by alternate points of view. The language was almost as passionate as the current heated arguments about the morning after birth control pill that can now be purchased without a prescription, or the demotion of the ninth planet in our solar system. Poor Pluto! Such strong opposing views offered by otherwise reasonable people, send shivers up the spines of many pastors who dare meddle in the affairs of religion or politics.
You may think I am kidding that I should mention religion, but it is true. You may have read or heard where a large congregation recently terminated their pastor of many years because he finally came out of the closet and admitted that he no longer believed in the Devil or in the existence of Hell. His position on those two issues was enough to cancel the validity of all his pastoral and administrative contributions through the years. Who really was on trial when that verdict was handed down?
Do we still think that God is not challenged by how, when and where to communicate? It would be like standing at the zoo and trying to speak in one language to all the animals that are in residence. What do you say to the foxes that want to eat the chickens? We know that all things are possible for God, but look around at the condition of the world’s people. Again, God has been at this process for thousands of years. Something is amiss.
With this lengthy background in mind, let us now turn our attention to our Scripture lesson for this morning. Today’s lesson finds Jesus completely frustrated in his attempt to communicate with his listeners. He is extremely exhausted by trying to build bridges that stretch humanity’s understanding between themselves and God. Our hearts have to go out to him because all during his ministry, he became painfully aware that his words often fell on deaf ears.
His how am I doing meter was squarely in the hands of his faithful twelve disciples. Yet, observing their absorption and retention rate had to be a constant source of anxiety. How many times did his disciples fail to grasp his message? “Please tell us,” they asked, “what did you mean by the parable of the Sower?” (Luke 9:8) How many times did he ventilate his frustration with them? How many times did he find them arguing among themselves over such insignificant trivia when compared to the lessons he was trying to teach them?
Jesus wanted so badly for people to understand his message that he employed the use of a very graphic metaphor. He said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them to life on the last day.” Was he really talking about cannibalism? Of course not! In very frustrated language he was saying, “Take what you hear, take what you see in my character, my attitudes, my thought patterns and my emotions and put them inside of you! When you do this, you will begin the journey of understanding my words concerning eternity.”
Jesus knew that he was talking to people who were making their decisions based solely on their material experiences, decisions that did virtually nothing to raise their level of consciousness about the possibilities for life when love reigns and when they totally trusted God for the outcome of all things. If Jesus were here today, he would give us the same message. Issues that literally chain us to the day-to-day concerns about our physical lives cause us so much stress and anxiety. They are killing us.
We have not mastered the qualities of eternity. We have the potential to do so but we do not access such things. Why? What stands in front of us appears so important that it requires more and more of our energy just to sustain our growing concern about it. We cannot let go of it. It consumes us and it begins to define us. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is that is who you are.” He also said, “Suppose your passionate pursuits help you win your battles and in so doing you have grown blind to the purpose for which you were born?” (Mark 8:36) Do we really understand the meaning of these words?
In our lesson, Jesus realized his fumble and tried to recover later in our Scripture lesson by saying, “What gives life is God’s spirit; human power is of no use at all. The words I have spoken to you will bring God’s life-giving Spirit to you. Yet, some of you do not believe this.”
Then in the midst of realizing that many of his listeners were still not understanding his message he said, “This is the very reason I told you that no people can come to me unless God makes it possible for them to do so.” He finally understood that he alone could not make people understand. The choice of what we hear, in many cases, has already been made for us by our beliefs and attitudes. We may no longer be open or be able to understand new insights, even if those insights are coming from God.
Jesus painfully watched his audience dwindle as many of his disciples refused to follow him anymore. He sadly turned to his own disciples and said, “What about you – are you also going to leave me?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that guide us toward eternal life.”
This was Jesus’ message! Peter understood. He got it! Jesus was teaching in the language of this world about the qualities of eternity. Again, how do we honestly expect God to accomplish this? What vehicles of such information are at God’s disposal that would universally cause humans to understand this message?
Our personal assumptions and conclusions, for example, are all very logical because they support our points of view. Yet, few of us can agree on much of anything when we approach the issues of life about which we are most passionate. Once we have our minds made up on some aspect of life, of faith or about what we value, we may have rendered ourselves deaf to anything that God is communicating to us.
In his deep frustration over his inability to communicate effectively, Jesus literally wanted to crawl inside everyone’s body so they would know the truth about which he was speaking. His graphic metaphor was not about cannibalism, it was not about the bread and the wine of the Last Supper; his words communicated his passionate desire that his listeners grasp his message.
The language of eternity does not address anything that we can identify with our senses. We can only see the results once such qualities have been internalized in people.
One day we will have to release everything that we highly value. Jesus showed us this on the cross. Jesus looked down and in essence said to his detractors, “You think you know what you are doing by killing me, but you know nothing about what I came here to teach the people of this world.”
The language of eternity is about the quality of spirit by which we live. Even on that cross, amid all his excruciating pain, Jesus showed us that love could still be expressed.
Reason and logic cannot give us inner peace while we stand in the midst of chaos. They cannot give us vision when all alternatives appear as dead end streets. They cannot give us balance and quietness in a world filled with opposites, controversy and noise. They cannot give us trust in God’s creativity when it looks as though terrorists are in every nation of the world preparing to destroy what they do not understand.
Recognizing the language of eternity is a gift that is beyond value. A time will come when many life-issues that really matter to us at the moment, no longer will.
I will never forget my visit with a woman who was nearly one hundred years old. She had experienced so many firsts for humanity in her lifetime and now there was not much that mattered to her. In trying to establish some point of reference that would enable us to talk, I asked her how many children she had. She thought for a moment and then she said, “I can’t remember. And do you know what? I don’t care. You are here with me, and that is all that matters. Tomorrow I may forget that you were here but right now, let me show you some doilies I have made.” What a priceless visit. I was deeply impressed with her peace, even while recognizing that she had memory loss.
The language of eternity describes an environment where earthly forms and structures do not exist. Such a language describes qualities of spirit such as peace, vision, balance, quietness, trust, understanding, acceptance and creativity. Each of us has the potential to learn from this language, but only when we are capable of resonating with the One who said, “Peace, be still, and know that I am God.”
God does communicate and God communicates quite effectively. Jesus once said, “Only my sheep know my voice.” These were not words directed to an exclusive belief system that one day would call itself, Christianity. Such words were describing the people who had learned a universal language that describes the qualities that define our eternal spirits. Such an understanding does produce peace in those who truly understand that Jesus was describing his Kingdom that is not of this world. With a passion, he wanted all of us to make room in our lives for living in that inner space.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We come into our temple this morning, O God, with gratitude that our lives have the ability to reflect your will. Yet, many times we are more creatures of habit than people who walk by faith. So often our routine responses write the script for our lives. Our familiar patterns for living may prevent us from finding creative solutions for what we face. Our understanding may have come from others instead of from our relationship with you. Lift our eyes beyond the shadows of this earth so that we might see the wondrous alternatives that surround us. Teach us to affirm the beauty in others, the guidance your presence provides and the perception your spirit permits us to achieve. Amen.