"Love's Source - Feast Or Famine"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 14, 2006
Psalm 22:25-31; John 15:1-8
After numerous interviews with some of Michael’s acquaintances and the confiscation of an arsenal of weapons from his home and the vehicle he hijacked, a number of analysts have pieced together their conclusions. We always want to know what goes on inside of someone’s mind that enables a person to engage in such violent behavior. What could have been missing from the life of this young man whose adventure was still in the process of unfolding?
In a book entitled, Love, the author Leo Buscaglia wrote how love surrounds us, but he cautioned that if some people are so unhappy, angry and frustrated with experiences that do not turn out as they had wished, like spoiled children who cannot have their way, they will not be able to understand or interpret life in ways that tell them that love is everywhere. He concluded a section of his book with these words, “Just because the message of love is not received does not mean that it was not worthy of being sent.” Day after day, the universe blesses us whether we sense it or not.
I remember when I was a freshman at Albright College, I encountered my first atheist. My life had been spent growing up in the church. My Dad is a United Methodist pastor and non-believers were not part of my experience. In my relative naïveté, I thought everyone knew about God. Quite obviously I was wrong. God’s presence was not a part of everyone’s experience.
Art was a remarkable person. He was bright, well mannered and he carried himself with dignity and class. In fact, in some respects he had a more refined character than many of my other friends who had been reared within Christian families. Sometimes students coming from very religious backgrounds use their social life at college to achieve some kind of balance, as though they have to play catch up with the rest of their peers. Art, however, did not waste his time being irresponsible and reckless.
There were times when I talked with Art about God’s gifts. I spoke of the rebirth of nature in the springtime. I considered as incredible gifts the colors of the bluebird and goldfinch, the sounds of countless songbirds and how the various species of birds are able to live in community. Even the warmth of the sun on our skin, the cloud formations and the power with its brilliant light show from severe thunderstorms to me were all part of God’s loving creation.
What I learned from Art was that he did not deny how awesome these things were; he did not attribute their creation to God. From his point of view, aspects of nature were experienced because they were there.
My point is that love is communicated through many different forms of expression. There are also countless symbols that can only be understood as loving when we assign that particular meaning to them. There must be countless individuals who go through life and miss the experience of love because they never learned to recognize what forms and what symbols contained this creative, life affirming energy pattern.
If Michael Kennedy was unable to interpret as love the times his mother held him in her arms to feed him when he was a baby, the times she may have read stories to him, the walks the two of them experienced, the thousands of meals he ate at the family’s table, the times he went shopping with his Dad for young men’s clothing, the CDs, and I-pod type devices that appeared under the Christmas tree, he could have been starved for the unrecognized nurturing love that surrounded him. Is Michael Kennedy’s response to life an example of what happens when we cannot experience love? Perhaps!
In our lesson this morning, Jesus used a well-known metaphor to describe a process familiar to his listeners. A branch has to remain part of the vine in order for it to bear fruit. Jesus said, “If you remain a part of me and my teachings remain a part of you, then you can ask for anything you wish and you shall have it.” (15:7)
This statement is among the more misunderstood teachings of Jesus. We must be a part of the vine for us to experience what the vine produces. We cannot look at the vine as a Divine ATM, a magic wand or a genie that pops out of a bottle to grant instantly dozens of our desires. What was Jesus teaching with this message? Can we desire anything we want and really get it? Not really. The vine does not produce everything we may want.
Success comes, however, when we want enhanced communication skills, a spirit that becomes more beautiful with age and experience, wisdom that becomes more precise, gentle and kind or a heart and mind that does not draw negative conclusions about any person’s character, values and beliefs. Such qualities are the fruit that comes from remaining attached to the vine. Among qualities like these, we can grow as many of them as we want.
Every Sunday we sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” If we carry ourselves everyday with grateful hearts, we will perceive countless forms and symbols that contain and express love that surrounds us.
If, however, we have trained ourselves to perceive through the prism of our expectations, we will miss experiencing the creativity of our universe. Creation was designed to stimulate our curiosity, to inspire our risk taking and to enhance our desire to walk toward more refined horizons in medicine, science and more creative social patterns. Creation was designed to help us develop a more mature understanding of our Creator. From this vantage point, love engulfs us.
Recently Lois and I were invited into the home of John and Marcia Holmes for a delicious meal and to relive with them their recent trip to the Amazon River basin. Their experience reminded me of a story that perfectly illustrates Jesus’ message to his listeners.
During the early days when tall ships transported cargo from one port to another, not all their trips were smooth sailing. Occasionally ships sailed into an ocean environment that created nightmares. When weather conditions were perfect, sailors often experienced what is known as the doldrums. This phenomenon can occur a couple of ticks above or below the Equator when there is no wind for extended periods of time.
One day such a ship encountered these conditions and she lay dead in the water. She drifted for weeks and eventually the crew’s supply of fresh water was exhausted. The sailors were doomed to the three “Ds,” dehydration, delirium and death.
One morning one of the sailors from the ship’s crow’s nest spotted another ship on the horizon. Quickly sailors hurried on deck from down below and ran up their signal flags communicating three words, “Water!” “Water!” “Water!” The other ship hastily signaled back, “Lower your buckets, you are standing in the mouth of the Amazon.”
John and Marcia told us that when the Amazon River empties into the ocean, its fresh water travels on the surface of the salt water beyond 125 miles in all directions, a distance where land would not be visible by that ship’s crew. The crew was literally surrounded by what would save their lives. The men, however, were so preoccupied by their thirst and the lack of wind that no one considered getting a fix on their position. Buckets were lowered and their lives were saved.
When we no longer have the understanding that we are connected to God, think of what we miss. We have to understand that we are only disconnected from the vine through our limited point of view, never from God’s. Like the crew of that ship, we can become so self-absorbed with our personal stuff that we can scarcely see anything else. Love surrounds us but we have to lower our buckets to experience what it means to quench our thirst.
When our group was in Juarez, Mexico several weeks ago the family for whom we built the house had three young boys. One of them was a special needs child. By observing the boy’s physical movements and speech patterns, some of us concluded that he might have a condition known as Tourette’s syndrome.
The mother of these children remained quite visible each day at our work site. We watched how she gave equal love to each of her boys. But the form and symbols of that love were different for each one. She appeared to be working on school lessons with her one son. To another she was encouraging him to help us mix concrete on the ground. To her special needs child, we often saw her rubbing his back as she spoke to him in soft, supportive tones. Many of us loved this child in the same way to his absolute delight.
The spirit of that mother appeared to be one that was filled with gratitude. From our team’s perspective, she did not view her special needs son any differently from the rest. Her gratitude for life was written all across her face. In fact, she was so happy that she cooked dinner for our team. Along with the two professional workers, there were ten of us. Some of the ingredients for the meal cost her a hundred pesos or roughly $10 dollars. I thought of the widow’s copper coins that she placed in the Temple’s treasury and in so doing gave away all that she had.
If we cannot discover love in our midst but instead spend our energy on how we have been slighted, how evil our world has become, how fortunate the lives are of other people, how unfortunate it was that we had such misguided parents in a totally dysfunctional family, or how our lives would change if we won the lottery, we need to awaken.
We will experience love as either feast or famine. The quality of our experience will depend on what captures and holds our attention. Beauty is everywhere. Angels in the flesh surround us. God reaches out to all of us in every form and symbol that we are capable of perceiving. Miracles take place in front of us each time baby birds hatch, bulbs send up their green shoots or we hold a child in our arms that we helped to create.
We have to work on and fine-tune our receiver if we are to see more examples of God’s love. If we cannot see love’s presence, even God cannot break down the barriers we have created. God does not micro manage our lives. God awaits until we leave our forms and then the question comes, “What would you have had me do to communicate to you more effectively how much I love you?”
Beginning this Mother’s Day, why not surrender more of your expectations of life and begin celebrating with gratitude what you have. Within the first week, you will experience such a change in your attitudes and thought patterns that your only regret will be that you did not begin this process of celebration earlier in life.
Love’s expressions are everywhere but unfortunately our experience of them will always be a feast or a famine depending on whether we focus our attention on our gratitude or on our expectations. We have to remain attached to the vine in order to grow the fruit that the vine produces.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving and ever present God, we thank you for all the forms in which love is made visible in our lives. We were willed into existence by your love. We have been nurtured by our parent’s love. We were inspired to learn by the love from our teachers. You gave us the ability to grow even during moments of betrayal, deception and ridicule. We have been called your daughters and sons. Jesus taught us that every life issue could be framed to perfect our skills of spirit and to enhance our abilities. Teach us to recognize even the hidden forms of your love. Help us to transform mountains into vantage points for greater vision. Help us change barriers to love’s presence into becoming stepping-stones for its recognition. Amen.