"The Future, A Visionary's View"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 2, 2006

Psalm 51:1-12; Jeremiah 31:31-34


     If God has a problem with us in the short term that remains unsolvable even for our Creator, it would no doubt be in the arena of communicating in such a manner that all of us receive the same Word.  Since God does not micro-manage our lives, we are free to experience God any way we desire.  From Biblical times our faith tradition has told us that God communicates through people. The problem has been that frequently we have as many interpretations of Godís Word as we have people listening to it or reading it.   

     For example, some people believe that once God dictated the Scriptures, God never again spoke with such definitive authority.  Others understand Godís Law that if a person converts to Christianity from Islam that God is offended and the convert must be put to death.  Still others believe that God is not involved with either method of communicating and that such ideas are based more on our assumptions than anything Divine. 

     This morningís lesson in Jeremiah is a good example.  This passage from Jeremiah is truly the product of a visionary, preparing us for the remarkable truth that comes to us on Easter morning.  We do not die.  However, Jeremiah was a Hebrew prophet writing about Godís nature from the understanding and background of his heritage.   

     From the passage, Jeremiah is quite clear that what God intends to do is only for the Jews.  He has God say,  

The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this:  I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  None of them will have to teach a neighbor to know the Lord, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs.  I, the Lord, have spoken. 

     Of course, what we Christians have done is to take what God spoke to Israel and appropriate it for ourselves.  Regardless of what conclusions we develop from reading this passage, what was God communicating through Jeremiah? Where would human consciousness have to be for everyone to have a common understanding of Godís reality for us?

     What Jeremiah is describing is a time when everyone will share the same awareness.  Because humanity has been fragmented in its understanding of God since the dawn of civilization, there may be only two alternatives:  Either Godís time frame for the unfolding of this awareness is tens of thousands of years in the future, or it is eternity when we finally experience what awaits us when we leave our physical forms.

     My hunch is that Jeremiah was given a vision of eternity.  This will definitely be a time when each of us will comprehend the same reality.  Think of it this way:  At that moment, we will not have our ethnicity and the values that come from our cultural diversity. We will not have the gender issues that seem to inflame our passions and judgments.  We will not have material wealth that evokes themes like greed, theft and the artificial sense of security that it creates.  We will not have differing scriptures, theologies or ideologies.  We will not be motivated by the need to fix social structures or people who have engaged in deviant behavior. According to Jeremiah, God has created a time when this will happen, a time when each of us will awaken from our present cocoons of limited understanding.

     There will no longer be the labels like new age, atheist, agnostic or born again Christian, Muslim or Jew when each of us exits our body and discovers that very little is like what we had previously thought.  Can we believe that Godís love for each of us, sinner and saint alike, is this wide and deep?  Listening to the judgments we make about each other, it should make us wonder.  Where is love for each other among all our diverse communities of faith?

     Many years ago several Native American tribes told stories about a multi-colored, massive valley that was hand crafted by the Great Spirit.  This theme was the substance of many fables and legends shared around the campfires of the frontiersmen and women who were traveling west in their covered wagons. 

     When the descendants of Europeans stood on the south rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time, to the person, they greeted what they saw with a profound silence.   No one could have imagined the depth and breadth of what was now their collective understanding.  All the stories had been true.  This is the way it will be when all of us leave our physical forms. 

     I believe this awareness came to the Apostle Paul when he wrote,  

There are inspired scriptures, but they are temporary.  There is knowledge but it will pass.  Our gifts of knowledge and inspired scriptures are only partial.  When what is perfect comes, what is partial will disappear.  What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror.  The time is coming when we will stand face to face with the truth of who we are.  We will then know ourselves as God knows us.     (I Corinthians 13:8f) 

     At that moment, no one will have to teach anyone about Godís reality.  One by one as we transition from this life, Godís reality will instantly become abundantly clear.  This is what God was communicating through Jeremiah.

     There is a cartoon that features two butterflies in flight.  The one is saying to the other, ďDo you remember all that stuff we learned when we were caterpillars?  As you can see, none of what we learned applies anymore.Ē   

     Right now the faithful in every religion hold on to what they consider sacred as though it were the path to God.  No religion gives any margin of error to what the early creators of their faith traditions wrote.  Further, none of them gives any evidence that a possibility might exist that their understanding of God could be anything less than perfect.  Surely, Jeremiah was not talking about such awareness coming to us human beings who remain so confident about what we know.   We are standing miles apart in our understanding and in the practice of what we believe.

     As we conclude our period of Lent, give some thought to this idea.  Think about the possibility that God loves each of us equally, and fully intended, since the beginning of time, to put us in our limited cocoons so that we might learn the skills of how to create through the decisions we make.  God did that, all the while knowing that a time would come when our temptations and mistakes, our triumphs and glories will be understood in a much broader context of Godís created order, a reality that now remains invisible to our senses.  Jeremiah saw it.  The Apostle Paul saw it.  Jesus knew it. 

     As we approach Easter morning, might we also bring a new interpretation to what Jesus called, the Kingdom of God?  Our next destination will feature a recognition that will be uncluttered by the assumptions we made while living as creatures within a material world.  Amen.

THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

     Loving God, from the beginning of time, you have surrounded us with invitations to live in harmony with you.  Your calls to us come in many forms.  Many of them are only recognized by each of us personally.  We enter worship wanting to reflect your will and yet we become distressed when others do not reflect ours.  Your love comes to us without our asking and our love often has requirements, needs and limits.  Your spirit reaches everyone through the harmonies of music, inspirational words and opportunities to grow.  Our spirits yearn for personal security, comfort and salvation.  Guide us to recognize the shadows for what they are.  Fill us with your presence so that through us the world might be blessed.  Amen.

THE PASTORAL PRAYER

     Loving God, we thank you for sensing our desires long before we express them.  We thank you that you filled our lives with unspeakable treasures that enable us to experience peace, hope, patience and joy.  When we discover such a treasure trove, turning the other cheek is no longer a chore, remaining flexible in challenging circumstances is not difficult and being creative in our thinking appears to come naturally.  All this happens when our minds, hearts and spirits are not cluttered or burdened by issues we cannot solve or by conflicts and solutions that lie beyond our ability to grasp. 

     Continue to lead us during the remaining days of our Lenten season to learn from Jesus as he navigated through waters that were storm swept.  Help us to learn his skills of displaying a spirit at peace when detractors challenge him publicly.  Guide us to learn how to remain in control of our values when faced with others who have values and goals far different from our own.  In every way, Jesus modeled for us what we can be if we swallow our pride and hurt feelings and follow him. 

     In all that we do in every circumstance, may our lives serve to make you visible.   Help all of us to understand what divinely empowered living looks like when we see it displayed.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .