"Justice, A Constant In Creation"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 11, 2007
Psalm 1; Jeremiah 17:5-10
When our physical world was created, God set into motion a remarkable set of blueprints that governs every life form on the earth. Basically, God created every life form to produce fruit from what is inside its seed. When we look around in the spring and summer and see the magnificent songbirds and the monarch butterflies, each of them lives in harmony with its design. Each species knows how to live. A question is – Do we?
One of the most fascinating programs I watched on the Nature channel some years ago featured three young male beavers that were building a dam in a rather swift part of a stream. Beavers cut down trees and they build dams. At least, that is the behavior pattern with which most of us are familiar.
On two occasions, the three beavers had their dam almost finished when the result of their hard work washed away by the swift currents of the stream. After their second failure, one of the beavers left as the other two waited. The third returned with an old beaver. The older beaver sat on the hill and appeared to superintend the building of a dam that stayed. The videographer who recorded this episode did a remarkable job. She captured what beavers do and how they apparently learned to do it better from one of their own who had more experience.
The author of Genesis wrote that we were created in the image of God, capable of reflecting the likeness of God. (Gen. 1:27). We create like God from what lies within our minds and hearts. We are absolutely at our best when we are creating from skills and abilities that lie dormant within our seeds awaiting discovery. If we humans can dream of it, we will one day build it.
During my father’s memorial service on February 3, I reminded the congregation what Dad never experienced as a boy. A vast number of products had not yet been invented when he was a young teenager. Having been born in 1914, he did not have Playstations, Nintendos, X-boxes, no video games, no 400 channels on cable, no video movies, no DVDs, no surround sound or CDs, no cell phones, no Macs. or P.C.s., no Internet and no chat rooms. He had friends and he actually went outside the house to be with them. He talked with them without having a cell phone glued to his ear. I doubt Dad suffered as a result of not having what so many of us take for granted.
Our identity can become lost among all the stuff in our physical environment. We often find ourselves waiting for what is coming out of the pipeline of new products rather than growing what is inside our seed. In our haste to acquire this or that, the currents of life can wash away what is essential. We may not realize it. A person far wiser than ourselves needs to teach us how to superintend the building of a life that stays when the rapids become dangerously swift.
In our lesson for today Jeremiah has God say, “I will condemn those who turn away from me and put their trust in human beings, who put their trust in the strength of mortals.” God describes what happens to people who fall in love with the symbols of the physical world. God said, “They are like a bush in the desert which grows in the dry wasteland.”
God goes on, “But, I will bless the person who puts his trust in me; he is like a tree growing near a stream that sends out its roots to the water. It is not afraid when hot weather comes because its leaves stay green; it has no worries when there is no rain, it keeps on bearing fruit.”
All these images in Jeremiah were communicating to readers, “Be loyal to your design. All other life forms on earth have gotten the message but you. Your fears cause you to believe that you must add things to yourselves to experience being complete. In the swift currents of change, you can easily forget who you are.”
Now and then we need someone to stand in our midst and say, “Many will come among you and say that the Kingdom of God is over there, or over there. I tell you that the Kingdom is within you.” Everything we need is right inside of us. When our identity begins to define itself by the stuff in our environment, we become like the bush in the desert that grows in a dry wasteland. God was saying, “You will be very sorry when you do not live according to the way I designed you.” Is justice a constant in creation? Is it really? Yes, and here is why.
Life can be very challenging. Life often presents us with events we cannot fix, with experiences we cannot change and with losses we cannot retrieve. All we can do is look at what confronts us and accept it for what it is. What we think about it will not change what it is we have to do. All we can change is the quality of our thoughts.” THAT is what this Jeremiah passage is communicating. The justice in life is that all of us have the same ability to change how we think while living in our circumstances. Sometimes those very circumstances, the ones we can hardly tolerate, are what cause us to discover, develop and deploy what is inside of us.
This past week I had three memorial services, Wednesday, Friday and yesterday. Each one of these people had developed into an incredibly unique, one-of-a-kind individual. The woman on Wednesday was the oldest of five siblings when her mother left the family. Trudy and her Dad had to rear the other four children by themselves. No, life isn’t fair. Where is the justice? Remember, Divine Justice has to do with how we use what is inside of us, not with the challenges that we have to face.
There was no time to complain, “Why us? What did we do to deserve this?” There was no Department of Human Services to call that might have found foster homes for the four children. Trudy knew that worry never drove a nail or hoisted a beam into place. She knew that fear would not get her brothers and sisters ready for school or have supper started by the time Dad got home from work. In those days you rolled up your sleeves and did what you had to do. What came out of her had been inside from the moment she was born just waiting to be used.
What happened to Trudy was fascinating. She developed a courageous spirit that remained fearless. She had no-nonsense values. She learned how to set and honor boundaries. She developed skills of organization. She went on to apply those skills as a corporate chief financial officer. She had absolutely no problem with her identity because who she was, was linked to her spiritual DNA, not the creature comforts and the approval ratings she faced in her environment. All of these skills might never have surfaced had Trudy not been faced with life-issues that demanded that she grow her skills immediately even though she was a young girl.
She became like the tree growing near a stream that sends out its roots to the water. It was not afraid when hot weather came because its leaves stayed green; it had no worries when there was not rain, it kept on bearing fruit. What is inside of us is an infinite source of nourishment and potential. The justice is that all of us can rise to meet each episode of life. The people who struggle most of their lives are looking for saviors in their external world. They will find only those that bring momentary comfort because change is all that our world offers.
We have all heard the saying that God never gives us more than we can handle. Now we know why. God knows what is inside of us. In our lesson God said, “I, the Lord, search the minds and test the hearts of people. I teach each of them according to the way they live, according to what they do.”
It is not that God is cruel. Not at all! The justice that is infused in every aspect of life is there for all of us to enjoy. If we sow sparingly, we will reap sparingly. It is that simple. There is nothing cruel about that. That is just the way life is. If we stay in the security of our little world, we may wonder why we do not have as many friends as others do. If we wait for the perfect job to find us, we could be waiting for a long time. There is plenty to do for those who have the motivation to roll up their sleeves and let what is inside of them show. Let me try to illustrate this in another way.
One time during one of my chalk talks to the Tuesday morning Bible Study class, I talked about a group of three people who had gathered in Washington, D.C. All of them claimed that they wanted to go to Pennsylvania. They were getting nowhere. The swift currents created by the many needs that were surfacing in the group were washing away their carefully laid plans to go there. Some wanted to visit the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center, take a White House Tour or go shopping.
One person left the group and she brought back a wise tour guide who had a map. With the map, the guide showed them the way: Rt. 495, to Rt. 270 until it turns into Rt. 15. They could be in Pennsylvania in an hour and a half. All four of them were free, however, to go all over the landscape if that was their individual choice. They could go east, west, and south but if they wanted to get to Pennsylvania, there was only one way. They had to travel north.
This is the same issue when it comes to living lives that are in harmony with God. Our happiness and joy for living come as a byproduct from our creating, our extending ourselves, our being productive, and our caring for other people. This is what God was telling Jeremiah’s readers. “Stay faithful to the way I designed you. Grow your fruit from what I placed inside of you at birth. Do not put your trust in the things of the world.”
We wonder why two teenage girls, both named Rachel, deceived their parents into believing that they are headed off to the movies in Georgetown then drove the car to a spot where their lives ended. I can tell you this – if it should be discovered that they took their own lives, they were not in touch with all the treasures that were within them.
A young man could not negotiate being abandoned by his girlfriend so he doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. Another young man could not cope with being told that the relationship was over and he strangled his girlfriend and put her body in the trunk of a car.
There are many people who have no understanding what love does or is. How could they possibly give it away? They were going east, west and south, counter to their design of what they thought they wanted. Their identities were rooted in the dry desert of possessions, ownership and control. When they could not have what they wanted their romance – if we dare call it that -- instantly turned to hatred, violence and murder. The justice here is that they cannot escape who they are. No one can fake living in harmony with how God designed us.
Some of us believe that lasting happiness will only come by having the perfect relationship, the perfect house, the perfect job, the perfect salary and the perfect storybook life. God might say to such a person:
That is not the way of creation. Everything in the physical world is constantly changing. What I placed inside of you only grows stronger and more determined the more you use it to create a better version of yourself than you were the day before. You do not have to believe a single thing about me for reality to be what it is. As much as you would like to change reality to suit yourselves, you cannot change my plan for your species. If you choose to live against the way I have designed you, you will be like that bush in the desert. You cannot grow through desires to acquire, own and hoard. If you learn, however, to blossom from what is within you, you will create from your essence just as I create from mine. When you do this, the world will be blessed because you are here.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Merciful God, we thank you for the gift of living in our physical forms. We thank you for the challenges that enable us to discover and refine our abilities. We confess that too often we pray for skills that we fear we do not have. We want patience without the frustration of being challenged. We want the ability to forgive without first letting go of our need for apologies and justice. We want successful relationships without the disappointment of detours, missteps and failures. We want integrity and character while often finding compromise a more comfortable path. Inspire us, O God, to remember that the values and skills of discipleship are not automatic. Please challenge our wills to be in harmony with yours. Amen.