"True Intimacy With God"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 7, 2007
Isaiah 55:1-11; Psalm 63:1-8
He began by telling me about his father who had just completed building a boat that he had been working on for years. Somehow his new creation, which had not yet reached the water, caught on fire. While he was busy fighting that fire, sparks from the boat reached and ignited the house and soon that was ablaze. He rushed into the house to alert his wife and call the fire company. The flames were extinguished but the water damage destroyed most of the home’s contents. The boat that represented years of work was a total loss.
Tim went on with his story. His father, who had become very despondent, called him one evening to tell him that his wife and Tim’s Mother had suffered a massive stroke and had died earlier in the afternoon. Shortly after her memorial service, Tim’s wife told him that she had fallen in love with her tennis instructor and wanted out of their marriage. The two were in the process of getting a divorce when he came to see me.
What made this conversation so memorable was that as I sat there reeling with how to respond, I learned that Tim had not finished his story. He had not come for counseling, but to encourage me to keep telling people about God’s presence in our daily lives. Tim had turned to God in a moment of acute desperation. He told me that his experience was like standing in the river of life amidst some of the strongest cross currents he had ever encountered when suddenly he found himself overwhelmed by a presence that was beyond anything he had ever encountered. He realized that everything was going to be all right. He was filled with calm and peace.
The verses of Psalm 63 are remarkable and they reflect exactly what Tim had been experiencing. Listen again to some of these verses, “O God, you are my God, and I long for you. My whole being desires you; like a dry, worn-out, and waterless land, my soul is thirsty for you. Your constant love is better than life itself. As I lie in bed, I remember you; all night long I think of you, because you have always been my help. In the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.”
Tim told me that in an instant he was free of regret, free from remorse, free from believing that life had turned against him. All the hostile, negative emotions that had been festering within him melted away in seconds. He said, “You don’t have to be deserving to experience God’s love. I know I sure wasn’t, but God came anyway.”
A topic we discuss all the time became real in his experience and that made the difference in the impact it had on his life. You need to know that Tim was not a particularly religious man. In fact, he seldom came to church. He had become a person who was filled with gratitude for God who had become the wind beneath his wings. If we were to put celebrating this kind of gratitude into a totally human context, it might appear like my next illustration.
I clipped an unusual story about a Nobel Prize winner. He was given the award for a valuable piece of research that led to the discovery of sub-atomic particles. He did a unique thing. He invited his 10th grade science teacher to the ceremony. During his address, rather than describing his many trials and failures while engaging in his research, he devoted a sizeable portion of his remarks to this woman who had inspired his career.
He said, “She is the one who instilled the sense of wonder in me. She is the one who excited me about science. She is the one who pointed down the road of discovery and told me that the road never, ever ends.” He told the audience about her admonition, “Something new can always be found even inside of the atom.” He told those who were assembled that he was so inspired that he wanted to grow up to be just like her. In a spirit of humility he concluded, “I have a long way to go to catch up with the spark and enthusiasm she possesses to chase after that which is not yet known.”
Jesus tried to inspire the same sense of wonder in his disciples. He told them that there was a consciousness that no one could see that had the power to amplify the spirit by which they lived. That consciousness was within them and it would only become visible to others when they gave without counting the cost, when they forgave those who were self-absorbed and insensitive to the needs of others, when they communicated patience with those whose values were childish and immature and when they trusted God in circumstances that were completely void of justice and fairness.
These were many of the same qualities Tim was able to grasp in a moment when he experienced deep despair. To have a similar encounter, we have to be willing to look for something different from our perception of what we are experiencing. We have to have the courage to let go of all of it as we reach out to God with both hands because we cannot manage to find a creative solution by ourselves.
Obviously the Psalmist who wrote our lesson for today had a close encounter with a presence that was not a part of the world as he understood it. Once our senses experience the divine, there is no more turning to the things of this world for comfort, peace or the recovery of our sense of wholeness. We can never lose our wholeness; we occasionally lose only our memory of it. In the moment of our encounter, we realize that we are as God created us.
Our annual conference is currently sponsoring a photo contest. Churches are being asked to submit their best pictures of mission work. The other night during the Missions Committee meeting, I saw one that was being circulated that captures the essence of my meditation for this morning.
Hurricane Katrina had swept away nearly everything in sight. Only a small part of what had once been a house of worship was standing in the midst of the rubble. A propped up sign contained words as though God had written them. It said, “I am still here.
This is what Tim came to tell me. No matter what we are experiencing, God is in the midst of it. Just like the admonition of that 10th grade science teacher, “Something new can always be found even inside of the atom.” The cloudiness of any experience comes from our perception of it. What God can make of us as we live through it becomes our destiny and our inheritance. God is on our side no matter what we might think that suggests otherwise. Amen.
Loving and merciful God, all of us come to the table today knowing that growth and change are always one decision away. We know that self-reliance is only half a truth. Our decision-making is flawed and frequently uninformed. The numerous qualities of spirit you engraved on our minds and hearts can easily become weakened because we fail to use them. We too often use our personal powers for solving problems rather than relying on your guiding presence in all circumstances. Thank you, God, for being our teacher. Thank you for using our distractions and the dramas of our physical world to smooth away our rough edges. Open our minds and hearts to patience, understanding and peace that your spirit might continue to bring stability and healing to our lives. Amen.
Eternal and always present God, each of us always enters the experience of worship with a lot on our minds. We are mindful that no one walks in our shoes. No one would understand what motivates us to think the way we do and act the way we do, but you. There are times when we cannot find words that describe what we want, how we feel or what we would like to say to you were you sitting across from us in human form. Yet, we know that you know each of us and accept us where we are, just as we come.
One of the mysteries about us that we have yet to unravel is why it does not take much for us to become afraid. The seeds of fear are like weeds – they grow rapidly and have deep roots. If left alone, weeds can take over an entire garden and choke the crops that are trying to bear fruit. Lead us, O God, to trust you as did Moses when he stood facing the sea as Egyptian chariots bore down on the Israelites, leaving no place to go but to seek that your will be done.
May such confidence inspire us and motivate us to share our relationship with you with everyone who does not know you. Teach each of us how to take the hands of others who may be alone, afraid, confused, bewildered and lost amid the many illusions of this world. We wait for the day to dawn when love will come to the earth so that none of us will be uncomfortable with the many forms that love might assume. We pray these thoughts now through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .