"Thank God For Foundations"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - November 4, 2007
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Today we are celebrating All Saints Day, a time when Christians give thanks for the people whose spiritual footprints have led the way for us. The patterns of behavior, attitudes and lifestyles found in our culture are difficult to trace. In fact, most of us inherited our current foundation of values that we tend to take for granted. What is much easier to trace is how others have influenced our personal history.
For example, children grow up to mirror what they have learned from their parents. If parents set few boundaries, quite often children become very challenging for their schoolteachers, particularly when values like courtesy, respect and obedience were never taught in the home.
Lois was teaching at a preschool on Capitol Hill when a medical doctor brought her son to school apologetically. She said, AI am sorry, Mrs. Stetler, but Josh would not get dressed for me this morning. Lois said, Josh, please put your clothes on so you will be ready to play with your friends. He did. She said, Why does he listen to you and not me? Why? In Lois' class, he knows the rules. He understood her expectations because she had established boundaries of what was acceptable behavior and what was not.
Within the same month of that incident, I watched an attorney on his knees before his 4-year old son who would not put on his coat. The father said, Michael, it is 18 degrees outside. When it is cold like this, we wear our coats! Michael angrily yelled, No! The father said, Okay, suit yourself and they walked outside.
When no one helps children to learn their boundaries, learning them later as adults can take a lifetime. For many adults, it is an uphill climb. Frequently they hold on to anger because that was the attitude rewarded by parents who gave in each time their temper flared. When we diffuse this kind of anarchy over an entire culture, we understand today=s reading from the prophet Habakkuk. Society was in total chaos. Having a foundation of values offers freedom and guidance that the prophet's society lacked.
Even though we live in a modern world, other cultures cut off the heads of people they consider their enemies. They even teach 14-year olds to do this as many of us witnessed in the news this past week. Americans do not engage in such primitive, inhumane activities because we stand on a much different foundation. Some of us, however, may not understand why our culture is so different from others but all of us know that it is.
The sixth king of the first dynasty of Babylon was Hammurabi. In 1800 BC, he established an elaborate law code that was the first of its kind in the ancient world. Six hundred years later, Moses delivered the Ten Commandments and a Covenant Code to the Israelites, laws that mirrored those of the Babylonian king. The next great period came during the Greek and Roman periods when legal boundaries propelled their cultures to greatness on all levels of their societies.
These foundations were in place when Jesus was born. Jesus entered a highly legalized society that had prepared him to take the next step. Standing on a foundation of laws that had been handed down for centuries, Jesus broke new ground by entering into the realm of spirit. Jesus understood that it was one thing to be obedient because the law requires it, and quite another to choose willingly responses like courtesy, mercy, respect, patience, kindness and humility above all others.
Because we were created in the image of God we have the potential to be motivated by the desire to serve others, to stand guardian over our thoughts, to want peace, to make friends not enemies, to guide those who appear to be lost and to help those who are no longer able to help themselves.
Jesus' message was about making God's love visible in the world. Living this way bonds us to a particular lifestyle, to attitudes, to highly specific behaviors and to perceive with love. Paul wrote, The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self control. There is no law against such qualities of spirit as these. (Galatians 5:22-23). These qualities are available to everyone not just Christians. That was Jesus' message.
Building our lives on this foundation is the only way the Kingdom of God will ever come to earth. This is why certain streams of Christianity, Islam and Judaism will never permit Heaven to come on earth.
The reason these streams will eventually dry up is because they build no bridges, they build no diverse, peaceful communities and they contribute nothing to the well being of all peoples living on the earth. Can we imagine living in a world where everyone must conform to certain beliefs or be judged as lost? Can we imagine following a belief system that delivers its message through disciples whose eventual goal is to become suicide bombers?
What makes discipleship of Jesus exclusive has to do with a skill set that others may not want. Everyone who chooses can love one another, love their enemies, pray for those who hurt them, love God with everything they have and love their neighbors as themselves. Everyone has the potential to forgive everything and everyone all the time. Everyone can be a servant to everyone else. The only reason we have access to these skills is because of the foundation we have inherited. We have the blueprint for building God's Kingdom on earth.
This was the foundation reflected in the lives of that little colony of Thessalonians who learned about Jesus and chose to follow him. This knowledge saved them from being victimized by their own passions and self-destructive thought patterns, patterns that call for revenge, anger, frustration, impatience, arrogance, self-righteousness, pride and deceit.
This morning we celebrate the cloud of witnesses who gave to us this magnificent foundation that helps us to frame our behavior, attitudes and lifestyles in ways that make love visible. Today, as we come to the table, let us remain grateful for the foundation that gives our lives a way to express who we have become because of the one we follow.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Eternal God, we thank you for the gift of memory. You have given us the capacity to gather wisdom so that we can find support for our lives by the foundations established by others. You have created us with the ability to learn and grow, so that our choices produce a spirit that radiates light. Enable us to remember that every healthy branch is connected to a vine, and that every house stands because of the strength of its foundation. Today we remember with gratitude those who have left footprints and blueprints we can follow. We pray for the enthusiasm to model and teach our faith traditions. Enable us to remain conscious that the inward journey Jesus pointed to gives us more hope and vision than we could possibly imagine. As we give away what we have and are, may others surrender their delay and join us. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Always present God, whose word was as faithful yesterday as it is today, we thank you for the times when we struggle with alternatives, when we doubt and when we face moments of uncertainty. Without such times, we would know nothing of what it means to experience faith. If every outcome from our experiences was known to us, you would not be the potter and we would not be the clay.
We thank you for creating us with such adaptability. During moments of scarcity, we can be generous. When judgmental words are said about us, we can be kind. When our values appear violated, we can remain patient. When life presents us with bad news, we can display hope. When we experience the results from someone's lack of good judgment, we still have many blessings that virtually flood the landscape of our lives. Loving God, help us to be mindful of whom we are so that we can recommend solutions to our conflicts rather than finding a place to assign blame.
This morning we are grateful for the foundations of faith that have provided us with so many ways to perceive with love, foundations that were provided by those who have gone before us. May we never lose sight of that cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. We remain grateful, O God, for the variety of ways you communicate to us, sometimes with the results from our mistakes, other times with miracles. Thank you for loving us just as we are. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .