"Being A Spirit Guide"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 27, 2008
Acts 17:22-33; John 14:15-21
number of years ago I was talking to Dr. Ed Vereb who was my dentist at
the time. He appeared preoccupied one morning and I asked if everything
was okay. He told me that his daughter and her husband were going to
open up a bakery in Bowie, but they were dooming themselves to failure
before they opened the door to their new store.
He told me that they chose one of the poorest locations in Bowie, a location where a number of other businesses had failed. Further, he said that they are insisting on using only the finest and most expensive ingredients in their products. Finally, he indicated that they have no advertising dollars to get the word out that they are establishing a new bakery.
Dr. Vereb and I encountered each other recently when we were both preparing to enter the same medical building. His daughter was with him. I said, “Well, what do you think now of your daughter and her husband’s new business venture?” He smiled and said, “I have had to adjust my earlier thinking. They are doing just fine.”
Of course, most of you know that The Cakery is flourishing and they currently have a “help wanted” sign in their window. The best advertisement in the world is word-of-mouth, or having a superior product that sells itself. They certainly have both of those realities working for them.
A number of mainline churches today are worried about decreasing numbers of people in the pews. We sometimes forget that Jesus’ congregation never grew beyond the twelve. We might imagine that there was a larger support system for Jesus and the disciples but some unseen force was at work among the twelve that changed the thinking and attitudes of vast populations in the world. What was that? What superior product, what kind of word-of-mouth causes people to change their thinking, their attitudes and how they perceive life and each other? The answer is: No other orientation toward life works!
When we glance in our personal rear view mirrors, most of us can point to significant personalities in our past that dramatically changed our lives because of who they were. It was not what they said, it was not how they articulated what they believed; what imprinted us was the spirit by which they lived that grafted their spirit into our growing, spindly stem.
Leo Buscaglia used to tell the story of a very stout grade school teacher who taught him why it is so important to hug people. He said, “She hugged all of us in her class; we knew she loved us. We listened to everything she said.”
For us, this person might have been a Scout leader, a Sunday School teacher, a friend who invited us to church, a neighbor, or a person in an organization to which we belonged. There was an energy flow from them that was magnetic. Every word that Jesus spoke and most of his deeds pointed to having an orientation toward life that had its source in a world no one could see.
All of us have experienced this world but few of us can define it the same way. What happens to us when someone smiles at us? When people are courteous toward us, we immediately remember that we can do the same. When we have made a mistake at work and our supervisor uses that incident to teach us how better to improve our skill level, her spirit inspires us. When we have used angry, judgmental tones with someone and they received our words like a large absorbing accepting sponge, we learn that we can have a bad hair day and not lose them as a friend.
In John’s Gospel this morning, a scene opens where Jesus was instructing his disciples about what God will send to them when he leaves. He knew that they were looking to him to provide guidance rather than to the source of all divine inspiration. Jesus referred to this source, this tool as the Helper who would stay with them forever. Other translations of this same passage of Scripture describe this source as a Friend, Advocate, Counselor, or Advisor.
Jesus described the role of this Helper. “The Helper will be the spirit that reveals the truth about God.” Jesus also indicated that the world’s people would not be able to receive this spirit because they will not be able to recognize this powerful resource through their five senses. Jesus said, “But you will recognize and know this Helper because he remains with you and will be in you.” Jesus was pointing to this unseen world as the source of guidance.
What made Jesus such a revolutionary in his day was this one teaching. Remember, his culture was steeped in a tradition that truth could only be discerned by studying the five books of Moses, the Laws and the Prophets. These were external guides that governed the Jewish culture for centuries. The Jews had been taught that they would please God by following the Laws of Moses.
Jesus told his listeners that knowledge from external sources was not enough. He repeatedly told religious leaders, “You sail the seas and cross whole countries to win one convert; and when you succeed, you make him twice as deserving of going to hell as you yourself are!” (Matt. 23:15) In referring to where truth can be located Jesus said, “You clean the outside of your cup and plate, while the inside is full of what you have gotten by violence and selfishness. First clean the inside of the cup and then the outside will be clean as well.” (Matt. 23:25-26)
What Jesus was teaching diluted the power of the priesthood to guide others, diluted the understanding of how the Scriptures were to be used, and diluted what people had been taught about pleasing God. The path for discovering the truth was not to be found by conforming to anything in the external world, but rather by what comes through the source within all people. This teaching was extremely threatening to the Jewish faith as it can be to our own.
People can read the Scriptures and neglect understanding the source from which those ancient manuscripts were produced. Jesus always pointed to the source rather than to the words of others. This is why Jesus said, “The world’s people would not be able to receive this spirit because the Helper cannot be perceived with the five senses.” (John 14:17) Most of what we think about is attached to material symbols. This Helper Jesus described communicates through our intuition, our imagination and our sense of wonder.
A number of years ago a friend of ours was attending a business convention in California. The group was given an afternoon recess for exploring, touring or engaging in personal networking with others. Dick and one of his colleagues went to the Sequoia National Forest. There was no one around them as the two walked in silence among the magnificent Redwoods.
Our friend turned to his business associate and said, “It is hard to imagine that most of these trees were seedlings when Jesus was born. I can’t imagine a 2,000 year old tree.” Dick was open to an inner power that was allowing him to experience a sense of wonder at what these trees must have experienced during their lengthy lifetime. His colleague, who was dwelling in a different universe of thought, destroyed Dick’s moment of tranquility and wonder. Dick’s colleague said, “Yes, that is amazing, but I have been trying to calculate how many decks we could build if the Federal Government would allow us to harvest these trees.”
We can become self-righteous and judge the quality of what and how the second man was thinking, or we can be reminded of what Jesus was teaching. “The world’s people will not be able to receive this spirit because the Helper cannot be perceived with the five senses.”
If we think we know the truth, we need to ask ourselves what others sense about us. How do we wear what we know? When we look at our external world we can become anxious, fearful and depressed. As Jesus pointed out, not everyone will understand even 2,000 years later. (Matt. 7:14)
When we look to our inner world and learn to open up the doors to our infinite treasure chest, we can tap into the source for hope, peace and happiness. We will also be tapping into the same source that provided Jesus and his disciples the orientation that many of us resonate with today.
For example, all of us know the truth of the following statements. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “The great thing in this world is not so much where you are, but in what direction you are moving.” The 13th Century Sufi poet Rumi once wrote, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will you ever be polished?” There are thousands of statements that help us resonate with insight that intimately connects with our inner world that no one can see.
There will come a time, if we are not there already, when we can write such statements ourselves or consistently speak words that heal, support and lift up. It is not us that writes and speaks. It is the Helper communicating through us. Even Jesus said, “The teaching you have heard is not mine. It comes from God who sent me.” (14:24)
Every aspect of life that matters to others is not what we believe as Christians but what being a Christian has made of us. What is fascinating is that Jesus seldom confided to his listeners what he personally believed. They only saw the results of those beliefs. Jesus’ mission was to be a spirit guide and he was teaching his disciples how to provide the same instruction to others.
What comes out of us? What do our words and spirit communicate? This was Jesus’ point. This is why his message was so threatening to the religious leaders who prided themselves on being faithful to what others had taught them. They were not tuned in to the guidance that the Helper could have so easily supplied. Many times, neither are we. We would prefer to clutch on to what we have been taught than to become open to the source that generated those lessons.
Toward the end of his life, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to make a very difficult decision. He realized that Adolf Hitler was insane and had to be stopped. He also knew extremely well the teachings of the Master about doing harm to others. After much soul searching and consulting with people whose opinions he valued, Bonhoeffer decided that Hitler had to be killed. Dietrich wanted to correct the direction in which his world appeared to be headed by murdering a person, the type of which our world has never been in short supply – a savage, callous, and inhumane dictator.
There was a mole inside of Hitler’s trusted confidants who discretely planted a bomb in his leader’s bunker during a strategy meeting with high-ranking military officers. Shortly before the bomb detonated, Hitler went to the blackboard and had chalk in hand. He miraculously escaped injury.
Bonhoeffer was captured, imprisoned and put to death on April 9, 1945, shortly before World War II ended. However, before he died, Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived the resurrection life. He found the source, the Helper.
He ministered to the prisoners in that horrible concentration camp as well as many of the Nazi prison guards. He counseled them, comforted and encouraged them. He affirmed that God was in control of the created order, not him. He had made a mistake but he realized that it is never too late to let go of the created order and trust God for the outcome of all things. He learned that life lasts for an eternity and that each person is a child of God in spite of the emblems they wore on their uniforms.
To be a spirit guide or an angel in the flesh we must learn that life is more than being task oriented. Jesus taught that all we have to do is be the leaven for the loaf by allowing the source to communicate through us. When we do, the entire batch of dough will rise. Jesus provided that light to humanity 2,000 years ago. We must be careful not to judge anything we experience in the external world; that dough is still rising.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving God, we come this morning hoping to discover creative ways of changing the way we perceive. Guide us so we do not forget our calling to be a guide for others. Jesus patiently taught his listeners the art of letting go of their judgments, yet we find blaming others a far more satisfying response. We want others to be like us when they cannot. There are moments when we give greater care to our outer appearance than we do to the quality of our inner thoughts. Enable us to guide others to communicate with more compassion, understanding and patience by making such qualities visible in our lives. Lead us to the awareness that greater stability would come to our world if we took increased responsibility to build a more wholesome and peaceful life. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Merciful God, we are hungry to learn and discover more creative ways to tap into the unseen world that governs the quality of our lives. As we enter our worship experience, we open ourselves to ways of moving away from the pace our comfortable routines have set for us. Many times we are blessed by being here to learn how to tune into a new horizon toward which to walk, a refreshing attitude we want to develop, or a more creative way to respond to old irritations. We leave here knowing who we want to become.
Yet when we reenter the world, frequently we come into contact with others who do not share our insights and values. When we experience the attitudes and insensitivity of others, our minds can easily forget all that we have learned. Guide us to understand that we will never have the skills of a seasoned sea captain until we have been tested by every conceivable weather pattern.
Help us, Lord, to learn that love is a contact sport, not just an attitude. When your light shines through us, darkness flees. When your mercy shines through us, we respond with acceptance, not thoughts of revenge. When your compassion shines through us, we understand that some of us desire to live in community while others have yet to make that discovery. Help us to live so that our lives become a signpost that points the way for others. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .