"Those Marvelous Leaps Of Faith"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 08/24/08
The domesticated ducks, geese and chickens were startled by the sudden visitor from the sky. Soon they made friends with the wild goose and she began to describe what it was like to fly. Her new friends huddled around her and listened to her stories that provided vivid imagery of distant landscapes that featured mountains, deserts, lakes, streams and oceans.
The domesticated animals, listening to the adventures of the goose were kept so mesmerized and entertained with excellent, well illustrated sermons that none of them found it necessary to try the skill themselves. The wild goose became so comfortable from all the attention she was receiving from her new friends that she never flew again, even though her wing had completely healed. Kierkegaard’s point was that comfort and security are what many people desire even when these feelings were not sufficient to propel their lives toward a destiny of growth.
Morris L. West wrote, The Shoes of a Fisherman. In his book he wrote words that were similar to those of Jesus, “The gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people to find it.” (Matt. 7:14) Here are West’s words:
It takes so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment or the courage to pay the price. One has to abandon altogether the search for security and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.
Kierkegaard described the consequences when people stop taking risks. West described what appears to be a potential skill imbedded in the human spirit that motivates us to become restless as we yearn to reach for those impossible dreams.
For example, Christopher Columbus and his crew set sail amidst a prevailing understanding that the world may never see them again. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor as the leaders of our nation who stood firm against continued British rule. The men and women who walked behind covered wagons as they headed west were abandoning their comfortable lives. When we think of the men who climbed into those small, cramped cone-shaped command modules perched on top of an Atlas rocket during the first Mercury flights, they risked everything for our country’s future in space travel.
This morning we are going to be considering those marvelous risks of faith and a spiritual principle that is made visible each time we embark on such a path. What was true during the dawn of civilization is true today.
In Exodus, Amram and Jochebed, the parents of a baby boy, took a massive risk. When Rameses II came to power he had no knowledge of Joseph who had brought his family into Egypt during a severe drought 400 years earlier. This Pharaoh came to power during the 13 century B.C. in the same time period of Moses.
The Hebrew population had increased enormously during those 400 years. Pharaoh grew fearful that they could align themselves with one of Egypt’s enemies and unseat the Pharaoh’s power and government. In response to this fear, Pharaoh sent word that all the baby boys were to be thrown into the Nile River and allowed to drown.
Shortly after the decree was announced, a baby boy was born to a couple from the tribe of Levi. Amram and Jochebed hid their son for three months. Realizing that they could not continue to do so, the mother placed the child in a carefully prepared basket and set him adrift in the Nile near where Pharaoh’s daughter bathed.
When the princess found the baby, she recognized him as belonging to the Hebrews. The infant’s older sister, Miriam, approached the princess and said, “Would you like me to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby?” When the request was granted Miriam brought her mother. When the child was old enough, Jochebed brought him to the princess who adopted him as her own. Because she drew him out of the waters of the Nile, the princess named him Moses.
Soren Kierkegaard had an insightful point to his parable. We Christians can spend so much time listening to Bible stories and anecdotes of great risk takers and often take no risks ourselves. When life is stagnating in our routines, our lives lose their drive, their enthusiasm and their sense of purpose. People can be spiritually dying because they have chosen to stay secure, stable, and in control of their experiences. We were not created to sail in the safe harbors but to sail on and on into the unknown.
A young woman came into my office one afternoon and she said, “I am sick of men. All the guys I date look good on the outside but they have nothing going for them on the inside. Most of them are jerks! They don’t know how to communicate. Their values are all over the landscape. I’m done with dating.” I asked, “Are you looking for a husband?” She said, “Of course! I would like to meet a great guy who has some substance to him.”
I said, “Close your eyes and let your mind wander. I want you to think of something that you have always wanted to do.” She sat there for the longest time in silence. Finally she said, “I have always wanted to scuba dive.” I said, “Let’s find a class and get you enrolled in it.” She said, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m busy and my days are filled up with stuff.” I responded, “If you never change the direction of your life, each day will be just like the last one.”
I removed from my bookshelves a catalog for the University of Maryland. I looked up evening classes and I found one for scuba diving. I told her to forget men and learn a new skill. She took the risk, spent the money and signed on for a class that met on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
One day when her class was doing a joint dive in Baltimore with students from Salisbury State, she prepared to load her gear on the boat that was going to ferry the students to a sunken wreck. It just so happened that a guy from Salisbury State was partnered with her for the dive. When she became involved in an activity that she had always wanted to do, a young man entered her life, the one who eventually became her husband.
Does life always work like that? I don’t know. What I do know is that when we take risks, we are making room for a miracle, we are making room for God to be involved and we are letting go of a reality over which we had control – a reality that was probably creating a very stale life.
Our life’s circumstances may be comfortable and secure, but when we were destined to fly and we don’t, we have successfully ignored growing and nourishing a skill of spirit that was imbedded in us at birth.
When Amram and Jochebed surrendered their baby boy to someone else to rear, they had no idea about the historic consequences they would set in motion. Risks would not be risks if all outcomes were known. We think that faith is our acknowledged beliefs. That is only part of the picture. Faith is also about risk-taking, trusting that God is leading us away from our security and comfort so we can fly.
In considering the Genesis account of Moses’ birth, we can become lost in the storyline and miss the process being illustrated. How can God engage in dynamic and energetic guidance when we have made security and comfort our gods? This is what we are doing when we insist on controlling our environment. Had his parents remained content to do nothing, Moses might not have lived to see his first birthday. He would not have become a prince of Egypt. He would not have been the great leader and law giver of the Jews.
When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, he took thousands of people who were not prepared to risk leaving a land that had been their home for 400 years. They had paid lip service to God but were not prepared to trust God for guidance no matter how many miracles they experienced. The feelings of comfort and security that they knew in Egypt were being replaced by emotional patterns of vulnerability and uncertainty.
Norman Neaves is the pastor of the Church of the Servant in Oklahoma City. His congregation built a new multi-million dollar facility that was miles from their original church. After the congregation moved to its new location, Norman encountered the same issues among his people as did Moses. He created a sermon called, “The Moses Misery” and in it he wrote the following paragraph:
There are some of us in our church who really like good ole Gospel hymns and others of us who think of those hymns as being “too Baptist.” There are some of us here who really like the changes in the service and the musical responses and there are others who say that they are “too Catholic.” There are folks who really like the fact that our choir now wears robes and others who feel that is one of the worst things that we have ever done. There are those who think that our church is too traditional and others that it is too laid back. There are those who feel that we are too formal and those who feel that we are much too spontaneous.
Norman’s point was that there were pockets of people throughout his congregation that had their own personal gospel for the way things ought to be. They were not prepared to experience something new. Moses faced the same responses while leading his people to a Promised Land no one had ever experienced.
A number of years ago Bette Midler recorded a song that was entitled, The Rose. In the song are words that paint a picture of what can happen to people who are unwilling to take risks. Here are those words:
It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance.
It’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes a chance.
It’s the one who won’t be taken who cannot seem to give.
And a soul afraid of dying that never learns to live.
Exciting and adventurous living seldom arises from living routine, predictable life patterns that we control. As Morris West wrote, “One has to abandon altogether the search for security and reach out to the risk of living with both arms.” When we do so, we will find the narrow way Jesus described or The Road Less Traveled envisioned by Robert Frost. By taking risks and trusting our loving energy patterns, we will find it much easier to experience being the inspiring people Jesus wanted his disciples to become.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving and always present God, thank you for creating us with the ability to experience your guidance. Each time we turn to you during moments of uncertainty, you help us translate those times into possibilities. When we feel life has forsaken us, you invite us not to judge or cast blame. Each time we feel a sense of emptiness, you encourage us to give without counting the cost. When we no longer can sense your presence, you remind us that faith depends on trust. When we try to convince ourselves that life is not working, you invite us to make different choices. We thank you, God, for being compassionate toward us as we find our way. Sometimes our greatest freedom comes when we embrace change without being afraid. Guide us to understand that new horizons arrive when we are willing to let go of what is familiar. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving and ever-present God, long ago a Psalmist wrote, "And what of humankind that Thou, O God, should be mindful of them?" And the same writer answered, "You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and made them rulers over all things." (Psalm 8:4-6)
How is it, O God, that often we come to you with many requests for the very issues you have given us the power to solve? We want peace in the world, yet we frequently hold ill-thoughts about our neighbors. We need to experience forgiveness, yet it remains a challenge to give away the very thing we want from you. We come to you for help with one of life's dramas, as though we have forgotten how to take risks and be creative when life presents us with the unexpected.
Help us to rediscover that the adventure here offers us countless opportunities to expand who we are. Help us once again to affirm our faith that you have never left our side, nor would you allow us to experience what we do not have the potential to manage beautifully. Help us to remember that uncertainty, discomfort and a lack of peace are offering us guidance to change how we think.
While we cannot know the outcome of anything we experience, enable us to grow in trust and confidence that our drama is unfolding for a purpose that may not be understood. As we live with that awareness, may each of us become a disciple who represents your presence in all occasions, all circumstances and to all people. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray.