"What Shrinks Our Awareness"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 6, 2008
Psalm 116:1-11; Luke 24:13-24
This morning we are going to be examining what happens to our world, i.e., our outlook, attitudes and focus, when our familiar routines are dramatically disrupted. None of us are strangers to what we experience when such an event occurs.
Earlier this week I received a phone call from a friend of mine. He had gone to the gym for a physical workout. When his session was finished, he opened his locker and discovered that his pants were missing. His pants held all the essentials, e.g., his cell phone, his wallet, and the keys to his car. He reported the theft to the authorities but had the presence of mind to call his cell phone while at the gym. When it rang in one of the bathroom stalls, he found his pants. He was grateful that his car keys, cell phone and pants were recovered. His wallet, however, had been stolen.
Most of us can move on fairly quickly from such a violation, but what we have to do as soon as possible nearly puts our lives “on hold” for awhile. Canceling our credit cards, getting a new driver’s license and protecting our identity are all time consuming activities. Our world suddenly shrinks as we plunge immediately into damage control.
The same is true when we are involved in a car accident. Fortunately for most of us, many of these are fender-benders. Nevertheless, auto accidents require us to file a police report, visit with an insurance adjuster, get estimates and experience the inconvenience of making arrangements for another car while ours is being repaired. Again, our world suddenly shrinks. Everything in our day that was important is often set aside because of a renewed sense of urgency. This is the tyranny that comes with the unanticipated, unplanned and unexpected entrance onto our stage of some frustrating experience, adding to the drama of living.
Our Gospel lesson today discusses what happened to two disciples of Jesus who found themselves in a similar emotional state. As we read Luke’s words, we find two very sad men walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus when Jesus joined them. Their world had shrunk so much that they paid little or no attention to the identity of this stranger.
Jesus inquired about what had them so preoccupied. One of the men said, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there in recent days?” Jesus inquired, “What things?” They told Jesus about the events leading up to the crucifixion and how a group of women reported seeing visions of angels and finding an empty tomb.
We may think that this lack of recognition is very odd. It is not, particularly when others are engaged in problem solving. On several occasions I have been with church members who do not recognize me when I am in another setting and out of uniform.
Once I was in a grocery store when a woman who was vertically challenged asked me if I could reach two cans that were on a shelf that she could not reach. When I retrieved the cans for her and mentioned her name, she did one of those recognition pops and said, “Oh Dick! I didn’t realize it was you!”
Another time, someone could not figure out how to work a gasoline pump. She was trying to activate the pump next to me by inserting her BJ’s card repeatedly into the credit card slot. When it did not work, she began to mutter various words signaling her frustration. I showed her how to hold her card under a little slot on the pump so it could read the bar code. As she turned to express her appreciation, it was then that she recognized me.
When we believe we are with a stranger, that person remains a stranger. The two disciples were highly absorbed by the events in Jerusalem. Their attention was focused on their loss and on the confusion resulting from hearing the women talk of visions of angels and an empty tomb. Verse 28, however, clearly describes an energy reversal in the two disciples. Listen to these words, “As they came near to Emmaus, Jesus acted as if he were going farther, but they held him back. >Stay with us; the day is almost over and it is getting dark.’“
The moment they became thoughtful and conscious of the needs and safety of someone else, their shrunken world began to expand again. Here is the description of how that happened as a result of their change in mood. “When Jesus sat down to eat with them, he broke the bread and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” (24:30)
Once our gaze is focused on the needs of others around us our world stops contracting. Our much larger consciousness is restored. This ability to change happens when we engage in expressions of kindness, generosity, caring, forgiveness and compassion. Such a change in thinking can shatter the prison bars of preoccupation and distraction when experiences attempt to pull us and trap us in their web.
What is truly worth celebrating is when we learn that we can be at peace during our inconveniences, our life reversals and our disappointments. Such moments happen and they never arrive at a convenient time. Our tendency is to compound our experiences by making judgmental responses about them B such attitudes will not minimize or remove what it is we have to do.
The only time we can sharpen our spiritual skills is when we choose them over all other responses. Peace and patience do not come to us because of what we believe; they come from practice when we find ourselves in the heat of some unexpected moment that remains beyond our ability to control.
Most of us know this wisdom. Our culture is filled with references to this lesson. “Count your blessings.” “This, too, shall pass.” “Whistle while you work.” When we remember that our consciousness, awareness and spirit are much bigger than any frustrating moment, we just might recognize that some form of God’s presence has been walking with us the entire time.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Each time we gather for worship, O God, we are challenged to think differently. It remains difficult to do so when we must forsake what we have been taught. We have learned to measure success by productivity, accomplishments and wealth. Jesus taught us to measure success by happiness and peace. We have learned that it is best to avoid conflict, struggle and confusion. Jesus taught that those who have light should let it shine in all circumstances. We have learned to cherish a community of faith that reflects our beliefs. Jesus taught us to scatter into the diverse world and make disciples. Heal us, O God, when we give authority to voices that feed our comforts, that prevent our leaps of faith and that have imprinted within our minds thoughts we cannot surrender. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving and merciful God, we are grateful for our Sabbath mornings when we can pause to refresh that part of ourselves we often neglect. We wonder what our lives would be like, if we never took time to nourish the captain of our ship, the decision maker, the spirit that responds to all of life’s many varied circumstances.
We thank you for the little reminders that
you send to us, that teach us how strong we are when our steps falter.
How easy it is to be filled with regret when we make mistakes or when we
belittle ourselves for not being perfect. We thank you for the lessons
we have learned from hindsight, or from realizing the power distractions
have to blind and immobilize us. You always show up anyway. We thank you
for your presence in the lives of our friends. When we receive firm
handshakes, their smiles and laughter, their support, we are reminded
how nurturing others are.