"Being Loved Saves No One"

Meditation Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 7, 2008

Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-9

    This morning we have lighted the candle symbolizing Love, the creative energy that flows throughout the universe.  During Advent we Christians celebrate God’s love coming in the form of a specific child born to Mary and Joseph.  Those of us who have a more universal understanding recognize that God’s love has been visible through millions of people throughout history in every culture.

     During his ministry, Jesus tried to teach us how to channel love’s healing, creative energy into every setting in which we find ourselves.   However, not everyone is awake enough to realize they have this potential.  Not everyone is receptive to recognize when love is present but it surrounds them anyway.           

     When my mother was still living independently at Asbury Methodist Village, she would routinely visit people at our Skilled Nursing Facility.  There were times she brought sunshine to people and there were other times when her presence was resented, particularly while visiting residents in the Memory Support Unit.           

     On one particular day, Mom entered the room of a man who had progressive symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.  He violently denounced her as the devil and ordered her to get out of his room and never come back.  His language was spiced with many expletives.  One of the staff said, “Oh Mrs. Stetler, have you been thrown out of Mr. Jacob’s room again?”  Mom said, “Yes, but I’ll visit him again next Thursday.”  Mom understood that he did have his good days.  A physical impairment prevented him from understanding.  We find impairments throughout the world.            

     When we look at our world’s billions of people, it is remarkable that we communicate as well as we do.  We have language differentials.  We find that governments can verbalize distrust of each other while their global companies maintain excellent trade relations.  What our country has learned, to the frustration of many Americans, is that our nation gives billions of dollars in aid to countries that voice hatred for everything for which we stand.  We are big enough to recognize, however, that being insulted and maligned through the various propaganda machines has become part of our role as a world leader that gives financial aid to people in spite of the politics.           

     What America does has a unique parallel to the hostility that Jesus evoked during his ministry.  His spirit communicated a message that went well beyond the obedience to the Laws of Moses. His thoughts and deeds threatened religious authorities.  When we study the Gospels, we learn that loving his enemies was not enough to save them.  Forgiving others was not enough to save them.  Giving his listeners an understanding that was greater than the legal disciplines they had learned from birth was not enough to save them.   

     In fact, the extent of his message was not made visible until he embodied it while hanging on a Roman execution device.  While dying, his witnesses discovered that he held no malice toward those whose truth had inspired them to kill a teacher whose only crime was that his orientation toward God was much different from theirs.  His loving, forgiving thoughts and emotions could not save those in his audience from being who they had chosen to become. 

     If love is so powerful and creative that it gave us our universe, it gave us a magnificent planet that sustains so many life forms and it gave us humans the potential to stretch beyond our known capabilities and yet it cannot save us, what can save us?   What has the power to give course corrections to our lives?  

     The Church has always focused our attention on what God did for humanity by sending Jesus into the world. Just as John’s Gospel suggests, “the world did not recognize love’s presence.”  (John 1:10)  Is there any other focus?   There is; that focus has to do with what John the Baptist was preaching along the banks of the Jordan River.  The following illustration will make visible what John preached.           

     Many years ago there was a young man in high school who was extremely angry at the world.  He was constantly in the principal’s office.  He had been paddled any number of times for defiance, disobedience and disrespect.  In those days paddling was allowed.  He had a mouth that spewed contempt for everyone and everything.  Finally he quit school and was never heard from again.  Most of his teachers were ecstatic.  The bane of their existence was finally gone. 

     Many years later, this young man searched for and found the one teacher who had made a difference in his life.  She had been retired for a number of years.  He wondered if she would remember him.   

     When Jimmy went to her home, her husband told him that she was now volunteering at the library in town.   He was certain, however, that she would be glad to see a former student.  When he found her and introduced himself, she flung open her arms and said, “Jimmy Stout, what brings you to my part of the world?  I have thought about you many times through the years.  How wonderful it is to see you!”           

     Jimmy produced a letter that she had sent to him when he left school.  He said, “I have carried this letter with me every day since I received it.”  This is what her handwritten note said, 

Dear Jimmy,

I am so sorry to hear that you are leaving our high school.  There are other alternatives and other ways of acquiring an education.  In time I hope you will find a way to learn how to do what will make you happy.  I see a lot in you, Jimmy.  I see a rugged determination in you that I seldom find in many students.   When you finally set your mind on what you want, absolutely nothing will stand in your way.  You have a lot to give when you learn that doing so is what this world needs.   I see the good in you.  I believe in you.  Don’t forget me.  I sure won’t forget you. 


Mrs. Fitzgerald 

     They talked for nearly an hour.  He gave her his card.  During their conversation he said: 

Your words through the years helped me to see something in myself I could not see when you wrote them.  You wrote, “I believe in you.”  It took some time but I did climb a ladder and got out of the well I had dug for myself. I became a fire fighter, then an Emergency Medical Technician, then a Paramedic, then an emergency room nurse and now I am a Nurse Practitioner with a Master’s Degree.   I am currently employed as a Critical Care Unit specialist at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City.  I came here to thank you for taking the time to write that letter.  It took me awhile to find myself.  I guess you might call me a late bloomer.   

     Being loved is not enough.  Being loved does not save anyone.  All love can do is sow a seed.  John the Baptist was preaching that his listeners had to repent of their sins.  Repent comes from the French word that means to have a change of mind.  Sin is an archery term that means to miss the mark. 

     What saves us is learning how to make love visible in our lives, i.e., reversing our energy flow so that we are giving away exactly what this world needs.  Jimmy Stout’s life had been transformed.  His anger at the world left the moment he abandoned his search for the happiness he could never achieve.  He found it by serving others who were in trouble with their health.   Sustained happiness would not have come to him through any other means.  

     When we study the teachings of Jesus and hear again his invitation to live in the Kingdom of God, we understand why we celebrate the second Sunday of Advent with the lighting of the candle symbolizing Love.  Jesus taught and modeled how transformed people become when they learn to love others unconditionally as God does.   


     Thank you, God, for these moments of reflection as we approach Christmas.  You know how easy it is for us to become absorbed in our traditions, rituals and customary holiday gatherings.   We rush to meet self-imposed deadlines.  We open our boxes of stored decorations, transform our homes with the symbols of Christmas and exhaust ourselves shopping for gifts.  How removed these activities are from the isolated stable in Bethlehem. In all the excitement, we confess how easy it is to lose our way amid the tinsel, bright lights and carols that proclaim a great truth through music.  All of us have our reflective moments when we ponder just how far we have grown in our consciousness of your presence.  Thank you for knowing the drama of our personal journeys and still love us just as we are. For that, we will always be eternally grateful.  Amen.


     Loving God, how quickly our week has gone by, and we find ourselves having lighted a Second Advent candle, reminding us that we are closer to Jesus' birth.  The story of John the Baptist in our Gospel lesson reminds us of our need to prepare our minds, hearts and spirits to what love enables us to become.  Sometimes we are more attentive to the movement of sale prices in our shopping centers than to the coming of love into our world in a form we can understand. 

     During the days that lie ahead, inspire us to desire less of what this world offers and more of what would teach us understanding.  Inspire us to be less judgmental of what people believe and more into helping others to use their skills in the service of others. May we dwell less on the headlines of our troubled world in order to spend more quality time on brightening the corner of the world where we live.  Inspire us to remember that worry is expending energy on what we do not want, while our trusting that your will is unfolding perfectly gives us peace.  

     As our Advent season continues, enable us to be less absorbed with our wants and needs so that we can truly represent the disciples your Son invited us to become.  Thank you, God, for offering us with each new day, a fresh opportunity to change our futures.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ who taught us to say when we pray . . .