"Our Desire for Guidance"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - November 2, 2008

Psalm 146; Matthew 23:1-12

     How many times can we estimate that we have sought guidance during our lives?  Probably if we narrowed the timeline down to moments during the last month, we could get a better grasp on the number of times.  When we get to a place where we think we have seen it all, that is when something completely different enters our life’s stage.   

     I remember a time when I was giving a teenage girl a ride home from a meeting and she asked, “When it is time for me to get married, how will I know that the guy I am with is the right one?”  She went on, “When I asked the same question to my Mom she said, ‘When you get to that stage of your life, you will know.’  That can’t be right because that means that 52 percent of women get it wrong.”  Her question, however, was a good one, but it is one that no one can answer.           

     A number of Americans have been seeking guidance from financial advisors about what to do with their assets in this economy, particularly those who are planning on retiring soon. Yet, they have learned that even the men and women who have been specialists in this field for decades find the financial markets more confusing to interpret than anything they have ever seen.  People need and want guidance even though the authorities have different answers. 

     For over a year we have had our senses assaulted by all those lengthy infomercials that end with, “I am Barack Obama or I am John McCain and I approve of this message.”  If there is a sense of overkill by the candidates to provide valuable guidance before the American public, this enormously expensive format has failed to do that.  More time has been spent attacking one another than on how to address what are perceived to be very serious issues facing our society.  For many of us Tuesday cannot come and go fast enough.

     When it comes to our spiritual lives, the same confusion can reign in our minds when we are seriously seeking guidance from those in whom we have given authority.  In our lesson today Jesus was telling his listeners to be very cautious in how they discern spiritual guidance.

     Peterson does a masterful job when he translates parts of this passage.  For example, “Religious leaders love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees and getting called, ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’  Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do!  Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do.”

;    Most of us have a unique ability in our spirits that helps us to discern the quality of our faith.  For example, if we are fearful about life, about God and about the state of our soul, we are capable of following any self-appointed authority who appeals to our fear.  They claim to clearly understand the path of sound guidance that everyone must follow, a path that is carefully justified by scriptural references.  

     However, if our spirits are filled with love for God and others, we will clearly resonate with beliefs and a worship style that produces the maximum freedom of enthusiastic, compassionate self-expression. 

     One of the most powerful statements concerning spiritual guidance comes from a person who lived over 500 years before Jesus was born.

Do not believe what you have heard.  Do not believe in tradition because it has been handed down for many generations.  Do not believe in anything that has been spoken of many times.  Do not believe because the written statements come from some old sage.  Do not believe in conjecture.  Do not believe in authority or teachers or elders. Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, UNLESS it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.  After careful observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and it will benefit one and all, then accept it and live by it. 


(Prince Siddhartha Gautama, 563-483 B.C. – Buddha)

    Our lesson ends with Jesus saying, “Do you want to stand out?  Then step down.  Be a servant.  If you puff yourself up, you will get the wind knocked out of you.  But if you are content simply to be yourself, your life will count for plenty.” (Matthew 23:11-12)

    I believe all of us desire guidance even though we have often been very disappointed by what we receive.  If we consulted the Hebrew Bible for the best guidance, we might find the passage that Jody Kelley quoted from Micah on Laity Sunday, “What God requires of us is this:  to do what is just, to show constant love and to live in humble fellowship with our God.” 

    Yes, but what about all the theology we must understand?  What about our being committed to correct beliefs?  We desire to know what we must do to please God.  Some of us are fixated on doing something, believing something, knowing something or being something.  The truth is that God’s grace does not factor in any of these attitudes and behaviors.  God’s love for each of us embraces us just as we are.

     Last Monday I visited my Mom who is 94 years old.  The staff at Asbury absolutely loves Mom.  She is kind, gentle and sweet.  She does not complain about anything.  Her memory, however, is almost gone.  Now she has very little memory of my Dad who died almost two years ago. I showed her a picture of the two of them and she said, “Well, that must be him because I am standing with him.” 

     Then she said, “Are you really my son?”  I smiled and said, “Absolutely!  And like it or not, we are coming for you at Thanksgiving so you can be with the rest of the family.”  She laughed and said, “Isn’t that awful that I can’t remember?  I said, “No Mom, along with your memory loss also goes the remembrance of a lot of mistakes in judgment, words spoken in haste and all the wonderful deeds you somehow never got around to doing.  None of it matters now.  Your spirit is in tact and that is what matters.”   

    This is why I liked Jesus’ words, “Do you want to stand out?  Then step down.  Be a servant.  If you puff yourself up, you will get the wind knocked out of you.  But if you are content simply to be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”  In God’s eyes, all of us count for plenty just as we are.  The best guidance is not about what we should do or even what we should believe; the best guidance points to who we have the potential to be.  God will do the rest. 


     Eternal God, we thank you for the gift of memory.  You have given us the desire to seek guidance from you.  Yet we find in our midst many spokespersons who profess to know the path we should follow.  You have created us with the ability to discern truth and to mold our lives with it so that our spirits communicate what we have found.  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 what we have learned from you.  Enable us to remain conscious that the inward journey Jesus pointed to allows us to reflect to others hope, courage and vision.  As we give away what we have become, enable others to surrender their need for delay and join us.  Amen.


     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 face moments of uncertainty and when we doubt your presence.  We would know nothing of what it means to have faith and experience trust without such times.  If every outcome 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 and have known the thoughtfulness behind our sharing.  When frailties outcrop in others, we have learned the art of knowing they are much larger than their warts.  When our values appear violated, we have learned the value of being patient.  When life presents us with challenges, we know that the forge and anvil are what strengthens steel. When we are troubled by someone's lack of good judgment, we can look beyond that moment, understanding the value of loving them as we want to be loved.  Who are we, loving God, when we complain about anything?  

     Today we celebrate lives that have gone on before us.  We celebrate gifts presented to our church.   May our generosity of spirit reflect the kind and gentle nature of your presence that surrounds us every moment of our lives.  With grateful hearts, we now pray the prayer Jesus taught us to say . . .