"Go Ahead – Change History"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - June 14, 2009
2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34
These men and women went on to say that poor English skills were just the tip of the iceberg. Many students had little or no study habits. One professor said, “When students are more interested in the success of their social experiences than their academic courses, inspiring students with subject content has been a near impossible task to accomplish.”
What these professors face in the classroom is very similar to the audiences Jesus encountered. Imagine Jesus’ teaching environment when he found himself among people who were steeped in their ancestral traditions, unhappy about their economic conditions and disgusted with the Roman occupation along with its oppressive taxation.
Mark’s Gospel says this: “Jesus preached his message to the people using many parables. He taught them as much as they could understand. In fact, he would not teach them without using his creative skill as a story-teller. Only when he was alone with his disciples did he explain the lessons he was illustrating in each of his parables.” (Mark 4:33f)
What is preserved in the Gospel of Mark is the way Jesus taught his listeners about the Kingdom of God. Both parables capture the essence of what happens when a seed is planted. The person who did the planting continues to encounter countless other life-experiences. The seed itself, however, gradually grows according to its nature. All that is needed is for someone to plant a seed.
From something as small as a mustard seed will come a shrub so large that birds could build their nests in its branches. Who knows if any of his listeners learned anything about God’s Kingdom by listening to what they already knew – seeds grow on their own. Some information was obviously retained and passed along or we would not be in church this morning.
If we examine ourselves this morning and consider the enormous bits of information that occupy our thoughts, how interested are we really when it comes to understanding something as abstract as the Kingdom of God? Every Christian denomination has its own definition for what Jesus was describing. Think of all the looming national and international issues that have us wondering if any of them will ever be solved. Most of us realize that we will never run out of things about which to worry. Are we any different from the listeners of Jesus?
Do people really care about the Kingdom of God if they have lost their jobs, lost their homes to foreclosure, had their cars repossessed, watched as their pension funds declined by forty percent of their former value or have had to cut back on their spending habits because their discretionary money is now gone?
Perhaps these issues have not bothered most of us because we are insulated by being in the Washington area but for ten percent of our country’s work force this is their reality. I guess the real question is: Does figuring out the ins and outs of the Kingdom of God really have relevance for the current life-patterns of what countless people are now facing?
The good news is that we really do not have to care about the Kingdom of God for the seed of God’s presence to continue its growth among us. While this may sound strange, it nevertheless is true. We can go about our lives as we always have and the seeds of God’s consciousness will keep flourishing regardless of what we think, believe or do. That consciousness will always be available to us if circumstances in our lives drive us to our knees.
We have to remember that God created us and thus we are bar-coded as spirit beings whether we recognize that reality or not. Millions upon millions of people will engage in delaying their growth because they do not recognize what would happen to them if they participated in what is growing around them. This understanding in no way implies that those who remain asleep are condemned to some eternal fate that lacks compassion. Other people who have awakened will have a series of aha moments and bow in thanksgiving for the understanding they have discovered.
A woman who graduated from high school was eleventh in a class of eight hundred students. She was very bright and readily absorbed the information provided by her subjects. As a freshman at the University of Maryland she began to expand her self-identity. She accepted an invitation to ride on the back of a motorcycle, something she had never done. Out of no where came a pick-up truck that ran through an intersection and hit the motorcycle broadside.
When she awakened on the pavement she learned that she had a double compound fracture of her leg. She had been an agnostic but during a moment when she saw her foot dangling from her ankle she said, “God, please forgive me, I need you now.” She told me, “Suddenly, I felt safe as though I was being held in the palm of God’s hand.” Even though she had not recognized it, the seed of God’s presence had been sprouting all around her since she was born.
Her father, who was a firefighter, said to her, “You could spend the rest of your life doing good deeds for other people but you will never succeed in repaying the labor of love from countless faceless men and woman who helped you arrive at the day when you could walk again.” Since the accident she has had three surgeries on her leg.
She went on in her studies to become a Master in Korean, Japanese and Chinese acupuncture and is the woman currently responsible for reducing the amount of pain I experience from my pending hip replacement. She told me the other day, that the accident on the motorcycle inspired her to give back by treating others who are in pain.
Regardless of what others are doing in the world around her, she understands the God consciousness that is always expanding with new opportunities. How specifically has that consciousness been made visible to her? Not long ago she became aware of a loving man in Kenya who started collecting orphans who would have starved to death had he not rescued them. He has about ninety children under his care.
She called him recently with news that a number of donors had given her money for his work. His response was, “How wonderful! Right now we have enough food in our compound for one more day.” She immediately went to the Giant Food Store and wired the money.
My point in telling this story is to describe what happens to those who choose to become willing participants in God’s spirit while they are here in physical form. Because of her acquired sensitivity to God’s presence, other opportunities to make a difference in the lives of people become visible to her. None of us knows how this seed of consciousness grows while all of us are very busy with so many things taking place in our lives. This one added dimension fine-tunes our spirits to be sensitive to what can easily be missed by so many others.
Jesus’ life and teachings are a perfect example of this growth. Jesus taught for possibly three years in one of the most obscure places in the world. His listeners could neither read nor write. Galilee was not Rome, Athens or Alexandria. His words and deeds could have been lost but they were not. His death and resurrection were witnessed by a tiny group compared to the vast population of the world into which Jesus was born. Yet, even these experiences were not lost.
Who was it that recorded the patterns of Jesus’ ministry and the lessons that he taught? Who were the men and women whose names have long since been lost to history that preserved the ancient memory of this carpenter from Nazareth? Did any of them realize at the time that what they were doing would deeply influence the flow of history? Those unknown people produced the ethical foundation upon which most of us stand today.
For all of our nation’s sins, we still have among our core values: love your neighbor, it is more blessed to give than to receive and that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
God uses anyone who wants to become and remain involved in the growth of God’s Kingdom – what once Jesus associated with the growth of a mustard seed. Jesus started off with a congregation of just twelve people. His mustard seed has spread to every continent on the planet.
As a congregation we may wonder what we will accomplish by giving a $75 scholarship to educate a student in the St. Matthew’s school in Liberia. We may wonder just how many lives will be spared from malaria because of our participation in Nothing but Nets. We may wonder about the energy patterns created by the image to our community of three dozen people working on a home during Christmas in April. We will never know. What we do know is that the more we do, the more opportunities come for another branch to grow.
The other night on the evening news there was a story from Cedar Rapids, Iowa – a city that was devastated every bit as badly as New Orleans when Katrina hit. Featured in this story were retired plumbers, electricians and carpenters who were donating their services to rebuild their community. A resident with eyes filled with tears said, “We would never have made it without the help of our neighbors whom we have never met.”
Someone asked one of the electricians why he had come out of retirement to make these repairs. His response was classic. He said, “If you have to ask, you will never know.” That answer reflects what was in the heart of Jesus’ two parables about seeds.
In the 1500s, Erasmus who created many brilliant and merciless satires on the doctrines and institutions of the Church, a man who paved the way for the Reformation, once wrote, “Truly the yoke of Christ would be sweet if petty human institutions added nothing more to what Jesus, himself, imposed. He commanded us to do nothing save that we have love for one another.”
Only by giving ourselves away do we develop the vision to see the next opportunities to change history by influencing those around us. Today we celebrated the ministry of our Church School teachers. There can be no nobler task than to sow the seeds of God-consciousness in the minds of others, particularly our children. So, go ahead – change history. There is still plenty left to do. We need to plant what becomes a tree, the shade of which we may not live long enough to experience.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, that life is a classroom without walls. We thank you that we have the privilege of refining and defining ourselves each day. We have learned that struggling helps to establish our lasting values. We have learned how our choices direct our lives. We have learned that there can be no growth of spirit unless we are willing to adjust how we perceive. Lead us, O God, to recreate ourselves by learning and discovering better ways to communicate. Spare us from asking you to do for us what we need to do ourselves. Guide us to learn how to replace our frustrated thoughts with those that produce peace, to replace our masks with faces that reflect authenticity and to replace our desire to please others with values that exude the qualities of leadership. Amen
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Ever loving and faithful God, how conscious we are of our need to be reminded of who you created us to be. It is so good to experience worship, a time when our spirits can become more finely tuned to resonate more easily with your own.
As you have surrounded us with your love in countless forms, help us more easily to recognize that part of us that is always trying to redirect our consciousness away from you. It is that part of us that makes us believe that we are bound by events that happened years ago. It is that part of us that makes us believe that we are victims of some experience over which we had no control. It is that part of us that tells us that some heartbreak will never heal. It is that part of us that wants to destroy our confidence because of a mistake we made in our judgment. It is that part of us that tries to convince us that we do not belong in these pews and that we will never again be recognized by you as one of your children.
Help us, O God, to allow such thoughts and attitudes to dissolve on the sands of your unconditional love. As incorrect images of our identity are surrendered, enable us to recognize that you have given us a body of light, one that radiates the timeless qualities of acceptance, compassion and kindness. Enable us to understand better our role in this world by accepting Jesus’ words, "You are the light of the world.” We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ who taught us to say when we pray . . .