"Jesus’ Message Has No Legs Unless . . ."
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 26, 2009
Psalm 4; Luke 24:36-49
What has happened for
thousands of years is that Christian believers have celebrated this
reality during Easter and the Sabbath days that follow. After that,
the church calendar continues with its various themes. We do not give
sufficient time to internalize and integrate our eternal nature into our
daily lives. Just imagine what societies around the world would be
like if everyone understood that our physical death is like leaving one
room and entering another or like walking out of a movie theater in the
middle of their personal drama.
If there is anything I have wished for humanity it has been to take the study of human spirituality and expand it beyond what the Church teaches and place it in the core curriculum on every level of our secular education. Such courses would enable men and women to decode and study the place within them where our responses to feelings, thoughts, and our creativity originate. Is anyone teaching this in our society?
What Jesus was teaching does not need to be cloaked with undefined terms like religion, faith, beliefs or even Christian values. Regardless of their theological position, no group owns the result areas that appear in the lives of people who have learned how to exhibit compassion, how to exhibit faithfulness to the qualities of character and how to understand that each of us creates through the spirit by which we live. The crown jewel to life is realizing that death is nothing more than turning a page in the book of our infinite evolutionary progression.
If the Chief Financial Officer of Freddie Mac possessed this understanding, he would have walked away from his job instead of ending his life. The other day someone remarked rather cynically, “Well, at least his unhappiness with life did not compel him to murder his spouse and his daughter as others have done in recent weeks.” Think of how many alternatives people have before they arrive at suicide as the answer, an act that springs from the belief that ending their life will cure their overextended, conflicted lives.
When a teenager stopped by my office to say her permanent goodbye to me some years ago, I intervened by reminding her that the first thing she will think when she arrives on the other side is, “Oh no! Why did I do that?” If she had transitioned from this life, she would instantly understand the purpose of all her experiences. (I Corinthians 13:12) What she was missing were the skills of spirit that would have silenced her fears.
Rather than develop those skills, she wanted to go down the path of thinking that no one loved her and that life would never get better. In a moment of despair, people forget that everything in their known universe is constantly changing. Rainy days are always followed by ones when the sun shows its face. Death only ends their life’s drama, but in truth absolutely no one dies. The evidence of this is everywhere if people pay attention.
For example, most of us are aware of patients who can recall the conversations between members of the medical teams performing their surgical procedures. Not only could they replay what was said, but they claim to have seen everything that took place during the time between their cardiac arrest and their being resuscitated.
In a Chicago hospital a member of the staff put a digital print-out strip across the top of advanced life support equipment in one the operating rooms. What caused this one O.R. to be singled out from the others in the hospital was that more patients experienced out of the body episodes there.
Everyday, this staff member changed the saying on the printout strip so that any patient looking down on the surgical team would see it. There have been a number of patients since the strip’s installation that have repeated the words that had been programmed. How would they have known that information unless they had read it? A number of those patients confessed that they only had a vague belief in God.
Have you noticed that many Christians take little ownership of such events? Believers have labeled such experiences as New Age speculation even though Jesus clearly instructed his followers to go into the world and tell people to change how they think, that God’s love and support is assured, and that they do not die when their bodies cease to serve them. Who is teaching and preaching this today?
Yes, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection but if that event is not a window through which to view the fate of all of us, what good is it that he lives and some of us do not? God’s love cannot be earned and it does not come as a reward anymore than springtime comes only to the deserving. Because believers have insisted on the message that only some of us survive our earthly experience, Christianity has built its belief system on a highly speculative premise of pass-fail, i.e., some of us transition to our next classroom while others of us do not. How can this be so? We do not all begin life with the same opportunities to learn about our spiritual nature.
Critics of this notion will say, “There are plenty of Scriptures where Jesus tells his listeners that if they do not change how they think, they will be thrown out into darkness and gnash their teeth.” Those Scriptures are correct. This is why some people kill themselves. Some people murder others. Some people engage in every type of criminal, antisocial activity imaginable. They do walk in darkness. They cannot find lasting joy in life and they have settled for the transient pleasures that come from gratifying their immediate desires.
God, who forgives an infinite number of times, would never punish spiritual ignorance with eternal banishment. Besides, when we leave our solid forms, there is no darkness and we would have no teeth to gnash. A number of believers refuse to accept the idea that God is BIGGER than even the most sublime theology found in Scripture.
When we look at the distance we have come since Jesus taught his listeners a different understanding of the God from the one written about in the Old Testament, it teases our imaginations to think where our species will be in its understanding five thousand years from now. All of us are evolving. A correct metaphor for this is that some people discover electricity; others discover the uses of it but every generation benefits from experiencing it.
We have to add to the theological equation that the Taliban has believers evangelizing societies with high powered automatic weapons and blowing up school buildings as signs of their faithfulness to Allah. Yes, we all have a distance to go before our species learns to change how we think. How long will ignorance remain the driver in so many lives?
Once there was a man who lived by himself in the mountains of one of our southern states. He lived a very self-sufficient life. One day one of his neighbors visited him to see how his friend was doing. His friend found him cutting wood for his wood-burning stove with a lumberjack’s hand saw.
His friend said, “Charlie, we have a new Tractor Supply in town. They have a lot of new chainsaws that would allow you to cut two or three cords of wood a day.” Charlie had never seen a chain saw so he thought such a feat was impossible. On his friend’s advice, however, he went and bought one. After a week or so he returned the saw to Tractor Supply because he could manage to cut only a small pile of wood and he was totally exhausted.
The man who sold it to him wrinkled his forehead in disbelief at hearing about Charlie’s experience. He said, “Well, let me see what the problem is. He took the saw into the repair room, put some gasoline in it and checked it over thoroughly. Everything appeared to be in good working order. He brought it out, set the choke, pulled the starter cord and the saw worked perfectly. Charlie’s eyes got big, he jumped back and yelled, “What’s that noise!!?” No one taught him about the use of a chainsaw.
This is an old story that most of you may have heard before, but it illustrates what happens in the lives of countless brilliant people who live in total ignorance of their spiritual nature. People cannot use what they do not know exists.
Many individuals grow up using responses they learned during their childhood. Unfortunately, anger is one of them. Also, using controlling attitudes of getting their own way are among that group. Decisions based on self-interest also reflect learned responses from childhood.
Jesus commissioned his followers to teach people that they have to change how they think. We have to teach people how to change where their treasure is located. Paul captured this life-focus shift when he wrote, “When I was a child, my speech, feelings and thinking were all those of a child; now that I am an adult, I have no more use for childish ways.” There are many people who have not integrated this idea into their life patterns.
A person could be an agnostic or atheist and understand the truth of Paul’s words. All anyone has to do is venture out on the beltway where competition rules the lives of countless drivers. For those who understand what Paul wrote, today’s traffic patterns can become the source of entertainment. It is like going to the zoo and watching the animals play tag with their $28,000 cars. The problem is that too many of us get caught up in seeing such lack of courtesy and we respond as we might have in grade school – “I’ll show you!”
Do we honestly believe that the world’s people are going to mature without anyone teaching others how to change what they think? For example, people that we know could be suffering all around us because no one taught them the spiritual skill of creative detachment. We can lose our sanity when we find ourselves responding to all the little hurts that naturally come our way during the course of a day.
However, when we give others the freedom to be who they are, their behavior and attitudes do not need to affect us. They are not in this world to please us, to make us happy or to live up to our expectations. When we remain loving and our energy patterns are flowing away from us, we won’t be offended. In fact, we will be teaching them what may be a new understanding by demonstrating a skill we have mastered. BUT, we must practice new responses everyday if we are changing how we think.
Those who possess this understanding really do have a good day everyday regardless of external conditions. The prophet Jeremiah had God say, “One day I will place the knowledge of my wisdom about his or her potential into everyone’s heart. No one will have to teach a neighbor to know who I am because everyone will know me from the greatest to the least.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)
We have to be patient with each other because we are not all on the same spiritual level of awareness. However, if we are to follow the instructions Jesus gave to his followers, we must pass on the message Jesus taught. If we do not, the world’s people will continue to reflect the insanity that is all too visible every day of our lives.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, God, for being the inspirational stimulus in our lives. If only each of us could understand how to mirror your presence to others, our lives would produce many teachable moments for them. We want the energetic personalities. We want to wear smiles. We want our spirits to radiate your presence. Yet we confess that many of us are stopped by hurt feelings, power struggles in the office, uncertainty with our identities, frustration in our relationships and health issues that require our constant attention.
We seek healing in so many areas of our lives. Guide us to use our Sabbaths as days for rest. Guide us to take better care of ourselves. Guide us to saturate our minds with the words of thoughtful authors, walks in nature while so many life forms are blooming and more quality time reserved for family and friends. Guide us to understand that our spirits need nourishment if we are to bear fruit.
Today we pray for people who find themselves caught in the consequences that are the result of our struggling economy. We pray for our nation’s leaders who daily find themselves bombarded with issues that have no quick fix solutions. We pray for those that remain on the cutting edges of innovation as they stretch their creativity and take risks in order to meet the projected needs of tomorrow’s vast populations. In all of our pursuits, guide our memories to recall the words of our Master “serve one another.” We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving God, we come into your presence this morning knowing that our spirits have wandered in the world of swirling influences. We often wish that we would live in a world where little is demanded of us, where compromising our values was never a temptation and where all others displayed compassion and kindness without effort. We confess that such a dream remains only a dream. Patience is a challenge for us to maintain. Self-interest often prevents us from perceiving others with love. Our need to be right often places us in the prison of our own self-righteousness. Our desire to show others the way can easily prevent our willingness to be the one who serves. All light comes from you, O God -- all we can do is remain open to being the candle. Amen.