"Jesus - The Ultimate GPS"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - March 22, 2009
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; John 3:5-17
Fortunately our daughter had given us a nifty device called Garmin, a global positioning system that, among so many other things, has the miraculous capability of guiding us to any destination. We unearthed Garmin from a piece of our carry-on luggage, plugged it in and discovered that we were headed in the wrong direction. The informed female voice guided us to our destination and we made our flight in time.
In our lesson this morning, we find Jesus offering guidance to one of the great teachers of Israel. One of the qualities that can be admired about Nicodemus is that he was still open to alternative ways of thinking. Judging from the exchange, however, Nicodemus was having difficulty grasping the concept of spirit.
If a well-respected teacher in Israel had trouble understanding Jesus’ guidance, think of how difficult it was for his disciples, his listening audiences or even for us today. What Jesus was telling Nicodemus was so radical, so different from anything he had been taught; he could not understand why it was necessary to change completely his entire orientation toward life. Nicodemus asked, “How can this be?” Jesus responded:
I am telling you the truth. People interpret life’s experiences from what they know and understand. You need to expand your horizons. You must learn more about the world you cannot see, the world of spirit. Right now, you do not accept what I teach because what you understand comes only from your earthly experiences. I have tried to offer guidance for this world but you do not believe me. How do you expect to understand if I were to tell you about the things of spirit and of heaven? (John 3:11-13)
Our faith can become very complicated for us when we cannot bring ourselves to accept Jesus’ guidance. We have a number of timely examples of how we fail at internalizing his teachings. Not to pick on him, but why do we need to love someone like Bernie Madoff? After all that he did to people who trusted him – why should we?
We feel we have the right to voice our righteous indignation over the millions of dollars in bonuses that are being given to banking and insurance company executives. And why do we have to accept peacefully the failure of governmental regulatory agencies to protect us from the worst economic collapse of our financial institutions since the Great Depression?
We think we understand and believe in the value of Jesus’ instruction, but we are more like Nicodemus. Like him, we would ask Jesus, “How can this be?” We really want to know why we should remain peaceful, calm and loving in the midst of a society filled with manipulators, corrupt politicians and wealthy individuals who avoid paying their taxes because of their off-shore accounts.
Jesus would tell us that in every generation, we spirit beings have been seduced for thousands of years into becoming involved in the constant parade of dramatic events that have come nonstop since the beginning of recorded history. Jesus understood this. Nicodemus did not.
The types of things that we resent will never stop happening. Our ability to hate creates in us attitudes that cause us to perceive without love. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “If you choose not to believe what I am teaching about navigating peacefully in this world how will you ever understand if I were to tell you about the things of spirit and heaven?
The reason I entitled my message this morning, “Jesus – The Ultimate GPS” is because that is what Jesus was and is. Jesus tells us exactly where we are and what we have to do in order to reach our destination. He does not need to bring judgment to any of us; Jesus merely communicates where we are just like Garmin did for us. If we are lost, Jesus provides us with a course-correction that can sharpen our spiritual qualities like compassion and peace.
Again, however, we are like Nicodemus. Given what we face in life and considering the responses Jesus suggests, we want to ask, “How can this be? The reason there is no logic to the course-corrections offered by Jesus is because we feel compelled to respond with attitudes that are inspired by events in our physical world. What makes Jesus a GPS is that he was not tempted by the detours that take us away from our destination.
Consider how Jesus responded when he was confronted by Judas in the garden. “Judas went straight to Jesus and said, ‘Peace be with you, Teacher,” and kissed him. Jesus said, “Friend, what you feel you must do, do quickly.” (Matthew 26:49-50)
What we do and who we are comes out of us in the form of an attitude when we feel betrayed. Jesus, however, called Judas, “Friend” in spite of all that he knew about him. His spirit was already displaying what life would be like for us when we reach our destination. Think about this -- Bernie Madoff betrayed countless charitable organizations. As unconscionable as that was, could we call him, “Friend”?
Jesus said to Peter, who eventually denied even knowing him, “Peter, you are a rock, and on that rock-foundation I will build a new understanding in the minds and hearts of people against which not even death will prevail.” (Matthew 16:18)
We have to remember that Jesus awakened to the mission of teaching the world’s people how to navigate in life when what they encounter is frequently filled with unfairness, a lack of justice, and other people who have an insatiable appetite for the things of this world.
Our lesson tells us that God loved the people of the earth so much that Jesus was sent to become our source of guidance, to be our pilot. Jesus’ mission was not to judge anyone but to liberate us from being attracted to the hundreds of dead-end paths that offer us nothing that we need or want. (John 3:16-17) Jesus was and is the ultimate GPS.
The problem that Nicodemus had is the same problem we have today. We cannot make a clean break from how the world has defined us. Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he was an eternal spirit. Nicodemus could not escape his understanding that he was something else - a mortal man. He had trouble placing his trust in a world that he could not see.
We feel we are entitled to resent, to hold onto painful memories and to withhold love because we have been betrayed, cheated or destroyed by someone’s gossip. What may be worse is that we want God to be on our side, to be our champion, our savior and our lifeboat -- perhaps against people and circumstances we consider our foes. We want God to intervene in our lives constantly.
We are celebrating Lent because God did not become involved in the drama Jesus faced toward the end of his ministry. We think of God as a being who wants to save us from our physical circumstances. What Jesus was teaching was to bloom everywhere.
This past week I was talking to a woman who attended an evening seminar held at the McLean Bible Church, where Rev. Solomon is the pastor. He’s the “just a thought, not a sermon” guy. She had gone to hear the featured speaker, Dr. Neil Clark Warren.Dr. Warren has written nine best selling books on successful relationships and is the founder of eHarmony.com, the dating service that has developed a compatibility instrument that helps people find suitable partners. Dr. Warren claims to have identified the essential keys that help people fall in love for the rest of their lives.
My point in telling you about Dr. Warren is something he said that evening. He told the audience that the fastest growing group experiencing divorce in our country is among those who refer to themselves as Born Again Christians. The chief reason given for such a high divorce rate was their belief that God had brought the two together. He said that belief alone often prevents men and women from sensing the flaws of character, the incompatible interests and the competitive and need-to-control temperaments in each other.
The national divorce rate tells us that approximately one out of every two marriages does not survive. If God is playing matchmaker with the lives of lovers, God fails nearly 50% of the time.We have to admit that most of us have experienced confusion when trying to determine how active God actually is in the drama of human history. Jesus wanted us to be more like God in whose image we were created. Humanity has wanted God to become our super hero that saves us from all dire circumstances. For example, if we assume that God saved the passengers on the aircraft that recently landed in the Hudson River, where is God when airlines crashes claim the lives of hundreds of people?
Could it be that our faith, our beliefs, are what place God in the middle of our material world, even though that was not the world that Jesus wanted his listeners to discover? For example, as long as Israel remained faithful to God, He was their friend and protector. When Israel strayed and worshipped other gods, God would punish them. Was that way God behaved or was that an assumption made by religious leaders?
I will close with an illustration that may describe how faithful believers attribute to God many deeds that could not possibly come from our Creator. This story may help us to stretch our imaginations so that we can understand how different Jesus’ understanding of God was from our own.
Fifteen centuries before Jesus was born, the Minoan civilization ruled the Eastern Mediterranean. Seventy-five miles north of Crete – the seat of Minoan government -- there was a beautiful, pristine crescent shaped island named Thera.
Within 20 minutes the Minoan civilization and its massive fleet of ships mysteriously vanished forever. Thera was a dormant volcano and when it erupted it created a tsunami that generated a 165-foot wave that decimated everything on the northern shoreline of Crete.
Archaeologists now believe that this extremely powerful eruption and the resulting ash fallout affected the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. This natural disaster is thought to be the probable caused of the plagues of Egypt as well as creating the three days of darkness attributed to God by the author of Exodus. The writer had compiled his information from the circulating oral traditions of Israel, a nation that defined its history from a belief that they were God’s chosen people.
With this information, listen to this passage, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Raise your hand toward the sky, and darkness thick enough to be felt will cover the land of Egypt.’ Moses raised his hand toward the sky and there was total darkness throughout Egypt for three days.” (Exodus 10:21-22).
Could it be that many of our beliefs hinge on our understanding that God punishes and awards people according to their values, beliefs and behavior? Not according to Jesus who came here to point, not judge; to guide, not condemn; and to lead, not destroy.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “People will only interpret life’s events from what they know and understand. You need to expand your horizons. You must begin to learn more about the world you cannot see, the world of spirit.”
Lois, Steve and I do not need to know how Garmin works in order to arrive safely at our various destinations. All we had to do was follow her guidance. Equally, we do not have to understand the meaning of world events before we make our loving presence visible while living within them. That is what Jesus did. Jesus was already experiencing the Kingdom-consciousness while his temporary physical form hung dying on that cross. All of us live in temporary forms. During these days of Lent, do we know where we are?
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving God, most of us long for a vision that keeps your presence in our daily consciousness. Yet we confess that we cannot always separate the wheat from the chaff. We cannot always recognize your presence in the challenges we face, nor can we sense that we are being blessed by the unexpected. Only through hindsight do we observe your footprints in events where we were sure we stood alone. As we continue to follow Jesus, inspire us to trust you as he did. Teach us to desire faith over fear. Guide us to remember that we do not need to understand why life’s events unfold before we possess an unshakable faith. We are amazed that you took the death of Jesus and gave us a window through which to view eternity. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Eternal God, as we experience these days of Lent, for some of us they have merely been like other days. Yet for us who have actively looked within ourselves, we have found much to ponder.
We have wrestled with our need to control our destiny. Jesus invited us to bloom where we are planted. We have loved, expecting to be loved in return. Jesus taught us that authentic love expects nothing. We have cried "unfair" when our idea of justice has not prevailed. Through our remembrance of Jesus' trial and murder, he has reminded us that sometimes justice, fairness and truth are not a part of everyone's experience. We confess that our response during these moments is what causes our spirit’s flame to flicker and grow dim. We learned that when the righteous crucified Jesus, you did not intervene. You turned the other cheek and gave us insight into life eternal.
What a joy it is for us to understand that Jesus came to teach us, to lead us and to liberate us from the poverty generated by our own thoughts and beliefs. As we follow his guidance, grant us confidence as we enter our tomorrows with a deeper understanding of our calling to be faithful during all circumstances. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .