"The Kingdom’s Invisibility"
Meditation Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - June 7, 2009
Psalm 29; John 3:1-17
In essence, Jesus was telling this member of the Sanhedrin that in order to perceive life’s events creatively one must understand their experiences through the eyes of a loving spirit. Jesus used what is perhaps his most well-known metaphor to describe what happens to a person who develops that understanding. He said it was like being born again. Translated this means that a true awakening must take place that will teach us that our lives are unfolding entirely from a world that will always remain invisible. We develop all of our insights and perceptions from this world.
For example, during the last couple of weeks people have noticed that I am using a cane. This image has evoked a variety of responses. Here is an example of some of the comments I have heard -- “I can tell by your eyes that you are in a great deal of pain.” “I’ve heard you are going to have your other hip replaced. For your sake, I hope the surgery will be soon.” “Is your ego getting in your way when you walk without using your cane? What are you trying to prove? Look, Dick, you need to take care of yourself. Don’t worry about the church. We will survive.”
These comments and opinions are very different. All of them originate from an invisible network of responses that each of us has created throughout our lives. People are offering advice. They are encouraging me to slow down. They make humorous references to how challenging it is to be growing older. Some have even accused me of being a “typical male” who will not listen to the wisdom of the medical professionals. Interesting! I have no idea why anything would associate this last comment with me!
Think of all the invisible components within our personalities that were being used to make these feelings and perceptions known. People were using their imaginations. They were using their past perceptions of me. The point is that none of us is a stranger to using this part of ourselves even though it remains invisible.
What we can observe are the results. This is why Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. Life unfolds like this for everyone who is born of the spirit.” Jesus was correct when he declared that we only see the results of our spirit. The source of these results will always remain invisible.
Most of us have known mean-spirited, toxic personalities. We have seen people who misinterpret their experiences. They personalize every event. They build a network of responses based on these inaccurate perceptions. There are people who are competitive in everything they do. They have to be number one at all costs.
What Jesus said to Nicodemus was that everyone communicates through their spirit everyday of their lives, but they may not have yet awakened to the recognition that this is what they are doing. We can literally be terrorized by our spirits. We can become self-destructive because of how we perceive. We can be driven by some compulsion because of this unrecognized part of ourselves often turns like a leaf in the direction of the prevailing wind.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, sensed our need to harness this energy when he wrote the following words in a sermon called Catholic Spirit:
Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? Are we not of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without any doubt, we can achieve this. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. While these differences remain, we are still capable of moving one another forward in love and in good works.
Until the world’s people awaken to the possibilities that all of us have for living in community, our unrecognized spiritual energy will continue to separate us by culture, theology, ideology, mutual suspicion and a host of divisive barriers.
The other day, I listened to President Obama’s speech to the Arab world that was delivered in Cairo, Egypt. I thought it was among the most remarkable speeches I have heard from any president. Yet there were a number of Arab commentators who said that the speech lacked substance. They claimed that Obama’s presentation had no action plan, that the speech lacked the teeth to achieve all the points that he made.
What many people in the world do not grasp is that legislation will not remove hatred from the minds and hearts of people. Sanctions will not unravel the desire of some nations to proceed in developing nuclear weapons. Wars cannot extinguish the determination of a dedicated few to unleash a deadly virus in some densely populated nation.
The reality is that each of us has our hand on the rudder that can steer our ship in any direction that our spirit determines. When that spirit remains unrecognized and unprincipled, we can steer our lives by greed, irresponsible behavior and attitudes born from imaginations that are driven by fear. Our lesson for this morning has the antidote for such cancers of the spirit.
Listen to Peterson’s translation of John 3:16-17, “God gave us his Son. And this is why: so that no one needs to be destroyed. By believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God did not go to all this trouble merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world’s people how bad they are. Jesus came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust his guidance has long since been under a death sentence without knowing it.”
When we recognize that Jesus’ guidance encourages us to perceive with love, the scales fall from our vision and we can see more clearly. Cancers in our spirit, however, are being created when we perceive without love. When we extend our loving energy patterns toward others, we are unleashing the same creativity that God used when the universe was made.
The part of us that remains invisible can unleash our demons in the world, or it can reveal the Spirit of God. This is our choice. What we have to do is educate everyone else that this is their choice as well.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, gracious God, for teaching us the value of being corrected. We enter our world undisciplined, ignorant of boundaries, well energized and filled with curiosity. We quickly learn to test the limits of our parents and teachers. We thank you for the ease with which obedience helps to define our character. Teach us the wisdom of knowing you, O God, before we begin to paint outside the lines. Grant us the patience to master the little challenges of life so that we can bring skill and not over-reaction when larger earthquakes shake us. Remind us everyday that our words and deeds become a self-portrait of what others will see. Help us to remember that the only faith-in-action from which others can take their cues may come from what they see us do. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We have drawn ourselves into your presence, O God, with a deep sense of appreciation for how worship centers our lives on the needs of spirit. When we come here and open ourselves anew to the healing of your presence, how peaceful we become when we truly do let go of all that makes demands of us. Your presence becomes like a sponge that absorbs our cares and in their place, we find encouragement, hope and peace. You never tire at giving us new ways to define who we are. Your inspiration provides us with fresh insights into our struggles and frustrations.
As our spirits seek greater growth, how easy it is to take the path of least resistance. We know the struggles when issues of pleasure confront those of character. We are no strangers to the attractiveness of compromise. We know how blinding self-interest is when we are faced with a decision that will be unpopular for others. Evoke in us, O God, the memory that we are created in your image. Help us to carry that awareness into each relationship and circumstance. Remind us that our lives reflect everything that we believe. We pray that we will make visible the values that create community, friendship, healing and wholeness. May your will be done on earth because we are enthusiastically alive in your service. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .