"Lessons Learned Always Produce Change"
Meditation Delivered By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 1, 2009
Deuteronomy 18:14-22; Mark 1:21-28
The Nationwide Insurance Company created a commercial for television that features a fender-bender accident that takes place in a parking lot. While attempting to pull between the lines, the driver misjudged the distance to the next car and scraped the back fender with his bumper. As he was preparing to exchange insurance information, he apologized and asked for forgiveness from an elderly couple. The woman opens the door abruptly and exclaims, “Forgiveness! Forgiveness! I’ll show you forgiveness.” She begins to smack the man around with her large purse. This little mini-drama is a show-stopper designed to gain the attention of the viewing audience. There is something about her response that makes us smile. Curious!
Do these people come out of their mother’s wombs swinging like this or have they taught themselves patterns of responses that they have reinforced throughout their lives?
The Gospel writers truly capture the human condition in ways that most of us recognize are still part of our inner world. The primary difference is that they labeled our problems differently.
Our lesson this morning opens with Jesus teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath in a style that was most uncommon to his listeners – “so forthright, so confident – not quibbling and quoting like the religious scholars.” (Mark1:22 Peterson)
In the midst of his instruction, a person possessed by a demon created an audible and visual distraction. Jesus ordered the demon to be gone and after more spasms and screaming, the demon left. The Gospel writer concluded this episode with, “Everyone there was incredulous, buzzing with curiosity, ‘What is going on here? A new teaching that does what it says? This man shuts up defiling, demonic spirits and sends them packing!’ News of this traveled fast and soon it was all over Galilee.” (Mark 1:27-28 Peterson)
Most of us have little or no understanding about complex psychological or physiological disorders that the ancients referred to as demons. If we take notice of several references to demons in the New Testament, they encompass a wide-range of human experiences, i.e. insanity (Mark 5:2f), epilepsy (Luke 9:39f) and in another case, clairvoyance (Acts 16:16).
What the New Testament writers wanted readers to know was that Jesus was Lord over the demons. Only in rare instances did Jesus’ miracles not work immediately (Mark 8: 22f) or not at all (Mark 6:5f). The question we need to answer for ourselves is this: How much authority do the teachings of Jesus have over our lives? For many people this is the question. How we answer it will tell us what or who has control over our thoughts and attitudes.
There are times when we fail. Do we recover rapidly, knowing that failure is part of learning? There are times when what we want with our heart, mind and soul is not going to happen. Can we move on? There are times when we cannot fix a relationship. Can we let go and be at peace? There are times when we cannot prevent our small company from going out of business. Can we see the opportunity that such change brings?
We could go on listing life-issues that can come at us when we least expect. Often they are ones that are completely beyond our ability to control. Who are we during those times? Will our angels within us become visible? Or, will the demons surface in our lives?
Jesus taught his listeners from the place where his consciousness was grounded. This is what he said: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27) Think of the demons that would go away if we lived in Jesus’ world, a world he invited us to enter.
One evening, I was with a small group of men that met with Bill Nichols. Until his retirement, Bill was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Disciples of Christ denomination. We were talking about the angel within us, the potential consciousness that I mention from time to time.
Bill said that the mystical side of us is our most intimate part that completely trusts God with everything. He told us that historically, when this linkage with God is consciously maintained, there is stillness in our spirits, confidence to move mountains, and a peaceful joy that can be observed perhaps more by others than by ourselves.
Bill’s words, coming from his dwelling in Jesus’ world for most of his life, reminded us that too many of us have lost our trust in the process that our lives are unfolding exactly as they should in order for us to learn the lessons we came here to learn. This loss of trust has caused us to react and over-react to all the perceived injustices that we adamantly believe have come our way. In our responding with calls for love instead of with extending our love, we energize attitudes that obscure the purpose for our being born.
In other words, many of our demons are ones we create. We only break their hold on us when we release what we believe we want from life and allow God’s will to work through us. This orientation toward life is what Jesus taught his followers. When we learn this lesson, how we perceive our world will completely change.
We cannot be the leaven for the loaf or a light without standing in the midst of the world, exactly as we find it, and allowing God to work through us. This was what Jesus did when his world did its best to put out his light. That attempt failed! When we have the courage to follow Jesus, like him, we will overcome the world and its demons.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, for creating within us the potential to discern your will. Jesus taught us that our teachers, our classes and our lessons come in many forms. How often we miss experiencing your lesson because we are looking for a miracle that will make our desires visible. Our frustration might be the moment we need to access our patience. Temptation to develop greater loyalties to the things of this world might be our moment to strengthen our character and deepen our spirit. An unanswered prayer offers us the opportunity to trust you when the outcome we desire is still uncertain. Help us to discern your guidance even when our experiences do not make any sense. Help us to remember that Jesus invited us to allow our loving spirits to be seen so that we bloom where we are. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving God, Jesus came into our midst so that we might learn how to become more loving, patient and peaceful men and women. In spite of all the truth he taught, it was you, O God, who created us with the power of making choices. Even though our thoughts and actions frequently do not serve your will or even our own, you gave us free will anyway.
In the drama that life represents, you have allowed distractions to intrude on the teachings of your son. As many tantalizing alternatives parade in front of us, it is we who must choose between the pearl of great price and the idol. It is we who must select between what will enhance our spiritual skills and what is only an imitation that pretends to offer us what we believe we lack.
Thank you, God, for being so confident that eventually we will find our way through the maze that life represents and return to you with a distilled wisdom that could not have been learned without choice. We are frail. We make mistakes. We frequently forsake the substance for the shadow. Yet, O God, we understand that you would have it no other way. You want us to come to you unencumbered. You want us to learn that all that glitters is not gold. You want us to choose wisely, once we have learned that all other alternatives are only reflections of what cannot survive. What a joy it is for us to know that your love is so enormous that it surrounds us and protects us even when we are yet blind. With grateful hearts we pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .