"Love Is A One-Way Street"
Meditation Delivered By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 24, 2009
For those of us who traveled through Advent together, we have covered the themes of Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. I want you to think about this -- What specific emotional, intellectual and spiritual qualities do we associate with these words? More to the point, who made those skills of spirit possible for people and what is their origin? For those of you who know the Boy Scout oath, the words expressed in that oath encompass many more skills of spirit than the four themes of our Advent Candles.
The Apostle Paul expanded the number of such skills even more when he wrote, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else.” (Colossians 3:12-13) What is going on within us when these qualities become visible in our personality and spirit?On Christmas Eve we celebrate Jesus’ birth as God’s greatest gift to humanity. Suppose that is not the case? After all, we would not know anything of Jesus’ life and teachings if we had not first been given the gift of our world. We would know nothing of God’s love for us if we had not first been endowed with the ability to perceive it. My point is that the vehicles of God’s love are far more numerous then what we might imagine on Christmas Eve. In fact, there are so many expressions and forms of God’s love we might miss most of them.
Yesterday, I was traveling to Arundel Hospital to visit Dave Abeel who is in the ICU. Those of us who use the Parole exit off route 50 are familiar with the merging traffic pattern that occurs there. With many drivers trying to get close to the Annapolis Mall, it made getting to the hospital a little more challenging than usual. I hesitated in order to allow a driver on my right to easily merge in front of me. She did not recognize the opportunity I was giving her. For whatever reason she continued to travel on the increasingly narrowing shoulder until she gained entrance into my lane 15 cars ahead of the spot I had offered to her.
Multiply this response across so many areas of life and we might understand why we could miss other forms of God’s love that present themselves to us everyday. We observe Christmas Eve with a reverence that is only rivaled by our celebration of Easter. The birth and death of Jesus have etched themselves into our minds and hearts because of our annual, traditional observances, but are we tuned into the other forms in which God’s love comes?
For God, love is a one way street. Whether we perceive that love or not is not God’s concern. If we consider the four themes of Advent and the numerous skills of spirit the Apostle Paul provided his readers, only one process allows those qualities to become visible in us.
The Sermon on the Mount was filled with Jesus’ teachings on how we make the Kingdom of God visible. The process has to do with the direction in which our loving energy patterns flow. This is the origin of God’s countless gifts to us not only from God but also from us. Jesus’ pearl of great price was the knowledge of how to become yet another channel through which God’s love enters our world.
God does not withhold love because we have poor attitudes or we do not use good judgment in our decision-making or we engage in destructive behavior. When we radiate such qualities what happens to us is that we become blind to our potential and begin to perceive everything without love. God does not do that. Soon we get to the place where our perceived needs are the only source of guidance. This is what is causing increased chaos in the lives of many people today. The common courtesies people once extended to others are no longer being used because of how they perceive.
This process happens so slowly that we are unaware that we are starved for what used to nurture our spirit. Someone once said, “Christians who no longer come to church are like an old car that doesn’t work anymore. The engine begins missing before it quits.” On the other side of such a metaphor is another statement, “Coming to church every Sunday does not make anyone a Christian anymore than going into your garage everyday turns a person into a car.”Both absurd statements are saying the same thing, i.e., being self-absorbed reverses the flow of our energy away from how we were designed. We were made in God’s image and Jesus’ mission was to help us learn again what we have lost. For those people caught in the dilemma of shrouding their light by directing it toward self, Jesus holds the answer.
The postal service in England has a person who receives all the letters addressed to Santa Claus. This particular mail clerk wrote a letter to Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, who years ago was a well known clergyman in England. He hoped the pastor could use his story to illustrate how a little bit of re-discovered truth helped him move a mountain.
Dear Dr. Weatherhead,
Last Christmas the letters addressed to Santa Claus began to pile up. I suppose I get hundreds of such letters each year. On Christmas Eve, I was working late. I was very sad and lonely in my corner while laughter from other employees filled the offices. A great sorrow cast a shadow over me and my eyes burned as I bent over my work. Finally a messenger brought me the last few letters to Santa Claus. I picked up the first one and attached to it was a note from Postman Number 34. The note said, “This was given to me by a little girl at 302 Walnut Street. It had no stamp but I thought I would bring it to you anyway.”
My body tingled when I read it because that was my home address. Enclosed are the words of the letter, Dr. Weatherhead, that changed my life. The envelope was a small one addressed to Santa Clause, North Pole. I recognized my own little girl’s cramped writing. This is what she wrote:
Dear Santa Clause,
We are very sad at our house this year and I don’t want you to bring me anything. Little Charlie, my brother, went up to heaven last week. What I want you to do when you come to my house is to take his toys to him. I will leave them in the corner by the chimney, his hobbyhorse and train and everything. He will be lost up in heaven without them, especially his horse. Please take them to him as fast as you can. If you do that, my Christmas will be complete.
If you could give daddy something that would make him stop crying all the time, it would be the best thing you could do for me. I heard him tell mummy that only “eturnity” could cure him. Could you give him some of that? Love, Marion
Self-absorption is not an evil condition. When something happens to us creating a deep hurt, a sense of loss, or a massive distraction, blindness sets in causing us to see little else but the perception of a shadow hovering over us. When that postal employee experienced love for her brother and her father coming from his own daughter, he became aware that he had become totally consumed by the premature departure of his son. He knew that God did not do that when God lost his son. His own daughter showed him how extending love to others changes everything. Throughout his ministry, this is what Jesus pointed to with his life and message. He bid his listeners to follow him.
All of us get stuck from time to time when our
world isn’t the way we want it. Our world certainly is not the way God
wants it. Rather than punishing us for missing the mark, God allows
natural consequences to help guide us back to the path that helps us
discover again the joy that can be ours when our creativity is governed
by the direction our loving energy patterns flow. We can feel lost
at times. The hope, love, joy and peace of Christmas is that God’s love
has continued to come to people through the centuries in many different
forms because God has not given up on any of us.
We can feel lost at times. The hope, love, joy and peace of Christmas is that God’s love has continued to come to people through the centuries in many different forms because God has not given up on any of us.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Eternal God, who of us can come into our worship experience this evening completely free from life’s numerous distractions. We have found the place in our familiar pews knowing that other people, who have life concerns that loom every bit as large as our own, are sitting around us. And while the label we give to our personalized concerns may change from person to person, all of us know uncertainty. We know what it is like to be emotionally overcome by life’s unpredictable circumstances. Also, we know what it feels like to be loved by you.
This Christmas Eve we are united in the celebration of our faith. There is no other community in the world like a church family that stands on its confidence in you and stares adversity and our feelings of vulnerability in the face and declares, “There is nothing here that God and we cannot handle together.”
You, O God, have expressed your love in a form that is very clear. Through Jesus you have declared for all eternity that we are loved. There is nothing powerful enough--not our beliefs or disbeliefs, not our lack of good judgment, not our unloving attitudes, not our insensitive decisions—that can dilute the strength of your all encompassing love. This evening, bless our sense of community with your profound presence.
If the scales of self-absorption cover our vision, cause them to fade. Spare us from building the barriers that prevent love from being experienced and shared. Inspire us to leave our church tonight filled with peace that knows all is well as your will is slowly unfolding in our lives. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught his listeners to say when they prayed . . .