"Something Even God Cannot Do"
Sermon written By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 20, 2009
Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:26-38
Church was cancelled because of a snow blizzard.
lesson this morning comes from Micah. Micah wrote:
There is a big difference between bringing peace and instilling peace in the minds and hearts of everyone. Instilling peace is something God cannot do and still remain faithful to giving people the freedom to make choices based on what they want to create with their lives. This is also true with countless values and helpful responses.
My sister Ruth and her husband Skip sent a Christmas card with these words, “Every time a hand reaches out to help another . . . that is Christmas. Every time someone puts anger aside and strives for understanding . . . that is Christmas. Every time people forget their differences and realize their love for each other . . . that is Christmas.”
Reaching out to others, rising above anger and making no judgment about the differences we have with others are all choices we must make. We have to make these choices consistently before we can claim them as our own. God does not instill them. God instilled the potential for them in our species but we must choose the ones we want to represent the spirit by which we live.
What Jesus brought was spiritual freedom from the tyranny of illnesses, broken relationships, miscommunication, feeling guilty, neediness, fears that we may not have enough and being preoccupied with a sense of loneliness. Along with these and many other qualities of spirit, Jesus brought peace as our Advent candle symbolizes.We can ask ourselves, “Where are these qualities and why are they not active in our lives?” The obvious answer, again, is that we cannot have them simply because they are God’s will. When we choose them, we have gathered for ourselves the fruits from the tree of Jesus’ Kingdom consciousness. The ignorance of these fruits makes them invisible for many people.
A number of people are very cynical about many teachings of Christianity and even God’s existence, and yet as soon as they are down on their luck – often they are among the first to come to a church and tell a heart-rending story about their life’s circumstances hoping for a financial handout. Some of the faithful often ask, “Why should we waste our time dealing with people whose lives are totally focused on themselves? Why squander our precious resources on those who would never understand why we render assistance.”
The answer to such questions should be self-evident when we look around at our magnificent world and the riches that were instilled within us at birth. What we often take for granted about our lives was made possible to all of us because of who God is, not because of anything we do or believe. Peace will always escape us as soon as we ask such questions.
During one cold and blustery night, I brought a half dozen homeless people into the church when I was at Capitol Hill. I was cooking hamburgers for them. While the smell of the frying hamburgers was drifting across the kitchen one of the women said, “Rev. Dick, do you have any hamburger buns? I don’t like sliced bread.” It just so happened there was a pack in the church’s freezer. Then she said, “That’s great! Do you have any cheese? I just love cheeseburgers.” We did have a block of sharp cheddar in the refrigerator.
She became more insistent in her requests. “Do you have anything to drink other than water?” Some of the church women kept frozen cans of lemonade in the freezer for their punch. Once that need was met she asked again, “Do you have any ice for the lemonade?” I found myself laughing at her litany of requests. Before she could ask for anything more I asked, “Prior to eating dinner, would you like to make a selection from our extensive dessert menu?” Everyone laughed. They all got the point.
Does it really matter how others choose to respond to our love and generosity? Sure it does! Let us not kid ourselves. We really want to feel good about what we have done. The response we would like to hear is a simple “Thank you!” We want to hear some semblance of appreciation.
For many of us such a response is the missing ingredient for all that we do. We do feel a twinge of disappointment when our love is taken for granted, when our sacrifice is ignored or when our generosity is not recognized. The truth remains that it is as impossible for us to instill gratitude in people as it is for God to instill peace in all of humanity.
Behind my desk hangs a large picture that frames a small portion of what is depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It was painted by Michelangelo and shows the outstretched hand of God reaching for the outstretched hand of a man. The figures do not touch. They are only reaching toward each other.
Just how does the spirit of our Creator connect with beings that know only the limitation of our physical reality? It can’t. There is no way that the average person living in this constantly changing world can realize that there is something much larger happening in creation than what their physical senses tell them. The experiences in the world can produce many unknowns that make us fearful.
When Moses climbed Mt. Sinai and was gone for a considerable time, the Jews begged Aaron to create a god to lead them. (Exodus 32:1) They were more at peace while Moses was visibly leading them. When he was no longer present, the wandering people needed a bull-calf as a tangible symbol of what was guiding them.
In many of our circumstances the need created by the Jews is identical to the kinds that we create. We do not look to a golden bull-calf for our security and peace, but we do look to aspects of life that are just as symbolic.
Our confidence and peace, for example, escaped many of us when we looked at our retirement accounts last March and saw a major decline in their value. When there has been a death of a major personality in our lives, we can become emotionally shaken. When our health is threatened by a discovered mass attached to a major organ, our peace can turn to high anxiety. When a misunderstanding shatters a once stable relationship, we can become distraught. It does not take much to kindle our fears, fears that send our peace packing.
What was Michelangelo’s message with the fingers of God and man that almost touch? Perhaps he knew that for them to connect, it would take a person to teach us and show us what God had in mind for humankind. No doubt he had a baby in mind that would grow up to become the bridge between those two index fingers. After all, this was the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
We forsake the substance for the shadow when we allow our total trust in God to vanish as soon as our consciousness becomes shattered by our circumstances. THIS never happened to Mary and Joseph as they made their way to Bethlehem. THIS never happened to Jesus when he faced false charges, watched as his beloved disciples fled in terror and when he faced having his body nailed to a Roman execution device.
Their confidence was based in an understanding other than the judgments most people make when their lives appear to be so unfair and unjust. The same set of choices is available to us. It is impossible for God to instill peace in people. What we must learn is that our life’s circumstances do not hold the key to our peace, our confidence in God does.
Some of you may be old enough to remember the tennis player, Arthur Ashe. He was one of the all time greats. He contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion when he had heart bypass surgery in 1983. His response to his illness was most uncommon. Arthur knew that one day he would die from the disease.Arthur never became angry, bitter or resentful. He did not blame God or the medical community for his condition. He already understood that assigning blame would never make him whole again. He also knew that such choices would give AIDS to his spirit, and that he would not allow since he had complete control over such a choice.
Two weeks before he died, he wrote a letter to his daughter, Camera. Here is a portion of what he wrote:Camera, I want you to have complete trust and faith in God. Do not be tempted by pleasures and material possessions, or by the claims of science and smart thinkers who try to convince others that religion is obsolete or that the worship of God is somehow beneath you. Trust me when I tell you this – spiritual nourishment is as important as physical and intellectual nourishment. The difference is that spiritual nourishment adds a large invisible dimension to life that the other two cannot. It is the spiritual dimension that sustains my peace as I write these words to you.
Never beg God for special favors. Instead, ask God for the wisdom to know what is right, what God wants done and for God to inspire you to do it. Remember to read your Bible. Read the Psalms and the Sermon on the Mount. There are many passages in this timeless book that will give you comfort during some of life’s darkest moments. You will find in this book what will give your life meaning and guidance so that peace continues to be your constant companion. The more you understand what God has given to all of us, the more your understanding of life’s meaning will increase.
Do not worry about me and my failing health. I was fine before I was diagnosed. I am fine now even though I have been told that I have only days to live. I am not sad because I know that life is a temporary experience for everyone. I can hardly wait for the next chapter of my life to begin. Always remember that I love you and I will remain very proud of you.
What a remarkable letter to leave his daughter. Arthur was very weak when he wrote it, but his mind and faith were unequivocally clear. Most of us tend to look at miracles when a person with his condition is healed. Yet a life that teaches others how to carry their burden without making any judgment about it is equally miraculous. It is also interesting that Arthur’s words to his daughter have found their way to you many years after his death. They still offer guidance to us.As soon as we lose our peace, that is a sign that fear has temporarily overshadowed our trust in God for the outcome of all things. The question should never be, “How do I want to be remembered?” The question should be, “How trusting and peaceful have I been when life’s uncertainties have tried to put a basket over my light?” It is because of his knowledge of God’s gift of peace that Micah wrote his words. It is because of this remarkable quality that we lighted the Advent candle this morning in remembrance of peace.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We are grateful, O God, that you created us with the ability to experience peace. We confess, however, how easily we often surrender to our worst fears. There are moments when we cry out “life is unfair!” when unwanted moments present us with detours. The mind of Mary was filled with troubling thoughts and feelings when she heard what an angel said. Yet she resigned herself with peace saying, “I am the Lord’s servant; may it happen to me as the angel has said.” How grateful we are that our confidence in you can change our worst nightmares into moments of great hope. Our understanding of your presence can change our experiences of deep hurt into opportunities for expressing forgiveness. Our recognizing your presence can change the moments that create uncertainty into a source of infinite joy. Thank you, O God, for all the opportunities there are for hearing your still, small voice that brings peacefulness to our spirits. Amen. THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Our days of Advent have passed quickly, O God, and we find ourselves entering the beauty of our sanctuary for the final Sunday before we celebrate Jesus’ birth. We count every moment a blessing if our walk through these four weeks has helped us perceive others as belonging to you. We thank you for all the angels in the flesh who have incorporated into their busy schedules time for our many mission projects as well as decorating our sanctuary.
We thank you, God, for your faithfulness to us. Thank you for the story of what happened in Bethlehem, a memory that helps us to remember that your love came in a form that people could recognize. You brought to us a new awareness about life, a unique way of defining ourselves as your sons and daughters who have the potential to continue Jesus’ mission to change the consciousness of humanity.
Help us to bring peace to the troubled thoughts and feelings that flow through our minds and hearts. Awaken us from perceptions that prevent us from seeing miracles and from preoccupations that have made task masters out of past hurts and disappointments. You came to set all prisoners free, and we gladly accept with great joy the coming of Christmas. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .