"Truth - Judging Its Source"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - July 5, 2009
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Mark 6:1-13
Listen to the questions that were generated by members of Jesus’ congregation when he preached at his hometown synagogue: “Where did he get all this? Where did this quality of wisdom come from? How does he perform these miracles? Isn’t he the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters also living here?” The next verse says, “And, so they rejected him.”
There appears to be very little in these questions that would suggest that the congregation was going to reject him, particularly when this episode reports that he amazed his listeners. Whatever Jesus experienced, however, it prompted him to say, “Prophets are respected everywhere except in their own hometown and by their relatives and members of their family.”
One of the qualities of life that we often neglect during the development of our skills of spirit is that we frequently pre-select the sources where we prefer to receive our guidance. We often forget that God communicates to us through many varied venues and forms. There is no telling how many insights we have missed because our minds were closed to promptings that appeared to come from what we considered an uninformed source. Such discernment has occurred in every generation.
For example, while Jesus was still engaged in finding disciples, he approached a man named Philip who lived in the same town as did Andrew and Peter. After he accepted the invitation to follow the Master, Philip spoke enthusiastically to Nathanael, “We have found the one whom Moses wrote about in the book of the Law and about whom the prophets wrote. He is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” Upon hearing this, Nathanael responded, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:6) Nathanael was closed to such a possibility.
If we honestly looked at what challenges us to examine the beliefs that literally govern our lives, what makes us reflect on the quality of our values and choices, and what inspires us to stretch beyond where we are, we might find that we have a very narrow menu from which to choose when God has spread before us a buffet? Our consciousness, our awareness must always be fine-tuned to receive.
There was a time in my life when I was preparing to leave the ministry. I had grown very frustrated with the politics of our Conference. A number of job opportunities came out of no where during this very uncertain period of my life. I had to discern whether these opportunities were coming as guidance or as challenges to the direction I had chosen for my life.
During this period of indecision, I received a call from a sobbing woman who wanted me to talk to her husband. He was exhibiting very bizarre behavior that was frightening to her. When he started to talk to me, his speech was slurred, rapid and disconnected. Nothing made sense. However, in the middle of his attempts to communicate he said, “Dick, I heard that you are thinking of leaving the ministry. Listen to me. That would be a big mistake. Don’t do it!” Then he continued verbalizing his disconnected thoughts. Those words scored a direct hit on my confusion. I had not told many people what I was thinking. How did he know?
I advised his wife to take her husband to an emergency room immediately. She did. To my knowledge that was the only episode he ever experienced and it turned out to be a severe reaction to medication he was taking.
It is odd how our lives often hinge on a single incident that inspired us to move in a particular direction, e.g., a group of very significant words that emerged from nonsensical chatter, a letter that someone sent telling us how something we did changed their lives, or that urged us to ignore the external world’s confused patterns and trust God’s power to see us through some very fragile times.
Today is the Sunday when newly appointed ministers begin serving in their churches. Kendrick Weaver, for example, begins today in his new church. This morning I am beginning my fourteenth year at St. Matthew’s. Quite possibly I am here because I heard the words, “Dick, I heard that you are thinking of leaving the ministry. Listen to me. That would be a big mistake. Don’t do it!” Had I been like a number of people attending the synagogue in Jesus’ home town, I could have dismissed those words because they were not coming from a credible source.
What helps the mind, emotions and spirit to remain tuned in to the guidance that surrounds us, is to limit rather severely our need to make judgments about everything and everyone. Those people that chose not to listen to Jesus did so because the words were coming from one of their own, a local carpenter. Today’s sociologists would call Jesus a blue collar worker.
The longer we live, we discover how often our judgments close doors, build resentments, and block the formation of potential relationships. They allow fears to take up residence in our minds, fears that will erode our self-confidence.
We are the creators of what prevents us from knowing that God’s guidance surrounds us rather than only believing that it does. There is a large difference between knowing and believing. When we stop judging everything that is different from what we understand, we may see and hear that the abundance and varied venues of God’s support, wisdom and guidance are everywhere.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving God, in spite of our stage presence, our attitudes and activities reveal more about the depth of our spirits than the sum of our spoken beliefs. We desire peace knowing how often we become upset by trivia. We desire unwavering confidence even though we allow fear to erode the potential with which God has equipped us. We desire to love even though we are often hindered by our need to be right. We desire having a team spirit in our endeavors while also enjoying having a competitive edge over others. Help us, O God, to sense the urgency to live lives that are more faithful to our spiritual growth. Our world hungers for guidance, for community and for inspired confidence that your will is unfolding in our world. Help us to remain attentive to the presence of your will. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, for placing within us the desire of wanting freedom. It has been our nature to want alternatives from what various authorities have demanded we become. Even though some of us are not wise stewards of our choices, we realize that it is the best environment in which to grow. Making mistakes is often how we learn.
Today we are grateful for our nation and for the environment that has given us a standard of living that has provided us with so many remarkable opportunities. We are grateful for the rules that have been designed to give freedom form, direction and purpose. Even though we share great diversity of opinions, many of our values are commonly shared and cherished. When we use our choices to be of service to each other, we share an abundance that would not have happened without all of us working together.
Each day, we are given the opportunity to redefine who we are. In spite of our circumstances, we can choose kindness. We can decide not to hurt others. We can reflect spirits that are forgiving and generous. We can become the presence that stills troubled waters simply by being a part of people’s struggles. As we ask for mercy from you, so may we offer mercy to everyone whether they request it or not. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught his disciples to say when they prayed . . .