"What Radiant Love Can Attract"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 8, 2009
Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39
Equally, when our
energy, spirit and personality flow back on us, more likely we are
engaging in self-doubt. We question, “Do others like us? What are
people thinking and saying about us?” Typically, we are being driven by
guilt or fulfilling our obligations because we need approval and
validation. We feel compelled to live up to the expectations and
standards other people have set. We find ourselves running from chore
to chore, being all things to all people as our faces develop deeper
lines and our minds swirl with thoughts about unfinished
This human stimulus package is alive and well in all people regardless of their spiritual or religious heritage or their orientation toward life. This tension is so invisible to most of us that sometimes we are not sure which direction our energy is flowing. One of the sure ways to tell which way our winds of spirit are blowing is how we feel. Are we happy and at peace? Or, are we consumed with an intuitive sense that failure is just around the next corner?
Regardless of what your belief is about Jesus’ humanity and/or his divinity, our lesson today placed him right in the cross hairs of this inner tension. Listen again to what his radiant loving spirit was attracting, “That evening, after the sun had gone down, the people brought to him their sick and evil-afflicted people, in fact, the entire city lined up at his door. He cured their sick bodies and tormented spirits.” (Mark 1:23f Peterson) The reason these people were coming was supplied by the Gospel writer in last week’s lesson, “News of Jesus’ teaching skills and ability to cast out evil spirits traveled fast and soon it was all over Galilee.”
Light attracts. Sources of loving energy attract. Kindness and compassion attract. For example, when Lois and I lived in West Virginia, every year our church at Arden, and four and sometimes five United Methodist churches in Montgomery County repaired four houses in the Martinsburg area in the same fashion as we do during Christmas in April. We had an architect who calculated what products were needed for each job. John Hechinger, Sr., was very generous and gracious enough to donate all the materials we needed to make the repairs.Shepherd College offered us free dormitory space for a week to house the 45 workers. The Arden church supplied the fellowship-suppers each night for the work crews. Because Arden had orchard and farm owners, we had access to large dump trucks and flatbed trucks. When our army of people from all the churches descended on these homes, it was a very public spectacle. Helpfulness attracts.
At every work site, neighbors distant and far began to line up with their questions and issues. “Who is in charge here? How can we get in touch with you people? We have a lot of work that needs to be done on our homes as well.” Service projects attract. We were overwhelmed with requests.
When our energy flows away from us, this will happen nearly every time. Last year, a mother came to St. Matthew’s with her three children. Her request was for three nights lodging at the White House Motel that is in the median strip on Rt. 301. Her story was similar to many others that we hear from time to time, but the presence of children always tugs at our heart strings. I told her that I would take care of her family for those three nights.
I went down that afternoon to the motel and told the manager that I was giving her the money for three nights. Her response was one I suspected. She said that her boyfriend comes after dark and I am the second minister to bring her money for three nights. I told her that it did not matter because obviously the problems within the family went beyond our paying for three nights lodging.
The next day six people came to our office from the White House Motel making a similar request. Each of them had stories that were equally as compelling, but I had to decline their requests. During these times many pastors recall the words found in Matthew 25:43, “I was a stranger but you would not welcome me into your homes.”
Sometimes the experience of pastors is like what happens when children feed the ducks. They stand on the shoreline and start tossing bread into the water. It is not long before every duck in the pond is making its way toward those children. Generosity attracts.
Jesus was obviously troubled by everything he had experienced that night. He had to get away by himself so he could sort through all the tempting issues that surrounded his mission. He had to be exhausted if we take the scriptures at face value. He probably had trouble sleeping that night.
Our lesson tells us, “While it was still night, way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded place and prayed.” Perhaps it was during these moments when he was alone with God that a thought came to him. That thought became one he used while teaching the disciples, “You will have the poor, the sick, the troubled people and the curiosity-seekers with you for the rest of your lives, but you will not always have me.” (Matthew 26:11 Peterson)
The Gospel writer continued with words that every pastor longs to hear: “Simon and those with him went looking for Jesus. When they found him they said, ‘Everybody is looking for you. Where have you been?’”
There are times when people call the house and say to Lois, “We’ve been trying to contact Dick and his cell phone isn’t turned on.” Lois responds, “I don’t know where he is and his cell phone is lying on the dining room table.” I call that freedom! Sometimes the only moments that pastors have complete control over their time is when they are in their cars traveling toward a hospital to make a pastoral call on a patient.
Jesus had the presence of mind to realize that he could stay in one spot and heal people for the rest of his life. Doing that, however, would have compromised his mission. He responded to Simon and the other disciples, “Let us go to the rest of the villages so I can teach there also. This is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38 Peterson)
Our Gospel lesson today is one with which every pastor resonates. We have all been there. We have experienced the lines forming outside our office door of people wanting to talk to us “briefly.” Theoretically, we are supposed to have the answers for everything from appropriate hymns for memorial services to how to clear clogged pipes in one of the church’s bathrooms.
What about the average individual that follows Jesus? Pastors have a highly specific role to play but what about the people who have 2.6 children, job related issues, shrinking pension accounts, and adult children who call and say, “Hi Dad and Mom. Is my old room still available? I’ve just lost my job! Do you mind if I come home for awhile?” One of the remarkable qualities of light is that it also attracts people who also have a desire to give without counting the cost. Their energy flow travels away from them too.
Many of us recall that Jesus said, “I am telling you the truth: those who believe in me will do what I do – yes, they will do even greater things.” (John 14:12) We have fulfilled that teaching. By coming together and forming the vast collective known as the Church, the Body of Christ, we are doing what Jesus could never do! We have built hospitals, colleges and universities. Followers of Jesus have built churches in almost every community. The Church has founded schools and hospitals all over West Africa and in other parts of the world.
Last Wednesday night we had an extensive agenda for the Missions Committee and the sheer volume of what our congregation has done and continues to do staggers the imagination. In fact, if we were not the ones living through our mission efforts, no one would believe what we do. Most of it is done with discretionary time that we make available. We seldom get any publicity, but that is not what matters or is desired. We enjoy flying under the radar.
Jesus could not build houses in Juarez, Mexico or send electricity producing generators to St. Matthew’s school in Liberia. His followers have been doing what Jesus could not. Light attracts like minded people that remain committed to making love visible in as many ways and forms as their imaginations can create.
Something also happens when we invite people to join us. In order to develop a passion for what we do, we have to experience something within ourselves that helps us personalize what we have been called to do – take our living message from village to village.
During one of the times we were in Juarez, we had just completed the tarring of the roof on the house we had finished building. This was our last day and we were invited to a dinner created by the new owners and a number of their friends. They could not understand a word of English, but their hospitality was unmistakably clear. Our tradition is to present the family with a lovely bound Spanish Bible.
The kids were in their Sunday best and Mom and Dad were beaming with appreciation of the home we had just built for them. Jose Luis, who coordinates these construction projects, told us that the meal the family prepared cost two days wages. He indicated that this was the family’s gift to us because they could never repay what we had created for them.
My point is this: I noticed one of our first time work crew members standing by herself, leaning against a fence across the dusty, unpaved road from our project. I walked over to her to see why she preferred to be alone. She turned away from me. I spun her around and saw that she was crying.
She wiped her face and said, “I am overwhelmed, Dick. This poor family just spent two days wages to feed us lunch. I swear, I will never complain about anything again. They even dressed up for us. We Americans just don’t know how so many people in the rest of the world experience life.”
There is no way anyone could have created such a moment for her. We experience such an awakening by being among strangers and leaving them the gift of a new home, a home that replaces the one that they had fashioned out of layers of cardboard boxes reinforced and wired to old wooden pallets. One of the reasons why we feel so compelled to go is that from time to time, children freeze to death during the winter months. Only then does discipleship take on a new meaning.
Every time our youth return from their Appalachian Service Projects, they try to put into words how their experience changed their world as well as the world of complete strangers that they helped. Our Volunteers In Mission teams return from the Gulf Coast with personalized emotions and relationships that simply cannot be captured by words.
Light attracts every type of person imaginable. Like Jesus, our church family constantly has to discern the many ways we can change lives by letting our light shine in as many forms as possible. Behind what we do, in the spirit of Christ, blows the winds of the Holy Spirit. Count on that. In fact, bet your lives on that truth. We simply have no idea the ripple effect that travels away from this congregation because of the amount of discretionary time and money you give to make this world a better place. Just as Jesus made the decision to go from village to village, so must we. Lead on!
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
There are no words, O God that can describe our peace when we experience your presence. Even during life's more fragile moments, our awareness of you restores our confidence. We want to hold such moments of wholeness forever, but we cannot. The need to accommodate both environments of our work and our families can dilute the truth we have found. Our priorities are always changing. Remind us how little effort is required to bring you into every setting of our world. We can talk to you while we wait for traffic patterns to clear. We can bring your peace into our relationships. We can display your loving presence even when we cannot resolve the life-struggles of others. We can be still in every moment and remember that you are God. Nurture our spirits today with the resolve to find you everywhere and in everyone. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Our lives experience so many moments when confusion seems to dominate our thoughts, O God, and we are grateful that we have you to help us make sense of them. We are not always the best communicators with each other. Our feelings can easily become hurt by a litany of little things. We hold on to the unkind words of others and personalize them as though they were spears that found their mark in our hearts. How we wish we could develop some form of amnesia, so that all unpleasant memories would fade as though they never happened. Jesus taught us that, by following him, the answer would come.
Guide us everyday to let go of the life-issues and the baggage we carry that cannot heal us or anyone. Jesus gave us the cleanser he called "forgiveness" that has the power to wash everything away. Thank you for teaching us how to accept people just as they are. Thank you for teaching us that we are extensions of your spirit, beings who are totally secure and rooted in your love of us. Teach us that our destiny lies in our helping to guide others toward your kingdom -- that Christ-consciousness that no human eyes have ever seen. We have only seen the results when we and others bear fruit when we make that consciousness visible.
Guide us during these moments together to be nourished in what heals, empowers and enhances us along our path to becoming more peaceful, loving and faithful men and women. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .