"Why God’s Patience Is Inexhaustible"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 3, 2009
I John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18
In John’s Gospel,
Jesus appears to be keenly tuned into the mind of God. He
knows that everything in creation came from God and that God possesses
infinite tolerance, patience and compassion for every aspect of the
created order. Jesus knew that no matter how far any of God’s
sheep have wandered in life, there will come a time when they will
awaken from their slumber and they will listen and understand the
purpose for their being born. God understands humanity at a depth
that we humans will never approach.
One evening I was invited into a couple’s home. They were considering joining our church and they had some questions. During our discussion, their infant daughter began crying from her crib where she had been bedded down for the night. The two of them appeared oblivious to the sounds coming from upstairs, sounds that had turned into angry screams sandwiched between moments of hyperventilation.
They must have sensed my discomfort with the distraction their daughter was causing because they finally said, “Dick, we are aware that our daughter wants to join us. She is a strong-willed child and we go through this every time we have a guest in our home after she has gone to bed. She has been fed, she is dry and she knows that we love her, but we are not going to rescue her every time she screams for our attention. Soon she will become exhausted and fall into a deep sleep.” After a while, that is exactly what she did.
I have thought about that experience through the years and have concluded that God is like that with many of our requests. God knows that we have all the resources imaginable within us to live extremely productive lives. If, however, we choose not to look there, God remains patient. Why? God knows that we are spirit beings and that absolutely nothing in the external world will work to make us more whole than we are. (Acts 17:24-25)
God created us to need food, water and sleep. In a similar way, God hard-wired us to be receptive to the Shepherd’s voice. What that voice proclaimed was a message that applies to everyone on the planet. Using different words each time, Jesus repeatedly said to his listeners, “People, what you want in life cannot be found in the external world; everything you need is inside of you. When you find it, develop it and make your living by using it, everything else will be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
This is what happens to successful people even though they may not recognize that they have been participating in a process. Jesus was saying that there are others who do not know where their treasure lies. They are capable, however, of hearing the Shepherd’s voice. It is God’s knowledge of the created order that allows God to remain such a wise and infinitely patient parent. Having that knowledge changes the meaning for God of everything we humans do.
Once a man had developed a very limited tolerance for a squeak that sounded each time he walked over a certain spot on his living room floor. He put more nails in the long board. He squeezed glue into the cracks on either side. Absolutely nothing worked. Finally, he called upon the skills of a carpenter. The technician took two minutes to diagnose the problem, put a single nail into the board at an odd location and the squeak was silenced. Nothing the homeowner did could make the floor squeak again. His living room floor was finally fixed.
He was absolutely ecstatic with the result until he received the bill for $65. He said, “Your shop is ten minutes away, you were here for less than five minutes and you used one nail. Why is the bill so high?” The carpenter gave the homeowner a break down of the bill. It read: “1 nail, 2-cents; travel time, 4.98; knowing where to drive the nail, 60 dollars.”
If we ever need a deeper understanding of why God cannot possibly run out of patience, it is because God created that skill. God knows precisely who we are and the reason underlying everything we do. God also knows that we are safe, fed, dry, loved and that none of us is capable of escaping from God’s presence.
Sooner or later we work through those pre-teen years when we learn that our will is not the only one on the planet. We work through our teen years when we did everything we felt compelled to do to fit in and be accepted by others in our social group. During our later years we struggled with identity issues and wondered what we should do with the rest of our lives.
These later years were the most frightening ones for many of us because Mom and Dad were no longer there to guide us in the same capacity they had. The high school and college friends had long since scattered each to find his or her own way in the world. We found ourselves alone facing a future that was far from certain.
God knows that all of us belong to one flock but not all of us are listening to the universal voice that says, “People, what you want in life cannot be found in the external world; everything you need is inside of you. When you find it, develop it and make your living by using it, everything else will be yours as well.” Such a message has come to us through many sources. Jesus taught this lesson to his listeners. In more recent days, Scott Peck, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson and Louise Hay have also taught this lesson to their listeners and readers.
To return to the flock and join those who have learned how to use their inner treasure, all we have to do is internalize and make visible the same truth. When we do this, our blindness and deafness will leave us. God understands that sooner or later, we will listen! Why? That is the only way we can find value and purpose for being in this world. That is the only way our potential will exceed our wildest expectations. Are we listening?
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, God, for being the faithful source of strength when our poverty of spirit is unable to sustain us. Your loving spirit surrounds us even when we feel unworthy. When we misplace our ability to cope with life-reversals, a friend comes. When we feel violated by the realities of our world, you soothe our hurts with the knowledge that we are not alone. When our pride and the illusions of self-sufficiency blind us, you allow us to stumble. When our fears tell us that our lives have too many unfulfilled dreams, you remind us that it is you who creates through us, and that our most significant deeds may be hidden from us. Enable us to perceive each day as an opportunity to make one person smile, to give one person encouragement and to remember our many blessings. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Infinite and always loving God, we live in a day of contrasts. Here in Bowie we are experiencing a magnificent Spring. Yet in parts of America's heartland, there is flooding and in our southern states, there is tornado devastation. There are moments when we celebrate our material blessings and times when our current obligations are very difficult to manage. We laud medical breakthroughs, while the swine flu is spreading throughout the world. While we like to think that these contrasts are unique, similar events have been present in every generation.
Compassionate God -- help us to follow your example. Guide us to learn how to give even when no one is asking to help. Shape our responses so that we find ourselves encouraging others to learn their lessons by accessing the abundant resources you gave them at birth. How many times have you done that for us through our unanswered prayers?
Teach us to be gentle with people who look for answers in the constantly changing material world. Help us to have more patience with each other, realizing that we mature in our understanding not only at a different pace but also during different periods of our lives. Yet, when the scales fall from our eyes and the wax melts in our ears, we discover you at every turn. We find you eagerly waiting to embrace us, since it was you in many different forms, encouraging us at every stage of life to crawl, walk, run and finally to fly. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .