"Where Was Jesus Anchored?"
Sermon Delivered By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 9, 2010
Acts 16:9-15; John 14:23-31
Most of us have heard many times, “Knowledge is power.” What allowed Jesus to have such confidence had little to do with his beliefs or his faith. His orientation toward life had to do with what he knew without question or pause. The place where Jesus was anchored made all the difference in the world when responding to everything that entered his life.
During fragile, fear evoking moments, people frequently feel or say, “My faith in God is very weak right now. How could a loving God allow something like this to happen to me and my family?”
Some of us may know friends or family members who have walked away from having a relationship with God because their faith did not work for them. Either they have felt betrayed, forsaken or abandoned by God or they tended to look upon their relationship with God as a life insurance policy that would guarantee for them a life that was safe and wholesome.
Nothing in the universe can control the quality of our lives but us. We are the ones who judge the quality of everything we experience. Life-serving judgments enhance the quality of our lives because of what we know, because of where we are anchored and because of our attitudes.
Lois and I had boarded a Southwest flight to Arizona. When the aircraft reached an altitude when the flight attendants could serve drinks and snacks, the plane began to shake and make very different noises. The gentleman sitting next to me was panicked and he stared at the face of the flight attendant looking for any expression of fear. There was none. She kept on taking drink orders from passengers. That flight attendant knew most of the sounds a healthy aircraft can make and that knowledge allowed her to continue doing her tasks in a spirit of business-as-usual. Her calm expression quieted his fears. Knowledge is power.
When we went to Disney World to perform a wedding in the chapel there, the father of the bride gave us three-day passes to everything. One of the rides he said was a “must” was the spaceship flight to Mars. He warned, “Under no circumstances should you take your eyes off the video monitor that is in front of you. That is the key to having a remarkable ride.”
As we neared the launch area, we read signs everywhere warning that people would be sitting in a centrifuge, a machine that can create vertigo. The rapid spinning is what sets up the sensations associated with life-off. Passengers can feel the Gs exerted against the body that are similar to those experienced by astronauts. What makes the launch real is staring at the video monitor, an act that fools the brain and prevents dizziness.
When the ride was over, we witnessed a number of people who had become ill. We saw them sitting everywhere as they were trying to get it together. They did not have the knowledge that could have prevented their reaction to the ride. Again, our host knew how to guide us. Knowledge is power.
The other day I was watching the evening news when a commercial came on from MassMutual Financial Services. It featured a group of business people in a Japanese restaurant preparing to order their meals. They were horrified by a number of exotic and unattractive dishes that were being served to people around them. One woman said, “I cannot eat that.” Another man winced in dismay at what was being served at a neighboring table. A man said to the server, “Do you have a menu in English?” She replied, “No English.” One in their group began to communicate to the server in fluent Japanese. Instantly, all was well for those in the group who could now order from a more informed perspective. Again, knowledge is power.
We easily recognize the usefulness of information when it comes from a flight attendant or a veteran of a Disney World trip to Mars or someone who is fluent in Japanese. What Jesus was describing, however, often does not resonate with people outside of the belief system of Christianity. The truth is Jesus was teaching people where to anchor their lives long before Christianity came into existence.
Jesus taught that the ruler of this world was coming but he directed them not to worry because that ruler had no power over him. Jesus was telling his listeners that nothing in this world has the power to manipulate how they perceive until they label the quality of the experience for themselves. Jesus told his disciples, “All kinds of things that you may deem as being unforgivable are going to happen to me, but do not worry, I have learned to overcome the influences of the world.”
He could say those things because he had awakened to that knowledge. Through repeated experiences, he learned to give each of them a new, creative meaning. Remember, it was toward the end of his ministry when Jesus told his disciples, “I cannot give you peace the way the world gives it. The peace that I give is my own peace, a peace about which the world knows very little. Do not be worried and upset! Do not be afraid.”
What would we think if someone told us, “Do not be afraid of dying, or, you do not have to doubt God’s love just because you lost your job?” Many of us are afraid and we do doubt because we rely on our faith and beliefs. What Jesus had was knowledge that came from learning not to judge his experiences. What he mirrored to his listeners was a quality of life of which all of us are capable. If this were not so, he would not have told us to follow him.
Jesus said, “The ruler of this world is coming.” What did he mean? Who was he talking about? The identity of this ruler should be self-evident because he approaches us everyday. We are not taking about an evil-being invisibly stalking the planet; we are talking about what evokes the potential within us for making hostile and unhealthy responses to what we find in the external world.
Jesus experienced this when his cousin, John the Baptist was senselessly beheaded. Jesus cried when Lazarus died. The ruler of this world inspired Jesus to overturn the tables of the money-changers. Jesus gave into the ruler of this world when he responded with frustration to his listeners. He said, “How unbelieving and wrong you people are! How long must I stay with you? How long must I put up with you?” (Matt. 17:17)
Like the rest of us, Jesus experienced a learning curve during much of his ministry. He recognized how easily we can be seduced by our need to perceive without love when our world is not the way we want it.
The ruler of this world is anything and everything that successfully gains control over our spirits when we demand justice now or when we want others to fix our world so it is more to our liking. Whether we admit it or not, the ruler of this world comes to all of us. The world is what it is because of our judgments that define for us what shows up in our lives.
For some people the world is an evil place, for others it is a like a gym that serves to strengthen their spiritual musculature. Jesus understood the world as a spiritual learning center where we can wrestle with ourselves and develop responses that create loving energy patterns, patterns that inspire the spiritual growth of everyone surrounding us.
When we give our world such a purpose, our responses become ones that serve the health of our body, mind and spirit. Everything that presents itself is an opportunity to strengthen our skills of spirit. Jesus had learned near the end of his life that the world had no power over him. Jesus had taken back his life. This will be true for all of us when we follow his lead. This is a lesson, however, that many of us have not yet mastered.
In fact, we may envy people who are anchored to the knowledge that love is a one-way street. We know people who never have a bad day. They always know exactly what to do in a moment that would represent a crisis for us. Nothing ever defeats them. They are always filled with a highly energized spirit and they know that every challenging experience will be here and gone in timely fashion. They see the big picture. They hold on to nothing that could defeat them.
One day a hard working husband grew weary that his wife was a stay-at-home mom. Once the couple’s children were born, they both had decided that they could achieve many of their financial goals on a single income. Still, the husband was envious. One night he prayed, “Loving God, I wish that for one day my wife and I could trade places.” To his surprise and chagrin, he heard a voice in his head say, “Consider it done.” In the morning he awakened to discover the change had been made. He was in his wife’s body and she was in his.
He got up early, cooked breakfast for the family, awakened the kids, packed their lunches and got them off to school. He gathered up the dry cleaning and dropped it off. He stopped by the bank to make a deposit. He did grocery shopping and once his purchases were put away, he paid the bills that were coming due. He cleaned the cat’s litter box and bathed the dog. He made everyone’s bed, ran the vacuum, dusted all visible surfaces and wet-mopped the kitchen floor.
He picked the kids up from school and took them to soccer practice, went home to peel potatoes, wash vegetables, breaded the pork chops and snapped green beans for supper. He drove back to pick-up the kids and focused on appearing calm, cool and collected when the family ate supper together. He cleaned up the kitchen, started the dishwasher, saw that the kids did their homework, got them into the bathtub and finally hurried them off to bed after listening to their litany of reasons why they should stay up.
Finally, it was his bedtime and he fell on the mattress exhausted only to sense that his mate wanted to make love which he managed to get through without complaint. The next morning he immediately prayed, “Loving God, I had no idea what I was asking of you. I was wrong to envy my wife for being a stay-at-home mom. She is a remarkable person to get through all that she does without any hesitancy or complaint! I’m more than ready now to be switched back as soon as possible. What an experience it was to see life through the eyes of my wife. Thank you! Amen.”
God responded once again, “I will be happy to do as you ask, but there are some things that must remain undisturbed. When people ask me for what they want, quite often there are unintended consequences they did not foresee. You will have to be patient for nine months because last night you got pregnant.”
When our loving energy travels away from us all the time, we have overcome the power of our world to entangle us in its seemingly endless web of conflicts. This tongue-in-cheek Mother’s Day tribute brings into focus such an orientation toward life. Jesus could say, “The ruler of this world has no power over me” because in reality, it did not. Only he could make that decision for himself. It is an individual choice that each of us must make each time the ruler of this world shows up. The quality of every experience will always be determined by our perception of it.
The more we utilize this gift of spirit and the more successes we have from using it, the more we will become anchored to the same consciousness that guides us to the place where we, too, can overcome the ruler of this world.
Again, if this were not so, Jesus would not have taught us to follow him.
Eternal, faithful and ever present God, we confess that our spirits often send conflicting messages. We want to hold onto our hurts and failures while knowing that we only grow beyond them by letting go. We want to give to others from the storehouse of our wisdom, yet we realize others must learn that life has consequences when they are ready. We want to guide others around the barriers, mistakes and failures that are born of their ignorance, while neglecting to remember that such struggles enabled us to become who we are. Enable us to experience comfort in the truth that you hold the eternal security of all of us. Inspire to us lead by example, to teach with a consistent spirit, and to encourage others by first accepting them as they are. Amen
Today, the mothers we honor have laughed through the years at the possibility that a day of rest exists. As we look upon the woman who carried us, who changed our diapers, who fed us at 2:00 in the morning, who sat by our bed until our fevers broke, who helped us search for the favorite toy we lost, and who eventually watched tearfully as we left home for the final time, we thank you, God, for her nurturing spirit. Since each of us came from our mother’s womb, there is a spiritual linkage similar to the scripture, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” Thank you for the creative manner in which life gives birth to new life.
Today, we thank you for everyone who taught us how to laugh at ourselves, to find joy in the simple things of life, to appreciate beauty in whatever form we find it, to love music and to value the friendship of caring people. We thank you for those who have shown us the value of stretching toward seemingly unreachable goals, confident that eventually, your creative abilities with humankind will become increasingly more visible on earth as they are in Heaven. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .