Training Forever Is A Must

Sermon Delivered By Reverend Richard E. Stetler, May 30, 2010

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; John 16:12-15

    In this morning’s Gospel lesson, we find some very comforting words that Jesus is sharing with his disciples, but his words are prefaced with a comment that creates a mystery. 

     Jesus said, “I have much more to tell you, but now it would be too much for you to bear.  When, however, the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God; he will lead you into all the truth.”

     Have we ever thought, “How much more truth do we need to know in order to live an enthusiastic, joy-filled life that is capable of climbing every mountain and fording every stream?”  Right now, most of us know the spiritual skills Jesus taught. 

     In reviewing Paul’s listing in Galatians we find these words, “Our spirit can produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.  There is no law against such as these.” (Gal. 5:22)  What would it look like for the Holy Spirit to lead us into even more truth?  This morning we are going to discuss one form of what happens to us when we are led into truth.

    Life can be extremely challenging as we all know.  Unseen and totally unanticipated variables can come out of no where and confront us.  Currently our nation’s Gulf coast shores are being threatened by highly pressurized oil gushing from a manmade breach in the earth’s crust. This ordeal is a metaphor for the kinds of experiences that can and will happen to us. 

    Maybe one of our parents unexpectedly leaves us.  We were not prepared emotionally for such a sudden transition of the person who taught us so much about life.   Maybe Mom and Dad are divorcing and as a teenager we had no inkling that there was a problem in their relationship. We are devastated and horrified about the uncertainty of our future.  Maybe our undiagnosed diabetes has been present in our body for years.  We find that we are losing our eye sight and that leads to the discovery.  Life is filled with such issues. 

     What truth was Jesus talking about that could help us when such circumstances enter our lives?  Why could he not share this information with the disciples?  What was it that would prove too much for them to handle?

    Jesus was not talking about another set of rules.  He was not addressing increased clarity about right and wrong attitudes, thought patterns or behavior.  He was not even talking about beliefs or anything to do with increasing our faith.  It was as if Jesus was saying, “Right now you are going to be experiencing so many life-changing issues that I’m not going to add even one more thing.”   If this is a correct interpretation of Jesus’ comment, what is this truth the Holy Spirit will lead us to discover?

    One of my favorite stories that addresses this issue directly features a young pastor who was assigned to a rural parish.  After a year or so, a couple decided that they would enter the next new member’s class.  The pastor learned that they had purchased a farm in the area some time ago, so one afternoon he drove out to their home for a visit.  He found the farmer and his teenagers bailing straw. Since it was about time for a break, the farmer gave the pastor a tour of his complex of barns, silos and sheds filled with farm equipment. 

    The pastor admired the freshly painted facilities.  Even the house had been painted and carefully landscaped.  Along side the house was a large vegetable garden.   As the farmer was leaning up against his restored 1954 Ford pick-up truck the pastor said, “This is such an idyllic setting!  Your farm is absolutely beautiful.  God has truly blessed you and your family.”  The farmer responded, “Yes He has, but you should have seen this place when the Lord had it all to himself.”  For God, truth comes in the form of potential!  We have to harness it, distill it and refine it until we create the beautiful farm. 

    There are times when we may believe that the Holy Spirit will lead us into truth by somehow installing it within us.   sp;sp;sp;Do we think that we are going to express countless skills of spirit because of books we read, or a group setting where we benefit from the joint insights from others or from pastors that inspire us each week with spirit-penetrating messages from their pulpits?

While such experiences can help to prepare us for life’s challenges, there is no greater teachable moment than coming up against a circumstance for which we have no known skills while realizing that we are the only one who can deal with it.  

    During his ministry, Jesus could not instill the Christ mind into his followers.  He was unsuccessful in overriding the resolve of Judas who may have looked upon Jesus as the one who had the power to assume the throne of David.  Following his arrest, Jesus could not give Simon Peter the ability to overcome the fear that resulted in his vehemently denying that he knew the master.  Jesus could not help his disciples to cope creatively with his crucifixion. The disciples scattered and went into hiding.  Only his cousin, John, stood at the foot of the cross. 

    What we can surmise is that Jesus understood himself as being in training every day of his life.  He recognized that many people were constantly trying to define him.  He was almost thrown off a cliff by an angry mob.  Another crowd brought him a crown to make him king. There were the moments when the Scribes and Pharisees brought trick questions for him to answer.  Jesus recognized how to interpret each challenge symbolically as an agent that inspired his growth.

     Some of you may have read the recent story in the Washington Post about the plebes at the Naval Academy that scaled the Herndon obelisk in two minutes and five seconds.  This year a thousand plebes gathered at the foot of the monument to perform this annual rite of passage. For the first time in the Naval Academy’s distinguished history, the climb was meaningless.

     Vice Admiral Jeff Fowler changed the rules.  As the outgoing superintendent of the Naval Academy, he decided to omit smearing the 21-foot monument with the traditional two hundred pounds of lard in order to prevent anyone from being injured. 

    Somewhere along the line, Admiral Fowler must have missed the point of the exercise. The challenge was not the climb. The challenge came when the freshmen had to strategize in a team-effort on how to deal with the monument once it had become a slippery slope Challenges require that we understand one of the fundamental tasks of living successfully – we must see ourselves as being in training every day.   

     For years, the Engineering Department of one of our Ivy League schools had the tradition of having its senior class students create some project that forced them to use what their training had given them.  Not only did they have to use their skills, but they also had to engage their creativity while using their imagination.   

    One year when the head of the Engineering Department was delivering a series of lectures in England, he returned home to find that his VW Beetle was missing.  When he entered his home, he discovered to his amusement that the seniors had taken his car apart and reassembled it in his living room. He thought this deed was outstanding!  Not one thing was out of place in his home.  The students had placed a protective shield of heavy plastic to protect his living room carpet.  Of course, they had a little help from their professor’s wife.

 The next year, the seniors mounted that same car on a flag pole that had been especially created for the job.  Only a few other students knew how the young engineers accomplished such a feat since the pole was set up and the car mounted over the Easter-break.  One of the female engineering student’s father owned a construction company and they used an industrial crane to pull it off.  Still, the men and women had to use their skills to calculate the stress on the steel beams that anchored the car’s frame to the pole.  The mounted car proved quite a sensation and even the administration of the school was impressed.

     As has been mentioned many times from this pulpit, “Turn everything and everyone into your personal trainers; never personalize anything.  Every challenge that is confronting us is for our growth and the development of more refined skills.” 

Jesus indicated that the Kingdom of God is within us, not out there in the world where many religious-minded individuals suggest that it is. When we live in the kingdom consciousness we can approach each challenge knowing that God has already given us all that we need to succeed.  All we have to do is access the potential we have never used. 

     On Friday, following the burial of  Joella Vaughan, the sister of Sarah Connell,  I decided to leave Cedar Hill Cemetery and travel up Pennsylvania Avenue and drive home by the beltway. Just as I was committed and traveling up the clover leaf to get up on Rt. 495, I heard the announcer on WTOP describing a massive wreck just ahead of me.

     My years of training surfaced immediately.  I was prepared to see a drama unfold that would feature all the values that people felt compelled to express.  I was not disappointed.  I could spend the rest of the morning describing the cast of characters that appeared with one goal in mind – “I have to get out of this mess as soon as possible.”  Remember, this was the Friday when everyone was leaving for the long Memorial Day weekend and we had four lanes merging into the one on the left.  Use your imaginations to visualize the play as the curtain rose on the stage.

     Because of my extensive training in such traffic patterns, I could enjoy the moment. When a person was incredibly rude to me, I said, “Good move!”  Never once was I tempted to lose my patience.  In telling you this, I hope that I am not communicating what a good boy I am. We all have our rough edges that need to be made smooth.  We need to practice the patience with which God has equipped us as many times as it is challenged.

     Being successful at everything from batting in the 300s in baseball to performing successful hip and knee replacements, people in those professions realize that training and practice lead to perfecting their skills.    

When we look at a challenging circumstance as our personal trainer, we immediately recognize that life is like a video game.  Our goal is willingly to channel all the values that Jesus taught through our spirits.  Jesus could only teach such values and illustrate how they work through his life.  He could not transplant them into anyone’s life.

One does not arrive at such a skill level without understanding that we are in training every day of our existence.  Jesus said, “God’s spirit will lead you into all truth.”   If we are severely challenged and we find ourselves becoming emotionally charged with resentment, frustration, and a desire to blame others, we must understand immediately that we need more practice sessions in this area.  God equipped us with an abundance of patience when we were born; we are the ones that have to develop the passion for expressing it.       

    In most cases, the solution to some conflict has little to do with what is confronting us; it has to do with the spirit we maintain during the encounter.  There will always be some conflicts, the outcome of which will lie beyond our ability to control.  Imagine what Jesus had to overcome within himself before going to the cross still feeling and later expressing his compassion for those who were driving nails into his hands and feet.

     The Holy Spirit does lead us into greater truth, but that truth comes in a form we may not expect.  It may not come as increased wisdom; it may come in the form that will refine our ability to channel God’s spirit through us because of our years of training and practice.

     There will be some people who say, “Stetler, you are preaching that we earn our salvation through our own efforts.”  If we hold such theology, I can understand such a point of view.  I am not talking about salvation.  What I am talking about is learning to experience freedom from the tyranny of our own emotions by dying-to-self and opening our lives to becoming a channel of God’s spirit.  

     Since the days of Jesus and his disciples, humanity has continued its slow crawl toward the reality envisioned by Jesus’ words, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Because of this hope, never grow tired of your training, your classes or your need to practice, practice, practice!  One of my favorite hymns describes this process, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”


     Gracious God, we thank you for your constant faithfulness toward us.  Every day our lives are filled with drama, activity and routines.  Sometimes expressing our faithfulness to you can easily elude us.  Often we are like a house that is wired for electricity and sometimes we are too distracted to turn on the switch.  Help us to develop the confidence that where we are is a perfect place to express your will.  Cause us to realize that being among others whose values are different from ours, is the best moment to express your love.  For those of us who look for guidance, help us to find it by following Jesus’ words, “I have come among you as one who serves.” Inspire us to keep our energy flowing in the direction that radiates understanding, forgiveness, mercy and peace.  Encourage us to order our lives so that others will find you in what we do. Amen.


     Thank you, God, for being the same yesterday, today and forever.  As our lives experience so many changes, we welcome the good news that your surrounding, loving, consistent presence is with us always and in all ways.  

     As we have come for worship on this busy weekend when so many people are traveling, guide us to enter the temple within ourselves where your spirit dwells.  Teach us how to turn down the volume of the noise caused by our worries, fears and stress causing circumstances, so that peacefully we can replenish ourselves from the nurturing, quiet springs that flow within.

     During these next several days, our thoughts are in remembrance of those who lost their lives while attempting to preserve, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the rest of us.  We Americans appear to have accepted the role of being the world’s peace keepers. There are times when our assets of solders and their support are stretched to the near breaking point.   We pray that our world’s leaders might realize how fragile life is on spaceship earth and work at ways that will preserve what we have for future generations. 

     As we revisit in our minds the many wars we have experienced and those who died in them for the sake of all that we value, we pray that a day will soon dawn when mothers and fathers will no longer have to remember their fallen children on Memorial Day.  We are reminded of the words Jesus spoke, “The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.” Bless the many families who have felt the meaning of those words. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .