"Remaining Tethered To God”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – September 7, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 81:10-16; Jeremiah 2:4-13


    When we read certain portions of the Bible, we get an insightful look at how humanity has responded to life in the days of Jeremiah.  In our lesson this morning, Jeremiah verbally captured what happens to people when they gradually slip away from the spiritual dimension of each experience.  Everyone has a spiritual signature even when they have no declared religious beliefs.

    This morning we are going to use the Jeremiah passage and compare what happened with his people to what is happening in today’s world. The Prophet wrote, “God asked, ‘What made my people turn away from me?  They began to worship worthless idols and so became worthless themselves.’”  (Jeremiah 2:5)

    God’s use of the words “worship worthless idols” does not mean that people were bowing down to religious images.  These words refer to what happens to people when they are no longer tethered to the spiritual dimension of their lives.   People may have grown up in an environment where they were safe and secure in their faith.  Can they hold on to that faith when they encounter new experiences as they age?       

    While attending Albright College, a woman in my class asked me if I would go on a walk with her.  As we walked around the track of the football field, she told me that she had fallen madly in love with a guy who was attending Penn State University.  She confided that she wrote this young man every day. Her level of distraction was interrupting her sleep.  She was being consumed by a virus called romantic love.  She was a first-timer with this illness and she wanted to hear my thoughts since she was fearful that she was losing her mind. 

    Being the skilled psychiatrist that I was as a college freshman, I assured her that she was losing her mind and probably a lot of other things.   I made judgmental, insensitive comments like: “You are obsessing over this guy.  You have expectations that he could not possibly live up to. You have no room left in your mind for focusing on your studies.”

    Her father was a United Church of Christ pastor and she had been reared in the church, but her obsession had caused her relationship with God to become invisible.  Nothing I said really mattered or caused her to change her thinking.  My fear was that she was heading for a major fall if her bubble burst.

    This predictable dose of reality came at semester break when she went home and learned that he had been dating other women at Penn State and doing just fine.  She was devastated.  I could not be dismissive by telling her that there were a thousand other fish in the sea.  Her dose of reality translated into more walks around the track with me listening and her talking about how to heal from such deep hurt.

    As each of us moves through life, we encounter all kinds of new experiences.  We find ourselves in waters in which we have never sailed.  We have known people who have secured the perfect job until they began to associate with other people in the company that did not share their values. There are not perfect jobs.  Jobs can become a good fit because of the attitudes employees bring to them.            

    I have known three brides whose parents said, “We will either give you a twenty percent down payment on a house or pay for your dream wedding.”  The three brides chose the big, expensive wedding.  Sadly the marriages ended for all three of them.  It is wonderful to dream but sometimes our need for the big party shields us from making wiser choices.

    The world is filled with very powerful images that are so seductive that God remains a thought and not an active partner in life.  The anchor that made us feel secure in our youth can easily be torn loose as we drift from one delicious episode to another.  God often gradually fades from our consciousness as we watch the parade of life-experiences that whet our appetites. 

    Jeremiah lifted up a second aspect of human behavior. God said, “You did not care about me even though I rescued you from the most horrible of environments.  I led you to a fertile land where you could enjoy harvests and wonderful things, but you ruined and defiled the land I gave you.” (Jeremiah 2:6f)

    We can take these words literally by believing that God was talking about real estate or we can expand their meaning to suggest how quickly we can abandon our sense of gratitude for what we already have.  Somehow the joy of where we are in life is replaced by complaining about what we believe we still need.  Neediness blocks the joy of living in this beautiful world, in our society with all its freedoms and abundance.  We live in paradise on this island but many people cannot see living here in that light.

    As we have discussed before, the daily headlines suggest countless people in our world appear to need a crash course in Anger Management.  Jeremiah has God saying, “I have given you so many wonderful, remarkable things and you are unable to see any of them because you want something from your world that it cannot give you – satisfaction, fulfillment and happiness.”

    People who have such an orientation toward life will eternally become frustrated with their life-experiences.  They never learned that satisfaction, fulfillment and happiness will only surface in their lives when they create those feelings.   No one can give them these equalities.  No one can put the presence of God inside of us. 

    Mean-spirited people want validation to come from outside themselves.  When it does not come, their desperation for love often causes them to sabotage the rest of their lives.  These are the people that drive their cars into crowds of people, take automatic weapons into elementary schools, loot stores and homes during disasters, become suicide bombers and join other small groups dedicated to hurting other people.  Such attention seekers want nothing more than for the media specialists to put their image in front of the world audience by celebrating their inhumane atrocities.

    We often hear that we are living in different times, times where people are more unpredictable than at any other time in human history.  Jeremiah gives a lot of credibility to the idea that this may not be the case.  Jeremiah was describing what happens to people in every culture when they have no understanding of their connection to the mysterious source of all life.

    Recently, the Royal Gazette had a story where the President of the Filipino Association of Bermuda was attacked by a very angry man who cursed all foreigners whom he believes are taking jobs away from Bermudians.  He would never have done that had he understood that blaming anyone for his unhappiness is misplaced energy.  Unhappiness is a choice that he made.

    People who are tethered to God walk a very different path.  Instead of thinking that “someone has what I need and want,” anchored people think in terms of, “What can I do to bring more value to my community and world?” People who cannot recognize the value of their own worth will not be able to consider the value and worth of others. 

    Each person must grow not only physically, but also emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  All four aspects of being fully human must grow together.  However, too many people have never outgrown their need to engage in infantile, emotional reactions.  People tethered or anchored to their relationship to God have a dimension of life that angry people simply do not have.

    In the third lesson from Jeremiah’s message, God talks about the quality of people in my profession.  God says, “The priests never asked, ‘Where is the Lord?’ My own priests no longer know me.”  (Jeremiah 2:8)  Jeremiah was already anticipating the comment of Jesus, “Don’t worry about our religious leaders.  When a blind person is leading other blind people, they all fall into the pit.”  (Matthew 15:14)

    Throughout history, countless clergy have committed themselves to correcting the injustices happening in their world.  Jesus failed at correcting anything in his society.  Why was that the case?  Jesus never tried to fix his society.  He knew that new laws cannot cleanse the ghettos that remain in the minds of individuals.  Jesus’ ministry was about transforming Individuals – not societies.  In fact, the entire population of the world had to die several times before Jesus’ teachings began to circulate beyond the Middle East. 

    Jesus was not teaching his listeners to go to their priests for guidance. He taught that love and only love will enable individual spirits to engage with nature of God’s Spirit.  When people are anchored to God, each individual has a key that allows them to enter the realm of spirit.  Each individual has a vision that ignites their passion to be a light in darkness.  Each individual lives in a reality that only he or she understands.   

    No one can give such understanding to anyone.  All they can do is allow their lives to point to the treasure they have found.  At the same time, no one can take away what they have found nor can anyone stop the flow of energy generated from their discovery.  These angels-in-the-flesh are without specific theologies, doctrines or dogma. 

    These people have learned to live what Paul described in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8a.  They carry themselves with the values found in Galatians 5:22.   When we are anchored and tethered to God, we do not need to know what these written words communicate because we are already living them.  This is why Jesus taught that when we love God and our neighbor, we are fulfilling everything revealed in the Laws and the Prophets.

    In summary, among all the “come here and come there” invitations in life, struggle to stay tethered or anchored to God during every episode of living.  Remain grateful for everything that you experience.  Each life-issue you face offers guidance for how to reinvent yourself every day.  Opening the door to the world of spirit is your responsibility.  No one else can do that for you.  When we can experience life through this understanding, we become fearlessly alive and energized for our futures.