“Wanna Crawl Or Fly?”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – August 9, 2015

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 84; Romans 10:5-15


    In our Romans' passage this morning, Paul is writing to a small colony of Jews living in Rome.  He was patiently instructing them on how to live in harmony with God.  He wrote what everyone understood all too well -- the Laws of Moses were very complicated.  Eugene Peterson translated this part of our lesson in this manner: "Anyone who insists on using Moses' Law Code as a rule for living in harmony with God will soon discover that it is not easy -- every detail of life is regulated by the fine print."

          Paul was contrasting the traditional values of his people with the new way of finding harmony with God that was taught by Jesus.  In shirt-sleeve English, Paul wrote:

Trusting God to shape the right attitudes in us is a completely different ballgame.  Jesus was teaching us to embrace every experience in life with our bodies and spirits, trusting that God is working in us to transform what we are experiencing.  This is the message.  You do not have to do anything.  Your choice is to allow God to transform how you perceive and you will rise above your circumstances.  This is what salvation is all about -- saving you from remaining attached to the things of this world.

    Living with this understanding every day is like having a magic wand that has the power to transform our spirits from crawling to flying.  The people who do not know and practice this have no place to stand, no place to find peace and no place to develop a skill that is already a part of their spiritual tool chest that remains ready to be discovered and used.

    After one of our services at my former church, an usher handed me a congregational feedback card that we had in our pews.  It read, "I no longer believe in God anymore.  He allowed my very best friend to die."  It was not signed.  Translated this means, "I have lost my trust in God." Think of where that person was in their thinking.  How many times has this person felt abandoned by God with every disappointment, every relationship that has turned toxic and every criticism that he or she personalized?

     When we do not understand the big picture about which Paul was writing, we will become like a ping pong ball caught between the paddle of some major upsetting drama and the paddle of our wanting a particular outcome.

    Paul was teaching his readers that spiritual growth takes place when we embrace all of our life experiences, even the ones that lie beyond our zone of comfort.  It is our state of mind that keeps us in the emotional prison of agitation, not our circumstances.  Circumstances have no meaning or value until we assign one to them.  So many people never attend this class.  They crawl through life being victimized by one thing after another when they were created to fly above all of it.

    We move forward through life's turbulent chapters because of our trust with God.  When our focus is on God, this means letting go of what belongs to this world.  We cannot have two drivers in our lives.  We either trust God implicitly or we want to have control over what we cannot control and fix what we cannot fix.

    The solution is to say, "God, I do not know what is to happen in this situation.  I cannot find an answer so I am giving it to you."  We have to let go of whatever it is regardless of how we feel about doing so. Our tendency is to give it to God and then we take it back again.  Our problem is that we have an attachment and an investment in the result that we want.  The only way to relax the mind is to stop trying to control a situation and let go.  Peace will come.

    There was a time when Paul and Silas were beaten and put into prison.  They could have felt abandoned by God but that was not their choice.  Instead, they chose to pray and sing.  Suddenly there was an earthquake.  Their prison door sprang open and the shackles that bound them pulled out of the walls.

    They could have assumed that this was God's way of dramatically setting them free. They chose, however, to stay in their cell.  When the jailer saw the door was open, he assumed that everyone had escaped.  He pulled out his sword to take his life when Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself.  All of us are still  here."  What is fascinating is that life completely harmonized for them.  Later that day, word came to the jailor from the authorities to set the men free. (Acts 16:22f)

    I have a cartoon featuring two butterflies flying side by side.  The one is saying to the other, “Do you remember all that stuff that we learned while we were still caterpillars?  Just think, none of what we learned applies anymore.  That stuff was just a phase in our growing up.” 

    In our passage, Paul was instructing his readers to go into the world and teach others that they do not need to crawl.  All of them could fly but no one has ever told them that they could. We are so wedded to the things of this world that trusting God does not register in our minds as something that we can count on and would actually work. 

    If we carry the butterfly metaphor one step further, think of what would happen if one of these beautiful winged creatures perched itself on a twig right next to a caterpillar of the same species.  The two look at each other and then the butterfly begins to preach:

One day, you will look like me and be like me.  One day, you will fly anywhere you want to go with wings that look like mine.  You will no longer need to munch on leaves anymore.  You will no longer need to crawl and climb in order to get closer to the food you need.  You will fly.  

    The caterpillar might think this foreign insect was mocking it, "How dare this flying creature make fun of me because I crawl?  What this creature is saying is the most preposterous thing I have ever heard."  No matter how much the butterfly insisted that it was telling the truth, the caterpillar did not believe a single word of any of it. 

    It is very hard for us to imagine a time in our lives when there will be no more regretting, no more outbreaks of anger, no more bitter attitudes, no more fearful thoughts about our future and no more wondering when God is going to show up. 

    All of these moods, attitudes and temperaments really go away once we surrender our need to crawl and, in its place, we use our complete trust in God to help us soar above all circumstances.  While trusting God is a beautiful and noble concept, there is also a frightening quality about it that makes us reticent to follow through.  However, until we do, we will always crawl.

    Try to imagine this:  There was a black man who struggled mightily to hold on to his vision of what the future world will look like. This was his God Thing.  He said, "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all people can live together in harmony and with equal opportunity."  For saying this and a number of like statements, he was jailed for treason.  While in prison, he prayed,

God, I do not know what my imprisonment means.  I am letting go of this experience. I am trusting you to harmonize what is happening in a way I cannot imagine.  This prison will not prevent me from sharing your spirit among everyone here.

    What caused him to think like that?  He knew that the world is only corrected on a level that is not of this world.  When we learn to live on that level instead of investing our energies in matters of this world, real miracles will occur that are beyond our imagination.

    Who would have imagined that this black man who spent 27 years in prison would be released so that he could become the first democratically elected President of South Africa on May 10, 1994.  By being transformed himself, Nelson Mandela became a transformer for an entire nation.

    Paul wrote, "Jesus was teaching us to embrace every experience in life with our bodies and spirits, trusting that God is working in us to transform what we are experiencing.  This is the message.  You do not have to do anything."

    The truth of this lesson was illustrated thousands of years ago by Joseph.  He was sold into slavery in Egypt, imprisoned for a crime he did not commit and later became the second in command of the greatest nation in the ancient world.  He did this because he kept his mind clear of anxiety, worry, bitterness, anger and feelings of being abandoned by God.  He trusted God to harmonize everything and God did. (Genesis 50:20)

    Our imprisonments come from our attachments to a particular outcome that we want in this world.  Think of it.  Jesus let go of all his attachments to this world, including his own life.  His message was that love's power is virtually unstoppable even when he was faced with torture, crucifixion and death.

    We can easily make well-intentioned and well-informed reasons for saying, "I am only taking responsibility for standing up for what I believe!" This is true.  This is exactly what we are doing.  However, all that our strong and perfectly justified responses are doing is preventing love from showing up during our struggle.  We are also demonstrating how attached we are to the things of this world.    

    When we surrender our need to have life the way we want it to be, we might hear God say, "Thank you for finally trusting me.  Can we get started now?" It seems unnatural for us to let go and let God.  However, the more that we practice doing this on a daily basis, the more natural a response it will become. 

    If we want peace, we have to give up the daily wars that take place in our minds each time we feel that our comfort zone has been violated.  When we succeed at allowing nothing to rob us of our peace, we will no longer need to crawl.  We will fly.  We will find ourselves living on a level where miracles are created.