“When Those Invisible Doors Become Visible”


Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – January 14, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

1 Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-51

 

    One of the interesting aspects of being who we are is how easily we can get moved around in life without much planning.  In our lesson today, Nathanael did not have any plans of becoming a follower of Jesus.  He had never heard of him and there is little evidence that he was looking forward to anything in particular at this stage of his life. 

    Like most of us, he was living one day at a time with no urgent goals that needed to be reached. Most of us are appreciative of our routines that set the pace of our lives.  He was happy with life and yet was always ready for the next adventure if one should come along.  As it turned out, such a doorway presented itself.       

    One day his friend, Philip, said him, "Hey Nathanael, some of us have found a man whom we believe is the guy that Moses and the prophets wrote about.  He's amazing.  He is the son of a Nazarene carpenter." 

    Nathanael looked at Philip with total surprise and asked, "Are you kidding me?  You know as well as I do that no one that extraordinary could possibly come from Nazareth."  Philip responded, "Come and see for yourself."  Nathanael said, "Okay."

    Quite often a simple response of an "Okay" is what opens a door that was not visible to us the day before.

    A couple that Lois and I know extremely well decided to retire. They had made no plans, nor did they set any goals for themselves. They decided to spend some time traveling.  They flew to Hawaii and spent a couple of weeks with friends.  Upon their return, they were given a time-share on Captiva Island in Florida for another experience of playful activities. 

    These early days of retirement were spent drifting from one thing to another just like Nathanael.  Whatever came up for them is what directed their decisions.

    A number of people said how foolish they were to retire without first thinking and planning what they would like to do with themselves. They said, "You just can't stop working and drift from one thing to the next. You will lose your minds if you have nothing specific to do!"

    Their friends were probably right, but they did not listen to such advice.  None of the thoughts from friends germinated enough to produce growth that would change their minds. 

    One day the phone rang in the couple's home.  When the man answered, the voice on the other end was about to change radically the direction of the couple's no-planning strategy. A door was about to open to a dramatic adventure that was not visible the day before.  

    That voice said, "Dick, would you and Lois consider taking a small church on the island of Bermuda?"  I hung up the phone and said to Lois, "I just got off the phone with David Argo and he would like us to take a small church in Bermuda. What do you say?"  She said, "Where is Bermuda?"  Neither one of us knew where the island was until we located it on a map. We thought it was in the Caribbean somewhere. I called David back and echoed the "Okay" that Nathanael had said to Philip. 

    Who knows what we would have missed if we had developed a well-defined plan for our retirement.  Suppose we had purchased a condo in Florida or had signed a contract to enter a Continuing Care Retirement Community?  A door opened at precisely the right time in our lives for a new adventure to begin.  All of you know the rest of the story.

    Today is the anniversary of the first time I appeared in this pulpit as your new pastor seven years ago.  During an early telephone-interview, Valerie said to me, "We would like at least a three-year commitment from you.  Our congregation has been drifting for months without a permanent pastor."

    When I look back over my life, I never had my hands on the steering wheel of where I was headed.  I was always happy right where I was. Moving from church to church was totally out of my control.  In every instance I said, "No" to every move but this one.  The Bishop and Cabinet always had other plans and they ignored my negative responses. As a result, my life has not been boring, and I have no regrets about any of it.

    If anyone would have suggested that I would eventually be serving a congregation in Bermuda, I would have thought they missed several days of taking their medication.  The only skill that I worked hard to accomplish was to bring my very best to every task whether it was buffing floors as a part-time custodian or writing my own sermons and order of worship.

    When Nathanael finally met Jesus, he was recognized by the Master who recalled the day that he saw him sitting under a fig tree. He also thought to himself. "There sits an authentic person. There is nothing false in him."  (John 1:47) As soon as Philip introduced him, Jesus said to Nathanael:

If you follow me, you will experience greater things than you have ever witnessed during most of your life. I am telling you the truth, you will see heaven open and watch as many spirit-beings work through the Son of Man. (John 1:50a-51)

    When we consider our two passages of scripture this morning, both of them feature legitimate styles for living that God can use. Nathanael's method was to allow his life to be guided in its unfolding by what piqued his interest from one day to the next. 

    The other style was experienced by Samuel when he was a young boy.  Samuel was living in the household of Eli, the High Priest of Shiloh, who was also the second to the last Judge of Israel. Samuel eventually grew up to become the last Judge. Judges were the rulers of Israel prior to their first king.

    Samuel heard a voice calling him during the night.  Each time, he went to Eli and said, "What is it that you need?" On the third occasion, Eli recognized what was happening and told him to go back to bed, and if the voice should call him again to say, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." (I Samuel 3:9) Samuel was called in a direct way to perform future tasks. 

    Consider the life of Joseph who lost complete control of the unfolding of his life when his brothers sold him to a traveling caravan headed for Egypt.  In spite of life's numerous dramas, Joseph became the best slave he knew how to be.  When he was imprisoned, he became a model prisoner to the point where the jailer gave him total control over the facility. 

    Just because there was no justice to what was happening to him, nothing prevented Joseph from delivering his best in every setting.  He happily bloomed where he was planted.  In so doing, he became the savior of his people who were starving to death due to a massive famine in the north.  Pharaoh placed him in charge of Egypt to orchestrate Egypt's response to the seven years of plenty and its seven years of famine that was to be its future.

    Consider the life of Saul of Tarsus, an example of a well-planned life.   He probably had the highest human pedigree of anyone in the ancient world.  (Philippians 3:4-6) Among all his accomplishments, he was also a citizen of Rome.

    There is no magical formula that will present invisible doors to people that will send them on an adventure that will benefit the world's people.  Almost everyone is born into obscurity and has no plans for changing the flow of world history.

    History is shaped by unseen hands and not by the will of men and women that become our heroes.  If their lives do shape history, often this happens many years after the deaths of these new trend setters.   Humanity makes that distinction through hindsight by judging the value of what these pioneers leave by their footprints in the sand.

    The Apostle Paul never foresaw that a good number of his crude letters to small pockets of believers would be included in our Bible.  Paul's letters were often so abstract that his thoughts were difficult to understand and interpret.  However, enough of his words offered remarkable guidance for people who were seeking answers to the mysteries of the spirit that might help them develop better clarity about the nature of the Creator. 

    We could meditate for days on this quote from the Apostle Paul: 

Do not allow yourselves to conform to the standards set by society. Remain open to God who will gladly transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.  Then you will be able to understand God's presence in your lives and sense the symbols that will guide you into the future to a place where you will make the most difference in the lives of others. (Romans 12:2f)

    Paul was writing from his own personal experience of what had happened to him when his life was completely transformed.  After his experience on his way to Damascus, he embarked on three extensive missionary journeys into Gentile territory helping to cause the world's people to wake up spiritually. He walked by faith because, like all of us, Paul had never met the man whose teachings he was spreading.

    The answer to the unfolding of life's mysterious nature may be that it does not matter how shrewd we are in our decision-making, how many books we have written, our level of education or the station of life we have reached. What matters is the spirit we bring into every circumstance of life.

    A message that we can take with us this morning is to show up highly energized every day, deliver our best effort at what we are doing and trust God to create whatever outcome is most needed. A simpler form of this message is a lesson that Jesus taught -- to let your lights shine brightly until you leave this life.  God will do the rest. 

 

CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

Eternal and ever faithful God, we come knowing that trusting you gives us confidence to face the uncertainty of the future.  Fortunes change.  Our parents, spouses, and children leave us.  Our dearest friends move away. Even the memory of more youthful days eventually fades from our thoughts.  What a remarkable comfort it is to know that we are always safe, always loved, and always secure in your care. We appreciate how you change our failures into stepping stones and our unexpected events into life-changing guidance.   As our trust in you deepens, we are prepared to celebrate every day with gratitude.  Amen

 

PASTORAL PRAYER

Loving and always-present God, we thank you for calling us to be more than we ever thought we were capable of being.  Your Son gave the invitation to his listeners to become "the salt of the earth and to become as light for the entire world."  There are many times that we do not feel we could live up to his calling.  Too often we are the ones that believe we need prayers.  We are the ones who need healing. 

How easily we forget that people needing and seeking Jesus frequently overwhelmed him. The Jewish authorities sought him in order to accuse him of blasphemy.  Another came under the cover of darkness to seek his wisdom.  Another wanted to sneak up behind him so she could touch the hem of his garment and be healed.  Mary and Martha both scolded him because he did not come immediately when he learned of their brother's illness. 

May we hear with fresh ears his request to follow him.  He would rather we give away our gifts than to come to him seeking even more.  Encourage us to do less seeking and become more willing to give away who we are.  We might find that in doing so, God can move mountains that are not only in our way but blocking the paths of others. Please enable us to regain our sanity by realizing that we are all your children, not just some of us who claim that we can see.  We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ who taught us to say when we pray . . .