Howard C. Wilkinson - "Deepen Your Spiritual Insight" (November 29, 1964)
|We're very happy to be worshiping together
|here in the Duke Chapel on this recess Sunday,
|of course we miss the other members of our congregation,
|who normally are here.
|Who are having a very deserved vacation at home.
|We have missed the choir, our regular organist,
|our regular ushers and collectors,
|but we were very grateful
|that a number of our students leaders have stepped in
|to serve as temporary ushers and collectors,
|and the Dr. Soheir at the Duke Medical Center,
|and Dr. Frank Jordan of the University of North Carolina
|have given the substitute leadership
|and the vocal and instrumental musical offerings to God.
|It is always good when people gather
|to worship Almighty God.
|Our sermon today has to do with two verses of scripture
|that were a part of the morning scripture lessons,
|that was read.
|The 16th chapter of John verses 14 and 16.
|The words of Jesus,
|these were spoken to disciples
|to whom he had already spoken a great many words.
|The people with whom he had lived closely
|with whom he had worked carefully,
|and that's the end of his association with them
|on this earth as he was anticipating the hand,
|he said these rather strange words,
|"I have yet many things to say to you,
|but you cannot bear them.
|When the spirit of truth comes,
|he will guide you into all the truth.
|He will glorify me or he will take what is mine
|and declare it onto you."
|Now as I understand what Jesus was saying there,
|it would go something like this rephrased.
|I have said a great many things to you disciples
|in these months that I have been with you as your leader,
|as your elder brother,
|but whether you know it or not,
|I have said a lot to you that you have not understood.
|There are so many things involved in what I have said
|that have not become clear to you.
|The implications of what I have said
|have not somehow been assimilated in your hearts and mind,
|I still want to say these things to you,
|I still want you to learn these things,
|and although at the moment you are not in position
|to understand them, your minds are not open to them.
|When the holy spirit comes who is the spirit of truth,
|he will take these things I have been trying to say to you
|and guide you into an understanding of them.
|He will spoon feed them to you
|so that instead of your never knowing them,
|you will come to know them,
|instead of you're never seeing them,
|you will come to see and understand them.
|Now that is what the sermon is about this morning.
|You might say that's what the sermon is.
|Sometime ago I was spending some time with a man
|who had a young daughter.
|During the course of our conversation,
|he related to me an incident
|which occurred in his home shortly before that,
|that pertains to this young daughter.
|She had been to school and had been studying
|the multiplication table and she had been quite interested
|in the multiplication table,
|had mastered the table completely up to a certain point.
|And when she would come home in the evenings,
|she would recite it to her father.
|And with considerable pleasure,
|he noted the fact that she was able flawlessly
|to begin with one times one equals one,
|and go on up through 10 times 10 equals 100.
|He said that they had guests in their home one evening,
|proud father that he was,
|he was going to show off the new found knowledge
|of his little daughter and so he asked her to perform
|for the guests.
|He said, "Tell them the multiplication table."
|So she began with one times one,
|went up flawlessly through 10 times 10,
|and then thinking to stretch the matter a little bit,
|he said to his daughter,
|"Could you tell them what the 11 times 11 would be?"
|He said that with a forgiving look,
|but with nonetheless a patronizing air,
|his little daughter looked at him and disappointment
|and said, "Father, don't you know
|there isn't any 11 times 11."
|Now of course she came to this conclusion
|in the way that we come to a great many of our conclusions,
|namely that since 11 times 11 had not crossed
|the can of her experience,
|had not come into the line of her vision,
|had not been a part of what she had been taught at school,
|is therefore it did not exist.
|"Don't you know," she said to her stupid father,
|"There isn't any 11 times 11."
|Now, we can overlook this and understand it
|and even smile at it,
|when it occurs in a seven year old girl,
|but it is not a smiling matter and it is not something
|that we can easily understand
|and accept when this kind of attitude prevails
|in an otherwise mature adult and someone who is fully grown,
|perhaps even has a PhD degree.
|Who comes to the conclusion that things
|which have not yet crossed the line of his vision
|are entered into his experience and therefore do not exist.
|There are a great many people who fall into this category,
|who say that there is no God,
|because they have not seen Him in their test tubes.
|He has not appeared on any of the results
|that have come out of their computers,
|or He is not a part of the formula
|of their semantic machinations
|because they do not find God in that center of reference,
|which has meaning to them He therefore does not exist.
|There is no reality in religion
|because I have not found reality in religion for me.
|And this is unfortunate when this occurs,
|but something which is extremely more unfortunate than that
|is the occurrence in the heart and life of a Christian,
|of the attitude that there are no religious experiences
|that are meaningful or worthwhile,
|if I have not experienced them.
|The person who believes in God,
|who has committed his life to Christ he thinks,
|who has joined the Christian church,
|and who attends its services,
|and to a certain extent takes part in its activities,
|but who concludes that there is no area of Christian concern
|that there are no spiritual visions in existence.
|If he does not know about them and has not seen them,
|so that when Advent season comes
|and we sit down in church on the first Sunday in Advent,
|and we think about the fact that we are about
|to renew the celebration of the coming of God,
|in human flesh to this earth.
|There is not any sense of expectation,
|there is no feeling of joy that we stand on the threshold
|of new insights into the meaning of the will of God
|for our lives.
|There is no sense that we are about to move up
|to a higher level of spiritual commitment.
|Because haven't we gone through,
|Advent season many times before?
|Don't we know what this is all about?
|Haven't we climbed the highest peaks and we've been there?
|We know what it's about that,
|the manger, the camels, the shepherds, the wise men,
|all of that we know about it.
|So why should we expect that any new light will break
|through into the center of our experience
|and existence during this Advent season?
|And then when Lent comes we can take that in strike too,
|we know what Lent is,
|we've been through that before,
|it means doing without creaming your coffee,
|perhaps giving up cigarettes until after Easter
|or something like that.
|But we do not expect very often, do we?
|That there is going to be
|some kind of new light breakthrough
|that a new word from God to us will be spoken,
|because we've heard it all before.
|Haven't we read those scripture passages?
|Don't we know what Jesus said?
|Don't we know about the church has thought
|and done about this throughout all the centuries gone by?
|Consequently we do not expect
|to enter into a new relationship to Jesus Christ
|or a new understanding of the meaning of his message.
|If that is the case with you or with me,
|then perhaps we need to have spiritual
|or the experience which aeronautically
|a younger American had during World War II
|when he was flying over the hump
|and doing some work in Northwest China.
|He related that as he was going through the overcast
|in Northwest China,
|an area that we cannot now explore,
|he decided that he would fly higher
|and get up out of the overcast.
|And as his plane came up through the top of the overcast,
|his altimeter registered 31,000 feet
|and to his utter amazement
|he found himself flying alongside a mountain.
|The peak of which was still 2,000 or 3,000 feet higher
|than his airplane.
|If the time ever comes that we are able to move freely
|in China it can be checked whether or not his altimeter
|and his readings were correct,
|but if they were correct,
|then he saw a mountain that is several thousand feet higher
|than 29,140 feet which are geography books,
|confidently proclaimed now to be the highest mountain
|in the world.
|Mount Everest, as any fool knows
|is the world's highest mountain.
|But a wise man may believe that there could be
|a mountain higher than that somewhere on the earth.
|Any ordinary stuck in the mud Christian may know
|that he has experienced the greatest things
|in the Christian faith and that there are no peaks higher
|than the ones he has climbed,
|but a humble and wise worshiper
|may believe that there is something up there higher
|than what he has yet experienced.
|That there is something which Jesus Christ
|is trying to say to him that he hasn't yet heard.
|Well, there are Christian who would say yes,
|this is true undoubtedly.
|I don't pretend to be the world's greatest Christian,
|I know that there are things as a Christian faith,
|which I could learn about if I would.
|There are experiences I could enjoy if I would,
|but I'm busy and this is for the specialists,
|and I'm not a specialist.
|There are other things out there but they are not essential.
|I don't have to hear this other word.
|This was very vividly impressed upon me a few years ago,
|when I was living in another city,
|I picked up the local newspaper and saw there the account
|of the arrest of a local citizen.
|And it told how he had been arrested and had been charged
|with some very gruesome violations of the law
|and has been released on bail.
|These violations of the law were very serious,
|not simply because they were violations of the law,
|in pathetic fashion they were violations
|of every canon of decency and of all morality,
|was really a terrible thing,
|series of things that he had done according to the paper.
|The next day this man came on my front porch
|and rang my doorbell and wanted to talk.
|I was glad that he came when he sat down in my study
|and began to say to me, "I suppose you've read in the paper,
|what I'm charged with there's no need preacher
|for me to try to fool you,
|I did these things, I did this, I did that.
|I did the other."
|And I was encouraged as he went ahead with his confession,
|and I said to him finally,
|"Well it is good that you have come,
|I know that you want me to you to get right with God."
|And with a look of utter amazement on his face,
|he said, "What?
|No, there's nothing wrong with my relationship to God,
|I am on excellent terms with God,
|I settled my dealings with God 20 years ago,
|and I've been a member of such and such a church ever since,
|and that's all permanently settled.
|No, I came to see you because my son tells me
|you're a good friend of the judge.
|and I have to come up before the judge in a few days
|and I want you to speak a word to him on my behalf."
|I said, "You mean to tell me that you consider yourself
|to be a fine Christian after all
|that you have confessed here?"
|"Oh, no listen I'm not one of the best Christian,
|there are a lot of things about Christianity
|that I ought to pay attention to I guess an adult."
|But he said all the essential things.
|He knew that there was more out there for him
|in the Christian life but it wasn't important.
|He didn't need to bother about it.
|Well, now let's go back for a little bit
|to these verses of scripture
|and hear what our Lord says again.
|After having said many, many things to the disciples,
|and there was evidence that
|they had understood these things.
|He said "Still there are many more things
|that I would say to you,
|but you cannot now bear them,
|you cannot now understand them and assimilate them."
|But it was important enough that a third expression
|of Almighty God should be sent into the world,
|to take these words of Christ,
|these actions of Christ and guide us into an acceptance
|and an understanding of them.
|So that the things which were true from the foundation
|of the world should become plain and clear
|and accepted by us, in our time.
|There are many of these things,
|which the holy spirit has guided his church
|into an understanding of since then,
|one of them that is quite dramatic,
|which is representative of many others,
|is the whole field
|of what we now call psychosomatic medicine.
|Dr. Flanders Dunbar is only one of many physicians
|who have degrees in psychiatry, in religion and medicine,
|who are telling us in very emphatic language,
|that there is a great relationship between the elements
|that we talk about in the gospel and religion and the church
|and the diseases of the physical body.
|Dr. Dunbar's book,
|there is a chapter on the relationship
|of fear and anxiety to physical health.
|A chapter on the relationship of a sense of guilt
|to physical diseases.
|And in her book, she points out that again and again,
|when a person can have the sense of guilt relieved,
|he can get up off a bed of physical sickness and go home,
|and that the physical illness in this case,
|that case in the other was caused by,
|an overwhelming sense of guilt.
|Now, the interesting thing about that is that,
|when I first became a theology student some years ago,
|my fellows and I were victims of a kind of servicetry
|which concerned itself altogether with the question
|of how and account of the curing of a disease
|by the forgiveness of sin could have gotten into the Bible,
|when of course it didn't happen?
|We did not seem to spend much time considering
|the possibility that it might have happened
|just as it was reported,
|until we began to read the writings
|of some of the specialists in psychosomatic medicine,
|who not only say that it could have happened,
|they say it happens all the time
|and therefore with a new reverence
|and a new openness of mind and with a deeper humility,
|we go back and read that gospel account of the young man
|who was brought on his bed of sickness to Jesus.
|He was paralyzed he could not move
|and Jesus said to him these words,
|which otherwise we would have thought quite strange
|and irrelevant "Son dies sins be forgiven thee.
|Rise, take up that bed and walk."
|And now the doctors say certainly,
|Now, that has been in our New Testament for 1900 years,
|but the holy spirit is just now able
|to bring us with our scientific manual
|to understand the possibility
|of how this could happen by the power of God,
|through the forgiveness of sin.
|And yet if we look upon the word of God
|there is something that is padlocked in forever closed,
|and we know all about it,
|and there's nothing more to be learned.
|We will miss the insights that should come to us,
|which Jesus Christ promised would come to us
|and which the holy spirit is patiently
|and persistently attempting to spoon feed to us today.
|Now why do you suppose it is?
|And since this is true.
|We are so slow to see,
|so slow to hear and to understand
|is it because of our pride?
|Is it because of a lack of faith?
|Is it because of a closed mind?
|Well, perhaps I don't know,
|but it might help us a little bit,
|if we would ask the question
|of why it is that we do not hear and see many things
|in the natural order about us which go on?
|Why for example, is it true that although infrared
|has been here from the beginning of the earth,
|we didn't know of its existence until recently?
|The human eye cannot see infrared now,
|but we have instruments developed that detect the presence
|of infrared in the world,
|just as we see ordinary red is here.
|But isn't it a little bit humbling to us humans
|to know that there are certain tropical birds
|which have been able to see infrared all these centuries.
|They have been floating around in the jungle,
|seeing infrared just like we see ordinary red.
|We didn't know it.
|The reason was we did not have sensory organs
|that were sensitive enough to see infrared.
|A few years ago I was preaching in Knoxville, Tennessee,
|and my host pastor took me out to Oak Ridge
|to go through the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies.
|And we went through the Museum of Atomic Energy,
|the guide is one point said over here as a Geiger counter.
|And he noticed that I had on a wristwatch
|and had a luminous dial.
|He said, "Oh is your wristwatch up to the Geiger counter?"
|And I did, and the Geiger counter began
|to chatter away like a mucking.
|I said, "You mean to tell me that the watch
|that I'm wearing is radioactive?
|He said, "Certainly."
|Well, I said "I must be very insensitive,
|then not to be able to feel it."
|He said, "You are."
|The of course the congregation generally hopes
|that the preacher will be sensitive enough
|to know when the hands point to 12 o'clock on Sunday.
|They do not care about the radioactivity of the watch,
|but we are insensitive.
|We cannot feel what the Geiger counter can know
|about the luminous dial on a watch.
|Thomas Edison made a device a few years back
|that would detect, would hear
|if you please the sound of a man moving his hand,
|30 feet away you cannot hear me,
|even those who are closest up front,
|you cannot hear this hand though you see it
|when it moves but that is because your ears
|and mine are not sensitive enough.
|They were more sensitive they would hear,
|our eyes if they were more sensitive,
|would see a great many things they do not.
|So, the reason we do not see these natural phenomenon
|or hear them is that we do not have eyes and ears
|that are sensitive enough.
|Having eyes we do not see, having ears we do not hear.
|And this is what Jesus said about us spiritually.
|He said, "You did not see because although you have eyes,
|they don't see."
|Now the American Indian can teach us about valuable lessons
|at this point.
|The American Indians eyes were able to detect things
|much better than ours and his ears likewise.
|And I am told that the secret of that is that he used them.
|An Indian could look on the horizon,
|see an object out there and could discern long before
|his pale face brother whether it was a Buffalo or a horse.
|He could put his ear to the ground
|and hear the distance sound
|and tell what kind of an animal it was that was approaching
|and how many of them there were whereas we could not.
|The Indian continually used and sharpened his sensitivities,
|and therefore the reach of his understanding was greater.
|And it may be that if we used our spiritual eyes and ears
|and felt listened with our hearts,
|we would hear the voice of God saying a great many things
|to us that we do not now hear Him saying.
|We would see the finger of God pointing
|where we do not now see it's pointing.
|But we should remember that Jesus has many things
|to say to us yet.
|Beethoven when he composed his symphonies,
|composed music for instruments that had not been invented
|when he did the composing but which subsequently have.
|Jesus Christ when he gave us his gospel,
|wrote music which the disciples of that day could not hear
|or understand but hopefully which we may in our day,
|hear and understand and play on our instruments
|if we are sufficiently sensitive to his voice.
|There was a geography scroll that was prepared in Europe
|many centuries ago.
|And out on the Western side of Europe,
|they showed what we call the Atlantic ocean
|and out on the edge so they thought of that,
|they wrote here be dragons and here would be demons,
|but if they had only known they might have written,
|here be Columbia the jam of the ocean,
|here be America, here be a new world.
|And arguably like the preparers of that geography school
|we ride out on the edge of our New Testament
|and out on the margin of our prayer books,
|on the edge of our experience,
|we ride here and be religious fanatics.
|Here be extremists.
|If we were wiser and more humble and believe
|the word of Christ we might wright
|here be a new spiritual world for me,
|a new understanding of the will of God.
|If I will have the faith to expect it,
|the eyes to look for it and in the years to hear it.
|These eyes to see and these ears to hear
|the heart to understand and believe.
|Now may the grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ,
|and the love of God, the father,
|and the communion of the holy spirit,
|abide with you now and evermore.
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