"Health Is Everything"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 8/24/1997

Psalm 84; Matthew 12:33-37

     If we are an older person and thinking about personal health issues, we could easily be attracted to the television commercials for Sustacal that have aired recently. One advertisement features a senior couple looking through the telescopic viewing device along a scenic overlook. They are visibly drinking a rival brand, Ensure. As they look through the viewer, they see another senior couple vibrantly motoring a rubber raft through the rapids of a narrow gorge. This couple is all smiles as they are sipping Sustacal. The commercial ends with the first couple looking with great skepticism at their cans of Ensure. All viewers get the implication.

     Recently in the magazine Seventeen there was an advertisement featuring a beautiful teenager. Everything had been going well for her until between ages 15 and 16, pimples appeared. "She was devastated" according to the article. On the advice of a friend, she started using the product that was featured in the advertisement. The before and after pictures showed the results. One picture showed her face covered with a number of little sore volcanoes and the second featured the same face with silky, smooth skin. All of this beauty in just three weeks!

     We can smile at such quick fix solutions and label such commercials and advertisements as part of the seductive stimulation that we are exposed to on a daily basis. Yet we know that people who are hungering for positive results will dine anywhere that advertises a menu that states that it can deliver the goods. If we ever wonder why people are becoming increasingly skeptical today, it is because nothing out there has fulfilled that fantasy.

     If we think that Christianity has been innocent in suggesting quick-fix solutions to life, we would be wrong. For years those who were advancing Christianity have made sweeping promises to people who accepted Christ as their Savior. Even today many evangelical voices are very strong on their emotional appeals and very short on their teaching about the changes that people need to make in their attitudes.

     Just as vitamin-enriched drinks and facial products will not give us long, lasting health neither will Jesus if we approach him the same way we would a topical ointment. Even Jesus could not create life-changing attitudes in his disciples. If Jesus had used such power, Judas could have never betrayed him. Jesus' invitation, "Come and follow me" will always remain one voice among the many we will hear.

     In our lesson today, Jesus used a comparison his listeners well understood. He said, "To have good fruit you must have a healthy tree; if you have a poor tree, you will have bad fruit. A good person brings good things out of a treasure of good things; and a bad person brings bad things out of a treasure of bad things."

     Anyone reading these words in Matthew will readily see that there is nothing new in this teaching. The words express the same idea of "good and evil" that exists in every belief system found in the world's many religions. But when we think about these words, we see that what Jesus was teaching lifted up a very significant truth. People with the healthy spirits will have everything they need, even during adverse circumstances. He taught, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and God will provide you with all the things you need." Health is everything!

     If we use Jesus' reference point of a healthy tree giving good fruit, we see why health is everything! Our task in this life is to do everything we can to keep our tree healthy. This is our task. Jesus taught us how to do that. If we refuse to stand guardian over our thoughts, we can easily move into being a tree that experiences poor health.

     Many of us have been following stories regarding the recent UPS strike. Now that certain issues regarding pension money and part-time employment have been resolved, there are many other issues that will have to be negotiated meaningfully on a personal basis. The question employees now must ask themselves is this, "Do I want to remain a healthy tree or a tree in poor health?"

     In an article called, "The Cost Of Two Weeks," a UPS worker was quoted as saying,

Our working environment had a friendly, warm, and loving atmosphere. Many of us have worked together for years and have been like family. We would do anything for one another. But now we have had two weeks that have built walls between many of us. Issues that were not significant to any of our lives have now divided us. Many of us are not speaking to each other even though the strike is over. I find it absolutely insane that two weeks had the power to do this to us.

     The article went on to say how relationships have been so disrupted that lodge and church activities in their community may take years to reach normalcy again. Accepting Christ as Savior takes on new meaning when people become faced with a Civil War mentality, a mentality that tempts them to make a choice that may put their spiritual health in jeopardy. If we are a healthy tree, we will bear good fruit. Health is everything or is being right everything? Health is everything or is mentally punishing others who disagreed with us everything?

     Some years ago, I had a couple sitting in my office discussing plans for their wedding. The woman was telling me about her work in the meat department of a small Safeway store that used to be located in a Landover shopping center. Like the employees of the UPS article, the people who worked in the meat department had been together for years. Among them was an older man who had no other immediate family but his co-workers.

     He became sick and within a short period of time, he died. Among his few assets was $35,000 in savings that he willed to the employees of the meat department. The older gentleman, however, had not been particularly careful in the verbal preparation of his will and it was successfully contested by an distant grand nephew. The people in the meat department received nothing. She admitted being very bitter. Even though six months had passed she was still so controlled by the event that it was eroding the couple's relationship. She could not let go of it.

     Not only was this woman witness to the grand nephew diverting money that was to go to the meat cutters, but she also gave him power over the health of her spirit. The grand nephew did not know anyone in the meat department. He saw an opportunity, wanted the money, ignored the wishes of his uncle and legally obtained it. Is health everything or is our form of justice everything? Is health everything or is our brooding and smoldering anger everything?

     Our lives will continue their growth unless we decide to stay on a plateau. For example, we travel in circles when year after year the same frustrations, like clock work, motivate us to lose our patience, distract us, or respond with insensitivity. When our tree grows the same fruit as it has grown for years, we are delaying our success in moving forward in our production of even better fruit.

     Some of us actually advertise this. Have you ever heard someone say, "If you really love me, you will accept me as I am." Such a request, of course, should be honored. Love does not count the cost. However, people should be more honest with themselves and understand that their real plea is, "If you love me, please do not challenge my levels of contentment. Don't invite me to grow or change." The real question is very personal, "What kind of fruit do we wish to produce?"

     Everyone understands that we are not always going to be successful in maintaining our spiritual health. The time will come when we decide that some event is so important to us that we leap at it, forgetting our health. Some event or experience may stimulate our worst fears, or it may appear so unfair that we will prepare ourselves to struggle with it.

     Again, is health everything or is something else? Is anything out there worth more than having our spiritual health? If so, what is it? When Jesus had his back to a cross, he chose health over every other possible response. He chose forgiveness over enjoying the satisfaction of justice. He let go of all that they had done to him. He chose to love them in spite of receiving the worst they could do to him. Are we able to choose as he did?

     In nearly every place in our society people appear to be unhappy? It seems to be a great mystery for many professionals who try to understand and treat it. Why with our being surrounded with so many opportunities and blessings are so many people angry, upset, and frustrated? Listen again, "If you have a poor tree, you will have bad fruit." There should be little mystery as to why. People are holding on to thoughts that can not and will not produce health in their spirits. A quick review of our daily newspapers will point to this.

     Such people may not believe that health is everything. They believe that there is something else worth having. They have not yet learned that their only other choice is to produce poor fruit. There is no middle ground. Some people choose to run in circles for most of their lives trying to find some substitute for spiritual health and there is none.

     When we are intensely alive with healthy spirits, the world notices and is attracted to us. When we are oriented toward other people, our minds are always thinking of better ways to be of service. When we don't give an ounce of energy to thinking about what we could have or may have lost, we are working toward what will enhance the lives around us. The tidal wave of energy moving us forward becomes stronger and bigger because we are becoming stronger and bigger. There is no mystery to it.

     One of the built-in correctives of God's creation is that when we have strayed from health, our fruits will instantly warn us. We will know we have missed the mark. We will know we have made an error in judgment. We will know we have said or written unloving words to someone. We will know we have been harboring unhealthy attitudes and thoughts. Once we see the energy we are radiating to ourselves and others, we have the opportunity to change our minds. The word "repentance" literally means, "to have a change of mind." Health is everything! There is nothing else.

     The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote, "Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God -- what is good and is pleasing to God and is perfect." That may be one of the greater insights into truth that Paul ever had.

     Are we standing guardians over our thoughts? Are we choosing to remain spiritually healthy over everything else that beckons? Jesus said, "To have good fruit you must have a healthy tree."