"Developing The Right Stuff"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - May 25, 2003

Psalm 98; John 15:9-15

     Many of us during our lives have met people who appear to have mastered "the art of living." They had all the right stuff at their disposal. Their humor had a good sense of timing and was always appropriate.  Their insights were consistently filled with common sense. They were not self-absorbed with their accomplishments.  Very little appeared to disturb them or cause them to overreact.  They handled life-reversals and even the death of family members with grace and dignity as they moved into the days ahead.

     Jesus found himself in front of people who would have given anything to process life as he did. In our lesson today Jesus described how he intended to pass on what he had found.  He told his listeners that it was absolutely essential that every phase of their lives be governed by loving energy.  He said, "If you obey my teachings, you will remain in my love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."

     There have been scores of people who have tried to pass on to others the road map on how to achieve this state of consciousness. This transfer of skill, however, has been difficult to achieve in every generation.

     Years ago, Tony Robbins wrote a book called, Awakening the Giant Within and currently he has a new series of tape and CD's which carefully details how to get the most out of life.  Marilu Henner wrote a book entitled, Total Health Makeover.  Phil McGraw -- Dr. Phil -- wrote,  Life Strategies. Wayne Dyer published, There's A Spiritual Solution To Every Problem. 

     America has the richest, in-depth set of road maps in the world on the subject to which Jesus gave his life.  Love centered life-education, however, will not take place because it enters our consciousness through our ears and our eyes. We human beings have never had a shortage of truth in our midst.  Every generation has had its prophets and sages. 

     Even Jesus failed to pass on what he had found.  To understand this, look at the countless factions within the Christian Church.  Such differences and divisions are found in all religions on earth.  Each has sects within them that perceive and interpret "truth" through their own unique set of filters.   

     What appears in our lesson as a simple horizon toward which all people can walk has become a complex maze through which few can travel with any degree of confidence.  This "ownership of truth" claimed by the various branches of religion does not create a mutual sense of community; it creates confusion. Truth does very little until it becomes internalized by individuals who have become committed to living it.  

     Rebecca Saunders is a mother of three.  For quite some time she was doing the juggling act of working as a District Vice President for Norwest Bank, maintaining the household, getting the children to daycare and preparing supper for the family around 7:00 p.m. 

     Every morning she rose early and walked on the treadmill for 5 miles.  She ate properly, took healthy doses of vitamins and minerals, attended Yoga classes on Thursday evenings and listened to inspirational tapes as she drove to work each day. She was feeding herself all the right stuff.  However, a day arrived when such things stopped translating into results.  Her knowledge was no longer serving her.

     Her body stopped absorbing the supplements.  She began to develop pain in many of her joints.  A generalized weakness became a daily experience.  She noticed that her hair was getting thin and falling out.  Her positive moods were increasingly difficult to maintain and she found herself being overwhelmed emotionally by seemingly trivial events. 

     Her physician began treating her symptoms with numerous medications. It was her Rabbi, however, who suggested that she take something off her plate.  He said, "You must either give up your family, quit your job or face a destiny of the continued erosion of your health." The Rabbi was a trained Spiritual Director who delivered unequivocal alternatives to clients whose lives had become unmanageable.  Further, he advised that she begin an inward journey, a step she thought she had taken many years before.

     Many of us enjoy listening to wisdom. We also tune in when safe, non-threatening alternatives are being discussed that address life-issues that are similar to our own.  However, listening to wisdom and the testimonies of people who "have arrived" can never be a substitute for our taking action to change some of our life-patterns and the ways we think.

     Rebecca left Norwest Bank, even after the parent company, Wells Fargo, offered her incredible economic incentives to stay.  She visited her sister in San Diego for 30 days and began the process of healing.  Today all symptoms are gone.  Rebecca who appeared to be the embodiment of  the successful woman in our modern age described her life adjustments this way:

People always said to me, "Becky, I don't see how you do all that you do."  Such compliments actually empowered me.  I began to believe such feedback because I truly wanted to be a woman who had mastered the art of balancing all tasks perfectly.  Yet my perception blinded me to many unrecognized motivations that were feeding my vanity. 


I was in economic competition with my husband and winning.  I enjoyed being envied and needed by other people.  I became enthralled with my professional success.  I actually shattered the "glass ceiling" others had encountered and was proud of my accomplishment. I had begun to believe that I was indispensable to the bank. 


Psychologists call my orientation to life as "the highly polished art of living in denial" but in looking back on what I was doing, it was more like blindness-total blindness.  My philosophy was, "Me against the world." I had to prove something to people.  I had equipped myself with all the necessary skills, but emotionally and spiritually I was dying.  I had misplaced my ability to care for myself and others.  I had forgotten how to love. Each day bled into the next. I had to get off the stage and stop my performances or die.

     Jesus gave his listeners further insight into the direction their lives should take if they wanted what he had found.  He said, "You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures."           

     What kind of energy pattern consistently produces fruit that endures?  Without a permanent rock upon which to stand, we may find ourselves making decisions based on how we feel.  Behavioral scientists tell us that most decisions are made emotionally, a process that can send our lives in many different directions.  

     For example, we may behave one way on Sunday mornings, another way while commuting to our place of work and still another way when we learn that one of our siblings is seeking to borrow, interest free, a large sum of money from our aging parents. 

     Like Rebecca, our life experiences have this way of enticing us to wear different masks during our many stage performances, but who are we kidding? Performing is not living.  Jesus taught that we can grow the kinds of fruit that endure.  Again, how does loving energy bring a consistency of spirit?

     Many years ago, William Gladstone was the Chancellor of what was England's near equivalent to our Federal Reserve.  He was the UK's Alan Greenspan.  One year he made his budget proposals based on figures given to him by the Treasury's head statistician.  This accountant had such a flawless track record that Gladstone did not bother to cross reference the numbers given to him.  On this one occasion, the calculations were not accurate. 

     Gladstone went before the House of Commons with incorrect figures.  His speech was published in the newspapers, and critics attacked his credibility as his obvious errors were pointed out by other experts. The Chancellor immediately sent for the chief accountant who was quite sure that his tenure at the Treasury was over.

     This is what William Gladstone said: 

I know how much you must be disturbed over what has happened. I have sent for you to put you at ease.  For a long time you have been engaged in handling the intricacies of our national accounts, and to my knowledge, this is the first mistake that you have made.  I want to congratulate you, and to express to you my deep appreciation for all that you mean and have meant to England through your many exemplary years of service.   

     Sometimes we only recognize mercy when we have offended someone and they have decided to be bigger than our error in judgment.  When others display their frailties, mercy is a fruit that endures.  Such fruit comes from a spirit that refuses to settle for anything less than loving responses.  In these instances, we do not allow our emotions to factor into our decisions.  This is a step many of us neglect taking before we respond.

     The fruit that endures has to do with exactly what Jesus taught, "If you follow how I have invited you to live, you will radiate the same loving energy that I have.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."

     We cannot develop the right stuff until we learn to show up in every circumstance with only the fruits that endure.  Numerous voices will constantly challenge us: "What about justice?  Don't you think we need to make people accountable for what they have done?  Why don't you quit and go where your abilities will be appreciated?  What has your faithfulness to details gotten you?"

     Our self-doubts and fears never stop coming.  Could they be that way by design?  Think about this!  Certain experiences in life appear to resist our progress toward growth. Yet, it is resistance that builds strength.  We can add more speed and a greater tilt to our treadmills, put more weights on our barbells, and push ourselves away from the table while we are still hungry. 

     Resistance to the voices, appetites and pleasures of this world enables us to become obedient to a higher authority.  Jesus Christ raised the bar.  He pointed to the road less traveled.  When we walk that path, we will develop all the right stuff that he pointed to with his life. 

     If we believe that we can never live what he taught in the Sermon on the Mount, we need to think again.  He was counting on his followers to succeed.  The security and future of the world community is at stake.  Do we have the courage to step up and develop the right stuff?  Jesus thought so.  If he did not believe in us, he would never have come here to give us the hope that we could. 


    Eternal God, thank you for creating laws of spirit that we can discern and use.  When we serve one another, our purpose becomes clearer.  When we live with integrity, our character becomes visible.  When we learn to forgive, we understand the ease with which our resentments depart.  When we reach for the stars, we discover how far we can stretch.  When we live with grateful thoughts, the flaws in others become invisible.  When we use our eyes to smile, others can see the beauty of our spirits.  When our words and humor are kind, we communicate what heals.  When we treasure all living things, we display our reverence for life.  Thank you for creating us in your likeness.  Amen.


    Loving God, as we gather this morning to worship, we have been reminded for most of this week of the nourishing qualities of the rain.  When it rains, we learn how much we appreciate the sunlight.  And when we have too much sunlight, we remember how much we miss the rain. 

    So it is with our acknowledgement and appreciation of the personal freedoms most of us enjoy.  We would sorely miss them if they were taken away.  We confess, O God, that we are a nation of spoiled people.  We take so much for granted that we complain when the slightest degree of inconvenience comes our way. 

    But on this weekend of all weekends, we lift up the memory of those who have paid the ultimate price that our freedoms might endure.  The world is far from being an environment where everyone reverences the same hopeful vision.  Always we must maintain a watchful eye for people whose values have little to do with community and the skills of serving one another that most of us experience. Today we ask that you bless our deceased sentinels of protection.  Bless the families who know the vacuum caused by their absence.  And bless those of us who are willing to step up and serve, so that future generations might improve on the foundations we have laid today.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .