"The Power of Spirit to Lead"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 3, 2008

Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Matthew 14:13-21

     A number of years ago New York City’s school system engaged in an experiment.  They recruited a number of lay people to put in classrooms where students were exhibiting behavior problems.  The qualifications for these teachers were that they had to be experts in their field.  They had to be extraverted personalities who possessed a strong magnetic passion for their subjects.  They had to be resilient and flexible in their attitudes while also possessing the gift of near inexhaustible patience. 

     The results exceeded all expectations of the administrators of this pilot program. These new teachers had no trouble communicating their passion to their students.  Students became focused during the electric atmosphere that these teachers created in their classrooms.  Learning had become fun as the teachers engaged in story telling of how the subject content had an infinite number of life-skill applications.

     Absenteeism dropped dramatically.  Behavioral problems ceased.  Students were excitedly anticipating each day’s new lesson.  They did their homework assignments.  The kids’ attitudes changed. Their test scores dramatically improved.  The spirit of one person changed a challenging environment into a community of students eager to learn.   

     However, the entire program had to be abolished.  Even though the results were dramatic, licensed teachers had gone to officials of the National Education Association, the largest union in the United States.  The union sued New York City’s school system, arguing that certified teachers had been denied positions because of the illegal policy of hiring individuals who had little or no formal teacher training.  Naturally, the NEA won their case. 

     What was learned, however, was the development of a profile for teacher applicants the school system preferred to recruit.  The department of human resources learned that the spirit of an informed person’s delivery made a substantial difference in whether or not students learned.                 

     In our lesson today we have a very dramatic moment unfolding during Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus had just received the news of the ruthless, senseless beheading of his cousin, John.  He had to grieve and emotionally work through yet another cruel injustice sanctioned by King Herod.  Jesus got into a boat by himself, put the oars in the water and began rowing to a desolate place where he could be alone.           

     Jesus did not realize the full extent of how devastated local people were that their prophet had been silenced.  They came to Jesus possibly hoping that he might be able to make sense of what had happened.  As Jesus began his period of reflection, he looked up and saw thousands of people coming in his direction.  He was moved with compassion when he saw them and began healing their sick as he shared his thoughts with them until it was evening.

     The disciples told Jesus to send the crowd away because it was growing close to their supper time.  Instead, Jesus invited the crowd to sit down.  Jesus told his disciples to feed the people.  They said, “All we have are five loaves and two fish.”  Jesus said, “Bring the bread and fish to me.  He blessed the food signaling to the crowd that it was time to eat.  Jesus knew that just as one person had bread and dried fish so everyone else had brought food and drink as well.  No one traveled anywhere in those days without sufficient food and drink.   

     The vast throng of people watched and listened to Jesus teaching and healing and when it was time to eat, Jesus told his disciples to share the food with everyone.  Thousands of people ate until they were full and, like a United Methodist pot luck supper, they had 12 baskets full of leftovers.  We might ask, “Where did these baskets come from?”  Of course, the answer is that the Jews carried their food and drink in such carriers.            

     Since we were children we have understood that sharing is difficult.  Most of us have approached an intersection featuring four-way stop signs and learned that occasionally there are a few drivers who do not take turns.  We have learned that while giving ten percent of our income for God’s work is not really that much money, yet tithing is still difficult for many of us to do.

     What inspired everyone was the spirit of Jesus’ willingness to share what he had.  The spirit in which we communicate creates a silent partner that quietly invites others to learn a skill they may not have developed.  Like the uncertified teachers who inspired their students, spirit is a tool we can harness that has the power to create a new environment.           

     Dr. Leo Buscalgia once told a story of something he witnessed while he was in the midst of a severe blizzard in Chicago.  Hundreds of people were stranded at O’Hare airport and most people were on edge emotionally.  Snow was falling at a rate of 6 to 8 inches an hour from a storm system that was stationary.  All airplanes were grounded and those still in the air were diverted to other airports.   

     Leo watched the frustrated people’s anxieties soar as they expressed their frustration.  Parents were agitated with their children’s behavior.  Leo’s eyes fixed on the calm, gentle spirit of a nun sitting in one of the chairs.  She said to parents, “Let me have your children while you refresh yourselves.”  She started telling stories and the little people became mesmerized. 

     Even the teary-eyed children, who saw their parents leaving, eventually began listening to the words of the nun.  Leo and other adults found themselves sitting on the floor listening too.  She was a natural.  Her spirit was like Jesus standing up in a boat and rebuking the winds and rough seas until they were still.   

     Spirit can do that when we clear our minds and emotions of the clutter that only has the power to make matters worse.  The spirit that caused nearly ten thousand Jews to share their food is available to us.  We dare not forget that we have this ability.  By remaining connected to the vine, God’s power works through us to bring creative change.  All we have to do to change any environment is to remember to use the gift that Jesus modeled for us. 


     Always faithful God, what comfort we experience when we remember that we cannot earn what you freely give.  All around us we are blessed with the colors of the cardinal, blue jay and goldfinch.  We see innocence in the faces of children.  We patiently sit with those much older as we listen to the wisdom they have learned through the years.  We thank you, God, for all the areas of life that help us tune into your visibility that surrounds us in so many unique forms.   Every form of your love and support comes to us without cost.  We do not receive because we deserve special attention.  Remind us that we were created to share, listen, accept others as they are, and to be at peace with our trust in you for the outcome of all things.  Amen.


     Thank you, God, for a new day and for our desire to draw apart from the world for just a little while.  Often during our experiences here, we learn how better to discern a path that will continue to refine our spirits, attitudes and desires.

     There are times when we discover that many of the habits we have learned over time no longer serve the way we have chosen to communicate.  What a joy it is to realize that we can become a new person without looking back to moments in our past that once defined us.  We have learned that regrets serve no purpose other than to support our resolve to grow beyond them.  Thank you for helping us to realize that no time spent changing how we think has been wasted.  Every experience that has brought us to this point has been a valuable rung on our ladder as we climb toward our destiny.

     As our world enlarges beyond our neediness and material desires, guide us toward circumstances that will allow our spirits to make your presence visible.  Allow us to understand the tension when our understanding of generosity confronts the needs of self, when our understanding of serving others is challenged by our busy schedule and when our pursuit of peace is met by our perception that nothing good in life is free.  Lead us to learn that life does not need to make sense to us before we reveal your presence in all that we do.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .