"Knowledge Always Inspires Change"

Sermon Delivered By Reverend Richard E. Stetler – April 24, 2011

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 27:1-6; John 20:1-18



    Easter is always a remarkable time during the church year when pastors have the opportunity to discuss one of the greatest truths humankind has.  Our lives continue after we shed these cocoons much like the experience of caterpillars as they transition from creatures that crawl to ones that fly.  This morning I want to discuss the impact the Easter experience can have on our lives.  Each of us deals differently with such spiritual matters.

    Some years ago a woman asked me, “What are you going to talk about on Easter Sunday?”  She asked this knowing that I have had to prepare a new message for over 40 years on a theme that is so well-known by Christians.  I responded, “Why don’t you come to church and find out?”  She said, “I can’t.  I’m coming to the 6:30 a.m. service, teaching Sunday school and going home to get dinner started.” (The sunrise service was always planned and conducted by my Associate Pastor.)  She rolled her eyes and said, “It is our turn to host the family this year.” 

    She went on to tell me that her husband was not planning to attend either.  She said, “He does not like large crowds, particularly being among those who have not attended church during the rest of the year.  He also doesn’t like the challenge of trying to find a place to park the car.” She smiled, shaking her head and said that he would return to church once everyone else gets their Christian fix for the year and are gone.  “Besides,” he said, “I know the story:  Judas betrayed Jesus.  He was tried, convicted, tortured and crucified.  Three days later he rose from being dead and showed himself to Mary Magdalene and the disciples.”

    Well, at least he knew the story.  We all know the story.  Knowing the story, however, is not the same as living the message.  Personalizing the essence of the story becomes transforming. When we allow it, the Easter message provides an orientation toward life and a vantage point that teaches us to perceive every experience so that it helps us to sharpen the skills of spirit that we came here to develop.  However, not everyone recognizes such a purpose for their life. 

    Throughout my ministry I have listened to a host of stories from individuals who have told me what happened during their near death experiences during surgery.  Some of these people never darkened the door of a church during their lives.  Some of them did not believe in the existence of God.

    This latter group would say, “We need evidence before we believe.”  However, when they died and were successfully resuscitated, their experience of the other side of the curtain changed their lives forever.  They began experiencing every new event in life as a special gift designed just for them personally that was capable of sharpening their skills of spirit.

    In John’s Gospel, there is no evidence that Mary or the disciples had any prior knowledge that Jesus would appear to them after his crucifixion.  When Mary arrived at the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance, she assumed that someone had removed Jesus' body.

    When she told the disciples that Jesus’ tomb was empty, Peter and John ran to the site to see for themselves.  They arrived and found the tomb exactly as Mary had described it. Since there was no reason to assume anything else, they concluded that someone or some group, for whatever reason, had stolen his body.  Our lesson today says, “They went home.” 

    In Luke’s Gospel an entire group of women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body and were greeted by two spirit beings who said, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive.  He is not here, he has risen.”  When the women reported this to the disciples, the group collectively thought that the women had taken leave of their senses. (Luke 24:11)

    The verse that sets the stage for everything that would follow historically is the one that comes immediately after the end of today’s lesson.  Verse 19 says, “It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities.  Jesus came and stood among them.” 

    When people have that kind of an experience, there is no room for any more doubts.  They realize that life has dimensions much larger than what had seemed so obvious.  This and subsequent experiences of Jesus are what gave the disciples their boldness and fearless confidence as they took Christ’s message into the world.  Something happens to us when we realize that we are beings that cannot die.  Such an orientation toward life inspires changes to how we think.

    It was this fearless, unshakable confidence displayed by the disciples that caused Gamaliel, a highly respected member of the Sanhedrin, to say, “Take no action against these men.  Leave them alone!  If what they have planned and done is of human origin, it will disappear, but if it comes from God, you cannot possibly defeat them.  You could find yourselves fighting against God.”  The Sanhedrin understood his logic and followed his advice. (Acts 5:39)

    Here is a question for us this morning . . . If we knew with complete and absolute certainty that we do not die when we leave our solid forms, would our priorities change, would we order our lives differently, would we be somewhat clearer on our purpose for being here and would we have an unshakable confidence in the power to live inspired, loving, kind and compassionate lives?  Or, are we like the husband who told is wife, “I’m not going to church because I know the story.”  Again, it is one thing to know the story and quite another to live the message.

    There is an ancient legend that I want to share with you that describes an event that took place before the world was created. In fact, I would not be surprised if the first eighteen verses of John’s Gospel were rooted in this understanding of the beginnings of human life – “In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us.  But the world did not recognize him.”  This legend may explain why no one recognized him.  

Eons ago, countless spirit beings went into the presence of the Creator of the universe and made a request.  They said, “We would like to create like you do.  We have studied the intricacies of the created order and the artistry with which you have fashioned each aspect of the physical universe.  We would like to learn that skill.  Would you teach us?”


God responded,


“I have been waiting for you to ask that question. Of course I will teach you. This is what I will offer you if you are committed to creating as I do.  I will give you a physical form that will house your spirits. Also, I will provide you with talents and abilities that will surface from within you when you need them to create.  Further, I will create a sensually attractive paradise that will provide everything you need to experience a universe of varied realities where you can express your creative abilities. 


The risk for each of you, however, is that when you incarnate into these solid forms, you will do so without any knowledge of life as you know it now. You can create whatever you wish.  What you create will reveal the spirit in which you use your power over your environment. You will experience a wide range of sensations, the likes of which you have never known.  These are called, ‘emotions.’ 


If you seek my guidance, you may discover that it has surrounded you from the beginning of your lives. However, you may not be able to recognize guidance. This will be so because your experience will be about you and what your mind wants to create.  I may not exist in your thoughts.  None of your experiences in the physical environment will be real, but this truth will be hidden from you.  The only aspect of this adventure that will matter to you is what you create.


When your journey ends, you will return. Even though you will greet your experiences with a wide range of interpretations, you will always return. Some of you will do well.  Others of you will become aware that you still have much to learn in mastering your creative potential.  As you enter this new world you will only know what your physical senses reveal to you. You will not know what anything means until you define it.  From your chosen definitions, you will create your values. Are you ready for this adventure?” 


Collectively, the answer was yes.  It was then that each found themselves emerging from a mother’s womb as an infant.  The Creator chose as hosts for these spirit beings an already existing species of animals. 

    Use your imaginations.  All of us are now on earth in the same biological cocoon that was the temporary home of the spirit of Jesus.  How are we doing?  Is what we have created thus far something to which we would gladly sign our names?  What do we think God’s response will be when we return home?

    There is a story of an English medic that may illustrate what God’s response will be.  He was assigned to a battalion of British troops during the Second World War.  He had listened to Churchill’s speech about how England would persevere at all costs in the face of Nazi Germany’s onslaught of violence. The young man was weary of seeing soldiers die.  He did what he could for many of them, but sometimes he would only hold their hands as he spoke to them with deep empathy and compassion even though they both understood that their wounds were too severe for them to survive.     

    When the war ended the young man finally headed back home to Thirsk near Theraby in Yorkshire extremely weary and frustrated from his nightmarish war-experiences.  His emotions were still very raw from witnessing the absolute worst that humans can do to each other. Through it all, he had given himself away in ways for which he would never receive recognition or credit. 

    The last bus stop was six miles from his parents’ farm.  He took his gear, slung it over his shoulder and began walking.  He knew every step of that journey by heart having walked it countless times during his youth. As he approached his home, which was still quite a distance away, his big black Scottish shepherd dog began barking his warning to passing strangers.  He was so pleased that Tobby’s hearing was still keen.  When he got closer to his home, he let out a whistle, a whistle that only he and Tobby knew.  That whistle was their signal. Instantly, the barking stopped. 

    Suddenly, Tobby let out a yelp of recognition.  Even though the darkness was only illuminated by stars darting in and out from the clouds, he knew that the big black form of his friend was hurtling towards him at breakneck speed. He wrote these words, “Almost immediately he was in my arms, jumping up and down and licking my face, squealing with the happiest delight I have ever known in my life.  I knew then that I was really home.  My nightmare of being at war was over and my healing had just begun.”

    This is what Jesus’ message was and is.  This is the Good News.  In spite of our short-comings and our missed opportunities at being our best, we are greeted by God with the same love that Jesus revealed in his Parable of the Prodigal Son. 

    The father ran to greet his son who had learned many lessons during his challenging sojourn away from the heaven his father’s farm had been.  The father’s love was so compassionate that he presented his son with a ring, a robe, new sandals and a welcome home party.  

    Think of how much greater God’s love is for each of us.   Even with people who have lived a very difficult and challenging life, embracing all manner of values foreign to our own, we must remember Jesus’ words to a criminal who hung on the cross next to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”    Think of the implications of those words.

    No matter what people think or believe, God’s loving nature will march on and on until all of us wake up to the reality that God’s love has always surrounded us and will continue being there forever and ever. 

    God’s truth will prevail in spite of theological thinking that we believe is profound and accurate in defining God’s love.  Christ lives and so will we when we leave our physical form.  Absolutely nothing can prevent God’s will from being accomplished in each of our lives.  For some of us, it may take awhile.  How can we know this with certainty?  The answer is that nothing else works if we want to love and create in the same spirit as our Creator.