"Why People Don’t Get It"
Sermon Delivered By Reverend Richard E. Stetler – February 13, 2011
Centenary United Methodist Church
Psalm 119:1-8; I Corinthians 3:1-9
For most of our lives we have been making decisions influenced by what our parents taught us, and they made their decisions from the guidance provided by their parents. This hand-me-down teaching method has been in place for centuries. If we had wise parents, this system worked to our advantage.
Let’s say that someone enters the stage of our lives and says, “Most of what you have been taught is wrong or, at best, vastly inadequate. If you want to live more peaceful, happy and enthusiastic lives, the truth I am about to teach you will give you more control over your lives than you ever felt possible.”
This is what the Apostle Paul was writing in our lesson this morning. Paul must have appeared like a man with a Ph.D. who was writing to kindergarteners. In fact, he was walking a very fine line with his words because he could have sounded very insulting.
Paul was a very rare individual in the ancient world. The only way a Jew could obtain Roman citizenship was to purchase it with a large sum of money. Paul’s father was in shipping, and, no doubt, he was the one responsible for giving his son a great start in life. Not only was Paul a Roman citizen, he also had achieved a level of education that very few people had.
Paul was fluent in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic. Among his other skills were reading, writing and, as a Pharisee, Paul had a commanding understanding of the laws, traditions and customs of his people.
How would you feel if some highly educated person came into your presence and said:
I could not talk to you as I speak to others that have already discovered the truth that comes from their awakened spiritual lives. I had to talk to you as people who still take all your cues for living from the external world. You are like little children as you try to follow the teachings of Jesus. I had to feed you milk because you were not ready for solid food. And even now you are not ready for it because you are thinking and behaving like people of this world. (I Corinthians 3:1-3)
More than likely, many of us would find such a person offensive because he was talking down to us. We might even be confused because of his accusation that we were living “like people of this world.” The people in Paul’s audience might have thought, “Well, how else are we to think and behave? We are people of this world.” Paul was preparing them to receive information that was way beyond any understanding to which they had been exposed.
As a young student in elementary school, I encountered a similar teachable moment. Our teacher had gathered six of us around a table for a science lesson. She had a tiny tomato seed and she asked us what caused it grow into a plant. My group had lots of answers. We said, “Dirt, rain, sun and God.”
She said, “While those are good answers, there is something more exciting and mysterious that I want you to learn.” She took the seed and cut it in half with a knife. Next, she dumped the contents on a sheet of white paper. She said, “This brown powder holds all the special instructions that create a tomato plant. All living things have such instructions inside of their seeds.” Collectively, we found such information very difficult to understand. We wondered how brown powder could ever provide a blueprint for anything.
This one unit of science really stuck with me because it made me think that something like brown powder must also be inside of us. Only much later during more advanced science courses were we students taught about DNA. But, even that knowledge was incomplete. It was the church that taught me about the inner world that determines the spirit by which each of us lives.
Paul was trying to teach these new followers of Jesus how to access the world of spirit, a reality that was virtually unknown to them. The problem with this world is that there is no way to prove that it exists or that it has any power at all. The only way we know of its existence is to see the results produced in the lives of people that are learning how to master it.
People are not born angry. They are not born lazy. They are not born with low self-esteem. They are not born with the inability to finish a project they started. They are not born with a need to always be right. When others meet such people they often respond, “Billy or Sally has always been like that.” The truth is that we are experiencing people whose inner world has been ignored because most of them never knew that such an energetic, dynamic turbine of creativity exists.
Even Jesus found the task of teaching people about the world of spirit extremely challenging. People simply did not get it. He once said, “Remember this – Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17) Think of how that statement sounded to Jesus’ listeners. Many of them must have sat there thinking, “What did he just say?”
Think about the brilliant teacher and distinguished member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus. What do we think was going on in this highly trained mind when Jesus told him that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without experiencing a rebirth involving everything that they currently know? (John 3:7). This is why Paul said, “I had to feed you milk because you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are not ready for it because you are still behaving as the people of this world.”
This new dimension of the world of spirit was unknown to the most brilliant minds of Israel. We have been trained by our parents, our educators and our work environments how to function successfully in the material world. What about the unseen world within us? What about our brown powder?
I honestly believe that Spirituality needs to be taught on every level of our education throughout the world. The younger generations know how to tweet, text and expose their life-patterns to the world on Facebook. They know how to multi-task on their I-Pods and to read books on wireless devices like their I-Pads and Kindles, but do they know anything about their brown powder? Do they know anything about what creates emotions like anger, resentment, frustration and fear when their world is not the way they think it ought to be?
Ignorance of the world of spirit can be found in every generation and culture. We find religious extremists who somehow feel that they will please God, who is the Creator, by becoming a suicide bomber that destroys the lives of men, women and children in a market place. We find people who, after being terminated from their jobs, return to their employer with a weapon and begin shooting their co-workers before they take their own lives. We find people that cannot accept the end to a relationship without becoming violent to the point of murdering the very person they claim to have once loved.
What screams at us from around the world are examples of millions of people who need to take a crash course in Spirituality, a course that would shine a light into the darkness caused by their own ignorance. Such people are the ones that destroy their lives and their relationships because they were never taught a thing about the world of spirit.
This world, that is invisible to our senses, acts like a gyroscope for the rest of our life. It governs every response we make. This is the true brown powder that inspires us to do countless remarkable accomplishments that we once thought were impossible.
Today millions of Egyptians found their collective brown powder and chose freedom over tyranny. Yes, they are celebrating, but will they develop a common set of values that will help them to set aside self-interest in order to establish a highly organized form of government that will work for all the people? Or, will they argue among themselves as did those in Corinth?
Paul was introducing the world of spirit because the little congregation was engaged in heated debate over which teacher they should follow. Who was better -- the articulate preacher named Apollos or the brilliant roaming missionary named Paul? Paul said to his readers, “We are all about God’s work and no one is any better than anyone else. Some people plant seeds while others water them. It does not matter.” There is a message here for us.
The cornerstone of Wesley Centenary Church was laid on August 20, 1830, 91 years after the founding of Methodism by John Wesley in 1739. We are the oldest church in Smith’s Parish. We literally would not be here today were it not for thousands of people who got it; these were people who understood the message and passed the torch on to future generations. We have to continue to teach this message to the next generations or our future will be lost.
Part of the reason why people do not get spiritual training is partially because we have grown lax in our extending the invitation. Repeated studies of why people attend a church have shown that the number one reason why people begin attending a church is because someone invited them. No other reasons even come close.
Do we think the people in Corinth would have heard the message that Jesus delivered to the Jews of Galilee had others not taken his teachings to them? Paul wrote that some have to sow the seeds and others have to come along and water.
I would say that the seeds have already been sown in many people of our congregation who are not here this morning. It is time that we water those seeds. With a little persistence on our part, many of them might return. On this island, all of you participate in a social network that puts Facebook to shame. If anyone does something shameful in the town of St. George, it will be known in Sumerset Village before they get home. Use the connections you have with people! Someone’s quality of life just might depend on it.
All of us, including me, need to be reminded constantly to make our responses very intentional from our inner world of spirit, rather than the hasty reactionary responses that are evoked when our lives are on the proverbial rollercoaster.
Last week, I spent two days solid in total frustration. My computer’s router malfunctioned and I lost Internet service twice. After spending hours on the phone, I managed to get the Internet restored, but not before racking up a lot of international phone charges. Our church’s statistical report would not transmit to the Conference Center. My newly purchased Vonage telephone line still does not work. And Lois and I spent several hours trying to get our television to work. We failed in all these matters. Today, however, our television miraculously started working. Perhaps the cable box needed many hours to cook and thus bake away the humidity issues.
I was extremely impatient with so many things and I sent a whining e-mail to the Treasurer of Centenary as well as to a friend in Maryland. Two pieces of advice came back to me that reminded me why I had fallen victim to my state-of-mind. First, the Treasurer said, “In time, all these issues will be sorted out.” He continued with his reassuring humor, “I will be waiting with great anticipation for the arrival of all these international phone bills.” My friend back in Maryland responded with a one-liner in his email. He wrote, “Aren’t you the one who taught all of us to row, row, row our boats gently down the stream?”
All at once I got it! I felt spiritually confined by the issues of the world, just like the issues creating stress and tension that Paul was addressing in that congregation in Corinth. Momentarily, I had forgotten the stillness and peace that comes from remembering to use the power of the world of spirit. Once I remembered that remaining frustrated was a choice I had made, I changed my thinking. My frustration melted away.
Once we “get it” our joy is like finding a remarkable book that we cannot put down. We have to share it. This week, go into your respective communities and places of work and water someone’s seed. Extend that invitation to come to your church.