"Balancing Our Two Worlds”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – October 5, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 99, Matthew 22:15-22


    In our lesson this morning, Jesus was being confronted by a group of religious leaders and businessmen who were trying to trick Jesus by asking him a question that they felt would be awkward for him to answer.  Before they asked the question, they showered him with flattery. They praised him for always speaking God’s truth regardless of what other people believed or thought.  After these remarks they said, “Tell us.  Is it against our Law to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

    Without any hesitation, Jesus asked them to show him a coin.  He said, “Whose face and name appears on the coin?”  They said, “Caesar’s.”  Jesus answered with the words that all of us memorized when we were children, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”   The group was amazed by Jesus’ wisdom and went away.

    Jesus interpreted an issue that troubled many Jews of his day by providing a simple explanation. Jesus was teaching his listeners that people must make room in their lives for the demands of the physical world as well as the peace that comes from the world of spirit.   People in every generation have had trouble making room in their lives for both worlds.     

    When we were children, it did not take any of us very long to learn that we live in a world filled with opposites.  We have male and female, right and wrong, north and south, day and night, good and evil, happy and sad, life and death, barren and fertile, angels and demons, young and old.  The list is endless.   

    What may be of interest to some of you is that thousands of years ago, the Chinese philosophers gave the world the concept of the Yin and Yang to explain these opposites. This ancient symbol was a circle with an S in the middle.  One half of the S is black and other half is white.  This likeness is akin to two tadpoles chasing each other.

    Jesus was teaching this same concept to the group that asked him the question about paying taxes to Caesar.  People are called to live in a world where each of them has to keep the opposites of life in balance.  The material world is so powerful, however, that most of us find ourselves facing an extreme imbalance.

    Bermuda is like having our own Garden of Eden.  There is no other place on earth any more beautiful than our island.  Flowers bloom every day of the year.  The sunsets and rainbows are magnificent.  The peacefulness and serenity, however, are only experienced by those that allow our environment to influence their inner world.  For others, Bermuda is like living in any other part of the world where mischief from a few people is lurking just around the corner.   

    Whether we believe so or not, we are constantly having to rebalance our lives when too much of the external world seeps into our internal world.  There are no guarantees when we are born that anything is going to work out according to our initial plans.  If we never learn that God is inside of us, we can easily lose our faith by trying to make sense of what is happening in the world.  

    For example, during the 18th Century in China, an earthquake killed 800 thousand people.  Five of the world’s worst famines have all occurred in India where an estimated 26 million people literally starved to death.  India was also the target of an enormous cyclone which sank 20 thousand ships and killed over 300 thousand people.

    During World War II, the Jews experienced the murder of 6 million brothers and sisters.  This human tragedy sent the Hebrew theologians scrambling to find plausible answers for the Jews that were asking, “Where is God?”  In the mid-1980s a terrible mudslide from a volcanic eruption buried 25 thousand people in Armero, Columbia while they were sleeping.  Not one body was ever recovered. 

    It is very easy to become unbalanced between the two worlds when we are looking for peace and serenity in the material world.  People often forget that the history of humankind was written by men and women who were interpreting human events.  The Jews were the only culture that interpreted their history from their perspective of having a Covenant with God.

    Once I did a children’s sermon where I used an umbrella as a prop.  It is difficult for children to think in abstract terms.  Pastors frequently have their creativity challenged when they try to teach children about issues of faith.   

    For example, I told them that God lives inside of me.  When they heard that, their eyes got BIG and their jaws dropped.  It was then that I realized I was in trouble with my illustration.  No doubt, they had been taught that God is in Heaven and that always means up in the sky.  Or, they heard their Dad refer to God as the Man Upstairs. 

    It was then that I said, “This umbrella will not protect me from being in thunderstorms during my life.  However, because I have one and open it like this when it is raining, I will not get wet.  Having God within me all the time, gives me confidence to face whatever happens.”

    After witnessing the fierce wind, the earthquake, and the fire, the Prophet Elijah could not find God in any of them.  Then he heard a soft whisper from God saying, “Elijah, what are you doing here?  Why have your fears driven you to hide in a cave?”  (I Kings 19:11) 

    There are lots of experiences that try to unbalance us.  However, when we realize that we are spirit-beings having a physical experience, we have an orientation toward life that can make us fearless.   

    Keeping his balance is what allowed Jesus to face the betrayal by one of his disciples, his crucifixion and to speak to his executioners with words of forgiveness.  Jesus knew that nails, a spear and nasty words of mockery could not touch the spirit by which he lived.  When Jesus shed his physical body, he showed the disciples what will happen to them when it is their turn to leave their cocoons.

    We can get so caught up in the news from the external world that we forget that what we are experiencing is a drama unfolding that is being created by people.  Some of them can be quite savage and inhumane.  Other people, however, are committed to advancing our lives through medicine, technology and human services.

    Once during a clergy meeting, I was listening to some of my colleagues talking about the news of the day.  They were mentioning everything in the headlines just like the steady diet we feed ourselves today.  Breaking News stories come and stay until they are bumped to the bottom of the ladder by other stories that are described as Breaking News.  If you think this is not so, try to find a headline about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Whatever happened to that?

    There is a much greater truth expressing itself that most of us tend to gloss over because of the headlines.  We need to remind ourselves that we can enter any grocery store or pharmacy and find thousands of products on the shelves.  Think of the people who go to work each day to create those products, to package and ship those products, and then to deliver them to our local stores here in Bermuda.

    We never doubt that a light will come on when we turn on the switch. We can use our telephones to contact people anywhere in the world. When we turn on our televisions, a miracle happens.  All these things occur because 95 percent of us are busy in the world being faithful to earning a living.  Whether or not we believe it, workers are all serving one another.

    Somehow we never get around to celebrating this fact.  This miracle of how products are created and distributed may not make it into the headlines even on Labor Day.  The lives of many people can become so unbalanced when they begin to believe that we are living in a morally bankrupt world!  This is nonsense and when we really think about it, all of us know this is nonsense.  Too many people in our world have forgotten how to be piloted by a grateful heart. 

    No one can give us this vision.  We have to develop it through a desire to balance the material world with the peace and serenity found in our inner world.  When we have a grasp and an understanding of the power that comes from the world of spirit, the external world is easily managed and filled with opportunities for us to make a difference. 

    Today we are participating in a highly visible celebration.  Christians all over the world are declaring what has happened to them as a result of taking Christ into their bodies, minds and spirits.  Let us now turn to the part of our service where we symbolically will do just that.  Amen!