"Jesus Never Stopped Teaching”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – April 20, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18


    One of the most amazing aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry is how two thousand years later he continues to influence the lives of people all over the world.  This is remarkable because he did all his teaching in just three years. Think of it -- he stretched the minds of thinking people that were once wedded to lessons that grew only from living in the material world.   No teacher in history has ever had this claim made about them. Some of us have become fine-tuned to Jesus’ classes on life and others have chosen to look elsewhere for their guidance in life.

    A woman in my last church was visiting St. Matthew’s for the first time.  As she sat in the pew and began reading the order of worship she almost got up and left the church when she saw my sermon title -- “Authentic Living Is A One-Way Street.”  What prevented her from leaving was that the choir had already begun to enter the sanctuary.

    Ruth was an 80-plus year old that did not want to hear even one more sermon on salvation. She felt that salvation theology was self-centered thinking.  Quite frankly, she did not care what God did with her after the curtain came down on her life.  Ruth was a piece of work. At 83, she had a butterfly tattooed to the back of one of her hands.  When I asked her why she had done that, she said, “I was not old enough to get one.  Now I am and I did it.”

    My sermon never mentioned salvation because I happened to agree with her.  Peace comes to our spirits when we leave all the fine print of what happens next up to God.  The one-way street I was referencing was how loving spirits flavor all our relationships. Loving spirits know how to make everyone feel comfortable and accepted by them.  People who have found this pearl of great price live authentically. This was why Jesus attracted tax collectors, prostitutes, and other people considered outcasts.  His loving spirit was visible to everyone.  His hostile attitudes only surfaced when he encountered religious leaders that had become blinded by their arrogance.  As it turned out, Ruth had been a student of Jesus’ teachings for decades.

    Today, Christians all over the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Because of the many differences in the various Gospel accounts, many skeptics through the centuries have discounted the validity of the resurrection appearances.  They are not alone in their doubting.   No one among Jesus’ disciples believed what others told them.   

    According to Luke, when the women told the disciples that they had encountered two spirit-beings at the tomb who told them that Jesus had risen, the group thought the women had taken leave of their senses.  (Luke 24:11)  On another occasion when Peter and John had their foot race to the tomb and found it empty, the disciples went home wondering what had happened.  (John 20:9f)  We have the better known passage that gave one disciple the label of doubting Thomas.  (John 20:25)  The minds of the disciples were only transformed when they experienced Jesus alive for themselves.

    We could spend a lot of time talking about the numerous reports that have come from believers and atheists that support the knowledge that life continues. People all over the world have experienced the same experience after dying temporarily on operating tables and from car accidents.  Like every remarkable adventure in life, we have to experience them ourselves before we trade our skepticism for knowledge.  The problem with having extraordinary experiences is that we cannot teach them to anyone.  We can only discuss our experiences while offering no proof.

     Surviving death apparently does not require anyone’s belief for it to be an absolute certainty for anyone.  However, we will never convince most people that it will happen to them.  God does not play games with the created order by rewarding some people while rejecting others.  Even King Solomon understood this aspect of creation when he wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9)  

    There are new scientific discoveries every year because people are searching for answers to life’s countless mysteries.  Today, we have lighter and far more durable composite materials, new methods to treat cancerous growths and new surgical procedures for replacing, hearts, livers, hips, knees and shoulders.   Because people are hungry all over the world, companies have created hybrid seeds that can grow in climates where nothing has ever grown.  What Jesus was doing was teaching his students about another aspect of creation – life does not end any more than life terminates when a fetus enters the birth canal in order to enter our world.

    What fascinated me about Ruth is that she never questioned whether or not life continues. She knew that resurrection was a given and not a gift or a reward.  Resurrection for her was a simple fact of life.  She knew that there was no need to be fearful when our turn comes to board the train that takes us out of the physical world.

    Ruth had the same understanding as the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “Keep your minds fixed on the quality of your attitudes that will work for you when you leave this life.  Do not fix your minds on aspects of the material world, none of which you can take with you.” (Colossians 3:2)

     Remember, all of the sandcastles that we build in this world will be eroded and destroyed by the tides of time.  Creative attitudes remain a part of us.  Doubters will exist in every generation.  However, neither doubts nor beliefs affect anything in creation.  They only affect us. Jesus once told a great Jewish teacher, “You do not believe me when I tell you about the things of this world, how could you possibly understand if I told you what you will experience in heaven.” (John 3:12) We cannot afford to neglect our spiritual development.

    Last week I was having car trouble.  On Friday a friend told me to take the car immediately to an auto-repair shop. When I went to retrieve my car on Saturday morning, I happened to hear an exchange between a woman and the man behind the counter.  He asked, “When was the last time that you had your car serviced?” She said, “I don’t know.  All I do is stick the key in the ignition and go.”  He handled her response very professionally.  His face was expressionless.  He said, “Well, we have detected some problems that we need to discuss.”

    The woman’s husband was standing outside and she motioned for him to come in.  The counter man said, “The mechanic had trouble draining your oil because it was thick.  You will have to bring your car back so we can flush your system several times, clean the sediment from your drain pan and hope that there has been no damage to your engine.”  He told the couple that the bill for completing the additional work was just over $400.  The husband cringed.  Neither one could remember if they had ever changed the oil in their car that was new when they bought it.  They keep adding a quart of oil when the line on the dip stick indicated the need.

    Our spirits are very similar to that car.  If our spirits are ignored and there is no maintenance for keeping them centered and nourished, in time our body, mind and spirit will become like a ship that sets sail without a rudder or a destination. For a lot of people a little maintenance on their spirits would spare them from having to spend thousands of dollars on medications and doctor visits later on. Again, skeptics will always doubt until their experience of the aging process teaches them that they should have connected the dots much earlier.

    Jesus never stopped teaching anyone and everyone who was paying attention.  Jesus’ resurrection taught witnesses that a day will come when they will be able to pass through doors as he had done.  (John 20:19)  Translated, this means that when we transition from our physical lives, nothing with a solid form will exist for us.  Think of it.  There will be no banks, money, cars, houses, food, sleep, and marriages. There will be no such thing as time. 

    In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote what happened when he met a man that had gone into the next reality and returned.  He asked him what the experience was like.  The man said, “I experienced things for which there are no words.  I encountered things that human lips are unable to communicate.”  (II Corinthians 12:2f)

    If we have done nothing during our physical lives to prepare our spirits for thriving and growing in an environment where nothing has solid form, we need to do some homework with ourselves. What I am talking about has little to do with a person’s religion.  It has to do with navigating in a reality that has been in place since the beginning of time.

    We should not be mistaken.  Our pursuits in the material world are very important. What Jesus impressed upon humanity, however, has little to do with our accomplishments. What was important was the spirit in which we did them.  Our joy in giving, our attitudes that keep us centered on remaining compassionate toward others, and, like Ruth, our letting go of all the fine print about what happens nextthese are skills of spirit that we can use anywhere.  Jesus taught, “Never worry about your future. There is no need to add fear to what each day brings.”  (Matthew 6:34)     

    He said, “Where your treasure is, that is where the desires of your heart will be also.”  (Matthew 6:21)  Jesus was merely teaching what all of us know is true – all of us are doing exactly what we want to do.  Jesus was teaching us that we can live in eternity now. Why would anyone not want to do that when we know that we need all the practice we can get?  After his resurrection, Jesus was still teaching by giving us a prelude to what will happen next.  Have we been paying attention?  Happy Easter!