"Living In A World We Cannot See”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – September 21, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Matthew 21:23-32


    One of the things that stands out even for casual readers of the Gospels is that Jesus had problems with the religious leaders of his day.  Have we ever wondered what caused such a rift and eventually a parting of the ways?  Jesus did not abandon his religion, rather he used it as a foundation to give his listeners and humanity something that every person in every culture could use to enhance their lives.

    There may have been a period in our lives where we lost interest in how we practice our faith.  Everyone reared in the church probably went through a similar experience.  After baptism came confirmation classes and then Youth Fellowship on Sunday evenings.  After that, we begin our life’s journey in earnest.  This is the period when our life in the church can get away from us.     

    Jesus went through the same experience.  Jewish families throughout the year celebrate the memories of their past.  They have symbols that remind them of their heritage.  Jesus had been taught to remain faithful to the Laws of Moses. However, Jesus began to question the form his religion had taken.  He witnessed men living disciplined lives while missing the mark on displaying attitudes of forgiveness, compassion and generosity with any consistency.

    Jesus felt the need to bridge the gap between practicing the Laws and the development of the spirit by which people lived.   A number of Jesus’ parables began with, “Living in the Kingdom of God is like . . . .”   Jesus’ teachings were focused more on a person’s inner world than the Laws of Moses.  In Jesus’ day, very few people had any understanding of the mysterious, invisible world that was responsible for their behavior and attitudes. 

    Christianity has the same problem today.  We know a number of Jesus’ teachings but have we ever been taught how to access the treasure trove of potential that lies dormant within us?  Having this knowledge is what separates people.  When we learn to develop our inner world and the skills of spirit that come with that process, the external world becomes our playground, a place to build, create, and sow seeds from a joyous, enthusiastic spirit.

    There was a time when Lois and I traveled with our two children across the United States in our 1969 Mercury Montego.  The car had over 125,000 miles on it when we began to show our children our country from coast to coast.  We took five such journeys and we always towed a little Apache pop-up camper behind us.  Our two children have fond memories of those excursions.

    During one of these trips, we had gotten as far as Wichita, Kansas when we started having car trouble.  We managed to nurse the car until we reached a Ford dealership.  It was a slow day for the mechanics so we gave them the car and went to lunch across the street.  As we were walking back to the garage, I began to develop a sickening feeling.  We saw five mechanics looking under the hood. That is never a good sign.

    I asked, “Are we ready to go?”  One of the mechanics said, “I am afraid not.  We want Ben to look at your car and he's not here today.  Ben knows 302 engines like the back of his hand.   He'll be here in the morning. Your family may want to check into the hotel across the street.” That is what we did. 

    We learned that Ben was an 83-year-old mechanic who could diagnose problem cars that were a challenge for the other mechanics. He could sense problems simply by listening to the sounds that engines were making.  The other mechanics told us that Ben was so good at what he did that he could tell which spark plug was not firing properly when the engine was running. 

    Ben fixed our car.  Before we left, I asked him why the other mechanics could not repair our car. His answer was unforgettable and represented a sign of the times.  He said:

Today's mechanics have diagnostic tools that zero in on the car's problem.  They hook up cars to a computer.  These machines do all the thinking for them much like the new cash registers tell the cashier how much change to give their customers.  People don’t have to think anymore.


Your car does not have a computer interface, and even if it did, I doubt the computer would have diagnosed the problem. I have been working on cars long before such equipment was available.  I had to learn every aspect of how a car works.  Your car was a challenge to fix because it had a problem that was intermittent.  I really had fun figuring out the cause, but I got her. Good luck, son, you have a fine machine.  I haven’t seen an engine like yours for some time. 

    That experience has stayed with me through the years because there are countless priests, pastors, rabbis and imams that are good mechanics.  They know the basics.  They know how to deal with congregations, maintain their buildings, promote mission efforts and encourage people to give money, but they may not have grown beyond their training.  Old Ben knew the soul of cars simply by listening to the sounds they make.  Millions of people are starving to death spiritually and do not realize it.  Their spiritual leaders may not be able to help them. 

    In our Gospel lesson today, the priests and the elders came to Jesus and said, “By what authority do you do these things?  Who gave you such authority?”  The priests and elders were anchored to the orthodoxy of their beliefs, rituals, scriptures and traditions; they too were suffering from spiritual blindness.  Their questions were a giveaway to their own starvation.

    I received a piece that was posted on Facebook by the organist in my last church.  The

    Title was “Pray For Your Pastor.”  The words could easily fit people in most professions:

97% of Pastors have been betrayed, falsely accused or hurt by their trusted friends.  70% of Pastors battle depression.  80% of Pastors feel discouraged.  94% of Pastor’s families feel the pressure of the ministry.  78% of Pastors have no close friends.  90% of Pastors report working 55 to 75 hours a week. 1,500 Pastors leave for other professions each month. 7,000 churches close each year.   Only 10% will retire after a long career as a Pastor.  Pray for your Pastor.

    If even half of these percentages are correct, a lot of clergy have lost their way.  It is easy for pastors to lose their way today amid the demands from the hierarchy of most denominations, the needs of their people and not enough time to deal effectively with their responsibilities that only increase through time.

    Jesus told priests and the elders that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of God ahead of them. These sinners had listened to John the Baptist and experienced a radical change in how they order their lives.  Jesus said to the priests and elders, “You have all seen the results that John’s words brought in the lives of people, yet you do not believe his message.”  

    Jesus knew that the religious leaders had learned to conform to the faith of their ancestors by remaining faithful to a covenant with God.  Their ancestors knew very little about their inner world of spirit. They were focused on the moodiness of an external God that needed to be pleased.  Jesus knew that God was an internal matter.

    The Apostle Paul understood how tax collectors and prostitutes could enter heaven before many religious leaders. When people no longer conform to the ways offered by the world, the results of their lives are remarkably different.  They literally find God inside of them.  That recognition changes the spirit by which they live.  (Romans 12:2)    

    If someone taught us how to let go of old grudges, how to forgive, or how to be liberated from carrying ancient wounds, the last thing we would ask them is “Who gave you the authority to teach these things?” When our lives become totally transformed and our once heavy burdens are gone, we literally become a new personality, one that is filled with joy, enthusiasm and a spirit that energizes every environment we enter.  

    What gives truth its authority is that it works for us when we put it to use.  A thousand memorized scriptures or a flawless track record of church attendance is quite admirable, but it could also put some of us on the same level of understanding as the priests and the elders who had conformed to what they had been taught.  Most of us give authority to what works for us.  This is why Jesus was such a God-send to humanity.    

    Old Ben was to cars what Jesus was to his listeners.  Jesus understood the spiritual dimension of life, a dimension that has very little to do with the material world of forms.  We can observe a person’s body.  What we cannot see is what drives some people to be filled with enthusiasm for life while others remain angry, selfish, moody, and always finding fault with everything and everyone.  Those who are anchored to their inner world where love and creativity dwell have built their lives on a rock.

    Thursday night I attended the meeting of the Bermuda Bible Society.  At the close of the meeting, one of our board members asked us to pray for the Christians in Iraq.  She had received a request for prayer from a missionary that is imbedded within a compound of Christians that live there.  The stories this missionary told our board member were beyond comprehension.

    The apostles of Isil were demanding that these Christians denounce Christ.  They refused, and in front of parents, these men beheaded their children one at a time. With tears streaming down the face of one of the mothers she said:

You can do what you wish to our bodies.  Your knives, however, cannot touch the spirit by which we live.  Our love of Jesus is so strong that we could not possibly hurt your children or any of you.  One day you will learn to love as we have.  It is the only way to live and be at peace. 

    These words come from the inner world that Jesus was describing that allows prostitutes and tax collectors to remain in God’s presence while they live and after they leave their bodies.   If we have trouble finding our way in life, guidance is immediate when we begin letting go of all the barriers that prevent love from showing up in our attitudes.  Jesus wanted his listeners to know that all of them are angels already.  His goal was to teach them how to let what is inside of them to show up every day.