"Our Built-in Guidance System”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – May 25, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 139:1-14; John 14:15-21


    This morning we are going to talk about our personal built-in guidance system that has a unique power to direct our lives.   In describing this highly complex system, Jesus distilled it in the simplest of terms.  He said,

God will send you a Helper that will stay with you forever.  This spirit will guide you correctly during the rest of your journey.  The world’s people cannot experience this guidance because they rely on what they can see and on what they think they know.  However, you have the knowledge of spirit because the spirit will remain with you and will always be found within you.  (John 14:16f)

    In our lesson, Jesus was training his disciples where to look for guidance once the time came when he would no longer be with them. Most people take their cues for living from the external world instead of listening to the guidance that has its origin from within them.

    One day I was in my dentist’s office for a scheduled appointment and I noticed that he was very distracted.  Since I am one of those people that frequently invites myself into the personal lives of others, I asked him if he was okay. 

    He said,

I don’t know if I am okay or not.  It’s my daughter and her husband. They have rented a location in town for a new bakery they are planning to open.  It is a terrible location.  In fact, several businesses have already failed at the address they have chosen.  They will have no visibility. One of the basic principles of success is location, location, location.  I’m worried about them.  Sometimes these young kids have big ideas and no business sense.

    I told him the story of Debbi Fields.  Debbi listened to a voice inside of her that told her to follow her dream and bake cookies.  With no prior business experience, Debbi opened her Chocolate Chippery in Palo Alto, California with only one product to sell – her chocolate chip cookies.  She went to the expense of renting the space and having it retrofitted to accommodate her needs.   She baked her cookies and waited.  No one came into her store.

    She did not give up.  The next day she took trays of cookies outside and gave them away to people as they walked by her Chippery.  Once people tasted them, word spread like a wild-fire.  Lines began to form as people eagerly waited for her store to open each morning. 

    After opening her first location in August, 1977, Debbi expanded her company to over 600 stores.   At the peak of her success, she sold everything a number of years ago for one hundred million dollars.  She encouraged others by saying, “Once you find something that you love to do, be the very best at doing it.”

    My dentist’s daughter and her husband opened the Cakery in our town and the couple has never regretted one moment.  My former dentist is as proud as a peacock at how their business has thrived in a terrible location.  The best advertisement comes from customers who cannot live without having what you are creating.  The couple followed their dream.   They knew that a superior product sells itself.  

    Jesus had just added Philip to his band of disciples.  Philip, eager to tell others what he had found, said to his friend, Nathanael, “Come and see the one who was talked about by Moses and the prophets!”  Nathanael said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

    Jesus ministered to people in virtual obscurity, but, he had a superior product to market – how to navigate in a world filled with detours and glittering objects that offer much but cannot deliver anything.   For thousands of years, his product has transformed the lives of people.  Motivation based on self-interest surrendered to expressing attitudes of kindness and generosity.

    What about this inner voice, this built-in guidance system?  Through the ages we have tended to think of it in terms of living a virtuous life, pleasing God, building cathedrals with priceless stained glass windows and hand-crafted marble pulpits, or creating music like Handel’s Messiah.  What the Church has seldom stressed is that this spirit becomes activated when people begin to follow the direction of their greatest passion for giving something of value back to the world.       

    For example, Steve Jobs was driven by a need to create products that would simplify the way the world does business.  He did it with a company named Apple.  Mark Zuckerberg wanted people in every culture to communicate with each other and he is well on his way to making that happen.  As of May 1, Facebook has 1.11 billion active users.  Andrew Lloyd Webber always had music playing in his head. He thought he was losing the grasp on his sanity.  One day he began to write.  Among the products he gave to the world are, The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ, Superstar and Evita.

    If this guidance works so beautifully for some people, why is it that so many others miss the mark and travel down roads that lead to one disaster after another?  If we really look at Jesus’ ministry and the people who have made a difference in the world, we see a common thread that links them together.  At the root of every religion is kindness.  At the heart of many creators is the desire to make the world a better place to live.  They are committed to bringing value to others in whatever form that takes.

    Recently, we have received news that a group calling itself Boka Haram has herded school girls like cattle and taken them into the bush of Nigeria and neighboring countries. They want to use the girls as bargaining chips. They even refer to themselves as being faithful to Islam and the will of Allah.  Apparently, they remain unaware of how closely aligned they appear to be to the bullies that appear in the teenage culture.

    Boka Haram, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda may operate verbally under the guise of their religious beliefs, but the result of their message has nothing to do with Islam.  Try to imagine how challenging their adjustment will be when they leave this world and discover that everything that gave them power while on earth had to do with symbols of the material world that had nothing to do with kindness, forgiveness and generosity. 

    They will no longer have weapons.  They will no longer be able to intimidate anyone into obeying their rules.  There will be no children to kidnap, no marketplaces filled with women and children to blow up.   It will be impossible for them to limit the role of women by their doctrines and dogma.  Think of it.  How will they adjust when they enter an environment where fear no longer exists?  

    We wonder today what voice is directing their lives. Over half of their population will never be given the opportunity to exercise their potential.  They will not allow women to succeed like Virginia Rometty, the Chief Executive Officer of IBM, Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard, Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, or Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors.  Look at how quickly China has surpassed many of the world’s economies by encouraging the education of everyone.   

    This spirit, this voice that Jesus was describing is not reserved only for religious people.  It is accessible to anyone who is willing to follow their dream of making a contribution to the quality of our world. 

    This inner voice will not be silenced in spite of the sensational news coverage that church attendance is shrinking, that religious symbols are being removed from public places to appease a small minority that find such things offensive or that spiritual training is no longer happening among our children and young adults.

    Perhaps our fears have blinded us to God’s ability to communicate through scores of different forms and venues by delivering a message that may be quite different from what is preached inside the walls of religious institutions. Think of the message that is being experienced by millions of children through movies like Shrek, The Lion King, the Chronicles of Narnia and the recent release of Freeze.

    The central message of Christianity has little to do with theology.  The central message is to be kind, courteous and caring to the point where we can love our enemies.  The key to our creativity is that in order for these attitudes to find their mark, other people must experience them coming from us.   When our lives are transformed because we died to our animal nature, we begin listening to our inner voice that guides us to bring value to the lives of others. 

    A month ago, Lois, Sue and I were walking in the garden dedicated to George Somers in St. George’s. I found the gardener and told him my impressions of his handiwork.  He said,

Sir, you have made my day, my week, my month and my year.  Thank you for noticing so many little details. The gardens that you see are my children.  This humble park is my world.  Whatever else may be happening in the world, you can always find peace when you come here.    

    He was no ordinary maintenance worker. We were literally walking in this man’s inner world, a world where he dances every day.  Listening to his spirit has allowed him to make the world a more beautiful place even when most people may not notice.  Bermuda is such a place. 

    Tomorrow is our day to celebrate what living here means to us.  If people cannot be happy here, they will not find happiness in Heaven.  Ideal environments do not create happy people.  Happiness is a product of the spirit by which we live.  Jesus said,

The world’s people cannot experience this guidance because they rely on what they can see and on what they think they know.  However, you have the knowledge of spirit because the spirit will remain with you and will always be found within you.

    Yes, we have a built-in guidance system that will help us add value to our world.  However, it is up to us to recognize its presence, access it and follow through by using it.