"The Problem With All Messiahs"

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – August 24, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Romans 12:1-8; Mark 8:27-30


    Our Scripture lesson opens today with Jesus and his disciples traveling to villages near Caesarea Philippi, located at the base of Mt. Hermon near the headwaters of the Jordan River.  The Master was interested in knowing what people were thinking and saying about him so he asked his men.  The disciples gave some interesting answers. 

    Since the Jews in Jesus’ day had been exposed to the teachings of several religions, the idea of reincarnation was nothing new.  The disciples responded to Jesus’ question by saying, “Some believe that you are John the Baptist who has returned to life.  Some say that you are Elijah while others think that you are one of the prophets.”  (Mark 8:28)

    Jesus said, “What do you guys think?  Peter responded for the group and said, “We think that you are the Messiah.”  What is interesting is that Jesus did not confirm or deny any of their responses.  He merely told his disciples to keep their ideas about him to themselves.

    Why would Jesus tell them to remain silent?  We have to assume that Jesus did not want the idea to spread around that he was the Messiah.  Such a thought could easily evoke strong, emotional passions in people and attract thousands of people, most with an agenda that differed from his mission.  Jesus did not want to be perceived by unhappy people that he was prepared to lead them against the Roman authorities.

    Few of us have had the experience of being a part of large gatherings like those we see happening in many parts of the world.  People are in the streets day and night for weeks.  The International Community called some of these protest-gatherings, The Arab Spring.

    Could we imagine what Jesus’ world would have been like if word spread that he was THE ONE – the Messiah foretold by the Prophets?  Further, could we envision what it would have been like if BBC and CNN sent reporters to get the points of view from as many of the religious, military and political leaders as possible? 

    Because the news’ agencies frequently worship at the altars of viewer-ratings, they would capture every point of view from anyone willing to talk to them.  Since everyone would want their moment to share their point of view with the rest of the world, people would do everything possible to become a part of the conversation.   

    We have to wonder if the world would be in the turmoil it is today if there was no media coverage of many of these events.  Think of it. No more breaking news because some high profile personality said something about this crisis or that crisis. There is an old saying, “Where there is no audience, there is no show.”  Jesus was brilliant when he told his disciples, “Whatever you guys think about me, please keep it to yourselves.” 

    There is a common denominator to every conflict.  That common denominator is anger.  Among all the emotional responses we have in our tool box, anger is the least productive, the least valuable and the best barrier to effective communication that we have available to us. 

    Anger and unhappiness are the first responses of infants when they are irritable about something, or expressing their resistance to taking a nap.  Countless people never graduate from their need to use the responses they practiced many times when they were children.

    The kind of messiah that everyone is looking for is someone that is capable of cutting a pie in such a way that everyone believes that he or she is getting the largest piece.  Even when people assume that God brought this messiah into their midst, their faith in this person does not last very long.  Why?  Messiahs cannot solve everyone’s issues caused by living in our world. 

    Every savior has similar problems.  Often the savior’s solutions are not the same as those that others want nor are they delivered in a time-frame the masses desire.  Unwinding the conditions that create unhappy societies cannot be done over night.  Few people today have refined the art of having patience.

    For example, Moses stood up to Pharaoh and said, “God says, ‘Let my people go!’”  Pharaoh refused.  After a series of plagues, however, the Israelites were finally freed.  Through a series of miraculous events, the freed Israelites crossed the Red Sea and escaped into the wilderness of Sinai.  Two months after their freedom from Egypt, they verbally scolded their messiah.  They said to Moses:

We wish that God had killed us in Egypt.  There we could at least sit down and eat meat and have as much fruit and vegetables as we wanted.  But you have brought us out into this wilderness so that we will starve to death.  (Exodus 16:3)

    Joseph, an earlier messiah, approached his leadership role a little differently.  He said to Pharaoh:

Choose a man with wisdom and insight.  Put him in charge of the country.  He must appoint other officials that will manage the operation of harvesting and storing grain. For the next seven years, they must oversee the collection of one fifth of all of the crops grown by our farmers. These crops will be stored in the granaries that we will begin to build immediately. When the seven years of famine arrive, no one will starve. (Genesis 41:33f)

    Pharaoh and his court agreed to the plan and unanimously chose Joseph to become their leader. The rest of the story is well known to us.  Joseph taught the Egyptians how to save themselves by working together under his guidance.  Their common enemy was starvation.

    Jesus knew that he was not the messiah that everyone expected God to send. But, he also knew that he had essential lessons to teach his people.  Regardless of the theology that has surrounded Jesus for nearly 2,000 years, he continues to save people from the craziness of this world when they decide to follow his guidance.  This was the model Joseph used to save the people of Egypt from another form of starvation. 

    Jesus’ message was not about changing the government, lowering taxes, building more effective social programs or creating jobs.  Such planning belongs to the people in charge of the various governing bodies in any society.  Jesus wanted to feed people’s spirits by teaching them how to navigate safely through all the alluring illusions offered to them by living in the physical world.  

    Jesus knew that many people remain unhappy with their lives until they become grateful and thankful for everything they already have.  Paul understood Jesus’ message and wrote about how the process of changing his inner world had worked for him.  He wrote, “Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.  Then you will know the will of God.”  (Romans 12:2)

    We all know the saying, “Give someone a fish and that person will eat for a day.  Teach that person how to fish and he or she will be able to feed themselves for the rest of their lives.”  This is exactly what Jesus was teaching.  His message was about guiding people to develop the skills of spirit that will allow them to live happily and remain blessed with a happy disposition for the rest of their lives.  He knew his people were spiritually starving.

    For example, he taught his listeners to forgive 70 times 7 and to turn the other cheek each time they are offended.  Not everyone found this recipe for happiness a viable option for them.  People wanted their form of justice.  Not only that, but people looked upon anger as a perfectly justifiable entitlement.

    There was a day when religion once guided societies.  Today, the moral compass for billions of people is no longer governed by time-honored values, ethics and clear boundaries that were once each person’s individual responsibility.

           In 1685, German Christian Theologian Philipp Spener said, “When you see a tree losing most of its leaves in early summer, you recognize immediately that something is wrong with its roots.”  We are living in a day where more and more people are hurting because they were never taught how to navigate in life using their imaginations, their creativity and their skills of spirit.  

    Such people are paraded in front of us every day through our newspapers and on the evening news. People write scathing letters to the editor assigning blame on this person and that person for our social ills.  Every opinion expressed about anything reveals what is going on inside of the one communicating.

    Happy, grateful and creative people are too busy enjoying their lives to spend even one minute personalizing the opinions of others.  Echoing what Jesus taught, the Apostle Paul wrote that when we change how we understand our world, our world will change.  It will not change for everyone.  Struggles between opinionated people have been happening since the dawn of civilization.  That is the way the world is. 

    Jesus came to teach humanity how to rise above what we experience week after week.  Once we understand Jesus’ message, we must share it with younger generations.  How will children ever learn about the power of their inner world if no one teaches them how to find and develop it?  Our world is filled with billions of separate egos searching for happiness from a material world that cannot deliver what it promises.  They are like branches that are no longer attached to the vine.

    Tomorrow, when someone is rude with how they are driving, use your tool of patience.  When someone acts differently around you because of the color of your skin, smile compassionately and remain kind anyway.  When you feel frustrated by the litter that others discard on our streets and beaches, feel privileged that you can make Bermuda more beautiful by picking it up.  We cannot change the external world through our anger any more than we can empty the oceans one coffee mug at a time. 

    When we practice these simple exercises, our human DNA becomes transformed into that of angels.  We can become the messiahs for which everyone is searching simply by offering them the guidance that Jesus asked us to share.