"With Truth, Not Everyone Understands”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – July 13, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 119:105-112; Matthew 13:18-23


    In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus was explaining to his disciples the meaning of his parable of the sower. (Matthew 13:1-9)   Jesus was teaching what frequently happens to people when they listen to his messages on spiritual growth and development.  For most of them, very little is absorbed. He was not judging people; he was merely sharing an observation about human nature. 

    Today, Jesus would have an equally difficult time trying to teach people how to harness their remarkable potential when it must always remain invisible.  Even though this hidden treasure assists in most of our decision-making, few people have developed their consciousness enough to understanding how to manage this asset. 

    The attention span of most human beings is very limited.  Brain studies suggest that today’s people are vastly over stimulated by the complexities of their relationships, by new social-media products, by sporting events and by movies that are packed with fast and furious drama. We preachers are only fooling ourselves if we think that people are hanging on every word that we say. 

    Jesus was no different.  He knew that countless listeners did not understand what he was saying.  He said, “The reason I tell stories while I teach is because people look but do not see, and they listen, but they do not hear or understand.”  (Matthew 13:13)   

    The Master also knew that his own disciples often did not understand.  I doubt he was surprised when Peter declared, “I will never leave you” because he knew Peter was only posturing among the other disciples.  (Matthew 26:33)  When his disciples were refused entrance into a Samaritan village, Jesus probably did nothing more than roll his eyes when James and John wanted to call fire down from heaven to destroy the village.  (Luke 9:54)  Jesus knew how to read his people as well as his own disciples.

    There is was an incident recorded in the Book of Acts that is familiar to many pastors.  The Apostle Paul was preaching.  Since he was leaving the next morning, Paul’s enthusiasm was such that he preached until midnight.  A patient listener kept nodding off as Paul delivered his message.  Finally, he not only fell asleep, but he also fell out of a three-story window.  People gathered around the poor fellow and declared that he was dead.  Paul checked him out, however, and found that he was still alive.  (Acts 20:9)

    In the early days of the Church, ushers would routinely walk up and down the side aisles with what looked like a boxing glove that was attached to a long pole.  People were not allowed to doze during a worship service.  When people were found doing so, the usher would awaken them with a jolt from the glove. 

    Most of you know what it is like to be looking at me while I am preaching and yet remain preoccupied by wanting to get home to watch a match between Chelsea and Manchester that starts at 12:30 p.m.   The look on some of your faces says, “Come on Stetler, let’s wrap this up.  I have to get out of here!”  We all have our priorities.

    Human nature is what it is.  With all the swirling thoughts going through our minds during a worship service, how can preachers make theology fascinating to the people that have come to the service?   Pastors would love to have that answer, but perhaps that is the wrong question. 

    Jesus was not teaching theology.  His message was very practical and extremely useful to those whose seed was planted in the fertile soil in Jesus’ parable. His words could be absorbed by learned men like Nicodemus and Gamaliel but also by people who could not read or write. Those who experienced Jesus’ power to heal were eager to hear everything he had to say. (Mark 10:10-52)

    Most of us have met people in every category that Jesus outlined in his explanation of his parable.  There have been people that hear the message and have no understanding about what it means or how they could apply his words to their lives.  We have met people that really enjoy a well-illustrated sermon, but the message is gone by the time they get to their cars.  We know people who hear and understand the message very clearly but cannot stop their habitual worrying about everything.           

    We have also known friends that seldom have a bad day.  Like everyone else, they experience the same reversals in life but they do not become victimized by any of them.  These people have learned how to let go of the toxic remarks of others the instant they hear them.  These people carry themselves as though they are coated with Teflon.  What frustrates most people appears to roll off of them.  Life’s events never hold them prisoner.  

    Once understood, Jesus’ message acts like a gigantic magnet that draws everything to us that we need.  Jesus would not send disciples to heal the world without first teaching them how to become a walking advertisement of what it looks like to live in the Kingdom of God.

    Jesus understood that everyone has to build their own inner world so that it will serve them.   No one can do this for anyone.  All Jesus could do was coach those that wanted to learn.  With his words he pointed to the qualities that make living a delightful experience.  Think about this.  How does a person learn to navigate through life and experience very little torment from the issues that polarize or immobilize countless other people?

    The answer is that each of us must develop trust that our lives are unfolding just fine in spite of what is happening.  What challenges me may not be what challenges you.  We are all different and each of us has our own lessons that we came here to learn.  Each of us must explore our invisible consciousness and develop it as we stand face to face with everything that comes up for us each day.

    Dr. Bernie Siegel wrote a book entitled Love, Medicine and Miracles.  He is a cancer specialist who is also a surgeon.  In his book and lectures he tells story after story of the power of the human spirit to accomplish the impossible. 

    One day a man came into his office with pains and Dr. Siegel sent him for tests.  The results indicated that the man had stage-four cancer throughout his abdominal area.  In reviewing the test results with the man, the doctor said, “My recommendation is surgery with an extended period of radiation and chemotherapy.”

    The man said, “I don’t have the time for that.   This is my busy season.  I own a landscape company.”  Dr. Siegel said, “I thoroughly understand. You have to do what you have to do.  Come back in six months and we’ll have another look.”  The man said, “Thanks Doc” and he left.

    Six months later, Dr. Siegel was looking at the folder of his next patient that his assistant had placed in the slot on the examining room door.  He said, “This cannot be!”  When he opened the door, indeed, it was the same man he had examined six months before.  He sent him for more tests and the results showed that the man was in complete remission.  There was no sign that cancer had ever invaded his thoracic cavity.

    After telling this story and others like it to numerous audiences, Siegel asks his listeners, “What happened here?”  His educated opinion is that this man, who had little knowledge of how serious his cancer was, became so busy with his work that his mind did not have time to consider anything else.  Siegel says, “His intense desire to run his business drove the cancer from his body.”  “The mind,” he says, “is a pre-installed asset when we are born.  Most people have not begun to harness what it can do.  I am giving you examples of people who have done this.”

    If only people could understand the power of their mind to direct the processes of life, there is very little that could stop them from achieving their goals and purposes in life.  Listen again to what Jesus said,

Have faith and trust in God.  I assure you that if anyone with such an understanding tells this mountain to cast itself into the sea and does not doubt in his heart, but authentically believes that what he commands will happen, it will be done for him.  (Mark 11:22)

    Jesus was not talking about rearranging the landscape geologically.  He was telling his audiences to face life fearlessly, totally trusting God for the outcome.

    If you watched the men’s final at Wimbledon last Sunday between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic you watched a classic competition where this quality of spirit was on display for the world to see.  Nothing got in the way for either athlete that clouded their ability with doubt that they would win.  We may think to ourselves, “That was not Christianity on display.  What we watched is what professional athletes can do in their preparation to play world-class tennis.” 

    We often forget that Jesus never heard of Christianity.  He was teaching people how to harness their inner power of spirit that can outcrop in any circumstance and in any vocation.  It happened for a chief tax collector (Luke 19:8) and it happened for a woman caught in adultery who lived to tell about it. (John 8:1f)

    What will it take for more people to wake up and pay attention to the power of what lies inside of them silently waiting to be activated?  This activation will not take place because we heard about it in a sermon.  This activation will not happen because we are with someone who effortlessly repels everything that always torments and bothers most of us.  This activation will not happen even if we were to memorize the Gospels. 

    It happens when we use every aspect of life as our opportunity to grow beyond our fears, greed, destructive desires, neediness, envy, failures and a poor self-image.  Each of us is one-of-a-kind.  God is an excellent farmer.  God only sows seeds in fertile soil. 

    It is up to us to grow.  If our growth were up to God, no one would be in trouble coping with the issues coming up for them in their lives.   Not everyone understands that growth is their sole responsibility.  Those that do understand Jesus’ classes on life, thrive in every vocation and life-pursuit. They have the ability to attract everything they need. Jesus told his listeners that this is what God wants for everyone. (Matthew 6:33)