"Straight Talk Spoken In Love”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – March 1, 2015

Centenary United Methodist Church

Romans 4:13-18; Mark 8:31-38

    Our Scripture lesson today describes a time when Jesus gathered his disciples and others so he could share more of his distilled wisdom for living.  Such teaching moments were going to be fewer in number because the end of his life was near.  Jesus had decided to be frank and deliberate in his determination to teach people about their options if they wanted to live fruitful lives. 

    There are three lessons of Jesus in the latter portion of Mark's Gospel that I want to discuss. The first is very familiar.  "If you want to save yourself, you will lose it.  If you lose your life by following my teachings, you will save it." 

    In essence, Jesus told his listeners that fruitful living comes from accepting whatever life brings up for them and then responding to it with attitudes of understanding and compassion.  However, if their neediness and their desires of self-interest motivate them to respond otherwise, they risk losing their opportunity to grow spiritually. (Mark 8:34)  What life brings up for us can come in many different forms.

    A couple once came to me to perform their marriage.  What made this one different was that the man had already been married three other times. This would be his fourth attempt at a lasting marriage.  For the woman, this would be her first. 

    After building some rapport with them, I asked the man the most obvious question, "Three times your marriages have not worked for you; what is different this time that will prevent history from repeating itself?"  He did not mind such a direct question and he answered it this way:

Lisa has trained me to realize that if I did not change my attitudes and responses, no woman in the world would stay married to me.  Since we started dating, she has been very direct with me. Living with her is like having your own personal trainer.  I cannot control her.  She is not hurt by what I say.  She tells me what my attitudes and behavior symbolize to her and everyone else.  They are ugly. No one has ever taken the time to teach me that I have been the problem in all my relationships.  No one had ever held a mirror in front of me as Lisa has. She has taught me the meaning of love and how to continue loving even when it hurts my pride and sense of worth.

    This man had been reared in an environment where women had a cookie cutter role to play as a wife.  They were to stay home, raise the children, have dinner ready when he came home and to become warm and cuddly when it was bedtime.  His real issue was that he was stuck with an image and role of women that most had outgrown fifty years earlier.  When people assume that others are responsible for making them happy, they are looking at what others cannot possibly deliver.  

    Jesus' second lesson has been very controversial among Christians for centuries.  He said, "If you are ashamed of me and my teachings in this godless and wicked day, then the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes into the glory of God's Kingdom."  (Mark 8:38)

    This lesson as is, suggests that our behavior and attitudes will cause Jesus to stoop to our immature responses when he greets us in the next life.  The problem with this interpretation comes from a poor choice of words when it was translated from the Greek.

     What Jesus was teaching is that when people pay little or no attention to his message, they will not have the course corrections that come from making his wisdom a part of their lives.  In other words, if someone gives us a map to a unique and beautiful destination and we choose to ignore it, the chances of finding that place are almost nonexistent.

    There is a parable mentioned in a literary work entitled The Arabian Nights concerning a farmer whose plow came to an abrupt stop. He discovered that one of the tines was caught in a large ring in the ground.  That ring was attached to a lid covering an underground chamber that contained buried treasure of gold, silver and jewels.

    The point of the story is that our treasure is buried within us and life becomes energized by the jewels that we find.  This is precisely what Jesus wanted his listeners to learn.  Everything they need for a fruitful life is inside and cannot be found in our external environment.

    Such an awakening occurred during the early life of Pablo Picasso.  He did not like school even during his primary days and was a very defiant student.  He spent a lot of time in detention because of his attitudes and behavior.  He loved detention because there he had time to draw.  Noticing his skill, his father sent Pablo to the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona, Spain at the age of 13. 

    When Pablo reached the age of 16, he created two painting that were academically perfect in the eyes of critics.  He gained entrance to Madrid's Royal Academy, Spain's top school.  Picasso could not stand the constraints of academia so he quit school to follow his passion and he stuck with it.

    Picasso went on to create beautiful forms in nearly every field of art.  He created 1,885 paintings, 1,228 sculptures, 2,880 ceramic pieces, 12,000 drawings and thousands of prints.  He created tapestries and rugs with intricate designs.  He wrote poetry and plays.   The discovery of  his inner wealth energized him until his death in 1973 at the age of 91. 

    Whatever the form our creativity looks like, we have the means to express it in spite of the constraints that may exist. We can live no-limit lives by finding our passion and following where it leads.  We will make mistakes and at times become our own worst enemy, but when we refuse to be defined by our lack of good judgment, we become strengthened through numerous course corrections that Jesus' teachings readily supply to those wanting to grow in spirit.  The period of Lent is our season for such reflection.

    The final teaching in our lesson remains among the most profound that Jesus gave to humanity.  This teaching requires no beliefs for it to be true one hundred percent of the time.  It was taught by one who knew far more than what his followers could understand and assimilate into their lives. (John 16:12)

    Humanity has entered a time in history when angry people are using technology to spread fear and to destabilize societies.  No doubt, in a very short period of time we will experience the use of drones to hover near the homes of world's leaders, government buildings and aircraft.  Instead of delivering boxes of pizza, they could be carrying light weight plastic explosives that can destroy their targets. 

    What is different from every other enemy of humankind is that terrorists can remain invisible after reaching their goals.  They can steal money by hacking into a bank's assets, obtain our personal information and establish accounts for their use, and commit deeds that inflict deep cultural pain as they did last week through the destruction of priceless, irreplaceable 4,000 year-old artifacts housed in an Iraqi museum.  In many cases, the perpetrators can vanish, remain anonymous and become untraceable.

    We have entered an age where societies built on the value of mutual trust have become vulnerable.  There is little we can do to turn back the clock to a day when we never worried about our safety.  What we are experiencing in many parts of the world is an example of what happens when adults have access to powerful weapons while still living with the emotional levels of children. 

    The teaching of Jesus that was referenced earlier addresses the result of what happens to such people and their ideologies.  Jesus said, "Is anything achieved by imaginative and manipulative people if they gain control over all the populations on the earth, if, during their pursuit, they ignore their potential and creativity by forsaking the things of substance in life for the shadow created by their fantasies?"  (Mark 8:36) 

    These people have seduced social media outlets and news organizations by enticing them to cover as breaking news their gross and unfathomable atrocities. This has become an inexpensive way to spread terror and fear throughout the world. 

    Jesus was absolutely correct.  Years from now such people will be largely marginalized.  Human fears tend to magnify their importance among the world’s seven billion inhabitants.   The surging creativity of the world's populations eager to enter into trade-agreements and eager to develop and share new technologies will propel the teaching of "serve one another" to overpower and diminish the ideology of genocide as a solution to anything.            

    Pablo Picasso disliked his country's institutions for learning, but he found the pearls within himself and left the world with over 50,000 works of art.  During the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries, the Vikings did the same thing that we see terrorists trying to do today.  Their marauding fighters advanced up the rivers of Europe, burning every city in their path.  Today, they are gone in the same manner as the Assyrians featured in the Old Testament.  Modern scholars have no consistent theories about what happened to this once powerful empire.  However, Jesus and his followers remain alive, and his message has supplied the foundational values upon which many governments have been formed all over the world.  

    The other morning, Bermuda awakened to graffiti painted on a number of our government buildings proclaiming, "ISIS is coming."  Do we choose to live in fear or do we have the courage to become like a lighthouse that stands on a hill? 

    The energies of darkness will only have a season and then they will vanish.  The central theme of Jesus' teachings was to love our neighbors.  Whatever other teachers and their prophets proclaim that is vastly different from this is to miss the mark.  There is nothing in creation powerful enough to prevent God's Will from being done. During our Lenten season and beyond, we must never forget this.