“Bypassing The Influences Of Fear”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – April 2, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 130, John 11:38-57

    One of the fascinating dramas during my last several years has come from my attempt to tame a beautiful tortoise-shell feral cat that came to us as a starving kitten.  Many lessons have materialized for me as a result of caring for a creature that did not know how to respond to me. 

    She eventually learned that I was not going to hurt her, but she had no skills of showing that she felt safe in my presence.  When she finished eating, she would walk away and sit facing away from me. After years of trying to call her, she eventually recognized my voice and began to come. She appeared glad to see me because I had the food.  In recent months, she has allowed me to pet her but only while she is eating. So far, this has been a remarkable adventure of a creature connecting with another creature.

     My caring and affection for her has never depended on her responses to me.  In some strange way, I have realized that this must be the experience we have with God who gives even when we register no response to what we receive everyday without asking. Think of what would happen if we demonstrated to each other the same love and respect even when no recognition comes of what we have been doing.

    Last week, we talked about how our divergent points-of-view have divided people since the dawn of civilization. All of us have reasons why we hold each other at arm's length, however, underneath all of our reasons for doing so is a level of uncertainty that has been inspired by fear.

    In our lesson today, instead of the Pharisees, chief priests and members of the Sanhedrin looking at Jesus as one of their own who possessed extraordinary gifts, they felt threatened by what they did not understand just like the cat when she first wandered into our domain.  Rather than appreciating what Jesus had just done by restoring the life of a man that was presumed to be dead, they said among themselves:

What shall we do? Look at all the miracles that this man is performing! If we let him go on in this way, everyone will believe in him.  When the Roman authorities learn of this, they will take action by destroying our Temple and our way of life.


Caiaphas, the High Priest exclaimed 'What stupid fools you are!  Don't you see that it would be better for one man to die than to have our entire nation destroyed by the Romans.


From that day on the Jewish authorities made plans to kill Jesus.  (John 11:47f)

    What we are seeing in this episode are intelligent men that are being threatened by someone who is good and loving.  We can also sense how easy it becomes for people to see light as darkness, or how new experiences may not be supportive of anyone's best interest.

    One of the reasons why The Institutional Church never permitted its Latin Bible to be  translated into European languages was so that only learned priests could read and interpret its words for the masses.  The barrier of fear that kept the Bible in its Latin prison was shattered only after numerous people were publicly executed for making native tongue translations available.

    What the Church feared the most actually happened when people began to interpret Scripture for themselves.  Lay people began to see that many Christian teachings had no basis in Scripture.

    For instance, if a friend or a family member was thought to be in Hell after their death, believers could liberate them by a giving a sizeable donation to the parish priest.  There was no Scriptural reference concerning the selling of indulgences.   

    The resulting social unrest from corrupt church officials inspired Martin Luther's discontent. One day he defiantly nailed a copy of his ninety-five complaints to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church on October 31, 1517, spelling out the horrors of greed and misuse of power by Church officials. Someone removed his complaints and liberated them from their Latin prison. Luther's complaints were translated into common German and posted once again on the door.  That posting inspired a revolt among believers known as the Reformation. The Roman Church was fractured.

    Today, social red button issues are more numerous than at any other time of history.  Many of these issues cause others to fear that the fabric of our society is being shredded.  Societies do not like it when individuals begin to paint outside the lines by breaking rules that once governed and guided the way most people lived.  Change started accelerating once guidance from the home and church no longer carried the authority that it once possessed.

    Most marriages today are performed for couples that have been living together for some time.  This, along with divorce, was unacceptable when most of us were teenagers.  Today the practice is so common that parents ask, "What are well-meaning parents to do with these kids of ours?'

    People are dealing with the needs of gay, lesbian, transgender people, same sex marriages, people playing the race card to support their claims, the legalization of marijuana, opening the doors of society to gambling, issues facing our aging population, dealing effectively with mental health issues, drug addiction, hungry citizens, higher taxes, gang warfare, and hospitals that have no room for new patients. We could go on and on with lists that contain concerns we have that go beyond our borders.

    Once again the world is proving itself to be a perfect classroom or laboratory for us spirit-beings.  We are living in an era where everyone is free to do with their lives whatever they wish and there is little that others can do about it.  Individuals have become their own authority. The blame-game is over.  Everyone is responsible for the results of their own lives even though they may vehemently deny that this is so. 

    Jesus clearly understood that people can only live on the level of awareness that they have achieved.  He was also aware that no one can make loving responses mandatory by law.  This is the perfect time to be alive because living by love or fear comes from our personal choices rather than by rules that are enforced by some higher authority. 

    Religions have always addressed social change by passing laws forbidding various behaviors or publicly displaying attitudes associated with a certain life-style. The fear of living in a collapsing society has existed for thousands of years.  King Solomon knew that "Where there is no vision, the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18) 

    When there is no guidance from values that everyone once shared by common consent, people begin to experiment. This is what we all do.  Experimenting helps every industry to discover what works and what does not. When it comes to people, all of us are defining our own destiny through the spirit by which we live.  Often during that period we do a lot of trial and error testing.

    If you believe that our society needs a lot of help from a savior, take a few minutes this afternoon and read Leviticus 18 beginning with verse 6. Read the problems that the author claimed were so bad that God had to provide rules to address what was taking place in the lives of his chosen people. Every society in history has gone through periods when they felt that some savior was needed.

    No matter what has been happening in our past, history continued to unfold until our present time.  We are no worse than the dramas that took place in our past. With instantaneous news coming to us of events around the world, and the mix of truth and falsehoods that are generated by social media, we have become amazed at how crazy we think our world has become. It is hard for us to imagine that all is well. The truth is that all is well. 

     Caiaphas, the High Priest exclaimed "What fools you are!  Don't you see that it would be better for one man to die than to have our entire nation destroyed by the Romans." Caiaphas and his group of defenders-of-the-truth succeeded in their mission.  They engineered the crucifixion of Jesus.  They went to bed that night believing that they had done a good thing for their nation.  The flame of Jesus' message, however, did not go out.

    What has caused Jesus' truth to survive over thousands of years?  Jesus taught and modeled that love rids our spirits of being afraid of anything. Among the things that Jesus could not do was to put people in possession of his awareness and loving energy.  Neither can we.  This is just the way life is. We each function from our learned levels of awareness.  We evolve at our own pace.

    Consequences from our quality decisions and decisions that are ill-advised both come from experimenting with life as we pursue our dreams.  This is how we learn what works and what does not. All Jesus could do during his three years of ministry was to teach and model what loving in all circumstances will produce.  This is what he said about that process:


For the people who develop attitudes that reflect love will be given all of the guidance and support that they need.  The people that respond in life with me first attitudes will fritter-away the little that they have.  (Matthew 13:12 & Matthew 25:29)


    As for Caiaphas and his religious leaders, Jesus had a higher allegiance that went way beyond preserving the Temple and the Jewish society.  He thought globally and was sowing seeds of truth that were universal in nature and would benefit humanity in future generations.

    Jesus knew that just because a message is not received does not mean that it was unworthy of being sent.  Jesus was killed for teaching that God is within each of us. (Luke 17:21)  In spite of the attempts by religious leaders to put out his flame, Jesus' message has been received by followers all over the world. Today, such people stand as sentinels in a sea of accelerated change.

    Love is an energy that protects the spirit of people who have discovered this presence as they live in a world where little is held sacred.  For those who have learned to live without fear, the world is a very entertaining place.  It is also an arena that is filled with opportunities to make a difference, not by taking sides or fighting for just causes but by living so that our love shows up everyday.  Jesus took his last breaths on the cross with love on his lips. 

    This very act is what Christianity has missed almost entirely.  The mantra that Jesus died for our sins is a theology that no one can explain.  What Jesus was teaching is quite different. He was communicating that his loving spirit was untouchable by anything that people could do to him.  He demonstrated that his spirit was just as compassionate as always even during the moments when the energy of his physical form was waning. 

     We are all spirit-beings that have nothing to fear from the material world, a world that all of us will leave behind when we exit. Our major problem is that we do not know this truth that Jesus was demonstrating as he was dying.  As was mentioned, the world is a perfect environment for spirit-beings to work on perfecting their nature. (Matthew 10:28)

    Jesus was teaching from the cross that he did not pass judgment on what other people had chosen to do with their lives. Everyone is living on the level of their personal awareness that they have achieved. What they need is understanding and encouragement, not punishment.  Our task is not to judge people but to help others to discover a path that has the power to transform their responses into ones that are filled with love and forgiveness. 

    The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  Why not allow the spirit to take the lead on this dance?  When we show up enthusiastically in people's lives, God will take care of the details. Just as Jesus faced life unafraid, so can we.



Loving God, from the beginning of time, you have surrounded us with invitations to live in harmony with you and each other.  Your guidance comes in many unique and different forms.  Many of them are only recognized when we are prepared to understand. Thank you for giving our spirits the ability to be drawn into your presence through the harmonies of music, spoken words and all that happens when we come together to worship. Our spirits yearn to be free from the worries and fears of uncertainty.  Fill us with your Spirit so that through us the world might be blessed.  Amen.



Loving God, we thank you for sensing our desires long before we express them.  We thank you that you have filled our lives with such remarkable abilities and  talents that enable us to remain confident once we have found them.  When we discover such a treasure trove of potential and possibilities, turning the other cheek is no longer a chore, remaining flexible during challenging circumstances comes more easily and being creative in our thinking appears to come more as a natural extension of who you created us to be. 

All of these skills surface when our minds, hearts and spirits are no longer preoccupied by the cyclical events that have always presented themselves in every generation. When we are transformed by your presence, such events fuel our imaginations to become agents of positive change.

Thank you for leading us during these days of Lent.  We have learned from Jesus as we watched him navigate through events  that would have threatened most people.  Help us to remember that in every way, Jesus modeled for us the kind of people we can be even when our pride and feelings are hurt.  He was hurt and eventually killed, but he knew that his resurrection was always a part of what you have in store for all of us. 

Help all of us to understand what the unselfish giving of ourselves will do to inspire others to begin their own journey of self-discovery. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .