“Education Promotes Course Corrections”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – December 3, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 80:1-7; Isaiah 64:1-9

    Many nations today including the United States, Bermuda and Saudi Arabia are repeatedly stressing Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.  Countries want to put people to work so they can grow their economies.  However, in a number of countries, people have been unemployed for such a long time that their work-ethic is little or non-existent. 

    When I was appointed to Capitol Hill United Methodist Church, one of the first social action groups that I encountered was Jubilee Jobs.  This organization secured jobs for people.  Their mission statement was wonderful.  Their greatest frustration was that their efforts did not start until after many had learned a lot of habits that were not in their best interest or those of any future employer.

    We all know the old saying that we can't teach an old dog new tricks. While this is not true, in certain circumstances the quote is accurate for many people. This social action group was successful in helping people to find jobs but frequently, after the first paycheck, the freshly hired employee did not last.

    A good number of them had never worked a forty-hour week in their lives.  They were never taught why it is important to show up on time every day.  People cannot exhibit healthy work habits simply by being given an opportunity to do so. 

    In every aspect of living, a person's attitude tilts the scales toward success or failure.  Many people remain challenged to motivate themselves due to the number of years of growing comfortable at living unproductive lives. Jesus said, "You will always have the poor with you." (John 12:8)

    What does this line of thinking about jobs have to do with the first Sunday of Advent?  The world into which Jesus was born was a society that had no prior training or background that would have prepared them for what Jesus would later teach.

    The Jewish culture was one that celebrated events in their past where God had done everything for his chosen people. Think about the Biblical record and how their understanding had conditioned them for centuries to wait on God to act on their behalf.  They had grown comfortable with allowing God to make all the next giant steps toward their future.

    God had acted decisively to motivate Abraham to move his family. The migration moved his large family from Ur to the Fertile Crescent. (Genesis 12:1) God promised to give this land flowing with milk and honey to Abraham's future descendents. (Genesis 12:7) God protected Joseph and made him prosperous when he was taken to Egypt. (Genesis 39:2) God called Moses to liberate his people in Egypt. (Exodus 3:4) God saved his people from the advancing Egyptian army. (Exodus 14:15) God awakened Samuel when he was a child. (I Samuel 3:10) God told the prophet Samuel which of Jesse's sons should be anointed the king to replace Saul. (I Samuel 16:12) 

    The Biblical writers had God interactive with the Jews because of their covenant with God. The Jews fully expected God to perform as he had done for their ancestors.  Our lesson this morning from Isaiah opens with such a dramatic request:

God, why don't you tear the sky open and come down. There was a time when you came and did terrifying things that we did not expect.  Even the mountains saw you and shook with fear. No one has ever seen or heard of a God like you, who does such deeds for those who put their hope in him.  (Isaiah 64:1-4)

    When Jesus embarked on his ministry, almost immediately his emphasis had little to do with God actively intervening in their lives with such high drama.  What Jesus began teaching was that each person was totally responsible for developing his or her own attitudes and behavior, i.e., the spirit by which they live.  (John 3:6)  

    God was not out there in some nebulous environment. God's spirit was living inside of each of his listeners where their inspiration and guidance from God would originate.  (Luke 17:21) 

    We have discussed before how and why Jesus became such a radical teacher.  He had completely abandoned Judaism so automatically what he taught sounded ridiculous to many listeners.  Jesus’ message was vastly different from what the Jews had been trained to believe.  

    God had led the Israelites to conquer and destroy their enemies when they entered the promised land.  Jesus came to educate his listeners to love their enemies.  He said, "If a Roman soldier orders you to carry his heavy backpack a mile, you offer to carry it for two miles." (Matthew 5:41) 

    Jesus tried to educate his listeners that the days of the war-god Yahweh were over and that the new marching orders were that the greatest among them should become the servant of all people. (Matthew 23:11f)

    Now that we are living in the 21st century, what do we honestly believe, think and feel about this shift from God answering prayers in such a dramatic fashion to Jesus educating people in how to develop their inner spirits where their treasures are located?   (Matthew 6:21) Are we still asking God to bring peace into our world for us, to remove our personal pain and to give us strength and courage to face some new experience?

    Instead of asking God to be with us in some exclusive way, when do we realize that it is our responsibility voluntarily to turn the other cheek and forgive, return kindness to those who are mean-spirited and give generously to those in need when no one is asking us to do so? This lifestyle is what Jesus came to teach.

    The re-training of humanity began with a carpenter and his twelve disciples.  Jesus knew that his teachings were so different that it would take eons for his words to become incorporated into people's lives.  (John 3:12)  

    Jesus also knew that, initially, only a few people would understand and experience the abundance that each person could create if they looked within rather than beseeching God for favors.  (Matthew 7:14).

    Today there is a real tension between people who want the redistribution of wealth among their population, and those who want people to become self-motivated to become financially independent through the choices they make.  

    When people pursue their unique passion with energetic commitment, there is no evidence that suggests that people fail when they literally live their dreams.  In fact, the opposite is true.  They go on to live remarkable lives.

    Humanity is still in its infancy when it comes to understanding the power and creativity that is experienced from following the vision and dreams that arise from within our spirits.  How many role models do we need before we realize and learn that it is not luck that causes many people to become extremely successful in their lives?

    What stimulates the desire for success in anyone's life is choosing to follow with an irresistible passion or urge to create by writing poetry, by their desire to paint with oils, by teaching others how to pursue their dreams, by creating new architectural designs, by creating time-saving products to sell to the public or by finding a single cure for all forms of cancer.

     Last week, another level was shattered of what a single individual could reach with their personal wealth. Jeff Bezos became the first human being to have a net worth of over one hundred billion dollars.  Bezos owns 82 million shares of Amazon stock, the company that he founded while passionately pursuing his inner vision and dream.

    This kind of news awakens people to the near infinite possibilities that can arise from within them when they follow their dream.  Even today, many people do not understand the symbolism of what this means when they put the success of Jeff Bezos along side the success of Jesus who had no place to lay his head. (Luke 9:58)

    Their passionate purposes were very different.  Jeff Bezos became passionate with how his vision and dream would completely change the way that people engaged in commerce.  Jesus' passionate vision was teaching people how to master their own inner world.

    Both were completely successful.  Look at what is now happening during our lifetime because of the existence of the creation of Amazon.  Try to imagine how Jesus' three-year ministry has inspired the living patterns of individuals and entire societies all over the world.

    No one has our unique vision and dreams.  We may not need a re-distribution of wealth if everyone pursued their personal and individual dreams instead of engaging in wishful thinking about a time in the future when God or the government will finally bring to them what they seek -- peace and prosperity.

    Jesus inspired the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, to give away his money. (Luke 19:8) He said to people that were healed, "Your faith has made you well." (Mark 5:34) He taught people that the fruits of their labor will be their reward during this life.  (Matthew 13:12)

    Many people look at Jeff Bezos with contempt because of his wealth. Merchants are frightened by what he is doing by developing his vision of giving people what they want, i.e., ordering a product online from their computer and having it delivered the next day below the cost of what is available in brick and mortar stores.

    For a growing number of people, this activity translates into no more driving to crowded shopping centers, finding a parking space and standing in long check-out lines. Countless people want more convenience and a life that is hassle free.

     How many people today have a passion to make visible the dreams and visions given to them through their imaginations? Jesus came among us to educate us that God created us to be creators. 

    Are we creating or are we still waiting for God to fix us and to fix our world for us? A new hope came into our world for everyone.  This morning we have lighted the candle of that hope on our Advent wreath in honor of what Jesus brought into our world.

    We are slowly making the discovery that everyone has been hardwired for success. When people become very serious about pursuing the potential of their lives, all they need to do is risk in following-through with living their dreams and visions with passion. 

    Like all wise parents, God wants to wean people from the feelings of needing God to help them excel in life. God equipped birds to learn how to fly.  Again, God created us to learn how to create from our imaginations.  We were created to see how we do with riding our bikes once God has removed the training wheels.

    Many people are seizing the moment during our lifetime to make a difference even if the only thing they do is to support something they believe in.  In so doing people become co-creators with God.  This is how Jesus' teachings reached our ears from their origin in one of the most obscure parts of the world. 



Eternal and always faithful God, there are moments when we feel like the ancient Hebrews.  Uncertainty is everywhere.  Guidance from you is frequently mixed with other voices that cloud our perception.  We are more than ready to prepare ourselves again for the coming of Jesus into our lives. Clearly, he taught his listeners about a new loving spirit never before seen in Yahweh. Renew our hope that life only gets better when we replace our doubts and fears with trust in your guidance. Bless us as we enter Advent together. Amen.



Loving God, we come into your presence this morning hoping to renew our lives as we experience the unfolding themes of Advent.   Every year we go through the same themes week after week until we plunge into the New Year carrying the same responses to life.  We would be inspired to live fully and learn to love with abandon if we practiced everyday what we claim to believe.

This morning we thank you for inspiring us to remember who we are and how you equipped us to bring the vitality of your presence into each moment, each drama and each relationship. As we prepare ourselves to welcome again your son into our world, we do so remembering how he embodied a brand-new hope. He did not come with a message that You would take care of us.  He taught his listeners attitudes of being.  He pointed to a God-consciousness that would enable us to reveal your likeness. Thank you that through him we have learned that by loving others just as they are, we demonstrate our faithfulness to you who created them.

Help us to realize that our faithfulness to you becomes the source of our strength and the channel through which your spirit achieves form in our world. There is nothing in the world like knowing that we are a part of the created order as being your children, your angels-in-the-flesh and your presence in the material world at this unique time in human history. We ask that you continue to write history by using our lives as the ink in your pen. We pray these thoughts with grateful hearts, through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .