“Is Summer School Necessary?”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – September 17, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Proverbs 9:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35


    In last Sunday's sermon, the thought of attending summer school was mentioned for people who remain uncertain or unconvinced that a spiritual awakening is a necessary rung on the ladder of their education.  However, summer school was never defined.  

    In the classical sense, summer school is required if students want to overcome a failing grade in one or more of their subjects. No one has to attend these classes.  Attending is only mandatory if students wish to advance toward graduation. 

    Have we ever taken the time to consider how our spiritual growth occurs? Is it an automatic response that happens when we creatively interact with issues in our world or do we have to acquire certain skills like learning our ABCs?     

    The only aspect of our training that separates academic education from our spiritual learning is the content. Both require a desire to know more than we do at the present moment.  There are people that have a tremendous drive to understand the meaning of life; others plateau where they are and still others quietly suffer with their life experiences, mystified why such moments continue to happen to them.  

    For the purposes of this message, summer school refers to the necessity of all of us to continue learning until we take our last breath in this world.

    All of us have faced occasions when we were unhappy.  When we label the cause of what we think is causing our unhappiness, most often we will name some set of circumstances, some episode or some person that is responsible for our emotional downward spiral.

    How would we respond if Jesus appeared to us in a vision and gave us a much different method of understanding our life experiences?   Rather than empathizing with us, Jesus said:

Your unhappiness is a sign that all the systems of your body are working exactly as they were designed to do.  Your emotions are telling you, 'Stop beating up on yourself. Choose different attitudes. Change your responses. Experiment with different feelings and thoughts.'  No one and no circumstance is making you feel unhappy.  Learn that you are creating your feelings from the judgments you are making.  When you convert your judgments into doors, they will open and lead you forward in your learning.

    All unhappy people need a semester of summer school.  There are people who feel abandoned and forsaken by God.  Again, could such an experience be the result of expecting God to do what God has no intention of doing? 

    Non-believers have identical experiences.  Just because our Creator is not part of their pantheon of gods does not mean that they are given a pass from having to go to summer school.  If they stop learning, they are telling themselves they have arrived on Mt. Olympus when they have not.

    Elon Musk is the creator of an electric car called Tesla.  When these cars come off the assembly line, they are like our bodies that come through the birth canal of our mothers. Elon Musk has designed these cars so that they work with extreme efficiency.  When there is a malfunction, there is an on-board computer that lets the owner of the car know where the problem lies from a gauge on the dashboard.   

    Tesla owners do not have any expectations that Mr. Musk will come to their rescue if there is a failure with the car.  That would be absurd and ridiculous. Yet, when it comes to our lives, somehow our expectations of God are different.  We reason that since God is love, God will hear our prayers and will come to our aid.  We have all known believers who say, "I trust God so completely that He will guide me to fulfill His perfect will for how my life unfolds."  Really?

    When our faith has replaced our need to take responsibility for the direction of our lives, it is like God has finally taken off the training wheels from our bicycle and we refuse to learn the art of sound decision-making.  When nothing is happening in our lives, God's lack of attention shows up as a light on our dashboard.  If we understand the light properly, it is telling us that the malfunction is not with God but with us.

    Christians have been trained to believe that God is our constant companion, a very present help in trouble, and the Shepherd who seeks for a lost sheep until it is found. While these statements are of great comfort to us, there is no mention that God will take responsibility for the direction of our lives.

    Like a wise parent, God is present, but God does not intervene in our lives to the extent that we no longer have our own homework assignments to complete.  Why are we here if God's intent was to direct our lives for us?   Our dashboard lights are telling us to grow up and emotionally move beyond the dependent responses of our childhood. 

    Our Scripture lesson this morning is a detailed story of a man who sought forgiveness from his king.  He said, "Please be patient with me and I will pay back everything that I owe you." The king felt sorry for him and forgave the entire debt. (Matthew 18:26f)

    When it came time for that servant to forgive a fellow servant for the same thing, he did not respond with the generous, forgiving spirit as the king had expressed to him.  That servant got caught by the king for not showing mercy to his fellow servant and was imprisoned until he could pay back everything that he owed his master.

    Jesus concluded his parable with these words: "This is how my Father in heaven will treat everyone of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."  (Matthew 18:35)

    What is Jesus teaching about God's nature?  Had God forgotten Jesus' instructions to Peter to forgive 70 times 7? (Matthew 18:21-22) Since we create every notion, every feeling and every response in our lives, what was Jesus teaching?  God created for us a body that is perfectly outfitted with everything we need to diagnose and cope with issues of life. 

    Jesus was teaching people that when they cannot forgive, they need a semester of Love 101 in summer school. When we cannot forgive and let go, a warning light becomes visible on our spiritual dashboard that a short-circuit has occurred in our wiring.  God does not have to do anything to us to punish us.  We build our own emotional prisons by what is consuming us.  God does not tie our life into knots.  We do that all by ourselves.

    A friend of mine is a well-respected physician at one of the major research hospitals in Washington, D.C.  Some years ago, she destroyed two engines in her new car.  She had to go to summer school to learn the consequences that are automatic each time the owner of any car fails to check the level of oil in the engine.  She did not heed the warning that appeared on her dashboard.  She drove her car without giving any thought of how to maintain it.  She never had her oil changed.  Her owner's manual remained unopened in the glove compartment.

    God knows that we are all superhuman and that nothing can hurt or destroy the spirit that lives inside our vehicle.  (Romans 8:38)) This is why God does not need to throw us a life line each time we feel inadequate or insecure. 

    God knows everything about the sophisticated biological machine that houses us and how many of its capabilities remain unused.  The psychiatric community is well aware that many adults have not moved beyond their emotional dependency on the stabilizing forces supplied their parents, friends, a marriage partner and God.

    What is the role of God in our lives?  Are we saying that God never offers divine guidance? Not at all.  There is a difference between having mature relationships with the Creator of the universe from the relationships that are defined by people who choose to remain dependent and needy. 

    Christians need to wean themselves away from a desire that God will come running with extra energy and more refined attitudes each time they feel emotionally overwhelmed and depleted.

    Most parents have been with their children when they experience an emotional meltdown in the most inconvenient times and places.  One articulate five-year old said to her mother in my presence, "Mother, I just want you to know that I do not love you and, furthermore, I never have!"  The frustrated child had her hands on her hips and her one foot was going up and down.  She abruptly turned around and stomped upstairs to her bedroom.  Upon entering her room, she slammed the door.  As she was going upstairs her mother said, "That's okay honey, dinner will still be at 6:00."  

    God allows us to thrash around, cry out in desperation and scream bloody murder when God refuses to jump through the hoops we hold up.  A semester of summer school would teach us that our expectations of God are the cause of our unhappiness and not the lack of God's love of us. God's love for each of us is never in question.

    However, doing our inner homework for us, opening doors for us, climbing ladders for us, opening our eyes to greater truths for us is not love.  Such divine intervention would be rewarding and encouraging even more dependency. 

    The more we learn, the more our vision clears.  The more information we have, the more we understand how God wired us.  God is our partner, our co-pilot. God is not our pilot. We are in our solid forms to see what we can do with our creativity.  We live in remarkable vehicles. When we understand this, our lives will fall into a meaningful pattern that leads to a mature, spiritually rewarding destiny.



We are grateful, O God, that you are always near to us. Each time a sparrow falls, you know.  Each time someone expresses his or her pain or gratitude, you understand.  Each time someone feels alone and forsaken, you are present.  How many times do the hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires of life try to convince us otherwise?  How many times the unexpected has evoked our frustration because our plans were spoiled? How many times have our worries chased smiles from our faces? Thank you for helping us to remember that we belong to you and that living in our constantly changing world is not our final destination.  Amen.



Loving and ever-present God, in the quiet and hush of these moments, we ask that you still our spirits with feelings of peace.  How grateful we are that, regardless of who we have become, or what rules we have broken, or what unloving thoughts we have held, you accept us just as we are.  Regardless of our age, all of us are in the process of growing and maturing in spirit and we tend to judge ourselves with little confidence that we are able to see ourselves as you do. 

Our faith tells us that there will always be a silver lining to our clouds, that pain is never permanent and that vacuums created from our losses are always filled with unexpected surprises.  And yet the journey to that day often seems long and exhausting.  May the challenging realities that so many of us face help to bring a different perspective to our lives.  There are times when we are tempted to find fault, blame and complain, believing that our happiness has been eroded by others.  We are often blind to our many blessings because of the number of distractions that block our view.

Today help us to find healing for our spirits.  May those of us who are worried, anxious and feeling alone leave this service reassured that you are our life-partners forever. Rather than believing that we have such a long distance to grow before we feel whole, inspire us to take what we have, as humble as that may be, and use it to make your Kingdom more visible.  Inspire us to realize that we are whole from the day we are born. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .