“It Is Tough to Walk the Talk

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – August 20, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 133; Matthew 15:10-20

    Most of us are aware that there is a disconnect between the beliefs that people have and their actual attitudes and behavior. This disconnect has existed since the beginning of recorded history.  We can do the talk with a great sense of commitment but often a different reality shows up when we try to do the walk.

    One of my earliest impressions of seminary life came during my first week of classes.  I was struck by the salty language being used by some of the seminarians at my lunch table. It reminded me of the days when I was living in my college fraternity house. 

    What made this experience so humorous to me was that I was completely caught off guard.  I had a belief that seminarians were studying to be spiritual leaders.  As someone once said, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."

    There are many mixed signals that come from people as well as institutions that draw attention to a disconnect between our beliefs and what often surfaces even to casual observers.

    This week I received the electronic newsletter from our Conference Center. Here are words from one of the announcements:   "The Northeastern Jurisdiction Black Methodists for Church Renewal will be held October 5 and 6 at First United Methodist Church in Mt. Vernon, New York."

    A mischievous thought entered my mind of what would happen if I decided to attend that meeting.  I might raise some eyebrows from people that were silently thinking, "Sir, sir, excuse me sir, did you read the sign on the door?"

     Next, I pondered what the United Methodist hierarchy might think if the announcement continued with these words, "White Methodists for Church Renewal will meet in Room 109, The Latino Caucus for Christian Unity will meet in Room 110 and the Asian pastors for Congregational Diversity will meet across the hall in room 113."   

    As many of you know, I have an allergy to labels and to titles that people attach to their identities.  As these thoughts were darting through my mind, they were joined by the words of a song that was composed by Jason Upton:

We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord. We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord. And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.  And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love and they'll know we are Christians by our love.

    The divisive cross-currents among ethnic groups may remain with us until enough time passes when a number of life and death cycles have occurred among the entire population of the world.  Perhaps the young people of a newer generation will lead the way for the future inhabitants of spaceship earth.

    The belief that we are one often stands in sharp contrast to the attitudes that many men and women practice.  This is where people are at this stage of our evolution.  In most respects, we have to be at peace with this reality just as we find it. We only have control over how we respond to life.  Remaining unhappy about the conditions of our world will only affect the attitudes we are developing.  

    In our lesson today, some Pharisees took issue with Jesus and his disciples for not washing their hands before they ate their meal.  By Law, this act made Jesus and the disciples unclean.  This was not just a descriptive adjective; unclean people were banned from services coming from the synagogue for a period of time.

    Jesus' response was classic. He said, "It is not what goes into people's mouths that makes them unclean.  What makes them unclean is what comes out of their mouths." (Matthew 15:11)   Jesus made his words even clearer, "The words that come out of people's mouths reveal what is in their hearts, minds and spirits.  Their words tell the world who they are."  (Matthew 15:18)

    Jesus' teaching is timeless for any generation, particularly in our time when free speech is under attack all over the world.  It is amazing that, in the 21st century, what comes out of people's mouths creates anarchy in countless countries.   

    Something has happened in recent years where there is no middle ground to discuss anything that has an emotional flashpoint for some people.  Attitudes have surfaced that are eating away at the fabric that once allowed disagreeing parties to work together to find solutions. 

    What is interesting is that intelligent people have allowed this behavior to become what commentators are now calling, the new normal. The floods ravaging Nepal and Sierra Leon last week resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people were given a passing glance by many network news reports.  News outlets were more preoccupied with what was happening in the Trump administration.  The anti-Trump rhetoric continues to be incredibly negative in many parts in the United States.

    When some disciples told Jesus that his words had upset the Pharisees, he said "Do not worry about them!  They are blind leaders who are trying to lead the blind.  When a blind leader leads another, both of them will fall into the ditch."  (Matthew 15:14)

    Many times, we have heard that God has no need to judge any of us because we do a thorough job of doing that all by ourselves.  Jesus was using different words but he was teaching this same insight.  We simply cannot escape defining ourselves by what comes out of our mouths.  

    This is why Jesus taught that each of us is the only individual in the universe who can change our attitudes and responses.  Jesus knew what to teach his listeners, but their responses to life-experiences clearly had to come from their choices. The Apostle Paul wrote the same thing, "You must allow the impact of God's love to inspire you to change completely how you think, feel and behave." (Romans 12:2)

    Jesus was teaching that his listeners should not worry about anyone who judges their motives, attitudes and behavior.  Unkind words said to or about anyone is only revealing what is going on inside of the one talking.

    Some of the worst condemnations I have received as a pastor have come from those who referred to themselves as Born Again Christians.  Jesus would have said to me, "Dick, take their words with a grain of salt. They should first remove the logs from their own eyes before they try to correct your vision." (Matthew 7:5) 

    The invisible rudder that will help people navigate through life is the parent of forgiveness.  Being able to forgive is a very useful tool for successful living, but there is a skill even greater than forgiveness.  How would you react if I told you that there is no such thing as forgiveness in Heaven?  With all that we have been taught, how could this possibly be true?   Think about it.  Forgiveness would be a very primitive response.  To forgive, a person has to be hurt or offended. What could possibly offend anyone living in an environment where offensive behavior does not exist?

    All of us have the ability to remain undisturbed when people around us are doing exactly as they wish and are expressing their values through any attitude they choose.  In other words, we do not need to be offended by anything others do or say.  We do not need to allow others to pull us into their world.

    Not being offended is a much greater skill than our need to forgive some act or words that we have personalized.  How do we know this?  God has the same quality. (Matthew 5:45)

    Jesus had reached this level of spiritual maturity when a wreath of thorns was jammed on his head, when he experienced a savage lashing at the hands of a Roman soldier who knew how to inflict the maximum amount of pain, and when nails were driven into his wrists and feet.  Jesus could still use his words to reveal what was happening in his mind, emotions and spirit. "You can destroy my body if you wish, but you can never affect my ability to love you including the way you are behaving right now."  (Luke 23:34)

    In another context, this would sound like nonsense.  This sounds like a description of the cowardice displayed by people who are choosing to sit on the sidelines instead of rolling up their sleeves and getting involved by confronting those who are oppressing others. When others can evoke our displeasure and anger, their behavior and attitudes have already penetrated our emotions and thoughts. 

    When Jesus said, "The things that come out of your mouth come from your heart, mind and spirit.  Your words tell the world who lives inside of your body.  This teaching also applies when we give our opinions that reflect our compassion, kindness and sympathy. (Matthew 7:15-20) 

    When we greet our life-experiences by using loving energy as our only tool, we do not have to choose sides.  We are living in Heaven right now, an environment where we never have to choose sides. The passionate human emotions caused by issues happening in our world become neutralized by extending loving energy to all people.   We show up in every human civil war and offer first aid to those that are being badly damaged by what others are saying and doing.  

    All of us have the ability to become a neutral angel as we discussed weeks ago in another sermon.  When we use loving energy as our only resource, we stand like a sentinel in the midst of the teeming masses yearning to breathe free as we light the path that leads to eternity. (Matthew 7:14) This is what Jesus was communicating loud and clear to every generation from the cross where he was dying.

    Loving energy will keep our paths clear of the clutter caused from issues that only exist in our physical world.  When we remain open to expressing the power of the loving energy that created the universe, our human passions for being right or wrong will be neutralized.  When we find this path and stay on it, we will be able to walk the talk with ease, compassion, joy and peace.



Loving and ever-present God, all of us need to stand before the mirror Jesus holds in front of us to review the quality of our lives. We thank you that his revelations stand in our midst like a sentinel that guides our thinking, emotions and spirit. We thank you that his truth does not change because of what others believe. When we set aside our loving responses because we feel hurt or betrayed, our light is not as bright.  Unhappiness, pain and disappointment in our world are voices that are calling us back to becoming the angels that you created us to be.  Inspire us to remember that we are always a work in progress.   Amen



Thank you, God, for the fragile moments in life that repeatedly teach us that we may never know why our lives take all the twists and turns that they do. All we know is that our trust in you guides us to step out in faith toward our next adventure. Thank you for the challenges that make us stretch beyond our known capabilities.  Thank you for the times when all our symbols of security dissolve around us, and, once again, our thoughts must find peace with you as the unexpected unfolds.   

Why is it, O God, that so often we quickly respond with frustration when your will may be fashioning a destiny other than the one we are seeking?  Why is it that we find detours so unattractive?  Why is it that so often we conclude that a particular experience is a waste of our time?   

As we reflect on our lives, who could have known ahead of time the tasks that came our way, the friends with whom we have relationships, and the experiences that have taught us that we have more blessings than defeats?  As we anticipate our tomorrows, help each of us to stand forth with faith and trust, knowing that our future will be as fascinating as our past.  Inspire us to greet each new day with unwavering confidence by accepting every moment as our opportunity to mirror your likeness.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . . .