Knowing Does Not Need Validation”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – April 23, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 16:1-11; John 20:19-31


    Our lesson this morning features testimonies from Jesus' disciples that life continues following our deaths.  This appearance of Jesus covers how and why the cowering disciples became highly energized.  John's account also covered Thomas' doubts that Jesus appeared to the others when he had been absent from the group. When Jesus appeared a second time, he invited Thomas to touch his wounds.

    What did seeing Jesus alive do to these witnesses?  What does reading these accounts in the Gospels do to us?  It is very difficult to describe how people respond after experiencing a spiritual encounter of any kind.

    When our family went to Montreal, Canada to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, we entered the Notre Dame Basilica in Old Montreal.  While being among hundreds of other visitors, I was transported into another world.

    The sheer beauty of the cathedral and its Gothic style was a testimony to the sensitivities of its creators.  The stained glass along the walls was not scenes from the Bible; it was scenes from the historic evolution of Christianity in Montreal. The fact that the cathedral is a replica of the Notre-Dame Basilica in Paris is what makes this house of worship so unique.

    The change that swept over me was in knowing that I had left the secular world outside and had entered a place filled with icons, statues, and an array of magnificent dancing colors that blended into a tapestry of deep meaning.  The creators tried to make visible what is impossible to make visible.  No one has been able to create a solid form that symbolizes what happens during a spiritual experience.  However, seeing a statue of a saint can become a vehicle that transports the viewer into another mystical dimension.

    While walking along the former railroad bed here in Bermuda last week, I sat on one of the park benches that have been installed along the trail and just spaced out. Lois and Sue walked further on the trail. I saw the ravages of many hurricanes. All along the trunk of a fallen tree were children growing from a parent that had succumbed to the powerful winds.

    What the resurrection experiences did for the disciples was to invite them to open up their minds, feelings and spirit to possibilities that had never occupied the consciousness of anyone.  It transported them from their present encounter with visual information to beyond the boundaries of time and space.  

    These disciples were ordinary people that could not read or write.   History has shown us that such academic skills were not necessary for their awakened spirits to continue spreading Jesus' message with energy and enthusiasm, thus preserving their experience of it for future generations.  John's Gospel recorded an intriguing question that Jesus asked his disciples:

Do you believe because you have seen me?  How happy and blessed are those who have chosen to make my vision and message a part of their lives without seeing me. (John 20:29)

    What is so fascinating about who we are is when we awaken spiritually, we realize that nothing new has been added to us.  Our Spirits were an essential part of us at our birth, but awakening that spirit is often activated by one moment in time when we sensed the presence of a deceased loved one.

    A thief on the cross knew enough about Jesus to recognize that he was hanging next to a man who was paying the same price as he but was not guilty of anything.  He asked Jesus to remember him after they both died. Jesus said to him, "Do not worry my friend, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)

    There was another spiritual awakening that occurred while Jesus hung on the cross.  A Roman centurion, who was part of a human war machine, was present during the crucifixion witnessing everything that Jesus said.  Something about Jesus' attitude while being in excruciating pain awakened that soldier's spirit.  He said for all history to hear, "Truly, this man is the Son of God."

    When we have an experience that changes the direction of our lives, that moment does not need anything else to make it more vivid for us.  No one needs to validate for us that we got it!  We know that we got it because of a renewed desire to begin making changes to our lifestyle, attitudes and understanding. 

    When we look at the turmoil that people everywhere are experiencing in their lives, they are providing visual evidence that all their cues for living are coming from the world where everything is constantly changing.  Nothing holds still. Many people have no grounding or root system.  They are like a leaf blowing in the wind.

    People can criticize The Institutional Church all they want to, but it is among the more traditional venues that brings people to a door that only they can open.  

    Spiritual malnutrition is seldom recognized by authorities in the mental health field. They confuse their clients with labels, syndromes, and prescription medications.  Those who are hungry and open that door to matters of spirit will find the answers the moment they want more out of their lives than what they are experiencing.

    When our family entered the Notre Dame Basilica in Old Montreal, the differences in the spiritual awareness of people were striking.  A woman was standing on a pew cushion in her street shoes to take a movie over the heads of others with her cell phone.  Ten feet from her was another person humbly kneeling in prayer. Everyone sooner or later reveals the level of their spiritual awareness.

    One afternoon, one of my church members was talking with a business colleague as they walked through the Sequoia National Forest in California.  Remembering that these massive redwood trees were over 2,000 year old, my friend remarked, "Can you imagine that these trees were seedlings when Jesus was born?"  His friend responded, "I have been thinking about how many redwood decks we could build with just one of these monstrous trees."

    There was another occasion when Lois and I were taking a hike through one of the marvelous wildernesses in Arizona.  Near the trail head, there is a convention center and golf course complex.  As we were hiking, a woman and four men were marching at such a pace that they overtook the two of us.  As they passed us, we heard the voice of the woman.  Her comments sounded like this:

I can't stand being dragged out here from New York to some desert convention center to talk about all these issues that never gets resolved.  You and Charlie have to say something.  No one is going to listen to me. Even in the breakout groups, no one is happy about this merger.  Why is everyone afraid to say what needs to be said?  If we merge, we can kiss our highly energized, productive and efficient culture good-by. Where in the H... is our leadership taking us?

    It may be troubling for us to realize that so many people living around us are on a constant rollercoaster as they strive for a goal that they feel compelled to reach.  They have no apparent need to enter a cathedral, no desire to stroll through a Japanese garden or no attraction to having a mystical thought about what will happen to them as they face their own death.  Wanting such experiences are not on everyone's to do list.

    Today there are so many people taking Opioids that the pharmaceutical industry has had to develop new medications to counteract the side effects of these habit-forming pain-killers.  These new creations are called OICs, a reference to medications that treat Opioid Induced Constipation.

    Our bodies are a printout of what is going on inside of us.  Our physical bodies were not wired to sustain the results from many of our choices.   Jesus provided a fairly painless blue print to follow. Think of the craziness that people invite into their lives by their own choices.  God does not need to judge any of us because we are doing such a thorough job of it all by ourselves. It's called consequences.

    Nourishing our spirits is the only treatment for the type of pain many people are masking with medications.  The number of people who die each day from spiritual malnutrition is staggering.  The only sure cure is to teach people how to reverse their energy flow.  Their preoccupation with self-absorption must give way to the attitudes that come by serving and helping others with compassion. 

    Prince Harry has recently gone public about his self-destructive behavior following the death of his mother, Princess Diana, when he was twelve years old.  It has recently surfaced that the musician, Prince, had pain medications all over his mansion.  Michael Jackson died from an overdose of Propofol, a general anesthetic that is often used during surgery. Whitney Houston, who sang One Moment in Time, fell victim to masking her spiritual malnutrition with pills and alcohol.   These people had wealth, power and prestige.   

     How many people's lives are filled with misery because their spiritual malnutrition continues to go undiagnosed?  People today are so insistent on what they believe they need from their personal physicians that it is almost impossible for them to tell their clients the truth.  

    The problem many doctors face is their knowledge that there is no medication that will treat fear-based feelings. Many medications are miracle-workers, but there is no pharmaceutical path that will help someone achieve a meaningful and purpose-filled life.

    We are spirit-beings just like Jesus.  His resurrection experiences demonstrated to his followers who they will become when they leave their bodies.  Jesus' resurrection was the natural progression of what happens to all of us.  The intriguing mystery is how Jesus was able to become visible to his followers.

    A number of people during my ministry have experienced conversations with deceased loved ones that became every bit as visible as Jesus was to his disciples. A daughter had a significant conversation with her mother who awakened her while sitting at the end of her bed.  One night a husband experienced the appearance of his deceased wife, and she made him promise that he would find another woman to marry. In both cases, communication from the deceased was telepathic. 

    Once we have knowledge about this end-of-life process, we need no further proof, evidence or outside validation.  Why is that?  The answer is simple for those who know.  It works.  The knowledge of our infinite nature as a spirit-being gives us perspective. It comforts us in our losses. It expands our awareness. It helps us to rethink our boundaries. This is another aspect of the mystery of who we are. 

    Every one of us has our own identity that is specific to our self-knowledge that has basically come from our environment.  God, however, knows our true identity, an identity that cannot be defined or defiled by the judgments we make.

    We are living in a world filled with people who are not aware of the vast power they have within them to live each day with contagious energy.  If we have this understanding, we need to share it as Jesus did. The disciples did that and here we are capable of doing the same.  We do not have to die before we begin to live in eternity now.  We have come with a design that enables us to give and never count the cost.



Loving God, we come this morning hoping to discover creative ways of changing the way we understand our life-experiences. Jesus patiently taught his listeners the art of letting go of their judgments, yet we find blaming others a far more satisfying response.  There are moments when we give greater care to our outer appearance than we do to the quality of our thoughts. Help us to communicate with more compassion, understanding and patience by making such qualities visible in our lives.  Lead us to the daily awareness that our world is not perfect. It was designed that way.  We can live in peace when we no longer insist that others live on our level of understanding.  Thank you for your gift of spirit.  Inspire more of us to find and develop that spirit so that we can stop being our own worst enemies.  Amen.



Merciful God, we are hungry to discover more creative ways to tap into the unseen world that governs the quality of our lives.  As we enter our worship experience, we open ourselves to ways of moving away from the pace our comfortable routines have set for us.  Often being in church kindles our imaginations to tune into a new horizon toward which to walk, to find a refreshing attitude we want to develop, or to discover more creative ways to respond to old irritations. We can easily leave our sanctuary with a renewed understanding of who it is that we want to become.

Yet when we re-enter the world, frequently we encounter the attitudes and the insensitivities of others.  Our minds can easily respond with old habits rather than with the new responses that we want to use.  May our repeated failures only strengthen our patience by realizing that new skills do not come easily. We will never have the skills of a seasoned sea captain until we have been tested by every conceivable weather pattern. 

Help us, O God, to learn that love is a contact sport, not just a concept or an attitude.  When your light shines through us, there can be no darkness.  When your mercy shines through us, thoughts of bitterness no longer occur.  When your compassion shines through us, we realize that some of us desire to live in community while others still have that discovery to make in their futures.  Help us to live so that our lives become a signpost that makes visible the path to compassionate living. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .