“Living Without Laws”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – February 12, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 119:33-40; Matthew 5:38-48


    Last week, we eavesdropped on Jesus as he was preaching to a crowd of listeners.  In an attempt to clear up what people must have been saying about him, Jesus said, "I have not come to do away with the Law, but to make its teachings come true.  Not the smallest detail of the Law will be done way with until the end of time." (Matthew 5:17f)

    As soon as Jesus said these words, he began to change certain Laws.  He said, "You have been taught that it is right to get even with those who have hurt you.  Now I tell you, 'Do not take revenge on anyone who has wronged you.'  Jesus continued to preach this point-of-view by giving his listeners examples to illustrate further what he meant:

If someone slaps you, let him slap you again.  If someone wants your shirt, give him your coat as well.  If a Roman soldier demands that you carry his military gear for a mile, you offer to carry it for two miles.  If someone wants what you have, give it to him.  If someone wants to borrow something from you, loan it to him.  (Matthew 5:39f)

    When we are bothered by these teachings of passive responses, we question why Jesus would have taught such things. Jesus really tested our reasoning when he taught, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44) Why would we think of doing such a thing? Where is the justice in allowing people to take advantage of us? Jesus supplied the answer, "I am teaching you to respond this way so that you will remember your true identity as descendents of God."  (Matthew 5:45)

    Jesus was not asking people to remain passive recipients of what others were demanding or needing from them.  He knew that nothing can ultimately hurt any of us.  We are not our bodies.  No one can disturb the spirit within us unless we allow it.  He was urging people to remember their invincibility.  Jesus could have easily said: 

For those of you that want to recover from your amnesia of what your lives were like before you came here, you cannot allow anything in this world to affect the spirit of love by which you live. 

    Rather, identify with your divine origin which will help you to remain free from the labels that others will use to define you.

    What Jesus was teaching obviously has not had a widespread appeal even among believers.  Look at how many people are trying to impose their solutions on everyone else for correcting our world.  He taught these passive responses knowing that most people would find them completely unacceptable. (Matthew 7:13f)  

    What we experience today is a century-old we-they drama that perfectly illustrates why Jesus was teaching his followers to have a very different orientation toward life. The world needs more people to awaken to their true identity.

    Once, a famous Italian artist had 15 of his valuable paintings stolen from his studio.  His family, who stood to inherit these creations, was distraught and demanded that the police find the thief and return the paintings.  When the artist saw what the theft was doing to his family, he gathered them together and offered his observations.  He said:

All that the thieves stole were my paintings, and, if they find the right buyers, they could conceivably come into wealth that they did not earn.  Throughout their lives, however, they will never escape remembering that they are thieves.  We cannot allow these thieves to steal our spirits as well. What you are feeling right now will not change what has happened.  My joy comes from creating.  I can easily paint again every canvas that was stolen.  The thieves have not stolen anything that matters.  I still love to paint and we still have each other. 

    It might be a challenge for us to elevate our consciousness to the level of the Italian artist even though we may appreciate the value of his point-of-view.   

     Jesus would not be teaching values that contain no justice unless he possessed an awareness that his listening audience did not have. (Philippians 2:6f)  Jesus knew that all of us are sons and daughters of God.  We are spirit-beings that have entered this world having left behind our enormous power and abilities in order to experience the humility of living in forms that drastically limit who we are and what we can do.  We entered this world with nothing and we will leave with nothing but memories.

    One Saturday afternoon I was searching through the channels and found an interesting infomercial on Caribbean resorts.   The program covered the six Sandals' locations, Atlantis in the Bahamas and the remarkable resorts in the Cayman Islands.  These resorts featured attractive people whose ages ranged from 25-35.  Some of them came to these resorts with children that were equally as attractive as those that Disney Productions might select for movies. 

    The program reviewed the various activities that are available to tourists from experiencing a four-course meal prepared and served at their private pavilion by their own personal chef. There were endless scenes of people at various bars, people lounging on the beaches in what looked like canopy king-size beds in an environment where no one else was visible on these expansive beaches. 

    The producers of this tourism program wanted viewers to see themselves in this picture.  They wanted their audiences to fantasize that they could choose a resort where they would not have a single care in the world.  The feeling of being in this idyllic setting floods the viewer's spirit with the illusion that fear, anxiety and uncertainty are emotions that do not exist.

     While this description sounds like the conspicuous consumption of millionaires, for purposes of our thinking this morning, suppose this is what our experience would feel like while being in Heaven.  Heaven promises to offer us endless peace, happiness and the awareness of our invincibility. 

    Let us use our imaginations for a moment and pretend that these feelings of peace and tranquility found in a Caribbean resort are nearly identical to what Heaven offers.  Let us engage in a fantasy and pretend what someone might experience when he chooses to leave the paradise he knows and re-enters our world on this side of the curtain.

    He is currently living in this remarkable paradise when he decides to participate in an adventure like those that have always been available to everyone.  He knows the drill for experiencing these adventures. 

    When he enters our world, he emerges from his mother's birth canal in the helpless, dependent form of an infant with near total amnesia of the life that he left behind. He enters his temporary adventure in our world of time and solid forms.  The experience is like entering a movie theater on a Friday evening to see an action packed movie.

    This new reality allows him to experience sensations that he cannot experience in paradise.   He enjoys the experience of touch, of making love, of feeling water on his skin, of driving a car, eating prime rib, living in an enclosure and sleeping.

    While growing up, his parents taught him to label his emotions that come with the territory of being in his solid form.  He was taught what it meant to experience fear, disappointment, uncertainty as well as joy, compassion, generosity and forgiveness. 

    He develops a strong urge to thrive by creating value for himself and others by selecting a profession.  In doing so he finds himself living among millions of others that often appear conflicted and uncertain about their lives.  Each individual appears searching for meaning, purpose and emotional stability while possessing different levels of awareness and understanding.

    He chooses to become a medical doctor because of his need to help people whose bodies often malfunction.  One day he was with a patient in the Intensive Care Unit of a large University Hospital.  His patient had just regained consciousness after having been in a coma for five weeks. 

    As soon as she became aware of her surroundings, she asked him to disconnect her from the devices that had been keeping her alive.  She wanted to go back to where she was prior to regaining her consciousness. 

    With a smile on his face, the doctor told her that he could not honor her request. He explained that more than likely she was recovering from the results of medications that were used to keep her sedated. However, out of curiosity, he asked her to describe where she had gone during the last five weeks.  Her reply put this doctor face to face with a mystery that he could not explain. 

    She described her surroundings as a place where she experienced total freedom unlike anything she had ever known. It was an environment where there were no opposites like good and evil, hot and cold, male and female, happiness and sadness.  

    Her freedom, confidence and peace came from an energy that was being used by everyone around her to create anything that they wished and to travel anywhere they wanted to go.  However, she could not do these things because she remained connected to her body that was still functioning.  

    What she was describing suddenly became very personal.  She told her doctor that she had met his parents.  They had asked her to say "hi" to him when she awakened. His parents knew that she would be alone with him in her ICU cubicle.  They said,

Ask our son if he remembers the time that he rescued our cat when it seemingly could not come down from the gigantic tree in our front yard or the time when he had his driver's license for only two weeks, and, while backing up our car, he smashed into the garage door.   Ask him if he recalls the time when his Mom had become so distracted that she only remembered his favorite pies in the oven when the house began to fill with smoke.

    Suddenly, the doctor found tears streaming down his face because no one could have possibly known about those incidents but his parents. She told him that everyone has the ability to transform themselves into forms that friends and family members would recognize as they cross over.  The doctor would have no trouble recognizing his parents.  She explained that this ability eases the transition for spirit-beings that are returning from the experience of their dramatic adventure.

    How would we respond to such a mysterious encounter with this patient?  How could a total stranger know these things about our parents?  This experience could be like finding a message in a bottle that tells us about a massive treasure that is awaiting our discovery when we leave this life.

    Jesus' teaching that afternoon was totally supported by this knowledge that only he understood. He was teaching his listeners such passive responses because he knew that they were currently as invincible that day as they would be after they graduate from their adventure.  Jesus knew this and displayed what he knew with nails driven into his wrists and feet while hanging on a cross.

      Jesus was a messenger that brought to the earth an understanding of our next reality.  He demonstrated the healing and loving attitudes that each of us can display during our brief time in these limited, physical forms in the world of  time.  We have nothing to lose by believing the truth about the reality to which all of us will return.  (Matthew 10:28).  Remember, Jesus said to the thief who hung next to him on a cross, "I promise you that today you will be with me in paradise."  (Luke 23:43)

     If we choose to follow Jesus' teaching, we will remain artists where laws and boundaries are irrelevant.  If we still have doubts about the fantasy we have just listened to, Jesus would quickly tell us, "I have staked my life on the fact that none of you will be disappointed when you leave your bodies." 

    If only each of us could move beyond how our earthly experiences have formed us with its values, laws and customs, we could carry ourselves with the same awareness that Jesus possessed.   If we wake up, we can bring what is waiting for us in the next world into our every day experiences today.  We might be pleasantly surprised if we try it.  It starts by remembering who we are.


Loving God, we thank you for giving meaning and purpose to our lives.  Fill our cups with the water that causes us never to thirst again.  We tend to seek fulfillment in many tangible symbols of our world, as though having what we want is the pearl of great price.  There are times when our identities are clearly anchored in this world rather than in our trust in you. Encourage us to remember that our faithfulness in trusting you is what saves us from having sleepless nights. Encourage us to become signposts so that others will understand what trusting you feels like.  Amen.



Thank you, God, for being the inspirational source in our lives.  We want to make thoughtful decisions.  We want to wear smiles and carry ourselves with joy-filled attitudes.  We want our spirits to communicate that this world is not the only one that we know.  However, as you know all too well, it is so easy for us to turn off our glow because of hurt feelings, frustrations in our relationships and health issues that produce anxious moments.

We seek healing for the areas of our lives that evoke worries and rob us of our peace.  Guide us to use our Sabbaths as days for rest. Guide us to take better care of ourselves.  Guide us to saturate our minds with the words of thoughtful authors and to spend more moments in prayer and reflection.  Inspire us to reserve more quality time to be with our families.  Guide us to understand that our spirits need nourishment if we are to bear fruit. 

Today we pray for people who find themselves caught in financial challenges because of our struggling economy.  We pray for the leaders of our country who daily find themselves bombarded with issues that have no quick-fix solutions.  With so many nations in rebellion against their leadership, how often we are reminded of our need to turn our spears into plows, and our killing fields into gardens.  In all of our pursuits, guide our memories to recall the words of our Master, "Love one another."  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .