Love Wears Many Disguises

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – December 10, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8

    This morning we are going to talk about the message of loving energy that Jesus delivered to the world. As tiresome as some church-based thinking sounds, all forms of loving energy along with all their numerous disguises will never go out of style for humanity. 

    When we ask ourselves what inspires all the research and development that is taking place in the world right now, we would never suspect that loving energy is the source of all of it.

    A number of people today are busy trying to create new ways of thinking, new ways of living, new and more refined ways of communicating, of storing information, of improving the safety of our cars, of securing our assets from those who have chosen to confine themselves to the boundaries of this world. 

    Regardless of our theological background and religious beliefs or the lack of such ideas, there is a source of creative genius at work for those who have tuned into their imaginations.  People want to unravel the mysteries of life that are surfacing everywhere.  Rather than aligning with any particular ideology, people from all walks of life are asking, "How can all of us benefit from growing beyond our perceived human limitations?" 

    Without thinking much about it, our life-expectancy today has been enhanced by twenty years from what it was sixty years ago. We have developed immunizations for a number of diseases like polio, whooping cough, mumps and measles.  Through robotic-assistance, we are creating ways that will allow people with highly impaired conditions to become mobile again. We are living so close to these advances that we scarcely notice their presence.

    Even in the area of Biblical translations, change is constant.  Many scholars are translating more than words.  They have begun to translate what they believe the words are saying. Eugene Peterson, through his creation of The Message, has created a version of the Bible that has brought remarkable clarity to the scriptures for many people.  

    In our lesson today, Isaiah is saying:

God said, "Someone is shouting in the desert, 'Get the road ready for the Lord; make a straight path for him to travel. Fill in every valley; level every mountain. The hills will become a plain, and the rough country will be made smooth.  Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will experience it together.'"  (Isaiah 40:3-5)

    Mark used portions of this Isaiah passage to suggest that the prophet was predicting the arrival of John the Baptist eight-hundred years in the future. Like with many scriptural references, this understanding was Mark's interpretation of what was written by an earlier well-known prophet.  Did Isaiah really foresee John's arrival or was he referencing something far more universal for all humanity than the arrival of another Hebrew prophet?

    To modern ways of thinking, the Isaiah passage could be translated to mean that before more of God's created order can be understood, more layers of the onion need to be peeled.

    Isaiah was not talking about literally rearranging the real estate by filling in valleys or shaving off mountains to make them smooth.  He was describing metaphorically that before the gigantic puzzle of creation can be better understood by we mortal beings, more of its pieces need to be in place.  We are adding those pieces every year.

    Scriptures can be applicable in every generation just as Mark was doing over two thousand years ago.  Wisdom and understanding come to every generation because certain values are timeless, and their recognition cannot be limited by social pressures or other religions.  

    We are alive during one of the most remarkable periods of human development ever known in history.  Change has accelerated so rapidly that students have only a hint of what to focus on in their studies.

    The fields that appear to be the most promising for our future are those that are so new that only a few people are certain that they will actually open doors to the exciting promised land of the future.  How far will artificial intelligence reach into our lives?  What is in store for us in the areas of robotics, nano-technology and androids?  Who knows how many new products will result from a process called 3-D Printing? 

    When most of us were younger, we relied on encyclopedias, dictionaries, and scores of reference books.  Today, we have little gizmos that sit on our desks that have access to a vast accumulation of information that once filled books.A person just needs to speak to these personal assistants and they instantly supply what is needed. Who could have fathomed such devices even a decade ago?  

    Christians can easily get stuck on their need to interpret correctly Jesus' teaching that the Kingdom of God is within us.  Jesus was using metaphors that matched the skill levels of his listeners.  Such conditions are what caused Jesus to say that the Kingdom of God is like a treasure buried in the field, like yeast in a batch of dough, or like a grain of mustard seed.

    Often, we do not associate Jesus' metaphors as those that describe what people have springing from their imaginations.  Jesus could only tell his listeners that, "One day you will be able to create much greater things than what you have seen me accomplish."  (John 14:12f) Today, we are experiencing the results of his words.

    Jesus knew that once the genie was liberated from the bottle of humanity's creative imagination, no one would ever put it back into the confines that kept it obscured for thousands of years.  Without recognizing its origin, people everywhere are discovering what Jesus was teaching.  The treasure they are finding is providing millions of people with untold levels of convenience, wealth, prosperity and happiness. 

    As more people enthusiastically embrace their inner worlds, the faster our species will accelerate the growth of change that is taking place.  While this number is not exact, we are adding approximately 4,000 new words every year to the English language.  Do we really understand what our experiences are telling us?

    The temptation is to remain blind to the evolutionary process taking place because we want Jesus' words to apply only to images of how our exclusive faith helps us to manage the spirit by which we live.  We quickly forget that the love Jesus lived and described wears many disguises.

    The onion of the created order is being peeled as the mysteries of life slowly surrender their secrets.  Within the next few years, re-engineered genes will be attached to cancerous pancreases and bring many patients into remission. 

    For the first time, in 2017, scientists have isolated a compound called NAD that repairs DNA. The decline of NAD is what causes our bodies to age. The claim is being made that within five years, we will be able to slow dramatically the aging process by adding NAD to our diets. 

    A pharmaceutical company has found a medication for the treatment of depression that may be the magic bullet for which the medical community has been searching. In clinical trials, patients have remarkable results within days of taking their first dose.  Eighty percent of them go into complete remission.  The miracle is that side-effects are extremely rare.

    Our creator designed us with imaginations that never rest.  Our minds are always inquiring, always stretching and always eager to find the next big thing.  We were designed to make the world more civilized, more humane, healthier, more kind and compassionate.  In spite of the headlines to the contrary, this is happening more easily among people than between world leaders and our governments.

    However, this morning we are celebrating a highly specific form of loving energy.  Without understanding it and holding on to the grounding it provides, many forms of loving energy initially spring forth from people very innocently.  However, once instant wealth and accolades begin to enter people's lives, they often experience unintended consequences more associated with blind ambition.

    Jesus gave future generations an insight that we can easily sweep under the carpet as being unimportant and unpopular.  Jesus gave a specific form to a loving attitude of being, i.e., how we present ourselves everyday to other people.

    Jesus called them together and said:

Rulers and leaders have complete power and control over vast populations. However, if one of you wants to make a difference in this world, you must remain a servant to everyone else.  If one of you wants to be first, you must be content to be last in the social pecking order. Even the Son of Man did not come to be served. He came to serve and to give his life so that others might discover the truth about living a life that will glow in the dark here as well as in heaven. (Mark 10:42f)

    We can easily forget that in spite of how aggressively we pursue and produce remarkable results in our world from our knowledge and understanding, not one result of our accomplishments on earth will exist in the world of spirit.  When we eventually discard our bodies, what we will take with us is the quality of spirit that we used during the process of creating what we have left behind. 

    Throughout history what has appeared as a servant who has deliberately chosen to leave no footprints of recognition in the sands of time is none other than the Creator of the universe.  Only the eyes of other servants will see and understand the disguised trail that allows them to discover their role in the material world. 

    These are our saviors that point to what it is like to make visible our spiritual identity during each moment of our present lives. A lot has resulted from Jesus' three years of ministry that took place in one of the most obscure parts of the world. This is why we have lighted the second Advent candle representing love this morning.



Thank you, God, for these moments of reflection. Amidst all the rich pageantry of our traditions, gatherings and remembrances of a stable in Bethlehem, we realize that the gift of your son is above everything else.  Yet how isolated he appeared among all of our expectations. For centuries humankind hungered for your presence and guidance.  When Jesus began his ministry, all that he talked about was love. He said that the greatest lives will be those who serve the needs of everyone else. It took time for most of us to realize that he was modeling your likeness. Thank you for giving us an insight into a true savior.  Amen.



Loving God, how quickly our week has gone by and we find ourselves having lighted a second Advent candle, reminding us that we are closer to Jesus' birth.  The words of the Prophet Isaiah remind us that we have to prepare our minds, hearts and spirits to what love enables us to become.  Sometimes we are more attentive to the movement of sale prices in our department stores than to the coming of love into our world in a form that we can understand. 

During the days that lie ahead, inspire us to desire less of what this world offers and more of what would teach us understanding.  Inspire us to be less judgmental of how people behave and more into encouraging them with our friendship. May we dwell less on the headlines of our troubled world and spend more quality time on brightening the corner of the world where we live.  Inspire us to remember that worry is expending energy on what we cannot control or change.  Inner peace comes by trusting that your will is unfolding according to your design.  

As our Advent season continues, enable us to be less absorbed with our wants and needs so that we can truly represent the disciples your Son invited us to become.  Thank you, God, for offering us a fresh opportunity to change our futures every day that we live.  We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . .