“Our Grey Areas”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – January 15, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Isaiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42

    Have you ever noticed how much we can learn about each other simply by watching the behavior and attitudes of our family members, friends and neighbors? This morning we are going to consider several insights about the sinful lives that many of us engage in from time to time.

    When our daughter boarded her airline in Atlanta last October to come to Maryland for our family reunion, she noticed a good number of people in wheelchairs.  As we know, they are among the first to board the plane.  The airline communicated the need to their counterpart in Baltimore. When Sue's airplane landed, nine wheelchairs were lined up for the passengers who had used them to board in Atlanta.  Sue heard the head flight attendant say to one of the porters, "Please remove all the wheelchairs but one.  Once again, we have had eight people who were miraculously healed during our flight."

    Lois and I have known people who put a handicapped hanger over their rearview mirrors so they can receive priority parking near the businesses they intend to visit.  A good number of doctors must be an easy touch when it comes to prescribing these hangers for clients who obviously do not need them.  

    The other day, an SUV driver allowed me to pull out from the church parking area as a gesture of courtesy.  I turned right to go up Collector's Hill as the light was turning red.  The three cars behind me drove through the red light on South Road without giving it much thought.

    What is going on in so many of our lives? The word sin is far too dark and sinister as a description of this kind of activity. This morning we will use the term our grey areas to describe the times when we fail to live consistently by the rules of our society.  

    There is always a temptation for me to walk around the sanctuary with the microphone and invite you to participate in the finger-pointing. I am sure we could fill our time together this morning by telling stories about what we have experienced.  Actually, it is quite humorous to see what we do to cut corners or to save a few steps as we attempt to get ahead of everyone else. 

    If any of you would like to witness people acting like puppy dogs that have not been fed for several days, get out of bed at 3:00 a.m. and get in line at some department store that plans to open its doors at 5:00 a.m. on Black Friday.  It is like a feeding frenzy.

    In our current social-climate, humanity has reached a stage in its evolution where freewill is really free will. We have the Ten Commandments, but as the news journalist, Ted Koppel, said years ago, they have become the Ten Suggestions for many people.  We live in a day where people are far more casual with their living patterns. 

    People tend to focus on what meets their needs.  The majority of people in most western nations have transportation, lodging, plenty to eat, a wardrobe, and they have the financial resources to do just about anything that they want to do.

    Once there was a social stigma connected with certain behaviors and attitudes.  They do not exist today in many areas. Personal accountability is almost totally under our personal control.  Today, social attitudes are more like ones that communicate, "I don't care what you do with your life so long as it does not inconvenience what I am doing."   When people act irresponsibly, most of us observe their behavior and shake our heads in disbelief.  We are able to emotionally disconnect from such people almost immediately.

    How many of us can remember skipping flat stones across the surface of a pond when we were youngsters?  Some people live this way.   People can easily become engaged in surface living until they have some mystical encounter that awakens them to deeper levels of understanding. There are people that live ninety-nine full years packed with remarkable experiences and adventures.  There are others who live one year ninety-nine times.

     In our lesson, John the Baptist witnessed something that may be instructive to us. He said,

I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and stay on Jesus.  I still do not know if he is the one who has been promised by God, but God, who sent me to baptize with water, said to me, 'You will see the Spirit come down and stay on the man you baptized.  He is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit." (John 1:32f)

    What surfaced in our minds when Darlene read what John the Baptist told his listeners about Jesus? He said, "There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?  What was John suggesting about Jesus' capabilities?  When theologians get involved, the answer they often provide makes the issue of what John witnessed and heard very complicated. 

    Quite simply John saw a dramatic change in Jesus after his baptism and that is the way he chose to characterize what he saw. We do not know what John meant when he said "like a dove that came down from Heaven."

    One of the discoveries that we learn during our study of the Bible is the number of high profile personalities that had been drifting along in their lives until a mystical experience caused them to wake up.  Once awake, they became highly energized and their lives changed directions.  All of us have this same spirit that can lie dormant within us until it is awakened.

     Look at what happened to Abraham.  (Genesis 12:22)  Look at what happened to Moses (Exodus 2:11-3:22), to prophets like Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1f), to Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:3) and to the Apostle Peter (Acts 10:11). Think of it.  These single individuals helped to shape the way people would live in the future.

    Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  His I Have a Dream speech was electrifying when he delivered it in front of 200,000 people that had gathered in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963.   Dr. King was a man sleep-walking like so many of us.  He had a brilliant mind.  He received his PhD from Boston University and he became a co-pastor with his dad at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.  He was quite content to live his life in the same pattern as other pastors had done before him.

    What shattered his sleep-walking was a threatening phone call when he was 27 years old on January 27, 1956.  Something quite visceral stirred within the spirit of Dr. King and it awakened an energy within him that completely changed the direction and purpose of his life.  He eventually became the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

    Dr. King led the greatest realignment of race relations that has happened during our lifetime.  What he did has rippled around the world.  King became one of those people that took away the sin of the world.  For sure there are still a lot of stragglers but the die has been cast. Several more generations of people have to die before the vision that many young people have today is held by most people.  

    How did Dr. King accomplish this?  He did it the same way that Jesus did. He used his own life to point to a different social reality from the one that people were living. It was an idea whose time had come. The greatest testimony to his success was the election eight years ago of Barack Obama as the President of the United States.  Absolutely no one saw that coming. However, it happened, not once but twice.

    The other day, Lois and I were in the Shelly Bay Market Place.  During a conversation with one of the women who bags groceries for customers, she said, "I never worry about anything that is happening in Bermuda.  Jesus is coming soon and everything will be fine."  I smiled and said, "It sure will."

    Every time I hear someone looking forward to the Second Coming of Jesus, I think of the Jews who spent a lot of energy hoping for centuries that a Messiah would come to liberate them.  I think to myself, "If Jesus has to come a second time, it could mean that he failed the first time to complete his mission. Or, if his coming again signals the end of the world, it could mean that God failed when God created men and women to be a little lower than the angels."  

    Since neither of these ideas works for many of us, could the second coming be symbolic of something completely different?  Rather than having Jesus or God micromanage the evolution of humanity by breaking into history in some dramatic way, suppose the second coming is our task. Most people are aware of the life of Jesus.  Perhaps it is time that more people meet the way of Jesus again by seeing his loving attitudes modeled by what we do.  

    The Apostle Paul discovered this truth when he said, "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me." (Galatians 2:20)  He understood what God can do when God works through people.  Why do some Christians keep looking and hoping for Jesus to return a second time? 

    Saul of Tarsus had the highest academic, economic and religious pedigree of anyone in the ancient world.  His identity completely changed after his awakening. (Philippians 3:8f) We would not be here this morning had the Apostle Paul not taken Jesus' message to the Greek and Roman worlds. During his three missionary journeys, Paul acquainted others to a second coming because that is exactly what he experienced while on the road to Damascus.  (Acts 9:5)   

    This energy that was awakened in Paul is in all of us.  God knows who we are.  We are the ones with spiritual amnesia. Our sin, our missing the mark, our being self-absorbed represents our sleep-walking.  However, we do these things in such a way that we assume they are normal living patterns.  

    Once we have awakened, our grey areas vanish.  We carry ourselves patiently and peacefully, with no need to get ahead of anyone else. (Matthew 20:16) We are no longer motivated to fix anything. Rather than protesting anything, people see us living the message of Jesus by our loving one another, even our enemies. (Matthew 5:10)  Our call is to show up and let our loving energy guide people to experience their own second coming.

    When our spiritual energy has been awakened, we evolve into a gleaming diamond through which God can move mountains within us and in other people. This is one way we can play a role in manifesting on the earth what Isaiah and Dr. King desired -- a day when The glory of the Lord will be revealed and all people shall see it together.  Each of us can become that light set on a hill so that others can awaken. (Matthew 5:14)

    We must never become discouraged if we never see the fruit from the seeds we have sown. We are in great company.  For three years Jesus sowed his seeds and he never lived to see what happened to his first crop. We can be at peace with that, knowing that our Creator is still creating. 



Loving God, as each of us enters our worship experience, we are sensitive that we live in a world where people appear more skilled at creating roadblocks than a sense of community.  Guide us to minister to those whose values and attitudes isolate them from being loved.  Open our minds and hearts to the truth that few people enjoy feeling alone.  Encourage us to reach beyond the barriers we have created so that we might all enter our shared future together in hope and trust.  Help us to remember always that it is the harmony and silences among the notes that produce the symphony.  Amen.


Loving and always-present God, we thank you for calling us to be more than we ever thought we were capable of being.  Your Son called his listeners to become "the salt of the earth and to become as light set on a hill so that others could see."  Too many times we do not feel we can live up to Jesus' expectations of us.  We confess that often we are the ones who believe that we need prayers.  We are the ones who need healing.  We are the ones who come seeking the courage to go on when our circumstances appear uncertain. Too many of us believe that what we are is not enough.   

How easily we forget that people needing and seeking Jesus frequently overwhelmed him. The Jewish authorities sought Jesus in order to accuse him.  Another came under the cover of darkness to seek his wisdom.  Another wanted to sneak up behind him so she could touch the hem of his garment and be healed.  Mary and Martha both scolded him when he did not come immediately to Bethany when he learned their brother lay dying.  Why do we often find ourselves standing in that line?

As we come seeking him, may we hear again his request to take what we are to others.  He would rather we give away our gifts than come to him seeking more.  Encourage us to do less seeking and more giving away of what we have discovered.  We just might find that doing so is enough for you to move the mountains of fear in us and would allow our mustard seed to grow into a tree. By standing forth in total trust, we may become a bridge over troubled water for someone who fears they are lost. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .