“Peace Comes To Neutral Angels

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – July 9, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

    This morning, I thought it might be interesting to talk about one activity that would help to make our lives less complicated.  Last week we discussed how Jesus had distilled into a very simple form all the theology anyone needs in order to create a happy life.  From his series of illustrations in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus was inviting his listeners to think what our world would be like if everyone simply decided to be kind to one another. (Matthew 10:42)  Simple kindnesses cleanse our spirits of many of our rough edges.

    There are so many incidents in the Scriptures that describe fairly accurately what we experience on a weekly basis.  For centuries, the temperament of people has not changed very much.   Today, we are going to consider why this is so.

    One day Jesus was relaxing with his disciples as they overlooked the scores of people doing their shopping at a marketplace.  As they were people-watching, Jesus found an opportunity to teach a lesson.  He said,

Aren't people amazing?  All of them are witnessing the same activities but each of them is capable of forming their own opinions about what they are seeing.  Those opinions may be as different from each other as night and day. 


Look at the group of musicians playing joyful music.  Some people are dancing and others wonder how anyone can be happy as long as the Roman military are everywhere. 


Look over there at a funeral procession. Some people are weeping at the music being played and others are totally ignoring the procession because the deceased was unknown to them.


How many of you can recall the response of people when John the Baptist started preaching along the banks of the Jordan?  He fasted and did not drink wine.  People thought he had lost his mind.  When the Son of Man arrived, he ate and drank wine.  Seeing this, people said, 'Look at him! He is a glutton and a drunk who befriends tax collectors and other good-for-nothing people.'  Why do you think people are so different in what they value?

    Last Sunday, Lois and I walked from Whitney Institute to the Aquarium with a large number of people from all over the island.  Various people provided an eye-witness history of Smith's Parish because they grew up around our parsonage. 

    Michael Dunkley was part of the group.  It was amazing to see our Premier casually walking with members of the community.  In the United States, the last time one of our Presidents was able to enjoy an evening stroll around the streets of Washington was when Harry and Bess Truman did so in the early 1950s.  It was just the two of them.  There were no members of the White House Press Corps or the Secret Service.

     How fortunate that Bermuda has a culture that allows the Premier to be so publicly visible and accessible.  However, there may have been others in the group who had a much different opinion, "He came tonight because he is running for re-election in a couple of weeks."

    With all his illustrations, Jesus was teaching how differently people communicate because of their predispositions.  Each of us can build walls or connecting sidewalks like a brick-mason by putting our opinions into place one at a time. Over a lifetime, we develop the spirit by which we live.

    One of the volunteer secretaries at my last church sent me a birthday card some time ago featuring the episode of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  Jesus is seen standing on a hill overlooking a group as he is offering them bread and fish to share.  The language of the people he wanted to feed was filled with 21st Century dietary requirements. People said,  "I can't eat either of those.  I'm a vegan." "Has your fish been tested for Mercury levels?" "Is that bread gluten-free?" 

    When everyone is focused on the needs of their individual world, think about what else they miss.  During our walk last Sunday, Glenn Fubler appeared to have taken a page out of Norman Vincent Peale's book, The Power of Positive Thinking.  As Glenn was addressing those of us that had gathered, he said,

Instead of being unhappy about the way life is for you, why not celebrate all the things for which you are grateful? Instead of being against something, why not focus your attention on what you want. Instead of being critics, most of us could just as easily be for certain solutions.  This is what it means to live in a community that we are building together.

    In his Book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon wrote:  "Our eyes can never see enough to be satisfied; our ears can never hear enough to bring peace to our spirits." (Ecclesiastes 1:8b)  His understanding of life was that people were bringing similar responses to the same cyclical events that have been occurring for hundreds of years.   (Ecclesiastes 1:11)  Solomon was correct. 

    Obviously, today the scenery and settings have changed.   The men and women who become our heroes will have different names. The lack of justice facing today's victims will be different from those confronting their cousins centuries before, but their cries will be the same.  King Solomon observed, "Generations come and generations go, but their responses remain the same."  (Ecclesiastes 1:4)   

    What drives our responses?  What causes all of us to see things differently? What caused Hamburg, Germany's G-20 summit meeting to have one hundred thousand people protesting everything in sight while at the same time the leaders from twenty nations were working on critical issues facing all nations?

     The virus that causes people to engage in mental civil wars with each other comes from the judgments that each of us make.  Many of us cannot show up in life and remain Neutral Angels which is what Jesus was calling his followers to become.

    Some of us may remember the words spoken by an Irishman when he encountered patrons fist fighting in a pub. He asked the bartender, "Is this a private fight or can anyone get involved?" Some people find their meaning and purpose through fighting for one cause or another.   

    Several protestors in Hamburg were interviewed by media specialists.  They were asked, "What about Capitalism is so threatening to you?"  They could not define Capitalism, but whatever it is, they were against it.  They may be like our Irishman.

    When we turn to our Gospel lesson this morning we find words coming from Jesus that he promised would bring healing, "Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest." 

    Every load becomes heavy when the carrier decides that it is.  Jesus provided the cure that will change people's responses to the cyclical events that have been operating generation after generation. He suggested that we can become Neutral Angels. Once we have decided to be one, we intentionally stop our judgmental responses and offer love and understanding in their place.    Listen again to Jesus' cure:

Take my yoke and put it on.  You can learn what I experience by observing how I manage my thoughts and emotions.  I am gentle and humble in spirit while being in the midst of the same turmoil that drives the passions of others.  If each of you becomes gentle and humble in spirit, (Neutral Angels) you will find the peace that has become so elusive.  (Matthew 11:29)

    What Jesus was teaching in our lesson this morning was the same issue he taught in another setting:

Never make judgments about other people. When you make judgments, you are only revealing the nature of your spirit.  If your judgments are hostile, you are punishing yourselves by revealing your inability to forgive.  Your judgments create the burdens you carry.

Why do you look at the speck in your neighbor's eye while ignoring the log in your own eye?  First teach yourselves not to judge and you will be free to lead others to do the same. (Matthew 7:1-5)

    King Solomon knew that the life-experiences of people actually set the agenda for their living.  History will repeat itself until newer generations recognize that their judgments are causing the continued cycling of the same responses to themes that are centuries old.  

    Neutral Angels instinctively know that the opinions they hold need to be ones that inspire hope, encouragement and wholesome responses. All other judgments come from people who are still on a learning curve.  This is why happiness is seldom an intimate part of their everyday experiences. 

     Neutral Angels are not distracted by people who are living their own storyline. Each of us is the author of our own autobiography.  Jesus could do nothing to change anyone's life.  He could only point to alternatives that he knew would make a difference.

    When we find ourselves caught up in the dramas of this opinion-evoking world of ours, we often think that being a Neutral Angel is like putting our head in the sand. We know the cliché that "Evil will only triumph when good people sit on the sidelines and do nothing."  Really!? 

    Why was it that Jesus never stood up to Roman authorities about their military occupation?  Jesus never once mentioned the tax burden that Rome levied on his people nor did he address the frequent aggressive sexual behavior that Roman soldiers directed toward Jewish women. 

    We can only change our world-view by changing who we are.  Neutral Angels are like referees in a football game. They stand in the midst of opposing teams without taking sides. They are the ones who know how to maintain their identity without being compromised by the games that other people play.

    When we live with the illusions created by right and wrong, sometimes neutrality is a challenge to maintain.  Jesus was a Neutral Angel that lived among his people. His words and life-style invited his followers to become like him.  Are we gentle and humble in spirit?  Are we able to choose the path of Neutral Angels? Jesus said we could when he said , "Come, and be like me and you will find peace."



Loving God, as we gather for worship help us to grow more sensitive to the role Jesus was asking his followers to play in our world. How often our memory of that role changes like the seasons. We forget that our love must extend to people whose values are different from our own. We allow uncertainty, fear and perceived defeats to erode our confidence in the compass we were designed to be.  We often seek new truths without putting into practice the ones that we know.  Inspire our confidence that we can make your presence visible in the humblest of circumstances.  Even during life’s more fragile moments cause us to remember who you created us to be.  Amen.



Loving God, this morning as we gather, gratitude fills our lives as we think of all the ways our inner gardens have been blessed because of the seeds others have sown.  Perhaps we received an early start when we learned that we mattered to a Sunday school teacher.  Maybe it was because Mom and Dad impressed us with their thoughts about you and how you made a difference in the quality of our family’s life.

Perhaps we tagged along with a group of friends who were making a difference by volunteering to help those that no longer could help themselves.   Perhaps it was when others taught us how to turn strangers into friends by including them in what we did. Perhaps we learned by watching others love their neighbors, how easily we could do the same.

Truly your world, O God, is an incredible place.  It is filled with countless moments to grow and learn.  Even our struggles represent moments when we are being guided to develop skills that we do not have.  Our emotional pains communicate a warning to us that we have more inner work to do.  With all our accomplishments, successes and achievements may we remember always that the greatest among us are those who support and encourage others by remaining their friend.  Use us to be gentle and humble spirits who allow you to create through us.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .