“The Art of Achieving Balance”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – October 22, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Galatians 5:16-26; Matthew 22:15-22

    Today we are going to consider an age-old question of how to live when there appears to be a tension within each of us between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the spirit.  We all grew up knowing the tension between these two worlds and the numerous ways we have chosen to perceive each of them.

    This morning we will learn what Jesus had to say about this tension.  We are amazing creatures caught in the predictable mishaps and mistakes of our own evolutionary process. We will see if we can untangle this tension so that we can better understand our life-experiences.

    In our first lesson from Galatians, the Apostle Paul paints a fairly grim portrait of our human nature: 

What human nature does is quite plain.  It shows itself in immoral, filthy and indecent actions.  People worship idols and engage in witchcraft.  People become enemies and fight; they become jealous, angry, and ambitious.  They separate into parties and groups; they are envious, get drunk, have orgies, and indulge in all kinds of other indecent activities.  As I have warned you before, such people who dwell on such pursuits will never come into contact with the Kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

    Very few of us need to hear a lecture about all the ways our human nature can cause mishaps and mistakes in our judgment. What did God have in mind by creating us with two different emotional attractions within our species?

    Societies try their best to help us cope more creatively with many of our natural urges.  Our groceries have a listing of their ingredients that tell us how much cholesterol and calories are in each serving.  We find advertisements for various products that will prevent pregnancies.  We may get a new tax in Bermuda to help our society curb its appetite for refined sugar. We are learning that sitting throughout the day is as deadly to our health as our use of tobacco products.

    Many of the newspaper columnists who offer advice to the weary, suggest that our natural desires can easily lead us down the paths of over-indulgence as we search for comfort from the stresses of living. Some of us, however, have learned to push back on the idea that we are victims of our unbridled hunger for pleasures.   We have learned that we do not need to judge our natural urges by their abuse.   

    On Friday, I listened to Kim Wilson as she spoke to the members of Parliament.  She was addressing our national problem of obesity.  Among her words were these, "Take a minute right now and look around at each other.  The only person who can stop obesity is the person looking back at you in the mirror." 

    Ken Langone, one of the three founders of Home Depot, said last week that we need to experience a little hunger between meals.  If we walk around satiated all day, we are probably snacking -- a sure way to add pounds to our bodies.        

    A self-correcting aspect of people is that there are internal and external consequences to every thought, feeling and response that we make.  We can surrender to many of our urges or use them to grow beyond their demands.  We are the driver of our lives and not of our urges!  We are the only ones who are responsible for who and what we are becoming.  No one else is to blame.

    We do not need a side order of gravy for our meat and potatoes when we eat in a restaurant. We do not need to indulge in a habit of salting our food before we taste it.  We do not need to remain addicted to staring at our cell-phones throughout the day.  We do not need to beg our physicians for medications each time an inconvenient illness takes up a temporary residency in our bodies.

    In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus provided a very different message from Paul's initial words about the condition of our human nature.  Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22:21) 

    Basically, Jesus was saying "Give to the world what it needs to grow and prosper but do so with attitudes that reflect God's nature."  Jesus was teaching that the desires for the things of this world and the desire for developing of our spiritual nature can work together for balancing our lives.  Jesus was providing the reason why human DNA came packaged with the tension we are discussing this morning.

    Today, we are fortunate enough to be living in a cycle of human evolution where we can choose to remain creatures of this world like all other species of animals or we can make a leap that takes us beyond our animal urges and instincts.  A distinct division is slowly taking place within people that is as profound as what separated the more advanced Cro-Magnon people from their cousins known as the Neanderthals. 

    If we return again to the words of Paul, he described qualities of consciousness that quite literally separate people from the animal instincts he described earlier in our passage. He wrote: "Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.  There is no law against such as these."  (Galatians 5:22)

    We do not have to choose one value system over the other.  Jesus was not talking about two different individuals.  He was talking about each person having the potential to engage fully in the various pursuits available to us in our physical world and at the same time to grow spiritually.  We can take the next leap when compassion, kindness and instant forgiveness become part of our natural desires.

    However, we need to understand that none of our qualities of spirit alone can create massive cultural centers, advanced medical facilities or devices that can instantly translate the English language into the languages of other cultures.  We create through a balance of the tension we experience.

    Paul was teaching that by harnessing the qualities of spirit, our species can clearly discriminate between our animal nature and our possibilities to live as highly innovative creators that can end poverty, feed the hungry hordes in the world and create cars loaded with artificial intelligence that makes them far safer than having to depend on our highly distracted eye/hand coordination. 

    Curiosity, intuition, imagination, fantasy and dreaming all have played a role in fueling the human desire to give to humanity new ways for improving our lives.  Think of what has happened during the last one hundred years.  If you want to read something humorous, look at the New Year's predictions for the future made fifty years ago. Most have fallen short of the transformative levels we experience today. Who knew that the contents of our file cabinet could be put on a thumb drive that we can carry in our pocket. 

    When I was having my eyes examined last week, I asked my ophthalmologist what was in the future pipeline of his profession.  He said,

We are literally going to see miracles happen in the next couple of years.  Blind people will receive their sight because we are learning how to introduce a patient's own stem cells into their dormant retinas.       

    All the animals with whom we share our world have the same drives as we have, i.e., to hold on to and control the quality of their lives, to propagate their species by having babies and to pursue aggressively their desire to control their environment. 

    Many people have tapped into their spiritual desires to create a culture that helps people to achieve their greatest potential, that wants to protect human life from those who wish to disrupt, hurt and destroy our societies, to protect our planet and to advance human progress in almost every field of life from A to Z, e.g., Agriculture to Zoology.    

    Jesus gave humanity the answer.  Human beings were created with the potential to harness both worlds as we become master-creators of societies that benefit all who fully participate in our mutual growth. 

    People who remain loyal and faithful to the gospel of violence and destruction never built a hospital, never gave scholarships to students who want to further their education, never launched a space vehicle carrying valuable cargo to the International Space Station, never became excited about finding cures for dreaded diseases, and never glowed with enthusiasm at giving the world a new technology that will make life easier and more efficient for everyone.

    Jesus taught that the wheat and the weeds, that strikingly look like wheat, must grow together.  Only the wheat will prove to be useful to our world. (Matthew 13:24f)

    With his words, Jesus was teaching his detractors, who were trying to trick him, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's."  Jesus' answer was that we can live creatively with the tension from both aspects of our inner world.  Those of us who follow him have learned to live his message of love with vigorous enthusiasm.  

    One of the lessons that I learned while working at the White House came as quite a surprise to me.  In order to pay for my seminary education, I worked there from the end of my classes until midnight.  Early one evening I decided to leave the office and walk over to the West Wing where the machines were to buy a cup of coffee.  As I was leaving, I asked if anyone else needed something -- my treat. I took a couple of orders and left. 

    When I returned, a woman said to me, "Thank you, Dick. I want you to know that I have worked the night shift in this office for 18 years and you are the first person to ask our group if anyone wanted anything from the machines."  I could not imagine this happening.

    Can we imagine what our world would be like if people made visible the spirit of kindness and generosity every day to the people around them? 

    She had worked for 18 years and no one ever offered to buy her a cup of coffee!  I went home believing that I had chosen the right profession. I knew I would never grow up to become a profound theologian, but I could at least teach people the value and power of love as it is being expressed through kindness, compassion and generosity.

    A struggle that many of us may have is to, "Give to the world what it needs to grow and prosper but do so with attitudes that reflect God's nature."

    What would happen to our world if more people gave up protesting and being offended by so many things because they are too busy being kind, generous and compassionate?  Think of it. The Kingdom of God is here, but a good number of people may be too busy keeping alive their own unhappiness to live in it. 



Merciful God, we thank you for loving us while also being flexible in allowing us to mature in spirit when we are ready to do so.  In your wisdom, you allow us to struggle with what we value. You gave us the ability to question what we believe in order to develop a storyline of faith that works for us. You gave us our church family so that we might support each other’s spiritual journey. So often our community of faith helps us to remember who we are by keeping us focused on our mission.  Help us to carry ourselves as people of hope whose trust in you enables us to share a vision of the world that was designed for all people to enjoy.  Amen.



We thank you, God, for the opportunity to renew ourselves each week as we come together for worship. We are aware of how easy it is to neglect our calling to be the ray of sunshine during someone’s cloudy day.  Spare us from questioning our effectiveness among others. We have no idea who we are influencing as instruments of your presence.

Thankfully, our faith has changed how we view our relationships.  Faith calls us to a greater faithfulness when we have strayed.  Faith lifts us when our obvious flaws influence our attitudes.  Even though many of us fail at doing our best, we are nevertheless confident that together we can make a difference toward the healing of our community and world.  Help us to remember that you have the ability to work miracles by using our smallest deeds.

We do not know how to assign a value to kindness that we extended to someone.  We do not know the value of a smile effortlessly given to a stranger. We do not know why it is that a sermon, a prayer or a hymn on Sunday morning appears like a direct message from you to us, but it happens.  Teach us to be attentive to the needs of your Kingdom here on earth so that one day your loving will for all of us will find expression everywhere.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .