“The Art of Living in Two Worlds”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – July 23, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 139:1-12; Matthew 13:24-30


    Our theme for this morning comes from Jesus teaching his listeners what it is like to live in the Kingdom of God.  To describe God's Kingdom, Jesus once again used agricultural imagery to create a vision for his listeners.  

    In our lesson today, a farmer had planted a field of wheat.  Under the cover of darkness, an enemy came to the same field and sowed seeds of a weed that looked strikingly similar to wheat. When the problem was discovered, the farmer instructed his farmhands to allow both to grow together.  At the harvest, they were directed to gather the wheat into the barn and bundle the weeds to be burned.  

    With all of the storylines in the New Testament of dividing people into categories, sometimes what we read is difficult to reconcile with what we know about Jesus.  Jesus consistently demonstrated that he loved those who had little or no spiritual training.  He also taught lessons concerning the skill his followers could develop if they learned how to forgive everyone with a tolerance that had no boundaries.

    When Jesus constantly talked about the universal and unconditional love of God, after reading passages like the one we have this morning, we are left to think that people must be thrown out where they will suffer.  Such a conclusion would never enter the mind of God whose creative love comes to everyone, i.e., the just and the unjust alike.  (Matthew 5:45)

    During my middle school days, I had a friend that was among the most cultured and well-mannered boys I had ever met.  He carried himself like a well-tutored thirty-year-old living in the body of an eighth-grader.  He told me that he got that way out of necessity.  His father was very strict and he often used a belt to discipline him and his brother when they failed to live up to his expectations.  He said, "When I eventually leave home on my own, I never want to see my father again."

    I can still hear his words lingering in my mind. I had never heard anyone express such feelings about his dad.  My friend was being obedient in every aspect of his life out of fear.  We cannot imagine Jesus ever demanding obedience from his followers by holding above their heads a lashing or burning in Hell throughout eternity if they failed to develop spiritually.

    What was Jesus trying to illustrate with his parable?  We have to remember that he was describing what life is like to live in The Kingdom of God. The wheat and the weeds illustrated that people in the Kingdom live side by side with people who may possess different values and goals. 

    He was teaching that some people are anchored to a reality that inspires loving attitudes while others are anchored to fulfilling desires and outcomes in the material world.  There was no condemnation intended by Jesus.  All people are needed to pool their potential in order for any culture to flourish. We need people in every vocation, i.e., priests, craftsmen, artisans, bankers as well as those that protect and govern us.

    During my early days in seminary, one of my classes was a round table discussion group that covered a range of topics during the semester.  One day we were discussing what motivated us to attend Wesley Theological Seminary.  There were two women in my particular group who saved me from being overcome by embarrassment.  One of them had majored in Women's Studies and the other in Black Cultural Studies while in college.  When they graduated, they found that there was no market that would employ them.        

    Among several students who had significant stories of being called into the ministry, I had to tell the group that I came to Wesley strictly as a holding pattern until I could figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  When I graduated from college, few positions were available for someone with a major in History and a minor in the ancient, unspoken language of Greek. 

    My parents probably rolled their eyes wondering what in the world was next for their son. I remember hearing my mother tell some of her inquiring friends during a women's meeting in our dining room, "No, Dick will never go into the ministry.  Roy and I just don't know about Dick."  My parents were right.  Few people knew about Dick.

    The two women and I found that our college training provided an excellent training for seminarians. However, the way that I became a pastor is an absolute miracle. There had never been a call from God. There was only a vague feeling that caused me to think to myself, "I think I can do this." 

    That is not exactly what the Annual Conference authorities were interested in hearing. However, there was an historic convergence of circumstances that allowed me to fly under the radar of the Conference authorities completely undetected. There was a merger between two major denominations in 1968. 

    The Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church merged creating The United Methodist Church.  I was ordained an EUB and became a United Methodist months later.  No one evaluated me. I had become a maverick that had no time for the politics and theology that surfaced from the institutional church.

    Shortly after I was appointed to my first church, I had several life-changing experiences that dramatically communicated that all of us are living in twin universes that co-exist side by side. This recognition inspired me to devote the rest of my life to the study and practice of spirituality.

    When Jesus said, "Greater things will you accomplish than those that you have seen me do," he understood that all people have a vast potential to build cultures of the stature of Rome. (John 14:12f) Can you imagine the city of Rome dominating the world for over one thousand years?   Jesus knew that the potential of people was only limited by the scope and magnitude of their imaginations. 

    For Jesus, people were not being divided into the haves and have-nots.  What Jesus was teaching was a value system that would work in the material world one hundred percent of the time.  The same value system would also work one hundred percent of the time when people graduate from this life.

    Throughout his ministry, Jesus was describing qualities that were unique among those who had chosen to live in God's Kingdom while also living in our material world.  He made this distinction very clear when he said:

Do not store up riches for yourselves on earth, where moth and rust can destroy and where robbers can break in and steal.  Instead, store up for yourselves spiritual wealth in Heaven that will always be safe within you.  Your heart will always be with the treasure that you value the most.  (Matthew 6:19f)

    Such teaching was a caution to his followers to keep a watchful eye on their lives while living side by side among others who are anchored to the material aspects of our classroom.  We have to admit that life offers us many opportunities to align ourselves with numerous causes.  As we participate, our emotional passions can evoke responses that are as bitter and confrontational as the people we oppose.     

    There have been times when people have wondered why God has not become more involved in our human condition.  They ask, "If God is all loving and compassionate, how can God stay on the sidelines while we struggle?"

    God knows that innocent children are starving to death all over the world.  God knows that innocent populations are caught in the ravages of war. Jewish theologians and historians were weary with thoughts of where God was when six million Jews were murdered in Nazi Germany.

    We can even personalize God's inactivity by wondering why our prayers go unanswered and why we have to carry such a heavy load while others go unscathed by misfortune. These issues have always been part of the territory throughout time for everyone who has ever lived.  God could easily respond,

I am not the one on trial here, you are.  I know that absolutely nothing can happen to you. Your own created fears and doubts tell you otherwise.

    All of life's challenges represent a test of our resolve to live in Heaven while also living and remaining helpful in our world.  Jesus said, "If you love only those who love you, why should you feel blessed? Tax collectors and prostitutes do the same thing.  God is good to the ungrateful and the wicked. You have the potential to become like God." (Luke 6:32-36)     

    It is easy to be persuaded to struggle for issues of justice in our world.  We forget that Jesus never taught anything about justice.  He only taught qualities of spirit that are possible responses for us when we are faced with injustice. It is so easy for spiritually awakened people to become convinced to attack evil whenever it confronts innocent people. Peter took his sword into the garden where the group had gone to pray.

    We all know the intense desire to roll up our sleeves and fight for our truth.  We easily forgot that truth is among those realities that never needs defending.  Loving energy is the nature of our Creator and the radiation from that powerful energy can never be destroyed.

    If this is true, what should we think about the weeds?  Jesus was only describing differences. The weeds were those that looked like wheat but they have chosen to invest their energies in the world that will never hold still long enough to be redeemed. (Luke 13:34) By design, the world is constantly swirling with rapid change.

    The wheat represents the people who also live in the world but have learned to focus their passionate energy on radiating skills of spirit like hope, kindness, forgiveness, generosity, helpfulness and peace.  These are the fruits that surface from living in the invisible environment that Jesus called, The Kingdom of God.  Wheat produces a grain that allows people to make bread that provides a staple source of nourishment for Jesus' people.

    Jesus sent his followers to live among others in order to teach them the skills of spirit that will be needed in the next world. Few of the skills that people develop in the area of their animal spirits will work in an environment where nothing of material substance exists.  Discovering and using these skills of spirit is what living in God's Kingdom looks like.



Loving God, we thank you for calling us to remain in union with you.  We thank you for inviting us to remember that our greatest skills come in the form of treating others as we would like others to treat us. Enable us to give hands and feet to our understanding of love.  You have called us to live in our world with enthusiasm while remaining anchored to your Kingdom. Maintaining that balance is the greatest challenge of our lives.  Nourish us so that our lives remain energized and inspired to bring to others what we have found -- the energy that creates community and peace.  Amen.



Loving God, how wonderful it is to be alive in a world that never stops changing.  While we are creatures that often prefer routine more than we do rapid change, there is a mystery that we cannot control or know as our journey takes us into a future that awaits our arrival.

We have experienced a peaceful transition period in Bermuda where our nation's leaders have changed.  This opportunity has presented itself for adversarial language to change and where troubled waters may grow calm. A dream of many people has been realized.  We are grateful that we live in a day and in a culture where political revolutions take place by the counting of ballots.  We were created with the potential and ability to accept change in whatever form it comes and to bring our spiritual energy to make our tomorrows brighter because we are living right where we are.

We ask your blessing upon this remarkable island, its leaders and its people.  Not only do we experience the physical beauty that we too often take for granted, but we also have the ability to grow together spiritually, socially and economically because of how you created us to be.

Spare us from using the excuse of being human to explain why we have the attitudes that we too often display.  Jesus called his followers to become angels in the flesh.  Our world’s people need to know that some of us are busy becoming the leaven for the loaf.   Bless each of us with that calling so that Bermuda will be blessed because we are here.  We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ who taught us to say when we pray . . .