“There Is No Slick Formula”


Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – July 16, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 25:1-10; Matthew 13:1-9


    Many pastors find the lesson this morning in Matthew's Gospel one that provides a near perfect formula for a multipoint sermon.  Our lesson is greeted with the same enthusiasm by pastors as is Micah 6:8 that says, "The Lord has told us what is good.  What God requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love and to live in humble fellowship with our God."  This verse yields three wonderful points.

    These lessons appear clear on what could be said from the pulpit.  However, when we take a closer look at either of these Scriptures, we may come away with a different understanding that there really is no slick formula for developing our evolving spiritual identities. If life were filled with one, two, three formulas for experiencing a delightful, enthusiastic life, we would all be there.  We are not there because life isn't like that. 

    Five hundred years before Jesus was born, Siddhartha's first teaching to his disciples was this: "All life is sorrowful."  Today, with what we know about the power of our attitudes, any of us could easily counter his teaching by saying:

Siddhartha, your conclusion about life all depends on the attitudes created by each individual.  For some people life is wonderful, exciting and every day is greeted with anticipation of what is coming up for them.  If all life is sorrowful, how do you account for those who are learning skills of spirit from every experience?

    In Jesus' parable of a farmer sowing his seed, he was attempting to teach why many people are not ready to make his teaching a part of their lives. Jesus chose to use these metaphors of different qualities of soil because his listeners had experienced what happened to seed when it was being sown. 

    1.  Seed can fall on the hard soil of a path.  The birds easily see it and eat it.  2.  Seed can fall on rocky soil where the soil is shallow.  The sun can easily scorch the plants as soon as they sprout.  3. Seed can also fall among thorn bushes that choke the new plants.  4. Finally, some seed lands on the prepared soil of the garden patch where all the conditions are well-suited for its growth. These seeds produced a crop.   Jesus concluded, "Listen, then, if you have ears."

    Obviously, the disciples did not have ears that were sharp enough to understand what Jesus was saying.  They had to ask him to explain what he was trying to illustrate. Perhaps if we had been among that group of listeners, we might have had the same response, "What is he talking about?

    For hundreds of years, obedience to the Laws of Moses was the training that the Jews received. People had one choice.  They could either obey the Laws or endure the wrath and judgment of God if they failed to do so.  Jesus' message was communicating an idea that none of them had ever heard.

    I did not give to Erika the second half of our Gospel lesson to read today where Jesus explained the meaning of his parable.  Jesus' explanation would not have applied to our lives.  How could this be?

    Most pastors are aware that by the time the members of their congregations get to their cars to go home, what they heard in a sermon has already left their consciousness. This may not be due to a lack of understanding, but rather because people's minds today are totally over-stimulated.  If people cannot remember the name of someone seconds after they have been introduced to them, how could they possibly remember a sermon?  

    When I was a teenager, there came a time when I begged my parents to allow me to skip attending church from time to time.  I had no particular reason for making the request other than that I was bored out of my mind by my father's sermons.  I felt little impact from my dad's messages.  His words appeared to address the issues experienced by mature adults not teens.   

    One Sunday, the six of us were sitting around the table eating our dinner when I made my request.  As I fully expected, my request was unequivocally denied. When I heard my dad's answer, I asked my mother if she would tell us one thing that dad had said in his sermon that he had just delivered two hours before.  She hesitated for quite some time and then admitted that she could not recall anything.

    I was so excited that my mother came through for me with the evidence that I needed.  I exclaimed, "I rest my case."  My dad said, "Your case has been heard, your evidence has been considered and your case has been denied and dismissed.  Nice try!"  However, he was noticeably bothered by my mom's response.

    With my parents making church attendance a requirement for me, something interesting occurred.  If my dad ever repeated a sermon or an illustration that he had previously used, I knew that he had done so.  I am sure that this has happened to you when I repeat something. What and why does that happen?

    This does not say anything about the quality of soil for any of us. There is something within each of us that never sleeps.  Our spirits do not require sleep.  They remain alert to life's numerous lessons, particularly when we hear them repeatedly or when we see them being demonstrated by attitudes or behaviors of those living around us. 

     We seldom choose our values.  We absorb them from our environment.  Think about what may be lost when spiritual nourishment is no longer a part of our week.  Think about absorbing all kinds of beliefs, philosophies and ideas that come from living in our world.  It happens.  Remember, we often absorb values that we did not choose.

    Initially our values form in our families by observing the attitudes and decisions of our parents. When other people express their values through their rudeness or callous nature, these are not bad people, they are merely individuals who have not been exposed to values that promote happy, optimistic and enthusiastic attitudes.

    The reason that Jesus' metaphors of soil qualities do not resonate with us is that they do not work.  Even after Jesus' explained his parable to the disciples, what became clear to them was a concept. They could exclaim, "Oh, is that what you meant?" However, concepts do not work toward forming the basis of our life-patterns or providing the substance of our evolving spiritual nature. 

    We all know that honesty is a great virtue.  Honesty, however, is a concept.  Even though we know this and admire it, most of us can stretch accuracy to the breaking point with ease and we feel no guilt about doing so. It is easy for us to allow a phone to go unanswered when we recognize who the caller is.

    The disciples had been handpicked by Jesus.  Not only did they have the farmer that sowed the seed, they also had the seed that was sown in their lives on a daily basis. Their lives, however, demonstrated loud and clear that no matter how many of Jesus' lessons they heard, none of the disciples were able to live them.

    After three years of daily training, Peter not only brought a sword to the Garden of Gethsemane, but he attacked and cut off the ear of an unarmed man. Later he lied three times that he knew Jesus.  Another one of Jesus' choices for a disciple betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver or roughly $600.  At Jesus' arrest, all but John, ran for their lives.

    Here is a question for you.  How would you judge the quality of the soil of Jesus' own disciples? With their numerous failures, how would you answer?

    If you absorbed anything from my sermon of last Sunday, your answer might sound like this:  

I no longer judge people.  I am trying to be a Neutral Angel.  I first have to take the log out of my own eye before I can remove the speck from the eyes of my neighbor.

If that is your answer, I give you an A+ and will send you to the head of the class.

    Of course, many of us cannot remember sermons from week to week and it remains a challenge to a make concept like instant forgiveness to become a part of our lives.  We have spent the majority of our lives building the spirit by which we live one response at a time.

    Instant forgiveness has not been a priority in our training.  What dominates our lives is our need for instant justice. While we do not want to admit this, it nevertheless is true.  Instant forgiveness is a concept that we often discuss in a Bible study group. It is not a standard attitude-of-being that we are exposed to or even desire to want.

    Most of us drift along in life governed by our routines until we find ourselves in new territory.  Are we ready with a response when our spouse dies, when one of our children is tragically killed in an accident or when we learn that we have terminal cancer?  It could be that this new territory arrives when we are looking forward to our own retirement from all the tasks that once defined our identity for decades. 

    In last Sunday's Royal Gazette, there was a comic strip that captured my attention.  There was a line of pigs running together as they headed over a cliff to their deaths.  One of the pigs that was already airborne shouted, "Wait! Honey, do you remember if I turned off the stove?"

    We do not want to be in the midst of a life-changing event without the trust that our future has already been totally scripted by loving responses that we practiced for most of our lives.  This is what Jesus was teaching.  When we trust our learned loving responses for the quality of our destiny, we can let go of all our fears.

      Mastering life on this level is not due to following some slick formula of concepts or the quality of our soil.  Our survival from this life is a sure thing for everyone.  Jesus' death communicated that absolutely nothing can injure our spirits.  Further, Jesus' resurrection communicated that we never lose consciousness when we leave our bodies.  Everyone survives.  Belief in this understanding is not necessary for it to remain a fact.

    Those of us who know this realize that we are free from fear, anxiety and worry.  (Matthew 6:25-34)  Each of us has the power and ability to love, to create, to have patience, to forgive and to be generous to a fault. Loving energy has no boundaries whatsoever.  We are totally free.

     Making these qualities an intimate part of our identity is what Jesus was attempting to teach his disciples. However, a truth that few of us recognize is this:  Regardless of what anyone does or says, including Jesus, the evolution of our own spirits is always a matter of individual choice.



Eternal God, we thank you for the refining and defining aspects of life.  We have learned that habits are nothing more than our making the same choices over and over again.  We have discovered that attitudes and values have developed by repetition as well.  We are thankful that Jesus taught us how to change the way we think.  He invited us to live in Heaven now.  Help us to seek peace amid all that frustrates and disappoints us.  The world is filled with people whose beliefs, values and loyalties lie in a different universe from our own.  In spite of our differences, grant that we may live in peace as we remain faithful to the guidance offered by Jesus.  Amen.



Loving God, as our faith continues to be refined within each day’s events, we thank you for constantly being in relationship with us.  We are not completely sure what it means to be created in your image, but we trust that you have given us the ability to walk with you through the fog generated by our responses to so many distractions within our world.  Right now, the world is over-stimulated by what is happening with people all over the world who have forgotten to count their blessings.

We do experience peace when we authentically allow our cares and concerns to dissolve in the sands of your unconditional love.  Equally, we experience the instant judgment the moment we choose to swim against the currents of life, when we place our faith in worrying, as though fretting will deliver for us the outcome we would prefer, or when we use the threat of withholding our love as leverage for motivating others to conform to our wishes.  There are moments when we forget who you created us to be and what living in your Kingdom looks like. 

Guide and teach us, O God, to look beyond the headlines.  On Tuesday, many of us will cast our vote for who will govern Bermuda.  Once our vote is cast, we will have fulfilled a responsibility that billions of people on earth do not have. May we greet the outcome of our election with grace and acceptance as together we continue to allow our loving energy to flow away from us to others.  Help us to remember that the only change we can control is the evolution of our own spirits.  May we remember that Jesus invited us to be among all people so they might experience what we have found from being disciples of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray. . .