“What Changes Our Mind?”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – October 1, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Matthew 21:23-32

    This morning we are going to discuss what happens when we change our mind.  We learn how to do this by being a participant in a process that begins in our infancy.

     As we are growing up, there is an emotional ladder that all of us begin to climb instinctively.  That climb teaches us about the identity we are forming.  When we are children, we teach ourselves that the best way to gain the attention of others is to become dramatic.  As infants, we teach ourselves that crying trains our parents to pick us up. They often follow through and we are comforted.

    However, there comes a time when our song and dance no longer works.  Our parents realize that we are dry, well fed and it is nap time.  No matter how loudly we protest, they begin to ignore what once worked for us.  We quickly adapt and begin to gain attention in other ways.  We teach ourselves that even strangers begin to fuss over us with their body language and baby talk because of how cute we are.  This is the same baby-talk that we adults use when we to speak to our pets. 

    What is happening during this process?  What is it that makes us move from one strategy to another?  The answer is that we abandon what no longer works and graduate to what helps us toward our goal.  We crawl, climb and walk before we run.  This is how our growth happens.

    Last Sunday, I was talking with Craig and Erika Thomas about Lois' recent appendectomy and my bringing her home from the hospital.  Erika asked, "Do you cook?" I said, "Yes, I can cook."  She said, "It might be a good idea if you made soup for her when you go home from church." 

    Ironically, when I got home, Lois ordered from my extensive menu, suggesting that I make chicken noodle soup for her.   I said, "Coming right up."  I opened a couple of cans of Campbell's soup.  It has been years since I have opened a can of soup.  After discovering that the company does not put near enough chicken in their soup, I opened a can of chicken to add to my mixture. 

    I presented Lois with a lovely bowl of what she had requested.  Keep in mind that Lois' radar never turns off.  Upon tasting it, she immediately asked, "Did you also open up a can of chicken to add to this?  I've never seen so much chicken in this soup."  I told her that I had done so. Then as she began to eat her soup in earnest, she asked, "Did you put salt in this soup?"  I said, "No."  She said, "Well, it really tastes salty this time." 

    Then I asked a very self-incriminating question, "When I opened the first can, I noticed that it was hardly enough so I opened two cans. Is this the kind of soup that requires adding a can of water?"  So, Erika, I do cook but I am still learning a better way to make chicken soup -- add an additional can of water as it says on the can or as you will suggest, "Make the soup from scratch, using a recipe." 

    In our lesson today, we find Jesus having a dialogue with a number of chief priests and elders.  They were asking him by what authority was he teaching and performing healings.  Notice that they were more interested in the mechanics of his ministry rather than the impact his teaching and healing were having on people's lives.

    When we find ourselves doing things the way we have always done them, and they are not generating the results that we want, what do we do?  We change to something that works better.

    Jesus offered the religious authorities something they probably did not want to hear.  He said:

Tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you.  John the Baptist came to teach you the right path to take and you would not believe him, but tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him.  Even when you saw the dramatic changes that his teachings were making in the lives of these people, you still did not change your minds and believe him.   (Matthew 21:31c-32)

    Why is it that some people become so stuck in their ways that they cannot see that there are better ways to achieve a much higher goal?

    I recently received an email from my sister, Jane. She responded to my telling her that we were filing for a work permit that will extend our stay in Bermuda for an additional number of years. She wrote:

Why come back to this screwed up country. Now we're wasting time, on both sides, talking about kneeling versus standing for the National Anthem when we have folks in the south without water and electricity as well as the poor people in the neighboring islands.  We have totally lost perspective.

    When we think about everything that we are exposed to on a daily basis, have we become like a ping pong ball caught between the paddles of life's countless circumstances?   

    Is our faith-storyline strong enough to resist being drawn to one cheering section over another? Are we capable of living a solution that keeps our lives balanced, whole and emotionally stable in the midst of a host of clashing values? 

    Jesus was reminding the Jewish authorities that by holding on to what they felt was sacred they had become blind to understanding a better way to live.  We are so easily blinded by emotionally-charged issues.

    Some years ago, a Roman Catholic Priest was recalled to Rome for disciplinary actions.  He was the pastor of a congregation in one of the South American countries when someone alerted the bishop of the archdiocese that the priest had lost his way.  What he was doing was taking money that was being sent to him for mission work and buying guns and ammunition to aid the rebel cause against an evil regime.

    His love for his people was so great that he could not sit idly by and do nothing while his people's lives were being systematically destroyed by a ruthless dictator.  He felt that he had to take sides and join the rebellion which meant to fight fire with fire.  

    When we find ourselves fighting for a noble cause, what have we allowed the world's endless number of noble causes to create in us?  Have we gone from love your enemy to believing that the only good enemy is a dead enemy?

    Most of us face this kind of tug-of-war choices every week. So many elements in our society are polarizing.  There does not appear to be any middle ground anymore.  Are we eventually going to die with the fantasy of our hands around the throat of someone whose name we may not know?         

    Think about this because the process begins when our thoughts change into emotional attitudes.  Once in place, these attitudes can motivate us to take some form of action on one side or the other.  This process is what caused Peter to take a sword into the garden where Jesus and his followers had gone to pray.

    Jesus said to the guardians of the only true faith, "Tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you."  Our world was designed to test us with alternatives to love unconditionally or to hate in the name of righteousness.  We do not need to allow our world to create us in its image.

    The miracle worker is really the one that appears to be like anyone else who honors many of the values of the outside world.  However, inwardly, they are governed by the mystical way.  This is the path that guides people to understand that nothing real can ever be threatened and nothing unreal exists. 

    Another way to say this is to understand that the creative energy of love never needs defending. Why is this true?  A greater understanding becomes recognized because all of the images that horrify us with threatening energy will not exist in the realm to which we graduate.

    When we refuse to become aligned with any issue that demands that we take sides in our society, doors will open for us that our former passions did not allow us to see.

    During the period of slavery in the United States, there were people like Harriet Tubman who designed and engineered the underground railroad that helped runaway slaves to find their well-deserved freedom.

    Schindler's List was a Spielberg movie that featured the deeds of Oskar Schindler who saved the lives of many Jews in German-occupied Poland during the Second World War. The story of this man is remarkable because he made a big difference without hurting anyone.

    One of the pastors that followed my Dad as the pastor of my home church, told me one of his favorite things to do during the Second World War.  His task was to arm manually the bombs that were dropped on Nazi Germany.  He told me that there were many days when they flew over targets they could not see due to a thick cloud covering.

    When he was given the word by the pilot, he walked through the aircraft and touched each of the bombs. After his mission was accomplished, the bombs were released to fall on whatever was underneath those clouds.  In many cases, they were civilian communities.  The mission he accomplished, however, was that he never armed those bombs.  He did this many times. Who knows how many German civilians he saved without hurting anyone from the explosion of those bombs?

    We have to remember that what motivates us to change our minds is the discovery of a better way to live, a better solution from the ones that beg us to choose sides and thus conform to the standards of this world.

    We create from the judgments we bring to every experience. When love is all that we know, opportunities to love are all that we find and loving is all that we do.

    When we leave our physical bodies, our transition to the next realm is effortless and filled with what we have been doing for most of our lives -- making compassion visible.  In this way, the Spirit of God enables us to become a vital link to making our world a more loving and peaceful place for men and women to live.



Thank you, God, for bringing opportunities into our lives where we can express understanding, kindness and generosity.  When Jesus came among us, his message was simple – extend your hope among the troubled, your compassion among the lonely and your friendship among those who feel lost. Jesus did not mind washing the feet of his followers.   He found value in the one leper among ten who returned to say, "Thank you!"  He felt compassion toward the widow who gave away everything that she had.  Inspire us to put into motion the teachings of your son.  Amen. 



Loving God, we are so grateful that in our blindness to some forms of truth, you still lead us.  We are grateful that during times when we do not understand life, you know that there is nothing of which we ever need to be afraid.  We are grateful that when our minds are challenged by so many unanswered questions, we understand that you never lose control over any aspect of creation. 

As reports began to come in this week from the islands to the south, we cannot begin to imagine the damage and destruction caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria.  How would we manage with no electricity and no hope of getting it for months? How would we manage the rebuilding of our nation's infrastructure from scratch? 

You created us with such resilient spirits.  We know that the day will come when people will talk about the damage caused with these two hurricanes in past tense.  When living in our world of such human vulnerabilities, we are grateful that we become inspired to circle our wagons when others are in trouble, and strangers make your spirit visible simply through their loving presence.

We do not need to know how the story ends before we become loving-participants in life’s drama.  We do not need to make sense out of our experiences before we express the truth that we know.  We do not need to have clarity to any outcome before we become a healer with our responses.  As we come to the table this morning with Christians around the world, help us to understand that our combined strength is the leaven for the loaf that humanity represents. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .