“What Unleashes Our Divinity

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – December 31, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Jeremiah 29:10-14, Luke 2:22-33, 39-40


    As we stand on the threshold of another New Year, what would happen to us if we ignored turning another page in the history of time and decided to dedicate the next 365 days to making our corner of the world far more attractive and welcoming?  Why not take our cues from certain people who helped Jesus to unleash his divinity?

    In our lesson today, Mary and Joseph had taken Jesus to Jerusalem for the ceremony of purification.  All first-born male children were dedicated to God as a legal requirement from the Laws of Moses. As the three were entering the premises of the Temple, they came into contact with a man named Simeon. He took one look at Jesus and picked him up in his arms.  As he gazed into Jesus' eyes, he told Mary and Joseph that their son would reveal God's will for the salvation of the world. 

    Several experiences influenced Mary and Joseph's attitude toward rearing their son: 1. The words to Mary from an angel prior to her pregnancy 2, The words from the three astrologers from Persia who had come to see a new ruler who was born 3, The amazing words from Simeon about Jesus' identity 4, The words that must have been expressed to Mary and Joseph by religious leaders in Jerusalem. Jesus' parents had to return to Jerusalem to find their missing son only to find him engaged in conversation with rabbis who were awed by the wisdom of their twelve-year old son.

    All of these experiences helped to set the stage for Jesus to unleash his divinity. The realities of living, however, prevented Jesus' life from blossoming until much later.

    Early traditions from the first century tell us that Jesus' father was killed in a derrick accident while building Herod's palace in Masada. As the eldest son, Jesus found himself suddenly responsible for his mother and his brothers and sisters.

    A day finally arrived decades later when Jesus no longer had to play the role of the eldest son.  That day provided Jesus with the most life-changing moment of his life.  Added to everything others had told his parents, Jesus heard the most remarkable designation anyone could possibly receive.  At his baptism, Jesus heard, "You are my son.

    The cumulative effect of all of these validating experiences sent Jesus into a wilderness to figure out what he was being called to do.  Whatever happened to him during that period of acute aloneness in the wilderness, he emerged a very different man.  He abandoned his trade as a carpenter and surrendered to a new passion, i.e., teaching men and women how to live in this world.  

    Much later in his ministry, Jesus would tell Nicodemus that a spiritual change of the magnitude that he experienced in the wilderness is like being born again. (John 3:7) Jesus became what others had been predicting throughout his life.

    As we give this idea more thought, did God give to Jesus new tools that were not there during the days when he was a carpenter?  Was he suddenly transformed by God into having a passion to become the savior of the world?  God always works through what people offer. Some of us have had a moment in our lives when we were called to serve people in a particular way other than the one we had chosen. 

    I know a physician who abandoned her practice to become a pastor, another medical doctor who became an acupuncture specialist, a chief financial officer who gave up accounting to go into reflexology, a brilliant architect who decided to become a remarkable automotive engineer, and a woman who was studying to be a medical research analyst suddenly deciding to express herself through painting with oils and other genres in the arts.

    These are examples of people who experienced a call that made them decide to go in a specific new direction with their lives.  Their comfort level and passion to create in a new direction outweighed everything else that they had been doing. 

    How many of these changes in life-strategy came to people as a result of a recognition of a unique set of symbols that contained a call?  Perhaps the motivation that a change was needed came from people urging them, encouraging them, and inspiring them as Simeon did when he sowed the seed in the minds of Mary and Joseph of the identity of their son.  Did Mary and Joseph treat Jesus differently because of the words of others?

    One of the most amazing new break-throughs in education in the United States was the development of the first pioneer magnet school that was deliberately placed near a project of public housing.  Over one hundred underprivileged children lived there. 

    These students were freely outfitted with school uniforms and the teaching staff was hand-picked as this well-funded social experiment unfolded.  From the first day of school, the students were told that they were chosen to be in this school because of their unique potential.  They were told that they were among the talented and gifted students in the United States.  The faculty of the school treated each of the children with the respect and encouragement that they would give to young geniuses. 

    Their dress code, the way that they were inspired, and the way they were made to feel the promise of remarkable futures caused most of students to live up to the expectations others had of them.  No one told them that they were children from underprivileged families living in a public housing project built by the Department of Human Services.  Children had no way of knowing much about themselves other than how adults were treating them.   

    Very few acted out due to poor modeling by their parents, or the constant listening to derogatory labeling that societies do to welfare children who have come from other public housing settlements.  The children learned to mirror the labels that were being given to them by the faculty and staff of the school.

    This experiment proved what children can become when adults treat them as one-of-a-kind geniuses.  Students excelled in everything from athletics to their academic accomplishments. The graduation rate was over 90 percent. 

    The results from the one school inspired authorities to build other magnet schools. The failure of some children to perform as expected occurred mostly due to their mistreatment by adults that surrounded them or from developmental difficulties.

    As we return to the life of Jesus, he began teaching others how to live in their world just like the faculty in that first magnet school.  Imagine what happened to people when they learned from Jesus that they were created to become like a light to the world and the leaven for the loaf.  He was inspiring them to unleash their own divinity. He was teaching them that they were created to mirror the likeness of God. (John 10:34) Jesus never once labeled anyone as a fallen sinner.  The only place I have heard that label given to people is from institutional religion.

    Not everyone has understood what Jesus was trying to accomplish through his brief ministry. What he did was teach people how to live in a world filled with alluring blind alleys that can easily stifle their inner creativity. 

    Showing people how to live requires that his listeners assume the responsibility for their choices as opposed to having something done on their behalf as millions of people believe.

    If we do not take charge of developing our one-of-a-kind creative spirit, our culture and institutional religion will mold us by teaching us how we are expected to live. So many people in our background became cookie-cutter Christians because they were enticed into saving themselves by parroting certain beliefs rather than expressing what was within them.

    With Jesus' own words he said, "Go into the world and teach everyone how to live. My spirit will be within you until the end of time."  (Matthew 28:19f) His challenge was to convince others that the source of their divinity was not visible to their senses. 

    The petition in the Lord's Prayer that says, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," describes an opportunity everyone has. Jesus was not suggesting in his prayer that he or God will bring that Kingdom to us. Finding that narrow gate is our responsibility. (Matthew 7:13f)

    In the Gnostic text, the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus taught that "The Kingdom of the Father is spread out over the earth and people cannot see it." Jesus taught his disciples to teach others to generate loving thoughts and feelings from within themselves where their invisible divinity has its origin. 

    The Kingdom of God was the metaphor Jesus used to describe this invisible world. One of the earliest versions of the Golden Rule is found in Leviticus 19:18, written 1300 years before Jesus was born. The possibility of living from this invisible source of loving energy has been in all of us since the beginning of time. However, Jesus is the only teacher specifically to mine the gold and riches that exists in each one of us.

    Jesus also taught others about the unconditional loving nature of God. This teaching was totally new to his listeners.  In fact, Jesus is the first teacher in history to describe God as the mysterious source of all loving energy and creativity whose deeds are only recognized by those who have developed a high degree of spiritual awareness.  

    As we enter the New Year let us choose to make our mission one that teaches others to listen to the voice of love and compassion within them rather than the voice of their emotions that can be very persuasive in encouraging them to respond to hurt, disappointment, frustration and injustice with anger, resentment and a desire to fight fire with fire. 

    Listen to what Paul wrote as translated in Eugene Peterson's work called, The Message.  These were the words I used when I opened the service:

Don't become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what God wants from you, and quickly respond to it, unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity. God brings out the best in you.  That is something your culture cannot do. (Romans 12:2) 



Eternal and always faithful God, we thank you for moments of anticipation coupled with times of reflection.  We can dream about where we are going while recalling where we have been.  Throughout our journey, we have slowly discovered our meaning and purpose.  The New Year always provides us with moments to change uncertainties into opportunities.  Please give us the vision that will guide us to stretch by letting go of what cannot serve our growth.  As we leave our guilt and regrets behind, help us to remember that it is never too late to awaken to the reality of who we really are as your sons and daughters.  Amen.



Loving God, what a year it has been! There were times when our lives were overwhelmed because of the demands of our schedules. There were other times when we could quiet ourselves, curl up on our sofa with a good book and relax. We come this morning on the last Sunday of the year asking once again for the guidance of your Holy Spirit as our lives continue to evolve and unfold.

    Teach us why complaining is the easiest response we can make and drains the energy of others who are trying to make a difference.  Guide us to understand why resistant attitudes never motivated us to roll up our sleeves or say, "Here am I. Send me." Teach us why our spoken opinions are useless unless they are helpful, insightful and kind. Help us to learn why laughter is so critical to the balance of life and why doing something for others enables us to rise above the cares that usually defeat us. Show us why commitment and thoughtfulness are as essential to living as is our being open to possibilities. As we enter the New Year, may we do so free of old hurts and liberated from habits that obscure our loving spirits.  Help us to stand ready to embrace change as one of the options that will help us to continue our growth. Ignite in our spirits a burning desire to live inspired lives so that we can enable others to unleash their own divinity. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .