“What Was Jesus’True Legacy?

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

Centenary United Methodist Church

Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

    As I was creating my sermon for today, a wave of energy swept over me when I typed the numerals of our New Year.  Having experienced our 50th wedding anniversary and my 55th high school reunion some months ago, it dawned on me how life has taken so many twists and turns that could never have been predicted by anyone.  The question came to my mind, "Would I have wanted to know about my future before I experienced it?" 

    While researching sermon information over a year ago, I encountered a pop-up ad on my computer screen from a highly regarded astrologer in California.  Out of curiosity about what professionals like Victoria are doing these days, I took the bait and provided her with my birth date and a few other minor personal details.

    My intrigue was based on what she might say and she followed up my response to her with a very predictable formula.  Victoria or members of her staff responded with the thought that our meeting each other was no accident.  She told me that exciting things were going to happen to me and she was willing to coach me during these events to maximize my experience. 

    She gave me specific dates when these unexpected venues, experiences and paths would present themselves.  I wanted to see how good she was at predicting highly specific information about my future.  She did not disappoint me.  Why?  I had no expectations that she could predict anything correctly.

    As these dates approached, she grew most insistent that her guidance was needed, but a certain payment was necessary for her to unlock this treasure trove of events.  Of course no payment was ever made and the specific dates came and went without the heavens opening with a cornucopia of extraordinary blessings.

    This made me wonder if the numerous predictions about Jesus coming into the world could survive the same test of matching the predictions with what actually happened.  What really was gained by Mary and Joseph from all those who shared how special their child was?  My belief is that Mary and Joseph would have done just fine without knowing so many opinions from others including those from angels.

    Our lesson this morning features the arrival of three astrologers from Persia that had seen signs in the heavens that a baby was to be born in King Herod's realm that was destined to become the King of the Jews.  Herod the Great was highly disturbed by the arrival of a baby who would assume his throne some time in the future.  How could Herod, the great, be threatened by a newborn baby?  Apparently, he was.

    Let's review a number of the predictions that were showered on Mary and Joseph.   First, Mary experienced a message from God that gave her highly specific information from the angel Gabriel:

You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God.  The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever.  His kingdom will never end. 

    Following this, a group of shepherds arrived at the stable and told Mary and Joseph that angels had directed them to come there.  They were told, "This very day in David's town, your Savior, Christ, the Lord, was born.  Go and see this child.  (Luke 2:11). 

    Next, we have the astrologers arriving some weeks later, and when they saw Jesus, they knelt down and worshipped the baby.  They deposited their gifts and went on their way back to Persia satisfied that they had seen the birth of a great ruler of the world. (Matthew 2:11). 

    Next, there was Mary and Joseph's experience of Simeon at the Temple where they had taken their son for a ritual blessing.  Simeon held Jesus in his arms and said, "This child was chosen by God for many great things. (Luke 2:34f)

    After all of these predictions, nothing significant happened to Jesus for the next eighteen years.  Think of it.  Until his awakening at his baptism, Jesus had been providing for his family through his trade as a carpenter.  Tradition has it that Joseph was killed by a crane that collapsed during the building of Herod's fortress at Masada. The Gospels do not offer any explanation why Joseph is never mentioned during the later narrative of Jesus' life.  

    The predictions by Victoria of marvelous things happening to me never happened.  When we consider Jesus' life and teachings, not one prediction about his life came true during his lifetime.  Jesus never became a king.  He never became the Savior of Israel.  As far as being the Messiah, that did not happen either in spite of how anyone defines that understanding.  After Jesus was crucified, Rome would remain in power in the region for a considerable time.

    It was Mary who pondered the thoughts of others in her heart. We have to wonder what Mary was thinking when she stood at the foot of the cross thirty-three years later where her son was dying.  What were her emotions telling her as she recalled the words of Gabriel, "The Lord God will make him King, as his ancestor David was and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever.

    How did the story of Jesus survive after his crucifixion? That is a great mystery.  When we trace historically the origin of Jesus' fame and legacy, the followers of the way of Jesus had become highly energized by the resurrection experiences and began to preach with fearless abandon.  They clearly had a message that grew from their experiences of Jesus after his death.

    No one could take those experiences away from them anymore than someone can deny the out-of-the-body experiences of patients that occurred during surgery.  Patients have seen and heard things that documented for them that all of us do live when our bodies die.  The disciples had already experienced this marvel earlier while on the Mt. of Transfiguration.  (Matthew 17:3)

    Peter became the head of the group that cloistered themselves in Jerusalem.  He tried to fold the way of Jesus back into Judaism. However, his desire was radically changed by the intervention of "a voice" instructing him to include gentiles in his mission work.  (Acts 10: 13f)  A Roman centurion and his family were the first gentiles to become followers of Jesus. 

     Finally, Jesus' legacy was championed by the Apostle Paul after he was radically changed by Jesus intervening in his life in a most dramatic way. (Acts 9:3f)  As a result of all these awakenings and the testimonies of a highly energized group of committed followers, all of the predictions about Jesus came true from the imaginations of later believers.  However, the titles became spiritualized and had nothing to do with leadership styles as we typically understand them in the material world.  (John 18:36f)

    Again, how did the story of Jesus survive until it arrived in our lives?  The answer is that a good number of people began to have an explosive-experience, a life changing epiphany, a flash of insight that awakened them from being controlled by their animal spirits.  (Romans 12:2)  There have been enough awakenings to spread the word.  What was that word? Their epiphanies, their flashes of sudden insight were all different.  Abraham, Moses, the Prophets, Jesus and Paul all had very different encounters, but the result was the same --a profound course-correction in the way they had been living.

    Someone once described the spontaneous change like this:

It came with the sudden realization that I was living with a parallel universe. Our material world was causing me to take all my cues for living from the rat race of competition while the other world allowed me to take responsibility for my appetites, personality, character and spirit.  My head had been in the sands of economics and politics on a daily basis.  My awakening was the most profound experience of my life.  I changed overnight.  One might say my hazy understanding of life suddenly focused by a sharp recognition of my real identity.

    The understanding of salvation has dramatically changed in recent years.  For those who have gained this new insight, salvation has nothing to do with what happens to us when we die. It has to do with the quality of life on this side of the curtain.  The spiritual shift is no longer about saving our souls from hell.  Today, salvation means being like Jesus right now because we have all his spiritual essentials within us.  (Matthew 17:20)

    Some years ago, I met a woman who was the pastor of a very fortunate congregation.  She had one of the most remarkable, insightful spirits I have ever encountered. I had an occasion to sit with her at lunch during a convention.  I learned that she had been a physician of internal medicine and left a thriving practice to attend seminary and become an ordained pastor.  She had an explosive awakening and an irresistible pull to leave her practice.   In brief, this was what she told me:

The reason I left medicine was that I found myself treating symptoms of people who need spiritual help.  I grew tired of prescribing medications that only mask what people were doing to themselves.  Most people do not realize that their bodies are a print-out of what is going on inside of them. If only people understood the power of their thoughts and emotions. When fears are changed into loving energy, it shows up in the health of their bodies. Making this change has been healing for me in many ways. I had an awakening akin to what Jesus experienced at his baptism. I did not leave a lucrative medical practice; I ran from it. You have no idea how free I am today.  Treating causes rather than symptoms is wonderful.  I love what I am doing now.

    There are a lot of Christians who live by faith. They have never had a profound awakening.  They have developed their faith and trust by how others have trained them to think.  There are others that truly know Jesus' mission from having a powerful experience.  Together, all of these people have passed on the true legacy of Jesus.  Jesus' mission was to teach people to awaken to the guidance of the loving, creative energies within them.  (John 18:36)  Truly, this is our mission in 2017.   

    Happy New Year!



     We thank you, God, for the dawning of a New Year.  Guide us to understand each day as our personal diamond to be polished.  Guide us to address the habits and attitudes that have made us creatures of need rather than disciples that are motivated to serve.  Teach us to practice living our faith by trusting completely that your will is being accomplished.  We are confident that our lives are every bit as valuable as those in the Scriptures. They had their turn in making your will known.  Now, it is our turn.  We can show up in life, love our neighbors and trust you to fill in the details.  Amen.



     Loving and ever faithful God, most of us are so grateful for all the remembrances that we have experienced this Christmas season.   Yet within the deeper recesses of our spirits, there is a joy that the New Year has come and our lives once again can return to some degree of normalcy. 

    So often, O God, the sharing of our greatest gifts does not come during moments in our lives when we are exchanging Christmas presents.  They come while we are engaged in what we consider routine, when we are simply being ourselves and others find our caring presence the greatest gift of all.  How often you bless us with gifts and qualities that we do not appreciate because we do not recognize them.   Thank you for loving us just as you find us. 

    As we begin our journey into the New Year, help us to find new ways of coping with our mood swings, new ways of dealing with the unpleasant cyclical themes that never seem to go away, new ways to be kinder with our words and more time to think carefully before we react with displeasure.  Help us to learn that our epiphanies, those flashes of insight, can happen all the time when we allow our spirits to guide us rather than our emotions.  Inspire us to remember that you are in charge of creation while we remain participants in the greatest drama in the universe – our partnership with you.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray. . .