“When Love Blinds Us To Everything Else”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – March 12, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 121; John 3:1-12


    This morning we are going to continue where we left off last Sunday.  You may recall that we discussed the meaning of a virgin birth, an expression that was used by the Greek philosophers to describe one of their Aha! moments when a new truth awakened their spirits.  Such an experience transformed their interpretation and perceptions about their lives and the universe they lived in.

    A man can meet a woman, and, without the slightest warning, he can suddenly transform her from a plain, ordinary lady named Betty into an Elizabeth whom he now sees as a goddess.  The experience is like his heart has blinded him to everything else in his life or that he drank some love potion. He is completely mesmerized and does not know how he ever got along in life without her.  She is now the love of his life. His feelings totally transformed both of their lives. The barn became a castle.  The row boat was seen as a luxurious yacht. He can write  poetry about her and about his new understanding of life.

    We can smile at this young man's obvious infatuation with Betty, but what this man experienced was very close to what overwhelmed the Apostle Paul following his transformation.  He became highly motivated to tell others how his experience completely changed his life. He wanted everyone to have a spiritual awakening.  He had graduated from meticulously following the Laws of Moses to being energized by his spiritual energy.  He walked away from everything that he once highly valued.

    In our lesson this morning, Nicodemus came to visit Jesus under the cover of darkness. Nicodemus probably had heard Jesus' message and wanted to learn more about the origin of what he was teaching.  During the discussion that followed, Jesus began to realize that his Aha! moments in the wilderness could not be taught even to this teacher.

    This past week I received an email from a woman who wanted me to perform her wedding ceremony.  Unfortunately, her wedding day coincided with the Wednesday that Lois and I will be returning to Bermuda from the States.  She responded with how sorry she was and added a lovely comment to her email, "I could go on and on about Brent and my story and the blessings God has given to us.  It really is a neat miracle and beautiful love story."

    Personal experiences cannot be taught; they can only be shared.  This is what Jesus recognized as soon as he began talking to Nicodemus.  What Jesus was teaching were symptoms that become visible in a life that has been transformed by the love bug.  Jesus said, "A person is born physically by human parents, but that person must also be born spiritually when his or her spirit has awakened." (John 3:6)

    Nicodemus needed more clarity.  Jesus further mucked up the water of Nicodemus' understanding by saying something that was even more confusing and abstract:

The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like this with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)

    Nicodemus said, "What on earth are you talking about?"  Jesus answered by asking him two more questions.

You are a great teacher in Israel and you do not know this?  If you do not understand how much you need to change your frame of reference, your understanding and your attitudes about this world, how would you ever grasp anything that I might share with you about Heaven?  (John 3:10f)

    All of us have had moments when we did not understand what someone else was trying to teach us.  I can remember vividly sitting in our kitchen of my childhood home while my mother was preparing supper.  She was trying to teach me the multiplication tables.  In her experience, she could say seven times eight is 56, five times nine is 45. I sat there mystified thinking, "How does she do that?" In those days, students had to learn the time tables before they could advance in their studies of math.

    Problem solving in the bricks-and-mortar world is much easier than solving problems happening in our inner world, i.e., hurt feelings, the death of a loved one and dealing with the lack of justice in our world.  Jesus was trying to teach Nicodemus that nothing in his life will change until his spiritual musculature becomes transformed. The problem was that this mystical quality of his life remained beyond his five senses. This is why personal experiences cannot be taught; they can only be shared.   

    One of the marvels of our modern world is that people can hardly wait for the next big thing to surface. Societies have learned that there is nothing that can stop an idea whose time has come. 

    Learning about the tools that come from spiritual knowledge is not on everyone's list of priorities.  Jesus was a visionary that understood how human life could be transformed for everyone if people would take time to learn a little more about fine-tuning their attitudes, life-styles and vision. 

    In Jesus' day, Teachers of the Law set the rules for everyone.  Their authority was powerful and the Jews obeyed.  No one questioned their heritage and traditions because most Jews believed that their patterns for living had been handed down by God.  No one was ever tempted to change religious beliefs that had been in place for centuries until Jesus began teaching a new narrative.

    Jesus was teaching values and principles that would work in any culture, religion, family, work-environment or organization.  What has happened in more recent times is that authors have picked the fruit from Jesus' tree and repackaged it for use in the secular business world.  What has been repackaged is called, Best Practices. 

    Scores of books have been written on how to develop smooth management styles of large and small companies.  Among these book titles are these: Brains and How to Get Them, Laws of Leadership, Good to Great, Who Moved My Cheese, The Power of Habit and The Innovators’ Dilemma.

    Jesus' teachings do have a universal application in every setting.  The problem is that Jesus' teachings can become a mask worn by a manager of a company.  When that manager goes home, he can be sick and tired of being nice and patient with employees and customers that he believes did not deserve such an understanding response. His frustration happens because his mask allowed him to look like he had skills of spirit.  His mask was communicating learned life-skills rather than abilities created from a transformed spirit.

    In spite of this reality, Best Practices are steps taken in a more wholesome direction. Try to imagine how far we have come in our evolution when ideas are greeted by hungry minds rather than by fear-mongering authorities who are crying blasphemy.  In earlier times the one promoting creative thought, better ideas and new ways of understanding life was killed.  We can hardly imagine living in such a day.

    William Tyndale was arrested for heresy in 1535.  The next year he was convicted and bound to a stake where he was publicly strangled to death.  To make a more powerful statement, the guardians of what God had graciously provided burned his body.  His crime?  He dared to translate God's Holy Word into English from earlier Hebrew and Greek texts.  Today, when Eugene Peterson published his Bible, The Message, it was greeted by a host of enthusiastic readers.

    Today there are more visionaries than at any other time in history. However, their visions are primarily focused on future technologies for improving life on earth and possibly traveling into outer space. The incentive of a large payday in their future has venture capitalists circling like sharks around new technologies that show great promise.  These are groups of wealthy people who use their pool of money to fund start-up companies.

    The next big thing is not the development of a neuro-neutralizing stun gun or a particle beam weapon that can destroy incoming ballistic missiles from enormous distances.  All that we need to do to understand what the next big thing needs to be is to look around, watch the news or read the headlines. Human technology has far outpaced the sense of responsibility on how to use it. Adults that have the emotional skills of a child have gained access to technologies that can destroy entire populations.  

      Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Being born of the spirit is like being born again." Jesus was not talking about masks that managers can wear.  He was talking about the transformation of the spirits by which people live. The reason that human values clash so violently is that people have spent little or no time gaining control over the source of what motivates them.  

    Everyone has the ability to access the same transformative energy that helped our young lover to change Betty into an Elizabethan goddess.  Until more people access this energy and develop it, events in the external world will always have control over their emotions and thinking.

     What really touched my spirit this week was reading that 27 girls from Bermuda High School had all of their hair cut off in support of child cancer research.  Young girls are extremely sensitive about how they look.  When girls give up an essential aspect of their physical attractiveness to raise money for child cancer research, they communicate a very different attractiveness that comes from within them.

    A litmus test for us during our Lenten walk is to recognize how calm and collected our emotions and thoughts remain during times when we are confronted with what has the potential to threaten our inner peace.  Our inner peace should never be in the hands of anything or anyone in the external world.

    Having this ability tells the world that what and who we are is no mask. Has love blinded us to everything else so that our spirits have become enthusiastically alive every day?  If so, we are not who we used to be.  We have grown up.

    As far as Nicodemus is concerned, early Christian sources reveal that he eventually got the message.  One of the lost books of the Bible is The Gospel of Nicodemus that is also known as The Acts of Pilate.  He reportedly wrote his remembrances of events shortly after Jesus' crucifixion. Nicodemus had learned that his experience could not be taught; it could only be shared.  Is sharing our experience something that we are doing every day?



Loving God, most of us long for a vision that keeps your presence in our daily awareness. Yet we confess that we cannot always separate the wheat from the chaff.  We cannot always recognize your presence in the challenges we face, nor can we sense that we are being blessed by everything that confronts us.  Only through hindsight do we observe your footprints in events where we thought we were standing alone.  Teach us to desire faith over fear.  Guide us to remember that we do not need to understand why life’s events unfold before we possess an unshakable faith.  We are amazed that you used the death of Jesus to give us a window through which to view eternity.  Amen.



We have drawn ourselves into your presence, O God, with a deep sense of appreciation for how worship centers our lives on the needs of spirit.  When we come here and open ourselves anew to the healing of your presence, how peaceful we become when we truly let go of all that makes demands of us.  Your presence becomes like a sponge that absorbs our cares, and, in their place, we find encouragement, hope and peace.  You never tire at giving us new ways to define who we are. Your inspiration provides us with fresh insights into our struggles and frustrations. 

As our spirits seek greater growth, how easy it is to become like a stream that takes the path of least resistance.  We know the struggles when issues of pleasure confront those of character.  We are no strangers to the attractiveness of compromise and expediency.  We know how powerful self-interest is when we can so easily turn a blind eye to developing a stronger character.

Evoke in us, O God, the memory that we are created in your image.  Help us to carry that awareness into each relationship and circumstance, particularly during these Lenten days when we watch how Jesus did so.  We pray that we will make visible the values that cause us to become cheerleaders rather than critics.  May your will be done on earth because we are enthusiastically alive in your service.   We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .