“Why Are We Not Convinced?”

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

Centenary United Methodist Church

Colossians 3:1-4; Luke 24:1-12


    Last Sunday, we discussed how Jesus was visually demonstrating a lesson to the masses of people that were struggling with an issue with which every generation has struggled -- their unhappiness with those who were governing their lives.  For the Jews the issue was the Roman occupation. 

    Jesus entered Jerusalem in the midst of palm-waving hopeful believers that he was the coming Messiah that was foretold by the Prophets.  His entrance into the Holy City disappointed their hope that he was the One. 

    Jesus wanted his people to understand that the Messiah they wanted was never going to come.  There has never been a liberator in history that has improved every person's attitude by making changes to their secular world.  The seed Jesus was planting was the idea that freedom and liberty will only be achieved by individuals who change their attitudes and lifestyle.

    Jesus' message fell on deaf ears.  Why was no one paying attention? People tend to see only what they have been culturally prepared to see. Think of the mindset of the Jews during this period in their history.  They had gathered to celebrate Passover. They looked upon themselves as God's chosen people. By always celebrating events in their past, the Jews were convinced that God would send a Messiah as he had done numerous times for their ancestors.  

    When God chose to destroy the world because of humanity's wickedness, Noah and his family were chosen to save all the species on earth. They built an Ark into which they gathered eight pairs of clean and unclean animals (Genesis7:2).  When God's chosen faced starvation, Joseph arose to save them.  (Genesis 47:11)  When the Hebrew's needed to be saved from their slavery in Egypt, Moses arrived.  He parted the sea so that the Israelites could escape the advancing army of Egypt. (Exodus 14:21   Joshua lead his people to conquer all the cities that occupied land that centuries before, God had promised to give to Abraham's descendents. (Joshua 1:5)    

    The Jews knew that Yahweh was a powerful, male, warrior-god that had led the Israelites to victory after victory throughout their entire history. As the Hebrews swarmed over the settled people of Canaan, Joshua gave this order:

The Lord has given you Jericho.  The city and every living thing in it must be totally destroyed as a thanksgiving sacrifice and offering to the Lord.  With their swords drawn, they killed every man, woman and child in the city. They also killed the cattle, sheep and donkeys. (Joshua 6:16 & 21)

    These saviors were only a part of what formed their understanding of God's nature. Freeing them from their captivity by Rome would represent one more opportunity for God to demonstrate his power. This was the nature of God that the Jews had been taught for centuries.  No one thought differently about God until Jesus began his ministry in Judea.  

    Jesus came into the lives of his people to change dramatically these earlier myths and images of God. We cannot imagine the enormity of the task in front of Jesus. The Jews that had been educated for centuries by their heritage and traditions were now being taught to understand God as a loving, energized Spirit disbursing unconditional love.  

    In cultures throughout history, societies generally created their gods from the beliefs held by their ancestors. No one can fault the Jews for holding on to what they had been trained to believe.  Christians today face this same dilemma.  Cultures have always built their societies around such deities, e.g., in Egypt, the sun was worshipped because of its mysterious power to make crops grow. Without the Sun, there would have been no food. 

    As we turn to our lesson for today, use your imaginations and try to imagine being among the disciples that were feeling sorry for themselves. Their teacher of love your enemies had just been killed by his detractors.  They were horrified and living in fear. They were feeling completely abandoned by God when a group of women whom they all knew entered their gathering with exciting news.  They told the disciples what two angels had asked them, "Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive?" 

    The disciples had witnessed countless miracles by Jesus, but this tale of the women sounded ridiculous, and not one of them was convinced that it was true. (Luke 24:11)  It is quite possible that the disciples' response resulted from not knowing anything about Jesus' resurrection.  

    If Jesus had taught the group that he would appear to them after his death, as is suggested by other Gospel references, they would not have sat there in disbelief. Peter ran to the tomb after hearing their words.  He was amazed to find the tomb as the women had said. Was he excited by an empty tomb?  No, he went home. (Luke 24:12)

    One of my fondest fantasies has been to allow people to experience their deaths for about 15 minutes after which they would be successfully resuscitated.  If we had such an experience, all of us would return to our physical forms with a story to tell.  Such an experience would enable us to reassess the value of our struggles in this life and cause us to realign our priorities.

    Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote the ground-breaking book entitled, On Death and Dying.  Her book chronicled the stages that people go through once they receive the news that their days are numbered.   Soon after writing her book, Elizabeth began researching a subject that intrigued her. She interviewed countless people that had near-death experiences and came back with amazing stories. 

    Elizabeth found that no longer was there a need for speculation about afterlife or talk about trusting one's faith.  What each of them had experienced changed their lives dramatically.  They saw the Big Picture that took them beyond the petty issues of their earth-experiences. No one could convince them that what they experienced was an illusion. They returned with a new interpretation of what our earth experiences are trying to teach us.

    For Christians who had this experience, people returned with an understanding of why Jesus did everything that he could to teach his followers that their physical lives had a purpose.  Their earth-experience was like a training facility or a simulator for testing and retesting their spiritual energy by presenting people with various choices. 

    What Christians learned from their near-death experiences is that love is not an emotion; it is a highly energized compassionate, forgiving presence.  By experiencing ahead of time what happens to all of us at death, these individuals found it easier to detach themselves from the issues of this world.

    All of us can use and enjoy our earthly experiences knowing that our lives can also be spent polishing the skill of letting go of angry, resentful thoughts, frustrating circumstances and disappointing experiences, none of which will prove helpful after our physical deaths. (Matthew 9:17)

    The time in which we are living is absolutely the best time to be alive.  Never have our choices been so clear about where we want to be anchored. We are free to expend our energy on issues surfacing in our ever-changing world or we can invest our energy in developing our inner world. There is no right and wrong with how people chose to live their lives. All of us mature in spirit at our own pace.

    I read an article recently that described the number of divorces that have occurred over the result of the Presidential election in the United States.  The article further discussed how polarized Americans have become, to the point where verbal and physical violence is commonplace where there are political gatherings.  What is clear is that choices determine the quality of spirit that people wish to display.

    People can anchor themselves to one of the many cycling dramas of the material world that have continued to entice people's involvements for thousands of years. Jesus taught, "Where your treasure is, that is where your heart and spirit will also be anchored." (Matthew 6:21).   We know this teaching, but it feels right to defend what we value.  It is our emotions and our five senses that often provide guidance for our responses.  If we knew the Big Picture, we might choose differently as did Jesus when he faced the cross.

    When the doubting disciples eventually encountered the risen Jesus for themselves, they abandoned their fears.  No one can explain how once cowering men burst on to the scene filled with fearless, unabashed energy to tell their story. They had become energized by seeing Jesus after he had died.

    We can only use our imaginations when we consider the consequences for the man who detonated his explosive vest on Palm Sunday outside of a Coptic Christian church in Egypt. He killed forty-four people and wounded scores of others.        

    Imagine him and those he thought he had killed together on the other side of the curtain. The group is approached by a compassionate Muslim Saint that was well-known to the suicide bomber. That saint reveals a new insight to the group. The man had ended the physical lives of people that had incarnated into the world for the same reason that he did. They were not infidels as he had been taught.  All of them were still very much alive. They blinked and they transitioned from their physical experience to the one where they now found themselves.          

    At that moment the bomber learned that he had been following the teachings of people who created Allah in their own image.  At that moment he also learned that Allah is only a verbal reference for the same Creator that provided an opportunity for spirit-beings to test and refine their skills of spirit in a different environment.

    The frustration that Jesus faced during his entire ministry was that he could not put others in possession of his understanding of the Big Picture.  By returning in a recognizable form, Jesus put a rubber stamp of proof on why his teachings supported the reason for our being in these limited solid forms.

    I went to a hospital to visit a man who knew that he was dying. He had a remarkable faith.  He knew all the code words and theology that had guided his life. As I sat with him, he took my hand and said, "Dick, I am afraid of dying.  I cannot explain it.  I find it hard to imagine that I must leave behind everything that I have experienced and all the people that I have loved."

    He struggled every moment to stay on this side of the curtain.  People called Don "a fighter."  Had he only known what was ahead, he would have run toward his transition instead of resisting. The day came when I learned that he had died. I went to the hospital immediately to be with his wife at his bedside. 

    When I got back into my car to come home, a Country-Western song came on the radio the very second that I started the car.  I knew immediately that somehow Don had engineered that moment to signal to me that all was well with his soul. The words of that song were perfect.  I smiled and said out loud, "I got it!  I got it!  Isn't life wonderful, Don, now that you have taken off the training wheels of your bike?  Thanks for letting me know that you are okay with what has happened to you." 

    This was Jesus' final message to the world:  "Learn to develop a loving presence every day.  You will find that having this skill will be useful when you arrive where I am."  


Happy Easter!



O God, how often we enter the experience of life with resurrection-faith as our hope but have the doubts of Thomas in our hearts. Help us this Easter morning to walk away from the tombs that so easily imprison us: a spirit that cannot forgive, pursuits that seemingly prevent us from feeding our spirits and decisions that bind us because we live in a world that never stops changing. Jesus left his tomb and bid us to follow him.  Help us to re-enter our world with faith and trust that the life we create goes on and on.   Amen.



Loving and eternally faithful God, we thank you for your inexhaustible patience with our world.  We are grateful that your love for us is so all-encompassing that you have provided us with insight through the resurrection of Jesus, that life is eternal for all of us. There is no greater lesson that provides us with the staying power to persevere even when the quality of life appears to be so uncertain and chaotic.

Inspire us to recognize that the world is what it is and that all of us are angels-in-the-flesh that are only passing through during a brief phase of its history.  Help us never to grow weary of sowing our seeds that demonstrate how better to extend our love to each other. Cause us to remember how fortunate we are to be able to use our lives as vehicles through which your love comes into a world that desperately needs diverse people to embrace collectively what it means to live in community.  Help the scales, caused by living in a material world, to fall from our eyes so that we are able to live in eternity right now.

So many people are suffering this Easter morning in many countries.  Sometimes the words, “He has risen,” appear empty and hollow when children have been killed by a deadly toxin in Syria, when people have allowed their politics to bind them to the material world, and when men and women celebrate their pride of murdering and destroying under the cloak of religious faithfulness.  Everyone needs that blueprint your Son left us, to love one another.  Inspire all of us to keep the world’s people in our thoughts and prayers.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught his disciples to say when they prayed . . .