“Becoming Someone’s Cheerleader

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – March 18, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-26

    Our lesson for today is a variation of an ancient myth that surfaced around the same historic timeline in many cultures of the world. In John's Gospel, Jesus said:

I am telling you the truth:  a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain until it is dropped into the ground.  After it is buried, life continues and from that seed comes many more seeds. (John 12:24)

    When roaming people began to switch from hunting animals for their principle food supply to agriculture, these myths began to take root in their societies.  These stories circulated to explain to newer generations how their current nutritional needs changed from their earlier days.  There was a time when meat was their only source of nutrition.  It was taking more and more meat as the tribes grew in size.

    In the culture of North America, a stranger approached a man who was hunting for game.  After spending some time with him, the stranger invited his new acquaintance to engage in a wrestling match.  This occurred on three separate occasions.  Each time the stranger allowed the man to win. 

    After the third defeat, the stranger said: Now you must cut off my head and bury my body. In future days, you must care for my burial site. The man did as he was told and from the man's body came corn and a variety of grains from which the people could feed themselves and their animals as well as to make bread.  Gradually, products from agriculture were entering the mix into their diet.

    In Polynesian cultures thousands of miles away, there was a similar myth that surfaced around the same date.  A beautiful maiden engaged in the daily habit of swimming and bathing in a river.  The river was also the home of a large eel that brushed against the woman's thighs as she bathed.  Eventually, the eel swam on to the shore and became a very handsome young man. 

    The two had a love affair.  After the third occasion, the man said: You must cut off my head, bury my body and attend to my burial site.  The words were nearly identical to the myth used in North America.  In the years that followed, large coconut palms grew. Inside the husk was a coconut seed that had the markings of the man's head containing a nutritional liquid. 

    It is interesting that Jesus should use a similar storyline to teach his listeners about nutrition.  However, Jesus was not talking about a new food supply.  He was teaching a lesson that had never been heard before by anyone.  His lesson had to do with what happens to people when they nourish their spirits.  His words reinforced the same lesson that he would later illustrate during his last supper with the disciples.   

    The disciples were being asked to allow the seed of Jesus' spirit to take root within each of them. He illustrated this by inviting them to take into their bodies the bread and wine, symbolic of his body and blood.  Instead of being nourished by food, each person would experience their spirit being nourished by changes to their attitudes about their friends, neighbors and enemies.   

    Once the seed of Jesus' spirit had been taken into the lives of his followers, it would grow and spread. He also taught what his followers should expect as a result.  This transformation of spirit would not give them the answers to all the mysteries of living.

    They could expect pain and the confusion of not knowing how to interpret their lives. They might experience being misunderstood by others.  They might experience branches growing that would never bear fruit.  Such branches must be pruned as Jesus' own branches had been.  (John 15:1-2)

    Jesus knew that there is a consciousness within each of us that wants to grow and mature in spirit.  People want to learn how to gain control over their feelings and thinking so they will grow away from their more primitive, childish attitudes and behavior.  Without being clear in their understanding of what is happening to them, people mature in the same way that all plants grow. 

    When a plant sprouts, it automatically knows where the sun's light is.  Its leaves experience the reflex of turning toward the light.  This process is called Heliotropism.  It is the response of all living things to light. After experiencing an emotional and spiritual rough patch in life, people have often said, I am doing better now because I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    Dandelions have a consciousness within their seeds that knows how to grow toward the sun even though the seed can be buried under four inches of asphalt of a freshly paved parking lot.  When East-end Asphalt was preparing to install the driveway at the parsonage, they used a very strong herbicide to kill all existing seeds before they started with the paving.

    Jesus understood people.  He knew that people will respond to being bathed in love from those who care about them.  Plants grow toward the sun, but people have within them a consciousness that automatically responds to love in the same fashion.

    A book that I read decades ago described this reflex.  The author was a pediatric specialist that was invited by the Brazilian government to find out why the death rate among newborns was alarmingly high in their new state-of-the-art hospital. 

    Dr. Knicely found that in the nursery, infants were being fed by positioning them so they could suck on the nipple of a bottle of formula that was fastened on the side of the crib.  Their mothers' breast milk was weak in nutritional value due to their poor diet. Dr. Knicely found that a lack of sterility was not the problem causing infant deaths. 

    He asked the staff to take the babies to their mothers who would hold and talk to them while giving them the formula.  Instantly, the infant mortality rate dropped to nearly zero.  His theory was that babies needed to be loved by someone as soon as they are born.  Just as babies were dying without receiving love, so do adults.         

    Last week, in the middle of the four inches of rain that was falling, I dashed into A-1 Grocery Store across the street from the church to buy ground beef that is 90 percent fat free.  They were the only store that occasionally got the percentage accurate. There was none on the shelf when I got there, so I spoke to the butcher.  

    I told him how disappointed I was that butchers constantly produce 90 percent fat free meat that is far from being 90 percent.  He was a Filipino man who invited me to see the meat he was preparing to grind for the 90 percent packages.   The meat had practically no fat at all.

    He said, "I want you to watch what I do."  No butcher had ever invited me to watch what he does. When I saw the finished product, I told him that in all my seven years of being in Bermuda, I have never seen meat that was this lean.  I bought four packs. 

    Having never seen him before, I asked him where he had been hiding.  He told me that he came to Bermuda from California just a month ago.  I welcomed him to our island and told him that I would buy my meat from him.  When his packages were marked "lean," they actually were. 

    Next, he told me what my words were doing to him. He said,

Your words make the hair on my arms to stand straight up and they warm my heart. Everyone complains when they are not happy. Your words are different, and they make me want to work harder to please our customers.

    Then he disappeared, and he came back with the store manager of A-1 as well as the General Manager of all the Market Place stores who happened to be there that day.  The new butcher said, "Please say your words again to these men." 

    What I felt was that this new butcher was literally starving to death for validation and feeling appreciated.  His awareness of his own needs was quite similar to the needs of those Brazilian infants who could not speak for themselves.

    Having just come from California, he had no acquaintances or friends and he was acknowledging his need to be loved and recognized as being important.  I said to the two managers: 

    Please keep this butcher.  He really cares about his craft and I can attest to his skills. This is the first time in seven years that I have found 90 percent fat free meat that is truly 90 percent. Your new butcher knows exactly what he is doing.

    With smiles on their faces, the manager responded, "No need to worry about that.  If he brings you back into our store, we will keep him."  Then the General Manager said something that was very revealing about most of us.  He said, "We hear complaints all day.  It's nice to hear from someone who is satisfied with what we try to do everyday. Thank you."

    Jesus chose to be with people whose lives were shriveling because of the labels and the shunning that they experienced from others.  He loved to shine the light of his love on those who were considered to be sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes and outcasts.  They were being totally ignored by nearly everyone but Jesus. 

    The Pharisees once asked Jesus' disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with such people?"  (Matthew 9:11) Jesus' compassion for people made him feel that he could not ignore what he knew all people needed. His response was that people who are well do not need a doctor. (Luke 5:31) We all need to feel loved, needed and appreciated by others.    

    People who are dying inside a little bit each day are crying to be loved but often they do not recognize what creeping isolation is doing to them.  It is up to us to recognize that all people need to be loved in this world and reach out to them.

    Yesterday, Roy Dalebozik and I went to the Paraquet restaurant for lunch. While we were waiting for our order to be filled, a young woman in a wheelchair and two older women also came for lunch.  I recognized the woman but had forgotten her name.  She is one of Bermuda's paralympian medal winners.  

    As we were preparing to leave the restaurant, her name came to me. I saw her watching us as Roy was getting into his wheelchair by himself.  As Roy started wheeling himself toward the front door, I walked over to her table and said,

    Excuse me, but my friend wanted to race you in his wheelchair until we discovered that you were Jessica Lewis, who holds the third fastest speed record in the world.  We decided against that notion. Congratulations on all the medals you have won and for being such an outstanding role-model for all of us. We are so proud of you!  

    She burst into enthusiastic laughter and thanked me from coming over to her table.  This was truly one of those magical moments that took place between two strangers that was meaningful to both of us.

    With Jesus' illustration of seeds needing to be buried within each of his disciples, he was teaching his disciples to go into the world and allow their love for others to do the rest.  With our presence, our words and our compassionate, forgiving attitudes, we can change the world one person at a time.  We have to trust that the love that created the universe can also create new attitudes and a lively spirit within others.  It is up to us to sow our seeds among others who may be starving to death and do not realize it.



Loving God, from the beginning of time, you have surrounded us with invitations to live in harmony with you.  Your calls to us come in many forms.  Many of them are only recognized by each of us personally.  Your love comes to all of us without our asking while our love often has requirements, needs and limits.  Your spirit reaches everyone through the harmonies of music, inspirational words and opportunities to grow.  Our spirits yearn to be loved.  We hunger for validation and acceptance.  We need to allow our needs to die while we experience our resurrection with new ways of understanding.  Amen.



Loving God, we thank you for knowing us completely even before we enter each new day.  We thank you that you filled our lives with potential treasures that will grow as we express them.  As we have begun to express ourselves with peace, hope, patience, and happiness, others cannot help but notice.  We often deeply influence people simply by showing up in their lives and living our values in front of them.   People's lives often change by being shown what is possible, and not by being told what to do.    Help us to realize that everyone is living exactly the way they are choosing to live.  What they see happening in our lives might be a silent vision that encourages them to change emotions that are currently not serving their lives.

During these days of Lent, we have watched how Jesus expressed his love to all people, even those wearing the label of sinner, tax collector, and outcast.  He brought a peaceful spirit as he navigated through the camps of his enemies as Pharisees challenged him publicly.  Inspire us to develop passion to remain in control of our values and emotions when faced with others whose values are far different from our own. Help us to remember that, in every way, Jesus modeled for us what we can be when we swallow our pride and hurt feelings, and follow him even when the headwinds for doing so are strong.

Throughout every circumstance in which we find ourselves, may our lives serve to make you visible.  Help all of us to understand what divinely empowered living looks like when we trust you for the outcome of all things.  Who could have known that a crucified carpenter would lead us to an understanding that life is eternal? We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ who taught us to say when we pray . .