“Desire, the Recipe for Change”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – December 9, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Malachi 3:1-4; Mark 1:1-8

    A common response among people to uncertainty is fear.  Many of the Advent scripture passages, for God becoming active to save us from the temptations of our material world, would never be recognized by the Hebrews because of the way they were worded.

    In one of our lessons today, Malachi proclaimed his message of God's coming in this manner:

Who will be able to endure the day when he comes?  Who will be able to survive when he appears? He will be like strong soap, like a fire that refines metal.  He will come to judge like one who refines and purifies silver.  He will purify the priests so that they will bring to the Lord the right kind of offerings. (Malachi 3:2f)

    When God was understood by the masses as being tyrannical, dictatorial, and angry, predictably, people would respond with terror.  With centuries of being exposed to such an image of God, what other emotion but fear would people have? 

    People would never recognize God's saving actions entering the world through the humble birth of a baby, particularly one born in a stable because there was no room in an extremely crowded inn for a woman experiencing labor pains.  The circumstances of Jesus birth would have been totally unacceptable by believers.  They would imagine that the Creator of the Universe would plan something far more elaborate.

    It is no wonder that John the Baptist was able to attract people to come into the Jordan River to be baptized.  He said, "You must turn away from your sins and be baptized.  God will forgive your sins."  (Mark 1:4) Such words were kinder than most prophetic utterances about the coming of God.  He said, "I baptize you with water but the one coming after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

    When John said, "You must repent of your sins," what was he asking people to do?  It would be like saying, "Look!  You are failing at life.  God is coming to judge your behavior and attitudes. You had better shape up and become worthy.  Repent!" 

    No one would be expecting God to send someone who would teach them what it looked like to become worthy.  Such a quality as worthiness does not arrive in our lives by finding a switch marked instant change.  Actually, the word repentance literally translated means "to change your mind."  What was needed by people was their desire to change. This morning we are going to discuss why our desire is the key to opening up our hearts to God's presence.

    The other day, I was listening to an expert on helping people find jobs that pay a reasonable salary.  The commentator said to his guest, "We constantly hear that jobs are going begging because people lack the skills to fill the positions. What specialized skills are most needed by industries today?"

    The job-placement expert said:

Finding work is not as difficult as most people think.  Industry is not looking necessarily for people with technical skills.  Don't get me wrong, having such skills is also important.  However, industries today have plenty of good-paying jobs for people who can be counted on to show up on time every day, possess people-skills sufficient enough to work in a team environment, being able to follow through on the directions from supervisors, and having flexibility with their attitudes so that they do not feel disrespected when they are asked to perform a task that they feel is beneath their dignity.


What we are finding among the unemployed is that countless applicants do not have the basic life-skills that would allow them to fit into the any work environment.  Many people lack the basic disciplines that most workers take for granted.  Some applicants cannot pass the drug tests that are now part of most screening protocols.

    The specialist went on to say that many people seeking jobs are not willing to change. A good number of applicants have attitudes that no employer would want in their work force.

    We can see why John the Baptist or a prophet like Malachi were telling people that they simply will not make it in this life unless they change and basically grow up by facing their responsibilities with character.

      The central message of Advent is that people have to develop to a certain level of maturity before they are able to experience love coming into their lives.  Without that awareness, people will remain spiritually blind.

    People make mistakes.  They make hasty judgments.  They often speak words that they later regret having said.  They can be unloving in their attitudes toward others.  Today, society wants to hold people accountable for every mishap in their past.  If we have not learned to forgive and let go of such lapses of character in others, we may not be able to experience God's love coming to us.  Every Sunday we pray the Lord's Prayer asking God to treat us in the same way that we treat others, "Forgive us of our failures in the same way that we forgive the failures of others."

    Jesus knew that no matter how righteous people consider themselves to be, their attitudes, their personal beliefs, and their judgments often stand in the way of their being fully alive. (Matthew 13:11)

    It is far better to fit into our current culture whether in our work environment or in our society by following the inward path. Those who are infused with loving-energy cannot hide it.  People in our lives do not hear our words as clearly as they understand our attitudes and compassion.  One of my favorite poems makes a strong case for how people influence each other:

I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.  I would rather one walk with me than merely tell me the way.   The eye is a better student and more willing than the ear; fine counsel can be confusing, but example is always clear.  I can soon learn how to do it, if I only see it done; I can watch your life in action, while you're serious or having fun.  The greatest of all my friends are the ones who live their creeds; for to see the good in action, is what everybody needs.

    Change is difficult when people have learned to develop only self-serving attitudes. This is why the religious leaders in Jesus' day could not understand why Jesus taught that obedience to the Laws of Moses was not enough.  These leaders understood themselves as God's chosen people which often translated into meaning "God loves us more than anyone else." Jesus entered our world to teach everyone that God's energies are within us. To religious leaders, this talk was blasphemous.

     Jesus knew that all external saviors are always temporary.  Even God's activity proved to be temporary.  When others describe God's activity in the past, such divine interventions into their history did not carry their influence into the living patterns of future generations.  In in our modern times, the thought of God coming into our world in human form has been marginalized by industries with Black Fridays extending through the entire Christmas shopping season.  The spiritual significance of Jesus' birth vaporizes for the masses of people in the midst of materialism's clutter.

    Think of it.  A miraculous teacher came into our lives bringing a clear road map for finding our potential so that we could experience the results.  What emphasis is placed on that map during the Christmas season?  We gather around our Christmas trees, open presents, and sing "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" and "Jingle Bells."

     The spiritual guidance provided by Jesus seldom surfaces anywhere.  Those values and attitudes are needed today more than ever.  Everywhere we look, there is the temptation to escape into having more pleasure in our lives, allergy medications that allow us to walk through the daises unscathed, and vacations to exotic resorts where all the men, women and children are super models having a glorious time. 

    There is a massive global movement to legalize marijuana.  Governments searching for new sources of revenue are quietly sanctioning this movement so that they can tax the sales of the array of products that come from cannabis.  

     Change only happens within individuals when each chooses to change. Rapid changes taking place in most societies will never stop.  If anything, change will accelerate. However, consequences will always follow those changes. Those of us who have learned how to negotiate accelerated change will thrive.  Those who seek to escape life through their religions or their desire for more pleasurable experiences will remain blind. (Matthew 15:14)

     The coming of God's love to us is why we have lighted the second candle.  However, not everyone understands that love.  Even the shepherds and the three Wise Men remained unclear what a baby born in a stable would grow up to represent.  No one could have recognized that a divine presence was entering the chaos of our world.  Thousands of years have passed and still only a few people are making basic changes to their lives because of what Jesus taught.

    Individuals are the only ones who can gain clarity to their understanding by developing and anchoring their lives to loving-energy patterns.   Jesus message was meant for all humanity and had nothing to do with creating another religion. What we find coming from Jesus is a formula for liberating our spirits from the attractive distractions caused by living in the material world. 

     Our task in life is to teach others simply by living what we have learned. It is not up to us to make other people discover love.  All we can do is give people an opportunity to experience it coming from us. Love is the most powerful energy in the world.  When we live it, we give visibility to the themes of Advent.  In conclusion, the Apostle Paul gave humanity a wonderful formula for understanding how loving energy influences our lives and those living in our midst:

Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous, conceited or proud, love is not ill-mannered, selfish or irritable, love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy when people compromise the quality of their character, but is happy with living the truth.  Love never gives up; and its faith, hope and patience never fails. Love is eternal.  (I Corinthians 13:4-8a)



    Thank you, God, for these moments of reflection. Amidst all the rich symbols of our traditions, gatherings, and remembrances of a stable in Bethlehem, we realize that the gift of your son rises above all others.  For centuries humankind hungered for your presence and guidance.  They looked for you to send another King David.  When our Savior came, he was humble, he carried no sword, and he invited people to seek, knock, and the door would open to your Kingdom. Thank you for allowing us to increase your visible presence each time we say, "Here am I.  Send me." Amen.     



Loving God, how quickly our week has gone by, and we find ourselves having lighted a second Advent candle. The swift passage of time brings us closer to the celebration of Jesus' birth.  The words of Mark's Gospel remind us that we have to prepare our minds, hearts, and spirits to what love enables us to become. Sometimes we are more attentive to the movement of sale prices in our department stores than to the coming of love into our world in a form we can understand. 

During the days that lie ahead, inspire us to desire less of what this world offers and more of what would teach us understanding.  Inspire us to be less judgmental of what people believe and more into helping others to use their skills in the service of others. May we dwell less on the headlines of our troubled world and spend more quality time on brightening the corner of the world where we live.  Inspire us to remember that worry is expending energy on what we cannot control or change.  Inner peace comes by trusting that your universe is unfolding according to your design.  It is we who have to grow up in our maturity in order to navigate in life with such trust.

As our Advent season continues, enable us to be less absorbed with our wants and needs so that we can truly represent the disciples your Son invited us to become.  Thank you, God, for offering us a fresh opportunity to change our futures every day that we live.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ who taught us to say when we pray . . .