“Growing Beyond Our Blindness

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – August 5, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 26; John 6:24-35

    This morning we are going to consider what may have been Jesus' greatest frustration with his ministry.  He knew that his audiences were not interested in his teachings.  Jesus was attracting listeners who wanted to witness miracles. This is evident in our lesson this morning when Jesus told those that came to him:

You have been looking for me because you were with the 5000 people last week when you ate as much as you wanted.  You are more interested in seeing miracles than you are listening to and understanding my message.  (John 6:26)

    The same issue has confronted every spiritual teacher throughout history.  Even Buddha said, "What I understand cannot be taught. It has to be experienced before anyone understands how to respond to what is happening in the world."

     Listeners to these teachers are interested in what has practical results to their current physical experiences.  They want to get from point A to point B without medications and hours on a psychiatrist's couch. They are not interested in words and concepts that have no physical evidence to support the claims being made.

     The experience is like a time when two fish were communicating.  The one had been caught by a fisherman interested in the sport not the meat. He was a catch and release fisherman.  When that fish was returned to the water, he tried to describe to his friend what the environment was like above the water's surface.  His friend looked mystified at what he claimed to have experienced and said, "You are badly in need of a vacation. Take a couple of Thorazine and we'll talk again when you are more stable." 

     Every one of us places our confidence in what we have experienced about life in this world.  If we have developed an understanding of our Creator, each of us will have our own version of what that is and have some idea for our purpose for being alive in this world.

     Last week a man, whose home was not consumed during one of the fires in California, was being interviewed by a news reporter  The homeowner told the reporter how good God was to him and his family.  He said:

Just look at my neighborhood.  Homes in all directions were burned to the ground.  For whatever reason, God spared our home. For that gift, I will always give him the praise for the rest of my life.  There simply is no other explanation for why our home survived.

     An older woman was also interviewed.  She was crying as she said:

I have lost everything.  My home is nothing but ashes. No one has ever seen a fire like this. What I have left are my memories and my faith that God will be with me during this tragedy as He has all my life.

     The man, like the ancient Hebrews, experienced God's presence as showing up and performing miracles among his chosen people. This is how the Jews understood the unfolding of their history.  The woman drew her strength from an awareness of God's presence, like Jesus did while hanging on the cross.

     Jesus' audiences were more eager and willing to be entertained by having their curiosity stimulated by watching the performance of a miracle-worker.  Jesus was not interested in feeding the curiosity of people.  His mission was to share the truth that comes from another dimension.

     He was the fish who knew what it is like to be in the totally different environment of spirit.  He wanted to teach people how to develop values and attitudes that will work in this world as well as the next.  

     The challenge of people is to detach themselves from expecting God to intervene on their behalf.  A bride wants a perfect day for her outdoor wedding while a farmer is praying for rain. The world is perfect for what it was designed to do.  People find it difficult to understand that our life-experiences are often fertile ground to grow qualities of spirit. 

     What people are more inclined to do is to take both the painful and the pleasant experiences at face value and respond with either hurt or happiness.  Jesus taught that our experiences can teach us forgiveness, patience, and kindness instead responding by being hurt. He also taught that joy, humor, and laughter can be our response when our experiences bring us great pleasure.  Life is filled with both opportunities to learn new skills.

     Jesus was a marvel to behold.  Even his words were calm, reassuring, and engaging like a grandmother who is reading a bedside story to her grandchildren.   He was a skilled and seasoned story-teller.  

     But what substance from his numerous teaching sessions did his audiences really hold on to and make a vital part of their lives?  Jesus knew that his words were sailing over their heads. Any pastor that does not understand this about his or her sermons is unaware that human attention-spans today are very limited.

     He once told his disciples, "The knowledge about the secrets of heaven has been given to you.  Other people will seldom understand anything that I teach them about the qualities of heaven." (Matthew 13:11)

     Some of us recall the public's reactions to Elvis Presley when he first appeared during his concerts.  We may remember when audiences eagerly welcomed the arrival of the Beatles to the world's stage.  Teenage girls were screaming and crying hysterically. Some of them even loss consciousness. These magical personalities were so electric and magnetic that they cast a spell over their audiences.

    Fans even memorized the words these artists were singing without understanding the message of the song.  I recall John Denver telling an audience how amazed he was when he performed at a concert in Japan.  Many in the audience were singing with him.  He learned later that most of them did not know English.

     We can do the same thing.  Last week, I opened the service with these words, "Do for others what you want them to do for you.  This is the meaning of all the Laws of Moses and the teachings of the prophets."  (Matthew 7:12)   

     We understand this concept very well.  We even repeat the same thing each Sunday morning when we pray The Lord's Prayer -- "Forgive us of our failures in the same way that we forgive others of theirs." 

     What Jesus could not do is cause his listeners to take a concept like instant forgiveness and use it as a window through which others can see the values that are possible during potentially unsettling circumstances.

    Our physical experiences have become so sophisticated and satisfying that we are seduced into thinking, "We are so blessed! God is so good and loving that He has spread before us such a table filled with wonderful things that have enhanced the quality of our lives."  Jesus would be quick to counter such a thought by teaching, "You are forsaking the substance of my message and praising a shadow that is only temporary."

     The creative contributions of others have made life easier and far more pleasurable. Think of what we now experience that was way beyond our wildest imaginations only a few years ago.  Every year new miracle discoveries and creations are surfacing in our lives.

     We no longer have to use an encyclopedia or dictionary to find accurate information.  We can order entertainment packages where any fantasy we want to experience can be streamed into our television sets, our smart phones, and even into our cars.

     While we were driving to the airport early in the morning for our return flight to Bermuda, we saw a car swerving all over the road.  We thought the driver was intoxicated.  When we eventually passed him, we saw that he was watching a movie on a screen that was part of his dashboard.  We could not believe it.

     We are living in a world where driverless cars will soon be available.  They are clearly needed if drivers would more prefer to watch a movie than being in control of where they are going.  Indeed, new gadgets and technology have become so seductive that we praise God for human ingenuity.

      In many cases our life-experiences are blinding us.  What the world offers people is so remarkable and mesmerizing that we may be ignoring our need to nourish the spirit by which we live.  Jesus was trying to shake his audiences into waking up from their dreams of living in a world that was filled with temporary experiences.  He wanted people to grow beyond their blindness.

     Jesus wanted them to know that no Messiah was coming that will do for them what they need to do for themselves.  Many people become attracted to living in an ocean of miraculous toys and countless seductive experiences than enjoy the depths of what it means to be in control of the spirit by which they live.

     Jesus eventually came to terms with a reality he could not fix. He concluded that spiritually, the rich will get richer and the poor will become poorer. He could not give anything to people who were choosing to know only what was surfacing in their physical lives at any given moment.  Few were interested in building a foundation for their spiritual lives on a rock to secure their lives when temporary experiences appear threatening.

     In one of his parables, Jesus discussed what happened to three servants that were trusted with a sum of money (the Parable of the Talents). Two of them invested their wealth and doubled its value while a third servant, motivated by fear, buried his money in the ground for safe keeping.  

     Spiritualizing this story, Jesus concluded, "For every person who has understanding, even more will be given, but for the person who does not grow in their understanding, even the little that person has will fade from his or her awareness."  (Matthew 25:29)

     If Jesus spoke to us today, he might say:

Enjoy the world with all its physical bounty and beauty. However, remain cautious of the seductive qualities of your sensual experiences.  Such illusions will try to convince you that they are real. All of them will attempt to gain control over your emotions and the spirit by which you live.  Remain in control of yourselves by realizing that all physical experiences are temporary while living in your bodies.  


Hold on to your loving and compassionate spirits even when you meet people who are singing a different song. They may be honoring values that define the quality of their experiences only by focusing their attention on the illusions of this world. The world has remained the same throughout history. What changes in the experiences of some people, come as a result of their understanding of how to live in this world.


Learn to live in your movie with joyous enthusiasm but hold on to the skills of spirit that you have developed.  They will allow you to enjoy your life in this world and provide you with what will serve you beyond measure when you leave the movie theater to come home.



Loving God, thank you for giving us such a remarkable world.  We are surrounded by many experiences that challenge us to refine our character.  We have learned that kindness is not mere goodness, it is a power; that forgiveness is not a weakness, it is a skill; and that peace is not withdrawal, it is a choice.  We have learned that our earthly treasures have their place as tools for living.  Teach us to define ourselves by what we give away rather than by what we keep. Encourage us to live in your kingdom now by allowing our lives to give form to your will, guidance, and design.  Amen.



Always loving God, each time we collectively gather with your spirit in our church, the opportunity presents itself for us to become renewed.  Hymns often carry us back to memories of another day.  Coming to the chancel helps us to recall how Jesus wanted to be remembered through our breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup.  The spoken word helps us to revisit the attitudes we use, the goals we set for ourselves and some of the unwise places where we choose to invest our energy.

Each of us is well aware that we are a work in progress.  We have experienced events that call on skills we fear we do not have.  We recognize that it does not take much stimulation for angry and hostile thoughts to enter our minds demanding that we respond.   We know how easy it is to turn our heads in the direction of making small compromises and to say "no" to making time for obvious opportunities to lighten someone else’s load.

How freeing it is, O God, to know that we can let go of people, attitudes and offending experiences when we understand who we are and who it is Jesus called us to be.  Help us to be the sponge that absorbs hurts, tears, frustrations and disappointments that other people share with us.  You have been our teacher because we cannot count the number of times you have been there for us.  With grateful hearts for your patient presence in our lives, we pray the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to say . . .