“Having Confidence In A Single Path

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – May 13, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 1; John 17:6-19

Mother's Day

    This morning's Gospel lesson is an interesting one for Mother's Day.  Even though this prayer is one of the most complicated and awkward  passages in the Gospels that is attributed to Jesus, it speaks of an aspect of motherhood. Jesus was showing signs of being like a worried mother as he was praying to God for the spiritual welfare of his disciples.

    One of the mysteries of parenting is when moms and dads conclude that they have little understanding of what to do when it comes to rearing their children to be productive, creative, and useful individuals.  Parents often worry at the birth of their first baby that they are suddenly surrounded by responsibilities that require skills they fear they may not have.

    To this day, I cannot remember any of my mom or dad's parenting skills. I do not recall any career shaping guidance coming from either of them.  However, what I do remember is that the four of us children were surrounded by two individuals who were emotionally stable.  Our parents had a great sense of humor, positive attitudes, and a spiritual orientation toward life.  

    God was always a part of our family.  We children acted-out non-verbally in numerous ways, like rolling our eyes, when our Dad insisted on ending each supper-time meal by leading our family in devotions.   After all, he was the pastor of a large United Methodist congregation as well as one of our family's spiritual mentors. 

    Perhaps this was all that our mom and dad needed to do in order to send the four of us in a direction where we could figure out how best to live the rest of our lives.  All that they were doing was faithfully following their own individual path filled with their attitudes, values, and lots of laughter.  Who they were becoming in their adult years was rubbing off on the four of us.  

    Once while visiting a mother with a newborn, she said, "My six year old has a mouth on her that is embarrassing.  She is critical of everyone and her perceptions are razor sharp."  I said, "Someone is teaching those attitudes." She said, "Who would do that?"  I asked, "Do you ever share your thoughts about other people while on the phone?"  She closed her eyes and answered, "All the time."  I asked, "Do you think that Becky could be listening to your phone conversations from another room?"  What a wake-up call that her attitudes were rubbing off on a very impressionable Becky.  Who we are becoming influences others in ways we cannot imagine.

    In our lesson this morning, Jesus knew that his life was coming to an end.  He also realized that what he had done during his last three years would only survive if his disciples became teachers in their own right. Jesus knew that his disciples were flawed and weak.  He was asking God to keep them safe and to protect them from falling prey to their own fears. (John 17:16)

    Jesus had to face the reality that he would not be there to prompt them when they missed the mark. (Luke 9:54)  He hoped that the truth he gave them was powerful enough to carry them into the world to share what they had learned.  

    In prehistoric times, people learned a lot of their parenting skills by watching how animals and insects conducted their lives. Think of the caterpillars that had no idea what was in store for their futures.  They crawled around eating leaves and were probably bored out of their minds.  Then one day, they mysteriously found themselves in a violent struggle to free themselves from cocoons that they may not have remembered spinning around themselves. 

    The caterpillar's parents knew that they could not teach their babies anything.  In fact, their children would have been terrified had they approached them. The parents had already become butterflies.  

    You can almost fantasize the communication between the children.  "What are those gigantic things?  Do you suppose they bite?" How could mom and dad possibly teach caterpillars that such an enormous transformation was in their future.  Animals and insects instinctively knew that their babies had everything they need inside of them to live a normal, productive life. 

    Some well-meaning parents try to establish a path for their children that will insure for them a financially rewarding future. Dad or mom picks up the phone and finds them a job after their formal education is finished.  Suppose those parents were placing their off-spring's ladder against the wrong wall?  Suppose the imaginations of their children have something else in their minds that will take them into another universe from working in someone's accounting office?

    Perhaps what worries parents more than anything is when they find their children struggling with fundamental questions.  "Who am I?  What am I doing here? Where am I going?  What do I want to do for the rest of my life?"

    As it turns out, what is good for caterpillars is also an excellent experience for young adults. Why do we grow so concerned when we find people struggling? 

    When a mother bird nudges her off-springs out of the nest, the young birds do not feel abandoned nor do they feel that mom is a mean, old witch because she pushed us out of the nest. The tiny birds struggle until each of them discovers a skill they did not realize they had. They have been wired to fly. Once in the air, soaring through tree branches, they never look back.  There is an infinite world to explore, food to find, and mates to attract.

     Struggling is a part of life for all of us. Struggling makes us stronger and builds character.  Struggling gives us wings to fly over all the pitfalls and traps in life that capture so many people. Struggling is actually a necessary step in our growth from dependency to autonomy.  This process leads to our ability to take responsibility for our responses to everything that awaits us.  We need to allow this process to unfold as it was designed to do.

    Each one of us is well-equipped to deal with who we are, even though initially we may be filled with doubts, fears, and insecurities.  Such feelings are natural and come from primitive urges because most of our practical education is still ahead of us. We have to experience on-the-job-training to get to our futures that are waiting for us.

    Just as a caterpillar develops wings from its struggle, so do our lives unfold in front of us as we build skills, personality traits, and develop the individual components of our character and knowledge.  Our identity automatically forms during our moments of struggling. 

    During his prayer in our lesson, Jesus could not see the future. He found himself asking God to protect his disciples.  Would God watch over Jesus' disciples, clearing the way for their early successes?  Would God open doors for them in just the right time for them to spread Jesus' truth?  Or, did Jesus' message spread world-wide because it came from an inspiration whose time had come? 

    Since all the disciples but John were martyred, perhaps the second question was what propelled Jesus' message to begin its circulation.  People were hungry for a new spiritual story-line that would provide them with an infrastructure that would give to their lives purpose and meaning. 

    Jesus' message was correctly taught but with the passage of time, it was incorrectly learned thousands of times.  Every group's ego caused them to feel special and thus superior to everyone else.  The faithful said, "We are God's chosen people." Others claimed the mantra, "Believe in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ and you will be saved."  Still others said, "There are no beliefs that will save anyone. What saves people from the illusions of this world is the spirit by which they live." 

    These conflicting messages from so many Christian groups muted their effectiveness.  Why should anyone become one of them if Christians were so divided among themselves about what they were teaching?   

    People everywhere became more enchanted with cultivating an economic, political, and social orientation toward life.  These illusions provided most people with enough allure to sustain a purpose and meaning that became very instrumental for their material successes.     

    Many people today lack any substantive background in matters of spirit until they fall prey to greed, building palaces, owning expensive toys, driving cars that very few people can afford, developing a name and reputation that is respected internationally, and discovering how easy it is for social drinking to become a compulsive addiction. 

    Yes, the world can be a very dangerous place for the uninitiated.  This is why Jesus was asking God to assist his disciples since Jesus' influence was coming to an end. 

    Many of Jesus' teachings could be followed in order to please God.   Materially successful people can learn to love God, neighbors, and many of their detractors with whom they have to work.  People of means can become generous.  They can develop flawless characters that are the envy of others.  These characteristics were also ones that the Pharisees displayed every day during Jesus' ministry.  They were wearing a mask, a veneer that disguised hidden feelings, thoughts, and appetites.   

    Moms and dads have the ability to instill inner confidence in their children without ever realizing that they are doing so.  They may not verbally teach any specifics but they model plenty of them.  Children who grow up with kind, compassionate, and thoughtful parents cannot help but model what was invisibly being imprinted in their spirits with which each of them live. 

    This is what Jesus had to rely on for the future of his chosen disciples since God is not in the business of protecting anyone from being in harm's way.  God did not answer Jesus' prayer.  Again, all the disciples but John were killed because of what they were teaching.

    Can we name one single path that is universal and will work for everyone?   We can do that! Jesus taught his disciples how each of them must polish their own stone.  An automatic process unfolds when we recognize that all of the harsh abrasives that we will encounter along the way can be interpreted as stepping stones to get across the rapid currents of life. Loving energy creates such responses.

    Polishing one's own stone comes from transforming all challenging, and often toxic relationships into rungs of a ladder allowing us to climb to higher levels of awareness. Again, loving energy like forgiveness, patience, and acceptance can motivate such responses. 

    However, loving energy is the result of our doing our own homework with each struggle we encounter.  Growth is automatic if we accept struggling as an integral part of the process of growing our independent spirits.

    God does not create archangels out of any of us.  As with Jesus' disciples, all of them were given at their birth the potential to become one.  God has given all of us the same potential.  Let all of us do the very best we can to polish our own stones.  Let us also release all our attachments to what we hope will happen through our living and let God do the rest.   



Thank you, God, for having such compassion for us.  We marvel at how your spirit equally accepts the powerful and the lowly as your children.  You have called us to be your family when we often separate each other by ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, and economic boundaries. Many people are lost in the storylines of their lives and have no awareness of the infinite spirit that lies within them.  Stir us, O God, to understand that awakening others is why Jesus came into our world.  He asked those of us that are spiritually awake to help others find the same gift of understanding within them.  Thank you for this mission and privilege.  Amen.



Ever faithful and loving God, this morning we come filled with thanksgiving for your creating us with such wonderful abilities to care for and nurture each other.  You have given us the capacity to share guidance for how others can develop thoughtful attitudes and creative spirits. The mystery of life continues to unfold around us as many of our yet to be discovered talents remain dormant until more challenging experiences require their use. 

Today, we celebrate the life of the woman who carried us within her body during the miracle of our development prior to our birth. This morning, we honor the woman who sang and read to us, who stood vigil until our fevers broke, who offered us guidance, and who attempted to imprint on us the values that had worked in her life.  Many times during the search for our identities, we listened but did not hear and we looked but did not see. During those moments we may have perceived her with less than loving attitudes.  She knew that life becomes more complicated if we are not equipped with values, goals, and a spirit that will serve us during all circumstances.    

May each of us learn to radiate the quality of love that does not count the cost, that does not look at itself as sacrificial, and that does not give so that rewards will come.  This morning we thank you for Jesus who came to show us how to become the people that you created us to be.  It is through his spirit that we now pray the prayer he taught his disciples to say . . .