“Living Peacefully With Diversity”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – July 1, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 48; Luke 4:16-30


    The passage in Luke's Gospel that Linda read for us this morning sounded like it could have been taken from any major newspaper published yesterday in one of the developed nations.  It is amazing how close the unfolding drama in our lesson is to the raging debates taking place today between people who hold radically different points-of-view.  This morning we are going to consider how to live peacefully in the midst of very diverse opinions without appearing passive.

    In our lesson, Jesus had just read a passage from the Isaiah-scroll.  He told his congregation that the words that were written 700 years earlier had come true during their lifetime.  Everyone was intensely interested and proud of Jesus.  They said among themselves, "How wonderful it is that this fine young man is one of our own.  Isn't he the son of Joseph?"  (Luke 4:22) Had Jesus sat down after sharing his insight, all would have been well.  However, he had a little more to say.

     Jesus began to suggest that his people had grown detached from their faithfulness to God by the way they express their values, attitudes, and behavior.  He reminded them that a prophet is not welcomed in his home community. The congregation began to feel a bit uneasy because initially they did not feel that way.

     Jesus recalled from their past history that once there had been a severe famine.  During the drought that had lasted three and a half years, God did not send Elijah to anyone in Israel.  God sent the prophet to a Samaritan woman living in Sidon. He recalled the time when leprosy had reached pandemic levels throughout Israel. God sent the prophet Elisha to heal a Syrian general named Naaman.

     The congregation instantly understood what Jesus was saying.  Suddenly, their collective attitude changed from feeling pride to becoming enraged by his words.  They dragged Jesus out of town with the intent of throwing him off a cliff. This was quite a response from his congregation to his first sermon! 

     Today, where do we stand and what attitudes do we develop when we find ourselves in the middle of strong-willed, opinionated people pointing fingers and blaming one another for being completely-out-of-line? What causes such visceral responses among people who find themselves on different sides when it comes to points and counterpoints of an issue?

     Somehow Jesus got away from the angry members of his congregation and left the area unharmed. Jesus learned a very important lesson that day.

     We may remember that when Jesus began his teaching ministry shortly after this synagogue incident, he and his disciples had a separate ministry from that of his cousin John, the Baptist.  John's style was bombastic and judgmental as he preached the need for people to repent.  

     Because of the numerous times John had publicly insulted and humiliated King Herod and his wife whom he had stolen from his brother, he wound up in jail.  Soon his prophetic voice was silenced when he was beheaded.  (Luke 6:25)

     Since Jesus' words had created such hostile responses among the members of his congregation, he had to figure out a new way to present his ideas.  His dilemma was learning how to teach people to live in their world peacefully without taking sides with anyone's point-of-view.

     Jesus' audiences were surrounded by Roman occupation forces.  His listeners were faced with high taxes, no say about the direction of their society, and no way to protect their daughters from Roman soldiers.  All that Jesus' audiences could do was pray for God to send a Messiah to liberate them as Moses had done for their ancestors. Who among them would have accepted a message to love their enemies?

     The Master was well-aware that diverse personalities and numerous cyclical historic themes dominated the storyline of his people.  Before the Roman occupation, every year the nation celebrated the Passover prior to Pharaoh granting their liberation in 1491 B.C.  In 930 B.C., Israel parted ways with Judah.  The Assyrian captivity began in 722 B.C., and later the Babylonian captivity began in 598 B.C.   During the days of Jesus, his people were ruled by Rome.

     What Jesus did to resolve the polarizing effect of people's diverse opinions was to invite everyone in the world to live in The Kingdom of God. He once told Pontius Pilate, "My Kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36)   He also taught his listeners that living in The Kingdom of God would dramatically transform their thoughts, emotions, and spirits.  Jesus' message had a universal appeal that could easily be made visible by anyone who decided to live what they heard.  (Luke 17:21)

    Jesus was quite aware that living in the Kingdom of God was not for everyone.  What Jesus brought was an alternative for those who wanted to live with attitudes that glowed on both sides of most reasonable issues. If Jesus were here today, he would look at the landscape of public opinion and say:

What many people are doing in these modern times is confirming with their attitudes and behavior how distant they are from living in the timeless, eternal Kingdom that I offered people 2,000 years ago. All of them are new actors that have chosen to be players in a very old drama that has existed since the dawn of civilization. It is impossible to live in The Kingdom of God and also to remain absorbed by issues that cause others to take sides, often creating bitterness, toxic attitudes, and divisions among them. (Matthew 6:24)

    People all over the world continue to invest their energy in a reality that will never stop changing in spite of how righteous their numerous causes appear.

    If the Apostle Paul were here today, he would tell many moderns about the remarkable change that occurred in his life once he encountered the power to control his life while living in the midst of people with diverse opinions. Paul described his experience with words similar to these:

If any of you think that you are noble and wonderful because of your superior attitudes and accomplishments, I had everything that anyone could possibly want for themselves. I even had Roman citizenship! However, once I found what it is like to live in The Kingdom of God, I considered everything that I once revered about my life as worthless garbage.  (Philippians 3:4-11)

    Paul's experience had totally transformed him.  He became inspired to write his timeless words in I Corinthians 13.  He also wrote: "The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control.  There is no one who can find fault with these timeless values."  (Galatians 5:22f)

     The allure of the world's many causes puts blinders on people. Paul had learned that it was impossible to serve two masters.  He chose to live in The Kingdom of God and emotionally released all other people to live any way that they wished. He was no longer interested in anything that invited unloving attitudes to take up residence in his mind or emotions. 

    There are no judgments intended here by what Jesus and Paul taught.  What the two men were preaching provided the world's people with another choice that might give them pause before they become committed to struggling with issues that will always lack permanence.    

     While our free will is God's plan for all of us, now and then we need to remember something timeless that Jesus said.  In various forms, one observation that Jesus shared with his listeners can be found in every major religion in the world.  He said:

Go through the narrow gate because the gate to living in Hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy and there are many who travel it. However, there is another choice that people can make.  The road that leads to becoming an angel-in-the-flesh is almost invisible among all the more popular roads beckoning people to seek solutions from among those found in the world. The road that leads to living in the Kingdom of God inspires solutions that will guide them to make loving and creative responses. Only a very few people remain diligent enough in their searching to find that road. (Matthew 7:13)

    In closing we might ask ourselves, why it is that God experiences such love, confidence, and patience for every person in our world in spite how each of them chooses to live?  The answer is quite simple when we think about it.  The answer is that our thoughts and feelings have positive as well as negative consequences.  Oddly enough, both results are capable of providing guidance.   Is what we are experiencing with our lives giving us peace, fulfillment, and happiness?  If not, we are the only ones who can change that.

     Each of us is the director and producer of our own movie.  Some of us have awakened spiritually.  Like the Apostle Paul, we understand Jesus' message to the point where we have chosen to internalize it. 

     Others of us have not.  These people support the righteous causes in the material world that they value.  Even though their happiness is often dependent on what is happening in the external world, this choice is a perfectly acceptable way to live.  Their love is finding a form of expression in the material world. 

     Even though they bring great passion to their decisions, their energy often causes people to choose sides. The results that such choices create can be fleeting because the world never stops changing. The future produces new and fresh possibilities as newcomers have grown beyond the ideas of former generations.

     God knows each of us and thoroughly understands where we are in our spiritual evolution.  Those whose attitudes and values glow in the midst of diverse venues are the few people that express themselves with qualities that are timeless. They have learned to row their boats gently down the stream, with peace and happiness because they know that life is but a dream. 

     God's inexhaustible love, that will often go unrecognized by most people, surrounds everyone in spite of where each is in his or her spiritual awareness.  Clearly, the needs of those responding to the needs of the material world as well as those living in The Kingdom of God are both excellent platforms for everyone to express their free will to do whatever they wish. 

     The greater reality, however, is that life is a dream from which all of us will eventually awaken.  The brilliance of God is that we are all the children of a Creator who knows how and why to love each of us equally.        



Loving and always faithful God, we thank you that there are times when we must struggle with alternatives, when decision-making is difficult and when finding the best path is unclear.  We are creatures that need to understand life’s events when so many of them in the world seem random and senseless.  Such experiences cause us to look for reassurance that your will is being done. Our identities, our faith, and our trust are always on the cutting edge of more growth. Thank you for giving us the potential to live faithful lives even during the moments when our world appears to be in chaos.  Thank you for calling us to be a light in darkness.  Amen. 



We thank you, God, for placing within us the desire of wanting spiritual freedom.  It has been our nature to want alternatives from what various authorities have decided who it is that we must become.  Even though some of us are not wise stewards of our choices, we realize that we now live in the best environment for our growth.  Making mistakes is part of the learning process.   

When we contrast our culture in Bermuda with what appears to be taking place all over the world, we suddenly develop a renewed appreciation for what we have. We are grateful for the rules that have been designed to give our liberties form, direction, and purpose.  Even though we share great diversity of opinions, many of our values are commonly shared and cherished.  When we use our choices to be of service to each other, we share an abundance that would not have happened without all of us working together. 

Each day, we are given the opportunity to redefine who we are.  In spite of our circumstances, we can choose to remain kind.  We can decide not to hurt others.  We can respond with spirits that are forgiving and generous.  We can become the presence that stills troubled waters simply by being a part of another person's struggles.  As we ask for mercy from you, for the number of times we have fallen short, so may we act mercifully toward others whether they request it or not.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught his disciples to say when they prayed . . .