“Only Personalize Helpful Thoughts”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – August 26, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 84; John 6:60-69


    Many people in our world are influenced by personalizing what others say, by the decisions that others make, and by how others treat those around them.  This morning we are going to consider what engaging in this practice can do to us. 

    When we personalize anything, we are allowing the tentacles of a foreign influence to seep into our minds to give us a new approach to change how we think and feel.  If what we allow to enter our minds and emotions clarifies our vision and energizes our spirits, such foreign influences are helpful.  Unfortunately, such influences are often in short supply.

     We have seen extreme examples of what happens when teenagers become the focus of hazing by classmates and acquaintances.  Such friends can become relentless in their teasing someone about their weight, their looks, their crooked teeth, their big ears, their accent, or their scaly skin-condition. Today, with cell phone usage at an all-time high among teens and the thumbs up or down icon on Facebook contributions, rejection has plenty of venues to prey on the vulnerable.

     The first Sunday of our appointment to a new church, a mother was introducing one of her daughters to us by saying, "Now, this is the dumb one in our family. We have realized that she will not amount to very much."  Lois and I watched as her daughter wilted like a plant that needs watering. We could not imagine a mother saying such words to a fragile young teen who was still forming her identity.

     While dealing with teenagers for twelve years during my early years as the Minister of Youth and Young Adults, I encountered many break-ups between couples.  It is not helpful when a well-meaning uncle or parent says, "Your experience was just puppy-love. It will pass. There are a thousand fish in the sea. Just go out there and find another one."  If only life were that easy to negotiate.

     Only once during my ministry did I find a man whose love was mature enough to negotiate a divorce compassionately.  His wife told him that she had found another man with whom she would rather live.  He said, "I happen to love you. With that said, if this is what you want, I will support your decision one hundred percent."

     He saw his relationship ending through the eyes of love rather than "You are my property. I will not take this lying down!" He gave to her everything that she wanted even if it appeared unfair. He knew that there was always more where their material assets came from.  He refused to personalize her decision.

     Our lesson from John's Gospel this morning follows last week's very challenging teaching by Jesus.  He wanted so badly for his listeners to absorb or adopt the spirit by which he lived.   He told his listeners that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they ever wanted to live an abundant life.

     This teaching not only destroyed Jesus' credibility among his listeners but it caused many of his followers to walk away from him never to return.  They said, "This lesson is too hard for us to understand. Who can listen to such a teaching?" (John 6:60f)

     Jesus made a huge mistake by personalizing their rejection of his message.  He had meant well but he had failed to communicate by neglecting to use symbols that his listeners could understand. He was so discouraged and frustrated that he said to his faithful disciples, "What about you? Do you also want to leave me?" (John 6:67)

     Clearly, Jesus was extremely hurt by rejection.  If Jesus fell into the trap of personalizing the negative responses of others, try to imagine how vulnerable we are when we receive such feedback?  

     More than likely, this incident occurred during an early phase of Jesus' ministry.  This incident was good training for him because in his immediate future even religious authorities would reject his message. When we think about how radical his message was, we wonder how people steeped for centuries in the Hebrew faith and traditions could learn to develop a new orientation toward their understanding of God and their living patterns.

     He taught that obedience to the teachings could give way to living compassionate responses from their desire to do so.  He taught his listeners to replace the war-god Yahweh with God whose nature was unconditional love.  He taught them to take responsibility for their own destiny rather than waiting on God to send a Messiah to save them. THIS was a radically different message.

     Jesus eventually matured emotionally to the point where absolutely nothing could corrupt his resolve to preach the good news. He learned how to use better references to communicate how transformative it was for people to extend loving energy unconditionally. 

     I recall a fellow student in my high school class who was quite eccentric. He wore a slide rule in a holster on his belt.  This device was an early calculator. Lots of students teased this young man who lived in another universe.  He instinctively   turned a deaf ear to those who did not understand anything about him.  He did not appear to be the least bit interested in the opinions that others had about his uniqueness. 

     Fifty-five years later, I met my former classmate at our last high school class reunion.  I had to find out what became of him.  We spoke for the first time.  After I inquired about what happened to him and his slide rule, he said, "Recently, I retired from being the Chief Financial Officer of Johns Hopkins University Hospital."   I was amazed but not surprised.

     As a young high school student, he was a living example of a person who made visible one of the parables of Jesus.  The Master taught that living in the Kingdom of God is like a person who discovers a treasure in a field. He sells everything that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)

     While other students in our class found security in being popular among their peers, he focused his attention on a universe that may have appeared irrelevant to other students. More value was found among teens in getting approval from their friends or being crowned the Homecoming Queen.  Fortunately, for most students, the centrality of such values vaporizes soon after graduation.

     What Jesus eventually learned to do was to teach lessons that were timeless.  In so doing, he learned that not all of his listeners cared about what he said.  Jesus had to trust the fluid abilities of his insights to be carried on the waves of energy flowing into the future.

     Few people recognize or associate Jesus' teachings with influencing the governance of many nations starting with the Magna Carta and morphing into constitutions, declarations of independence and rules for numerous parliaments.   

     Not everyone realizes that his teaching of "serve one another" has inspired successful companies to have all their employees put their customer first.  (Matthew 23:11) Today, the management teams of many companies train their senior executives to treat those under them with respect and dignity by encouraging them through training on how to advance in their careers. 

     Most people have no idea how their talent, the products of their imagination, and the spirit by which they live could influence future generations. 

     Today, Vincent Van Gogh's paintings are worth millions of dollars.  In fact, Christy's Auction opened one season with one of his paintings that sold for 111 million dollars. Think of it!  During his lifetime, Van Gogh sold only one of his paintings for $40. The rest of his 900 paintings were sold after his death.  He died believing that no one appreciated what he had given his life to create. 

     Try to imagine Jesus hanging on a cross dying in one of the most obscure regions of the world.  Even though he was convinced that he had the answers that would enable anyone to live a productive and creative life, he died never knowing whether or not any of his insights and teachings would survive after his death. 

    Can we imagine where we would be today without being influenced by people who were way ahead of their time?  Anyone who disrupts the stability of the status quo, is often discounted by his or her peers. Perhaps we can understand more clearly Jesus' insight that "A prophet is not welcomed in his home town."  (Luke 4:24) New thinking is seldom greeted with enthusiasm when such thoughts are first presented.

     The truth is that the fluid-energy of Jesus' contributions to the world lived on into the distant future.   Kahlil Gibran, the author of a book called The Prophet, perhaps said it best, "They give what they have as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space completely mindless of whether or not anyone is noticing." 

     These were people who never personalized the words of their critics.  They never cared when their insights fell on deaf ears.  They were never concerned about the survival of the results of their vision. 

     Jesus died knowing that spiritually the rich will always get richer by using what he taught.  The poor only become poorer by responding to life by using their own fears and desires to guide their decisions. (Matthew 13:12) Jesus warned that when the blind lead the blind, they both lose their way.  (Matthew 15:14)

     Somehow, unseen hands see to it that the cream always rises to the top.  No one needs to market anything that they create.  They sow their seeds and let go of what happens to them.  The universe takes care of where those seeds find a home.

     When we cultivate a mind and spirit that has learned to personalize thoughts that heal us, ideas that stimulate our creativity, and the visions from others that inspire our imaginations, we are always at peace as our lives continue to evolve.    

     Jesus' Kingdom of God is inside of all of us regardless of how we think or what we believe. When more of us make that discovery, we have found the treasure partially buried in the field. What others do with their lives is up to them. We have found what works for our spiritual growth.  It is that discovery that sets us free.



O God of love, we find ourselves grateful that we have the ability to reflect many of the qualities of your spirit.  What a privilege that is. We confess, however, that too often our creature-habits cause us to sink beneath our potential.  Our familiar patterns of living often prevent us from seeing creative solutions to our challenges.  Awaken our spirits, O God, that we might be more attuned to your guidance. Teach us how to affirm the beauty we see in others and to understand how easy it is to respond in kind and peaceful ways.  Amen.



Loving God, who dwells all around us in a world of spirit that we cannot see, thank you for the urge to be in our church this morning.  As we are here, reasonably comfortable in our sanctuary, we are aware that chaos reigns in so many lives who are trying to find their way in the world.

On many days there is something that comes up for us that we did not expect. This Sunday, we are mourning the loss of Tony Buckley, one of our most faithful members.  Comfort those of us who remain behind for a little while longer.  What a comfort it is to know that each day we have the opportunity to make our understanding of love expressive, visible, and healing even during moments of grieving.

Inspire our confidence to remain faithful to what Jesus showed us through his life.  He died never seeing a Christian church building, never hearing the hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," never hearing a choir sing the great anthems of our faith and never knowing that anything he said would ever be remembered, let alone written down.  He showed us what faith and trust in you looks like to get the job done to fulfill your will. 

Today, we are his disciples.  We have received the torch of spiritual freedom from all those who have gone before us.   Thank you for your guidance and your love.  Thank you for opportunities to make your presence known.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .