“Our Ego and How We Wear It”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – November 11, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 127; Mark 12:38-44

    This morning's lesson contains a theme that can stimulate a healthy debate within ourselves about what and how we communicate to others.  Long before clinical labels were given to personalities by Sigmund Freud and other influential neurologists and psychologists, two prime examples of the way individuals can wear their egos surfaced in our Scripture lesson today.  They appear like bookends.

    In between them is a wide variety of people wearing very different ego-driven personalities. The pride of a Pharisee who understood himself as being highly favored by God was one bookend.  The other bookend was a very humble widow who gave to the coffers of the Temple two small copper coins that were worth a penny.

    Each of us has some degree of self-understanding that forms the spirit of the personality that we radiate to others.  There are individuals in our midst who assume an attitude of enormous self-importance.  In 1969, the description of someone being on an ego trip was first coined as a label for such individuals.  On many occasions during his ministry, Jesus described our one bookend, the Pharisees, as belonging to this group.  Many of them were Teachers of the Law, Scribes, and other professions that required having an academic education. 

    All of them were supposed to earn a living by teaching or by being involved in matters of commerce because they could read and write. However, many of them carried themselves with such importance that work of any kind was beneath them.  They wore their egos communicating that they were God's elite citizens.  Everything from their dress code to their lengthy prayers were designed to draw attention to themselves.  Jesus warned his listeners, particularly women, to be very cautious around them.

    These holier-than-thou men preyed on women.  Since the public believed that the Pharisees were God's elite, there was no higher calling for women than to support these men economically.  Jesus was teaching, "Stop giving them anything. They will continue asking for more and more until they eventually come into possession of your homes."  (Mark 12:40) Jesus was informing his listeners that these men were everything but God's elite.  They were common, ordinary thieves dressed up like Greek gods.  We still have such elites among us today. 

    Many years ago, The Board of Ordained Ministry of our Annual Conference would take a group of men on a retreat.  This was the first phase of their journey that would eventually lead to their ordination. Women seldom entered the process of becoming an ordained Elder until the 1970s.

    One of the curious behaviors of a number of these men was that as soon as they became certified as a ministerial candidate, they began wearing clerical shirts, a collar, and a black suit communicating to those around them that they had already arrived.  

    Everywhere they went, they remained dressed like a priest.  Their uniform often granted them certain social courtesies that were not extended to other people. If a police officer pulled them over for speeding, they were often given a warning ticket from the officer as well as the admonition, "Father, in the future, please watch how fast you are driving."

    Throughout my fifty-plus years as a pastor, I have seen congregations so revere their pastors that they placed them on a pedestal, the same place where the Pharisees had been placed.  At Christmas these pastors were lavished with gifts such as new cars to sizeable bonuses.  Congregations wanted their pastors to have the best even though Jesus had no place to sleep at night.  (Matthew 8:20) Let us remain clear here, dressing like a pastor grants them instant respect, just as the Pharisees were receiving.

    In my last church, we converted a large storage area into an apartment where we could give small families temporary shelter until they could make a fresh start.  We were between guests at the time and I was in the shelter giving the walls a fresh coat of paint. 

    One of our church members stopped by after my secretary told her where she could find me. She had six milk cartons, each that once held six gallons of milk.  They were filled with baby food that her child no longer needed.  She asked if I would take them to our area food bank that was housed in the Presbyterian church in town.  Her husband had put them in the car and she could not lift them.

    I put down my roller and took the baby food to the food bank immediately because I knew that such a commodity would be most helpful.  When I showed up, there were three men working in the facility.  They immediately challenged me and asked how I had gotten into the church.  They told me that they were not open for business. It was then that I realized that I was being judged by the way I looked.  I had more paint on my pants and shirt than I had applied to the walls.

    My response was, "I really could use your help. I have six large milk cartons of baby food and wondered if you guys could lend me a hand in bringing them into the food bank." Because of their initial rude greeting, I did not bother to introduce myself.  Their rather authoritarian looks suddenly burst into smiles and handshakes when they realized I came bearing gifts. 

    When I came home and told Lois about my experience with the three men she said, "Dick Stetler, don't tell me that you went to the Presbyterian church looking like that?"  I honestly had not given my appearance a second thought.

    Since I immediately went back to my painting after the delivery of the food, it made no sense for me to go home and change my clothes just to look presentable. 

    Once I saw a cartoon of Jesus being escorted out of a church.  Under it were these words, "Go find a hippy-church if you can find one.  Your kind is not a good fit for our congregation!"  I save cartoons like this because they often provide a message of which many Christians need reminding.  They need to continue polishing the lenses that govern their people-filters.  Are they seeing everyone through the eyes of love?

    All of the responses we have discussed thus far are rooted in the ego-center of values found coming from a wide assortment of personalities.  The Pharisees needed to be in total control of how they were being perceived by the public.  They had the wardrobe, the ability to pray publicly using eloquent words, and they had a need to sit in the places of honor everywhere they went.

    By contrast, let us now look at the other bookend. Jesus and the disciples were sitting across from the Temple treasury when the Master drew their attention to the widow across the street. They watched as she put her offering to God into the Temple's public container for such financial gifts. Jesus said, "She has given more to the Temple than anyone else.  Most people give generously out of their abundance.  She has willingly given her last penny." (Mark 12:44)

    We do not know a thing about this woman other than her generosity has shamed a lot of people about their giving patterns for thousands of years since Jesus used her and her gift as a teachable moment. What caused Jesus to look across the street at just that moment?  Why has this woman become so influential through the centuries?

     The creativity of God happens invisibly. Contrary to the beliefs of countless Christians, God has no desire for recognition, applause, or praise.  God works in secret. We are the ones who insist on expressing gratitude to God. There is nothing wrong about sharing our feelings with God. However, more of our inspiration comes from those whose lives have become signposts for others. The poor, humble woman would have given her gift to God even if no one had been watching. The ego she was displaying was that of a woman who loved and trusted God with her future.  She knew that God, who sees in secret, loved her.

    Today is Remembrance Day in Bermuda.  I recall a scene that burned itself into my mind.  I have never forgotten it. The Viet Nam War was very unpopular in the United States among many citizens.  A group of war-weary Veterans were returning from the Far East and they were greeted by those present with jeers, boos, and an entire litany of bitter, hateful comments.  I remember tears coming to my eyes as I watched this drama unfolding.

    These were men who had just come from the worst possible conditions.  They had lost dear friends and had been separated from their families for extended periods of time.  There was no one among those present who chose to value their sacrifice.  Watching the response of ridicule coming from other Americans made me very sad. Freedom of speech always reveals the spirit of those expressing themselves.

    God performs small and large miracles through all kinds of people, e.g., the Pharisees, the women who sacrificed to support them, the widow who through storytelling has influenced the generosity of billions of people, and for those who remain unrecognized even though many of them gave their lives so that human freedom might live.  Today, in Bermuda, we remember them with gratitude.

    God is very generous in guiding us in how to creatively interpret life's numerous experiences.  Even the disappointing attitudes and behaviors of others can teach us how to become clearer signposts for people as we allow the details up to God for how that is to be accomplished.  

    Remember what God did with a widow and her two coins.  Remember what God did with a carpenter who spent three years teaching people how to live in one of the most obscure parts of the world.  Because he was misunderstood, he was murdered.  What an illustration that demonstrates that nothing could prevent Jesus' message of love your enemies from reaching our lives thousands of years later! Today, we understand what he taught.  Today, the message of how to live in The Kingdom of God is very clear.   Think of what God can do through the lives of each of us when we choose to follow Jesus while living in the midst of our chaotic world!



Loving, ever present God, too often we find ourselves struggling with the tension between our faith and our fear.  We want our lives to be true adventures but often we become hesitant when faced with uncertainty.  We want to live by faith but realize that our trust has many limitations.  Thank you for guiding us to remember that all our needs will be met when we invest ourselves in living by faith. Life is always reminding us that we will constantly be students that have much to learn.   Thank you for helping us to discover that the bitter pills of life often become the best medicine.  Amen.                               



How wonderful it is, O God, to be together in our sanctuary, an environment that helps to focus our attention on matters other than the distracting cares of our day.  Why is it that so many people squander their energy on complaining about everyday events when all of us could be filled with gratitude for the golden age in which we live?  We have so much for which to be thankful, particularly your presence during the rough patches that we experience, as well as those moments that bring such joy, satisfaction and peace.  Thank you.

This week we pause in respect and gratitude for the men and women who have fallen in battle defending what too many of us take for granted – our freedoms. We also celebrate the lives of those who continue in their vigilance to protect us from those whose values and attitudes clash with our own. The enemies of freedom have forgotten that we are all your sons and daughters that were created to experience the values of choice, consequences, better choices and endless opportunities for growth.  We pray for a day to come when all the societies of the world will discover what we know and love about Bermuda.

Tomorrow, we will rally around our annual Tea and Sale.  May the spirit of love radiate from all of us as we greet and serve our guests.  Grant us patience, energy, smiles and extend the kindnesses of warm hospitality.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .