“Our Search for Understanding”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – October 28, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 34:1-8; Mark 10:46-52


    One of the most persistent urges that enters our minds periodically is the powerful need to gain understanding about our life-experiences.  This morning we are going to consider how important it is for each of us to have a vantage point to view our lives when sudden and unexpected changes occur.   

    If we are not anchored to a firm foundation, we are likely to feel as if we are a ping-pong ball being slapped across the net by two paddles.  People can wander aimlessly through their journey here never understanding what is happening to them.  We want to understand how to remain energetic and enthusiastic regardless of the judgments we are tempted to make about our circumstances.

    In this morning's lesson we find an illustration of how a man's hunger to regain his vision propelled him to get Jesus' attention by screaming at him, "Jesus!  Son of David!  Have mercy on me!"  (Mark 10:47).  When Bartimaeus and Jesus came together, Jesus said, "What would you like me to do for you?"  The blind man said, "I want to see again."

    Apparently, Bartimaeus once enjoyed normal vision.  Something had occurred to make him blind.  Perhaps you noticed that all the hymns we sang this morning contained verses about spiritual blindness.  This healing may have been used as an illustration of what happens during our lives when an event occurs that reverses the flow of our lives making us blind to everything from God to questioning why life is worth living.  Because of the seriousness of the issue we were facing, we sought the teachings that Jesus taught during his ministry.

    This can happen when a child is forgotten and left inside of a car that has overheated.  Thus far in 2018 this has happened 48 times in the United States.  Blindness may come when a spouse says that he or she wants a divorce.  People can lose their vision when they receive a termination notice from their place of employment. 

    Perhaps we have enjoyed everything thus far about our lives when a recent illness has reminded us that death was a real possibility this last time. That real possibility of our death can easily hijack our vision. Our emotional tank that was once fueled by our energizing ambitions may be signaling to us that it is almost empty. 

    These experiences can become a part of anyone's life.  Such events happen often without any notice.  Many people have far more challenging lives than what these examples represent.  However, any life-reversal can cause us to hunger for a vantage point that will support our understanding as we navigate what we are facing.  Bartimaeus was compelled to yell, "Jesus! Son of David!  Have mercy on me."

    What happens to people when their current life-orientation has little or no substantive background in matters of the spirit?  They do not have a reservoir of understanding that would feed them with the knowledge that they are not as alone as their fears tell them.   

    Think about this.  What happens emotionally to a good number of us when our physical attractiveness, our talents, and our successful careers that once helped to form our identities begin to fail us?  How many of us are able to surrender gracefully the things of youth?

    In today's world, it does not take much for people to lose the support of society because of something they said, for some indiscretion that suddenly becomes public knowledge, or by making an unpopular decision that placed him or her in an awkward situation that was difficult to explain. 

    Bermuda really has escaped a bullet recently. Category-4 hurricane Florence passed to the south of our Island.  However, she landed on our neighbors west of us with a furry that flooded farm lands filled with crops that were only weeks away from being harvested.  Florence destroyed homes, businesses, and bridges.   What vantage point was available to people so that they were emotionally and spiritually prepared to rebuild their lives?

    There was a time when Thomas Edison experienced such an event that sent him back to square one. This remarkable inventor created the first incandescent light bulb and the phonograph.   He held over one thousand patents for his various inventions.  

    One night, weeks before Christmas in 1914, Edison Industries burned to the ground.  Edison lost two million dollars along with all his life's work.  He had insured his company for $238,000 because his buildings had been constructed out of concrete.  The possibility of a total loss due to a fire was inconceivable.

    The next morning one of Edison's sons went searching for his father.  Charles felt very badly for his dad who was 67 years old.  He found him picking up a hand-full of ashes from the debris. Edison surprised his son with these words, "There is great value in disasters like this.  All of our mistakes are burned up.  Thank God, we can start anew."

     One of the greatest lessons we can learn is to realize that no experience has any value whatsoever until we assign one.  As long as Edison was making a judgment about what happened, he decided to make one that gave him insight that helped him to move beyond his losses.  He said, "This fire burned up all of our mistakes." 

    Edison possessed an understanding about life that enabled him to thrive in spite of his circumstances.  Feeling badly, becoming depressed, or remaining angry were not in his spiritual network of responses. He had not lost the understanding that life continues to be one adventure after another.

    We talked about this last Sunday when Joseph became a role model for the readers of the Book of Genesis.   He interpreted his life as divine preparation for a purpose he could not see during the unfolding of each of his experiences. (Genesis 45:5)

     This is how we can interpret our life-events so that they forever propel us to look forward to what comes next.  When we think and honestly feel this way, we realize that our present experiences do not need to be understood before they become building blocks for our next adventure.  All we have to do is forge ahead knowing that we are headed somewhere we currently cannot see.

    When a well-known Italian artist had countless paintings stolen from his studio, he said to his four children:

    Thieves may have stolen a number of my paintings but they did not take away my love of painting. I will paint others that will be vast improvements over what was taken.  All of you should give thanks to God for the talents He gave to you to chart the course of your lives. You are of a far greater value to God than anything that you may create. 

    We can go on creating while the thieves will always know that any financial gain from their theft represents nothing. When they present themselves to God and must give an accounting of their lives, they will have to confess that they took God's gift of life and used it to become common thieves.

    The healing of Bartimaeus was an illustration of what happens to people when their lives are no longer working for them.  They become blind to life's meaning.  They want to regain an understanding of what is happening to them. There are many splendid life-pursuits and creations in the material world that are miraculous in what they have given to us.  However, for all their grandeur, they cannot hold a candle to the joy and freedom of understanding that living our lives is a divine process.         

    Our lives are perfectly all right just as they are.  We do not have 20-20 hindsight during each stage of our growth.  Divine process can easily create blindness until we gain understanding of where each life-reversing experience is leading us.  This is why living by trust and faith is an indispensable asset for those who have it.   Happiness, peace, and creativity return to us once we realize that God is the potter and we are the clay. 

    Currently, my native land is in a state of distraction unlike anything that most Americans have experienced during their lives.  One major distraction, however, has actually brought people together regardless of the boundaries created by their politics, ethnicity, and gender.

    There are two lotteries that reached staggering levels.  The Mega-Millions lottery held the promise of a person winning 1.6 billion dollars.  The Powerball lottery was at the level of 587.5 million dollars.

    Lottery officials indicated the day after the Mega-Million drawing that a single ticket had been sold in South Carolina.  When all the taxes are paid on the 1.6 billion dollars, the winner will possess 800 million dollars in cash. Try to imagine that. 

    Just last night, the winning numbers were drawn for the Powerball and the $587.5 will be split between two ticket holders that are living in Arizona and Missouri.  All winners have dreamed:

    If only I had infinite wealth, I would have no more financial worries.  How would it feel to know that all my needs and wants from now on are now within my grasp!

    If only winners would realize what is instore for them if they make their winnings a public spectacle.  They inherit a lot of friends.  People surround them to such a degree that they frequently have to move to another location.  They may be overcome by guilt when they know in their hearts they could pay for a surgery that a child desperately needs, rebuild homes that had been destroyed by a flood, and save a farmer from going bankrupt.  In short, their lives are never the same. Many of them eventually wish that they had never bought that lottery ticket.

      One does not have to use any imagination to understand why there are long lines to buy lottery tickets.  Because of our orientation toward the material world, we also understand why there are no long lines to our churches, to purchase a Bible or to gain understanding of the quality of life Jesus was teaching during his ministry.  

    We know the wisdom that has been available to us since we were born. The proverb in the Old Testament that I used to begin our service this morning was, "In all thy getting, get understanding." (Proverb 4:7)   Like King Solomon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. collected wise sayings.  Among his collection is this one, "Some people believe that they have figured out everything except how to live." 

     It is infinitely fulfilling to fill our minds with fantasies about having enough wealth to make us immune to life-reversals.  Material wealth will always remain a fantasy because having it will not do that.  Spiritual wealth, however, will give us the prized possession of having understanding, faith, and trust that all is well, every day throughout our lives. (Matthew 6:19-21)   

    Each one of us is a divine child of God and no one can take that identity away from us! Let us hold on to that understanding and thank God that we have it. With it we can now live with abandon a life that is fearless.



Loving and always present God, if we visualized the number of blessings we have received since birth, we would cease to see all else.  We have grown wiser.  We have learned that we reap what we sow.  We have learned that failures are only results that we have the ability to change. Our life-experiences have often taught us that your guidance remains present during our rough patches when we have the vision to understand it.  Inspire the quality of our faith and trust so that we do not doubt the activity of your divine process during every stage of our lives.   Amen.


We come before you today, O God, knowing how many times our faith has transformed moments of pain into lessons of triumph.  Our reversals have taught us patience.  Hindsight has helped us to define the "why" of life's many unexpected changes. Loneliness has taught us our need to give more of ourselves to others.  Boredom has provided us with the motivation to make more plans and to set higher goals.   We thank you for how our faith and trust in you have such transformative powers that have enhanced our experience of living.

Each time we achieve anything, it is because we have discovered how to use what you have given us.  We have also discovered that the moments in life that have truly mattered have been those when our trust in your love sustained us while our own abilities were weak, frail, and undeveloped.  May we always cherish the understanding that with you there is no mountain we cannot climb, no darkness that can permanently surround us, and no misadventure from which we cannot learn a valuable lesson.  You are with us during every step of our journey as we learn how to be more skilled at being the angels-in-the-flesh whom Jesus called, "My disciples."  

Continue to inspire us, O God, to create the atmosphere and environment at Centenary where people feel safe, secure, and loved just as they are.  Help each of us to be generous of heart and always eager to be of service.  We pray these thoughts through the Spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .