“Seeking the Impossible”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – October 21, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Genesis 45:1-11; Mark 10:35-45

    While we were growing up, a number of us experienced the encouragement of parents, coaches, and teachers that told us that the sky was the limit.  They wanted us to have the confidence to grab onto life with both hands. We were invited to seek until we find. (Matthew 7:7) Some of us were taught that all boundaries are artificial and that we should dream big dreams and allow our imaginations to soar.

    This morning we are going to discuss why certain goals really are impossible to achieve.  Such a thought seems to disregard the well-meaning goals that others wanted for us as we shot for the moon.  How could something that Jesus taught be true when we see the rewards that have come to others who planned well for their own successes?

    John David Rockefeller lived a no-limit life.  He wanted to be the first millionaire in the world and he achieved that goal.  Next, he wanted to be the first billionaire in the world and he reached that goal as well. In today's currency, Rockefeller would have been worth 340 billion dollars which is more than triple the wealth of any of the billionaires currently alive.

     It seems that for certain people, nothing in this world is impossible to achieve.  They appear to have secured for themselves everything this world has to offer. In our Scripture lesson today, we find Jesus' cousins, James and John, seeking from Jesus something that was impossible to achieve:

There is something that we want you to do for us.  When you sit on your throne in your glorious Kingdom, we want you to let us sit with you, one on your right and the other on your left. (Mark 10:35f)

    Jesus responded that he did not have the power or the authority to grant their wish.  He told the two that only God has the power to determine what happens to people once they graduate from this life. (Mark 10:40) The two disciples were asking Jesus for something that was impossible for them to achieve.

    Many times, we have read Jesus' teaching that the last will be first and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:16) How are we to understand such a teaching?  Most of us understand our successes in material terms.  We consider our successes by our accomplishments, our goals reached, and our financial status.  Jesus would be quick to tell us that such things do not matter.  Jesus was homeless.  (Luke 9:58)   

    One of the last things Jesus would have wanted his disciples to do was to sit somewhere as though he intended to spend eternity sitting on some gold-plated throne.  If we know Jesus, he is not sitting anywhere. Many of us understand eternity as a system of rewards and the results from our human frailties.

    Later in the lesson, Jesus taught:

The way you see power displayed by various rulers is not the way your life should be lived.  If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of everyone else.  And if one of you wants to be first, you must be a slave to others.  (Mark 10:42f)

    How does living like this become something that is appealing to us?  Few people would find living the life of a slave rewarding.  Jesus was not describing the experience of a slave that was forced to build the pyramids.  He was describing someone who has discovered the joy of serving others like parents who care for their children who are incapable of showing gratitude for what they are receiving.  (Matthew 5:44-45)

    One afternoon I was returning to our church in Washington, D.C.  and found our custodian, Eddie Hicks, sitting on the floor polishing the brass fittings that anchored the glass doors to our sanctuary.  I said, "Eddie, what in the world are you doing? No one will notice if that brass is being polished or not."  He said, "Yes, there is.  I would notice." 

    Eddie's words were ones that framed what Jesus was teaching.  He was serving in a way that few would recognize.  Receiving recognition was not among Eddie's personal needs.  His effort demonstrated his faithfulness to his task of keeping our church the way he wanted it kept.

    The story of Joseph in our first lesson describes the remarkable scene when he revealed his identity to his brothers who had sold him to a passing caravan while he was a young teenager. During his life in Egypt, Joseph allowed his spirit to reveal itself while he remained completely blind to where his life was leading him.  

    He was never motivated to feel that he was a victim.  He did not permit his attitudes to become mean-spirited.  He did not feel abandoned by God.  Joseph was a brilliant organizer who possessed an unpretentious personality that allowed him to be contented to remain a slave as he served others for most of his life.

    No one ever taught Joseph to aim high, to shoot for the moon, or to grab onto power wherever he found the opportunity. Not in his wildest dreams could Joseph have imagined that one day he would be in command of the most powerful nation in the world.  Joseph showed up every day bringing his best into every circumstance, never realizing what he was preparing himself to become.  

    There are many variations in literature to the theme of the Joseph-narrative, e.g., "When the student is ready, the teacher will come."  "No episode in our lives has meaning until we assign one."  "Life is filled with one teachable moment after another." 

     Many of us have learned that our most life-shaping experiences could not have been planned.  Jesus taught us that when we are faithful to small details that others may never notice, God is at work in areas of our lives that we could not possibly imagine. (Matthew 25:23) Sometimes the episodes in life that other people face can mold and shape our lives just as the story of Joseph illustrates.

    A well-known and much-loved politician had just delivered a speech during a national holiday when he suffered an acute heart attack.  He was rushed to the emergency room of the local hospital.  An on-call physician was on his way. However, the official's vitals began to worsen.

    One of the female custodians of the hospital was named Bobbie.  She was mopping the floor outside of the enclosed cubicle of the E.R. where all the drama was taking place.  Bobbie was watching the machines when the Congressman's heart stopped beating.  

    Bobbie laid down her mop, raced into the drama, and began calling out numerous medical protocols.  The nursing staff was shocked, froze in place, and just stared at her. Bobbie exclaimed, "Don't just look at me with shocked faces! Do what I am telling you!  I am a cardiac surgeon!"  After scrubbing and supervising some tests, Bobbie performed surgery and opened three blocked arteries with stints.  She saved the Congressman's life.

    Bobbie had been a talented heart surgeon in the former Soviet Union but was not certified to practice medicine in the United States.  She settled for being a janitor in the hospital so she could be near the work environment that she had to leave behind. Bobbie had been helping to keep sterility a high priority in that part of the hospital.  Little did she know that one day she would be in the right place at the right time to save someone's life.

    This was one of those stories that reflected Jesus' life.  Who could have imagined that a son of God would remain homeless?  During his ministry, Jesus would sow seeds that would help people learn how to master the art of living through their compassion toward others in our ever-changing material world. (Mark 10:45)

     The greatest barriers to becoming an angel-in-the-flesh come from the judgments we make about our life's circumstances. Why is it so difficult to accept where we are in our lives and move forward unafraid even when we may appear to others as a person being victimized?

    Author Timothy Galway once wrote a visual image of what our life's journey looks like:

When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as "rootless and stemless."  We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we do not condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear.  We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is born until the time it dies.  Within it, at all times, is contained its whole potential.  It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each stage, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.

               When we are self-accepting at every stage of life and we live our lives by lovingly responding to every person and circumstance that shows up, our lives often become ones that God can use to fashion creation in ways we may never live to see.  How could this happen?   All things are possible for God. (Luke 1:37) We have the ability to content ourselves by playing even small roles in helping our future to become more civil because we lived, sowed our seeds, and never cared whether or not any of them sprouted.  (Matthew 123:31)



Loving God, how often our spirits can lose their focus from the array of circumstances that impact our lives.  For thousands of years, the storyline of human history has varied little.  Jesus invited us to view every experience as an opportunity to be a missionary.  We confess that our wills are more interested in justice, fairness, and equality when that is not our calling.  Our temptation is to become warriors for great causes.   Empower us to recognize that our strength lies in patience as we serve others in spite of our circumstances. We are not here to judge; we are here to serve.   Amen.    



Ever faithful and always loving God, as each of us has found our seats in the sanctuary this morning, we have entered moments when we can quiet ourselves in the stillness of silence.  A number of us are challenged when it comes to experiencing quiet.   We confess that few of us find the time to listen during those moments.  Rather we appear like a sponge for the countless distractions that we allow to enter our minds.  When we understand how many of these meaningless events contribute to the attitudes we develop, we welcome moments of silence as opportunities to focus our thoughts on what produces our understanding of others, on what opens closed doors, and on what creates meaningful, life-shaping experiences.

Thank you for the message that Jesus refined for people with his simplicity of giving ourselves away in love.  Thank you for the gathered community of our church family that feeds and nurtures us, providing us with guidance even during the moments when we are not seeking anything from anyone. 

When we are paying attention to your created order, it is you, O God, who have taught us the art of loving.  We frequently struggle in some of our relationships, yet you surround everyone with countless opportunities to grow.  We do not understand how love works, but we know that love is how you reveal your spirit to everyone through your silence and secrecy.  What we do know is that where we find ourselves is a perfect garden in which to grow, bloom, and disburse our seeds to generations not yet born. With thankful and grateful hearts, we pray the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to say when they prayed . . .