Truth Will Never Be Silenced”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – July 15, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 24; Mark 6:14-29

    This morning our scripture lesson is about the beheading of John the Baptist.  This story ranks among the most grotesque of all similar episodes in history.  Herodias plotted very skillfully to exact revenge on her arch-enemy and critic.  She had to sleep well that night after John's beheading, knowing that she would never hear again the acid tongue of John condemning her lifestyle. 

    Millions of people throughout history have known about John the Baptist.  The only reason Herodias is mentioned at all in history is that her name is linked with plotting the murder of John. 

    Socrates is a world-renown philosopher. Among his teachings were "Know Thyself" and "Nothing to excess." Those who forced him to drink a deadly mix of Hemlock were nameless critics that claimed that he was poisoning the minds of children.

    The remarkable scientist and mathematician Archimedes, who still has a number of his inventions in use today, was murdered long before Jesus was born.  He was senselessly killed because the scientist had just asked a Roman soldier to stand to one side or the other because he was blocking the sunlight from shining on a project he was working on.  Hearing that, the nameless soldier killed him. 

    The messages of all three men live on.  How come?  Their messages pointed to truths that work for people. 

    What is the message that history has continued to teach us through the ages?  One of the messages is that nothing can prevent the creativity, genius, and curiosity of people from pushing back the horizons of what is known. Their messages work.  In time, all barriers yield to new revelations and innovations that work in the lives of people.

    Truth is impersonal and its consistency and accuracy never change.  Truth is always true regardless of what scholars and critics say it is, or how many armies march to defend their countries' values, or how many visionaries are killed because they are considered dangerous to some common understanding.  

    The closer we get to what is true, the further it moves away from us.  It is as though truth is beckoning the brave to pursue it.  The more we gain in knowledge, the more we want to know.  Today most barriers are falling monthly because there are no more dire consequences happening to those who venture into unchartered territory.  In history, such people were shunned or burned at the stake. History has shown us that what works for people is passed on.

    This is how the insights, from a transformed carpenter, uttered in one of the most obscure parts of the world not only survived but were published in nearly every language. No renowned atheist has ever provided an informed answer of how this could possibly have happened.

    John the Baptist had a message that would help people to live more fulfilled lives.  He said, "Turn away from your sins because the Kingdom of God is near."  If we were to translate this passage differently into a language that today's more secular-minded people could easily grasp, it would be this: 

You are missing the mark by sabotaging your lives by your own thoughts and attitudes. You cannot change the world. You cannot change others. You can only change how you live in the world by accessing the same energy within yourselves that created the world. (Matthew 3:2)

    What is it about truth that makes it so threatening to tradition, orthodoxy, habits, and various paths to salvation?   Is it because truth challenges the well-established forms of thinking?  Is it because of some group's collective understanding that their truth comes from God?  Is it that truth has been set in stone by some authoritarian-figure who has gained control over how people must think and behave? 

    Truth often speaks to individuals, freeing each from rules and regulations that once confined his or her thinking and feelings.  When Jesus started his ministry, his message was nearly identical to that of his cousin John. The clearest definition of Jesus' message was spelled out for Pontius Pilate: 

You say that I am a king.  Perhaps I am, but I am not a king as people typically define one.  I came into the world for one purpose.  That purpose was to place the truth of how to live in this world in front of people. People who recognize the truth of my words listen to me. (John 18:37f)

    There is nothing religious or sacred about the process that Jesus was describing.  No religion has unique rights to John's or Jesus' teachings. Their messages were universal and were meant to apply to everyone who has ever lived. Jesus defined that process when he spoke to one of the great teachers of Israel:

    A person is born into our world through the intimacy of his or her parents, but the off-spring has to awaken spiritually.  The inner energy of compassion will transform their lives completely. Once this happens he or she learns to interpret the world so differently, it is like being born again. (John 3:6f)

    The Church has taught for centuries that people are saved from being held prisoner of this world by Jesus' death on the cross.  However, Jesus never mentioned such a teaching.  Yet, this is the crown jewel of Christianity. If Jesus were alive today, he would teach what he taught

You are saved from being held prisoner of this world by choosing differently.  When you choose to live in the Kingdom of God, your fears, your anxieties, your need to cling to your material possessions, and your hostile attitudes will no longer direct your lives. 

I lived what I taught by forgiving everyone from thieves to the ones who drove nails into my wrists and feet.  To be truly free from the binding cocoons of this world, you have the power to choose attitudes based in constant forgiveness and love.

    Recently, the world experienced the rescue of twelve young Thai football players and their coach from being imprisoned in a flooded cave.   They spent seventeen days in darkness, uncertain if they would ever see daylight again.

    Eighteen international cave divers had taken part in the rescue.  The need of helpless boys inspired everyone to think outside the box of orthodoxy.  Suddenly, financial resources became limitless, ethnicity did not matter, and the willingness of numerous physicians to risk their lives was unparalleled. 

    A truth inside of people became visible. The moment news was made public that the first four boys had been liberated from the cave, there were cries of joy everywhere.  Hope flourished that all of them could be saved.

    What was the world experiencing?  For one moment in time, people everywhere made visible in their actions, thoughts, and feelings what John the Baptist and Jesus were teaching about living in The Kingdom of God.  Total strangers became compassionate, willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of others that they had never met.

    We can pause for awhile to thank God for the rescue of the boys and their coach.  However, it does not take very long before many of us return to attacking each other in our thinking and in our expressions about everything and anything that upsets us.  The forgiveness that Jesus demonstrated from the cross gets lost in the world's persistent chaos.

    Rather than personalizing Jesus' teachings and demonstrating their truth, people often behave as though Jesus' death on the cross had a different storyline.  That alternate storyline sounds like this: 

Jesus came into our world with such loving intentions and he was sentenced to death for doing so.  As Jesus was hanging on the cross dealing with excruciating pain, he bitterly cursed, blamed, and condemned those who did this to him.

    Fortunately, that was not his message.  Many people, however, live from day to day as though Jesus has had no influence over the way they conduct their lives.  This happens because the issues of the world appear far more important to their passions than loving even their neighbors.

    God is in charge of creation while billions of God's children believe that they are. This is just the way that truth is whether we like it or not.  We have to decide which psychological training we want for ourselves. 

    Do we choose to continue responding with hostility to the chaos generated by our world?  Or, do we want to live in this world where our loving values and attitudes remain timeless?   

    We all know the answer.  Can we make that choice and live it even when profound injustice is happening all around us?  Jesus did and he said, "So can you.  I want you to be one of my disciples.  Give God a chance to work through you to change the world."



We enter this place, O God, seeking and celebrating what nothing else in this world can give us. Lead us away from looking to you as a life raft that will save us from the fears that we have created. Inspire us instead to display confidence that knows of your love, that knows of your presence, and that knows our role in this world. As the challenging and fragile moments come, may we understand each of them as opportunities to demonstrate our faith. Guide our thinking that we may choose today to become the person we hoped one day to be.  Amen.



Loving God, as our faith continues to be refined with each day’s events, we thank you for constantly being the unseen hands that are molding and shaping our future.  We are not completely sure what it means to be created in your image, but we trust that you have given us the ability to walk with you through the fog, the haze, and the illusions created by the distractions that outcrop all the time.

We can experience peace when we let go of our cares and concerns and allow them to dissolve in the sands of your acceptance and understanding. We thank you for those moments when instant judgment warns us that we are swimming against the currents of life when we place our faith in worry and fear that become barriers to our loving.  Teach us that there is no place in our peace for such strong, unproductive emotions.  Inspire us to think again when we withhold our love from someone that tests our friendship.  Sometimes we forget how our faith and trust in you communicate attitudes and behavior that reflect your spirit.

Guide and teach us, O God, to let go of the words and actions of others that may have been offensive to us.  Perhaps in our becoming more like you in the way we forgive, we will learn what it means to be created in your image.  May we remember that Jesus invited us to walk among people, many who are not like us, so that our peaceful and enthusiastic attitudes might shed light on their paths.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught his disciples to say when they prayed . . .