“Unlocking The Goodness In People”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – July 29, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 34:1-10; John 6:1-15

    This morning we are going to discuss what Jesus did to get a large group of people to share their food.  Before we get into our Scripture lesson for today, we will consider what has been learned about the vast number of personalities that were possibly included in that group of 5000 men.

     We all have bodies that are quite similar in their construction and function; however, what lives inside of us are personalities that are distinctly different. Our lives can become quite complicated when we personalize these differences.  We often bring judgments instead of understanding.  Once we understand that there are real differences that people cannot help owning, our bringing judgments will only reveal who we are.

     There was a book that became quite popular in 1992 called Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus by John Gray. Gray humorously illustrated his book by discussing countless examples of behaviors and attitudes that typically separate men from women.  However, the differences between people can be far more radical and widespread than most of us realize. 

     In 1943, Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers created the Myers-Briggs Personality Test.  This test is fun to take and it reveals each person's personality type.  In recent years, the test has become more refined to the point where it has become a highly respected tool that helps people to develop more wholesome relationships.  Why should everyone take this test?

     Sixteen distinctly different personalities have been identified among the world's vast population.  The test is so accurate that the results have saved millions of people from going into professions that would have frustrated them from the first day on the job.  

     I had lunch with the chief financial officer of one of our banks in Washington, D.C.  He said, "I am never comfortable around people, but put me in a cubicle with spreadsheets from a company seeking a loan from us, and I am at my peak of comfort.  I can tell within five minutes whether or not the company should get the loan they are seeking. 

     Obviously, his personality perfectly matches what is necessary for his profession, but he would be helpless and constantly vulnerable in a position where charm and a gregarious spirit were critically important.

     Years ago, a couple came to me to perform their marriage ceremony.  One of the challenges to their relationship was their inability to talk to each other and remain civil.  After taking the test, it became obvious to both of them why they were having problems. They met each other in graduate school where both received a PhD in Communication.  Knowing a lot about the subject does not automatically provide the skills of being a good communicator.  

     The woman was highly intuitive and made decisions based on how she felt about various issues.  The man's decisions were based on facts and logic, making him appear sterile, cold, unfeeling, and insensitive.   

     As an intuitive-feeler, she would say, "I can't stand how you treat me sometimes.  You should know that I want to feel included in your life. You go on as if I don't exist or matter to you." 

     As a thinker-rationalist, he would respond, "I can't believe you just said that. I do love you.  If you want those things from me, you need to tell me how I should package them for you."  Her response, " You are impossible!  If you really loved me, you should know what I want."  He said, "How can I possibly know what you want unless you tell me?  I can't read your mind!" Do we see the tension caused by their differences?

     I have heard this identical conversation from men and women throughout my career.  Think of how many times people have misread the attitudes and behaviors of others because they were completely uninformed about the fundamental differences in the personalities of those with whom they associate. There is nothing wrong with any of the 16 types even though their differences are often quite striking.

     The reason the world appears to be coming unglued may be the result of 16 personality types assuming that everyone should feel and think the way they do.  The problem is that each of us is processing our experiences quite differently.  Agreement about anything is almost impossible for everyone to achieve.  

     People everywhere need to read a little paperback book called, Please Understand Me by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates. Reading it would clarify why people think, feel, and behave differently.  Having this knowledge helps people to respond with understanding rather than with judgmental attitudes. This knowledge also helps people to enter intimate relationships with clearer minds instead of being led by emotions filled with romantic notions and expectations.

    A good number of people who possess this information can often get along with everyone. In fact, it is fun for them to recognize the various personality types of people that they deal with on a daily basis. They can bring understanding rather than judgments to those who process their experiences quite differently.  

     Frequently, many of these people have little awareness that they are being perceived as aloof, unfeeling, and insensitive while others are judged as being too chatty, scatter-brained, and appear to be looking to be loved by everyone they meet.

     With this rather lengthy explanation of various personality-types, let us now turn to our Scripture lesson.  Try to imagine Jesus facing 16 personality types while preaching to 5000 people.  

     How did Jesus get a large crowd to share their food with each other?  We can almost sense and feel the invisible attitudes of people that were present in that large gathering, many of whom came from different towns and villages. 

     The time had arrived when most people eat their evening meal.  As this historic episode began to unfold, one of the disciples said, "There is a young boy here with five loaves of bread and two fish." That young boy had gotten hungry when the disciple spotted him.  Possibly he had started to eat the food that he had brought with him.

     The boy revealed what was normal for everyone. No one in that part of the world would ever journey from their village without food and a lot of water. Jesus knew what he was going to do.

     Perhaps Jesus' strategy set up that large group of people for an experiment that none of them could easily ignore. Perhaps his preaching that afternoon had to do with sharing.  He may have said, "Sharing is an extension of love that makes quite visible the quality of the spirit living inside of you."

     Jesus used the occasion of a mealtime to encourage a group of strangers to share with each other.  He invited everyone to sit down.  He prayed for God's blessing and he began to share the food that the young boy had brought.  The miracle happened when everyone began to share just as Jesus and his disciples were demonstrating.  

    The single and most visible energy that can be extended by people is compassion that places all personality types on a level playing-field.  Extending loving energy places 16 personalities on hold.  The people became givers when everyone began to share. 

     We saw this when people everywhere were praying for the young football players trapped in the cave that had flooded with seasonal rain.  We saw this in the mix of volunteers who showed up to plan their rescue.  The high-risk rescue was successful because of an energy that everyone experienced but not everyone could identify or label.

     One of my fondest memories came from a woman in one of my churches who called me one afternoon and said: 

Dick, I want you to know about a decision I have made. I can no longer go on living in total misery.  I cannot move beyond the death of my husband, and it is no use for me to keep pretending that I can. I have decided to take a bottle of my prescription medication and go to sleep forever so I can join him. I wanted you to know.  Please forgive me.  I know that God will.

    I went to see her immediately that afternoon. She had used the word "I" nine or ten times during our phone conversation. Her energy was focused only on her feelings and thoughts. She was being held prisoner by her own self-absorption of missing her husband.  That loss in her life was consuming her daily life.

     Toward the end of our visit, I asked her an off-the-wall question.  I asked, "Before you do anything to yourself, would you do me a favor?  Please bake a cherry pie for me." She looked quite startled by my strange request and said "What?"  I repeated myself, "Please bake a cherry pie for me and take it to a woman three houses up on the other side of your street."  She agreed.  This woman was well-known in our church for her cherry pies.  I brought our visit to a close with a prayer and left.

     She called me a week later and told me about her three-hour visit with the neighbor whom she recognized but barely knew. One of them went to the 8:30 a.m. service and the other one attended the 11:00 a.m. service.  The woman who received the pie lived alone and she had very few visitors.  I happened to know that she really enjoyed this woman's cherry pies.  She used lard as the shortening for her dough.  THAT really filled her pies with a wonderful aroma and taste.

     During the three hours, the two women developed a wonderful friendship.  They found so many things that they had in common and among them was the death of their husbands.  They both had children that lived in distant states.  Thoughts of suicide literally had vanished from her mind and never returned.    

     Her transformation occurred when she unlocked her goodness by a visit and by extending herself creatively by giving away a cherry pie.  Her energy flow was reversed from painful self-absorption to one of sharing with another person.

     Once people experience the joy of serving and giving to others, they seldom look back on the spirit that once ruled their responses.  What makes loving energy such a vital tool for living is that it allows us to put our personal concerns on the back burners of our minds while we are giving to others. 

     Once Jesus asked a rhetorical question, "Who is greater, the one who sits down to eat or the one who serves the meal?  The one who sits down to eat, of course.  That person is the important one because he or she is our guest.  However, I have come among you as one who serves."  (Luke 22:27)

     As soon as we release love's energy-flow, all the toxins in our mind and emotions are flushed out of our system.  Ultimately, God knows what is inside of each of us.  God also knows that it is just a matter of time before each of us discovers that energy because we become unhappy with what such thoughts and feelings have produced in our spirits.  Loving is easy when others become our only focus.

     This is how Jesus helped a group filled with 16 different types of personalities to engage in an act of sharing.  Jesus' strategy was so successful that the disciples filled twelve baskets of left-overs.

     This kind of abundance happens when, through understanding people, we put others first.  They become receivers of what our spirits give them.  Strangely enough, when we release a hostility that we have been holding on to for so long, we are healed in the process.



Faithful God, you are always generous and gracious.  We take for granted that our days will unfold safely.  We feel secure that our comfortable lives will remain unchallenged.  We come this morning in a spirit of humility, knowing that we are responsible for making your Kingdom visible. We seek freedom from being self-absorbed. We want to become your eyes and ears, your hands and feet. Enable us to be sensitive to the unspoken needs of others.  As we sow our seeds of kindness among others, may we do so without the need for recognition.  Inspire us to display enthusiasm, optimism, and hope among those who may have lost theirs.  Enable us to bring healing to others through our presence and friendship.  Amen.



Eternal God, how grateful we are that living our discipleship impacts our lives in ways we cannot measure.  We do not know how many times our frustration has mellowed because your Son reminded us to extend our compassion even among those who hold different values.  We do not know how many times our generosity has been kindled because Jesus said, "As you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me." There have been moments when we have felt betrayed, and we remembered the words of forgiveness that Jesus uttered from a cross and we got the message of what he meant by "forgive 70 times 7." 

We truly feel blessed, O God, that our experiences refine and define us in degrees that we seldom recognize. What a joy it is to realize that salvation is not something that we experience at the end of life -- it is an energizing power that we can extend right now.  Thank you for holding a mirror in front of us, for inviting us to become all that you created us to be, and for showing us how your answered prayers seldom come in the form that we expect.   

Help us to recognize that it is in our giving and sharing that we truly learn to live.  It is in smiling that we radiate our joy and confidence.  It is through fellowship that we learn about each other.  Bless us as we continue our ministry together.  We ask these things through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught his disciples to say when we pray . . .