“What Guides Are Trained To Do”

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

Centenary United Methodist Church

Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

    This morning we are going to consider a text that I repeat every time while serving communion. 

For God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent his son into the world not to condemn the world, but that through him, the world might be saved.  (John 3:16f)

    When the Scriptures were being gathered by Church authorities, there were doubts about the continued existence of our world. One school of thought was that the world was going to end within the lifetime of the writers.  There is even a Scripture that attributed such an understanding to Jesus.  He said, I assure you that there are some of you that will not die until you see the Son of Man come as King.  (Matthew 16:28)

    This quote may have been one of those sayings that Jesus never said.  Either that, or he said it because he actually believed that the end of time was close at hand.  This quote from Jesus ties into such a thought described in Mark's Gospel.  Jesus was clearly indicating that the end of the world was near.  

    Jesus taught that in the latter days, before the end of time, there will be many false messiahs. Following those days, the sun will grow dark, the moon will no longer shine, the stars will fall from heaven, and the planets will be driven from their courses. Then the Son of Man will appear, coming in the clouds with great power and glory.  He will send his angels out to the four corners of the world to gather God's chosen people. (Mark 13:22-27)

    This story-line could be found in numerous sources of apocalyptic literature that were circulating during the time of Jesus.  Many Jews believed that the world was so evil that God was going to bring down the curtain on the drama of humankind even though there had been a time when God called everything Good and pleasing to him.  (Genesis 1:31) 

    Fear drives people to develop many ideas that have no basis in what is real, particularly thoughts that have evolved over time about God's nature and the nature of humanity.  Fear seldom leads anyone correctly.

    What we have to recognize is that life was defined by what was happening in the lives of the Jews within a five hundred mile radius of where they lived. Their understanding of humankind was extremely limited.   They knew nothing about the Chinese to the east nor the Mayan, Aztecs, and Inca nations to the west.  

    If all the life forms on earth come to an end, it will not be the result from any act of God, but from the desire of people who cannot tolerate diversity.

    The other school of thought confined the application of these Scriptures to life as it has unfolded in every generation.  It would be ridiculous to assume that God was out of options when it came to educating human beings on how to navigate their life-experiences more successfully.

    God would never have allowed any of us to be born into the physical world, blind as bats, and then to hold us accountable for the choices we would make. The Hebrews never understood that human thought, emotion, and spirit evolve over time like everything else.

    Here again, fear has allowed many Christians to believe that we are in charge of our spiritual destiny as they point to Scriptures that seem to suggest this idea.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Is there a better answer for the chaos that people have experienced in every generation?  

    There is a better answer.  Free will is what causes our constant drama.  There are billions of individuals, each with his or her own opinions on how life should be lived. If we doubt this, just read the headlines that have appeared during the last several generations.

    There are different forms of governance.  There are world leaders who are both loved and hated by the people who cast their ballots. No matter how thoughtful these leaders are, there will always be those who disagree with their policies of governing and will never find peace within themselves until that leader is removed.

    We can hardly imagine that a teacher who preached love one another could ever be crucified.  If we want to know how this can happen, look around at what angry responses have caused people to do twenty-one centuries later during a more civilized time.

    When it comes to religious practices, some of the values of faith cause people to be extremely intolerant of the beliefs of others.  Some of them follow a war-god that wants death to everyone who believes differently. Others have love and compassion as the cornerstones of their lives while believing they have the exclusive path to salvation. No one else is in on this style of enlightenment.

    We could go on and on discussing the differences between everyone's opinions.  There is no way to catalogue everyone's thoughts.  However, what we can do is realize that some opinions create happiness, creativity, hope, and a willingness to forgive the results from other people's lives.  Other opinions based in fear create hostility by projecting negativity and dark outcomes.

    When we look at our Scripture lesson today and consider the words of John 3:16, we learn that God never ceases to reach out to humanity out of love.  A teacher came into our world to become a tour guide, a moral compass, and a road map to navigate through the many opinions and judgments that are being repeated by others. 

    Free will is a condition in which we find ourselves in our modern history.  People have never had the freedoms that we enjoy today. Which would we prefer, freedom to express anything we wish, or nice, orderly societies that march in lockstep to the dictates of laws and mandatory social protocols? 

    The best definitions of living in the Kingdom of God came from Jesus' use of metaphors to describe the joy and happiness that happens within people as a result of saying yes to entering a new phase of living.  

    Life develops such enthusiasm that the experience is like finding a treasure partially buried in a field.  The discoverer sells everything he or she has in order to buy the field.  Or, a person shopping discovers a vendor who is selling jewelry and he or she finds a pearl that is worth far more than the asking price.  Again, the person sells everything in order to purchase that pearl.

    In our language, Jesus was describing what happens when a person chooses to live with a spirit that generates positive, loving results regardless of his or her personal circumstances.

    Guides are trained to guide, not to intimate, not to use fear to force others into some ideological mold, and to not dictate lots of rules that require a discipline to follow. Jesus knew that people needed to be loved even when they were thrashing around aimlessly with attitudes that are not working for them. 

    All that any true guide can do is to point others to an open a door and allow them to choose whether or not to enter.  No beliefs are required.  No thou shalts are commanding that life must lived this way or that way. 

    However, what is required to own the treasure or the pearl is the desire to experiment with attitudes that generate results that bring peace, happiness, vision, creativity, thoughtfulness, and friendliness.  Finding and enjoying these experiences is what salvation looks and feels like. 

    What is misunderstood and often confusing to believers is that salvation can be experienced in spite of the label people wear of being a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim.  

    What has prevented billions of people from experiencing a loving, always forgiving spirit is that once their religions became institutionalized and developed a professional priesthood, specific beliefs, creeds, and orthodoxies were required by all believers.  After centuries of recitals, beliefs became dogma that originated from God.  This was a tragic error in human thinking.

    Today we are free to say that we do not have to believe anything about the meaning of the cross or even about Jesus' resurrection to experience the salvation that Jesus was teaching.  We know this with absolute certainty because these events had not yet happened when Jesus taught, love your enemy and first take the log out of your own eye and you will see clearly to help your brother's or sister's blindness.

    We need to ask ourselves, Do we need to have any prescribed set of beliefs before we understand the life-changing spirit that comes to us from expressing kindness, mercy, and forgiveness?  Guides have one purpose and that is point to a pattern of living that will generate essential results that will enable us to be happy, peaceful, and fulfilled.

    We may encounter a very skilled, charismatic, spiritual leader who tries to convince us that we are lost because we do not subscribe to certain beliefs that are absolutely essential to salvation.  Being able to express the various qualities of life that Jesus taught is far superior to being obedient to hundreds of beliefs, rules and dictates prescribed by certain institutional religions. 

    Being happy, contented, resilient, flexible, enthusiastic, optimistic, and visionary come from our choices not our beliefs.  We depend of what we experience coming from our personal trust in God.  What others do with their life-choices is up to them.

    They are sailing their ships in exactly the direction that they wish, just as we are doing.  What often separates the quality of people's lives is their trust in God's faithfulness to love them just as they are even if they never develop the understanding of anything that Jesus was teaching.

    Remember that guides do one thing -- they point people to an open door and allow them to make a decision about whether or not to enter. 

    If we believe that Jesus saved the world because of what happened on the cross on Good Friday, look around. We appear more divided than at any other time in history.  How should we interpret this reality.  The human condition is not a good thing nor is it an evil thing.  

    What everyone has always experienced throughout human history is that life is what it is by design.  Our life-experiences have caused people in every generation to search for better choices that work for them.  This is how salvation appears in our lives.  Salvation comes in the form of numerous attitudes that prevent us from remaining slaves to the external influences found in our world.

    Jesus announced that we can become a light in darkness, long before the events that we celebrate during Holy Week. (Matthew 5:14f) When we are awakened spiritually, we become the guides Jesus wanted as his disciples. 

    We were called to model a lifestyle filled with remarkable attitudes, not a constellation of beliefs from priests imprisoned by the dictates of institutional religion that provide an exclusive path to salvation.  

    Those of us who can give ourselves away are living in Heaven right now while others can hardly wait to get there.  They have confused the way of life Jesus was teaching with some eternal destination.  The reality is that Heaven has been here since our birth and we have tried to find it rather than live in it.



Loving God, we ask this morning that you guide us through the maze that our world represents.  So often we find ourselves trying to serve two masters.  We desire to have what the world offers, yet we also want to develop the skills of spirit.  We find our generosity being tempered by our material fears. We want to stay young and attractive while aging happens anyway. We find our calls for justice challenging our patience and peace.  So many aspects of life try to define us.  Guide us, O God, to remain faithful in our trust in you. Inspire our decisions to reflect your loving spirit within us.  Amen.



Always present God, whose word was as faithful yesterday as it is right now, we thank you for the times when we struggle with our responses to the conflicts that we have personalized.  Lent offers us such a unique time to graduate from holding on to the responses that keep us prisoners of pain and that keeps us vulnerable to outside influences stealing our peace at a moment's notice.  Since we will never control the attitudes and values of other people, why not turn them into our personal trainers for our growth?

We thank you that you created us with so many qualities that are available to us. When we experience toxic personalities,  we can respond with patience and  compassion. When our values appear violated, we can remain generous of spirit.  When life presents us with challenging news, we can display our trust in your support to carry our load with confidence. When we experience the results from someone's lack of good judgment, we realize that each person has many more talents and gifts inside of them. Loving God, guide us to remember who you called us to be so that we can find solutions to our conflicts rather than more places to assign blame for how we think or feel.  No one directs our lives but us. 

This morning we are grateful for the foundations of our faith that Jesus taught and demonstrated himself.  He was never bothered by others because he had access to many tools that others did not have.  Jesus invited us to use the tools that we have found to remain a light in darkness.  We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .