“What If We Don’t Believe?”


Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – April 1, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Exodus 3:10-17; Luke 24:1-12 

Easter Sunday

    I have deliberately chosen a passage of Scripture this morning that is clearly in the minority of resurrection references used by pastors for Easter Sunday.  This passage is often bypassed by pastors because it not only features the denial of Jesus' resurrection by the disciples, but their rejection of the testimony of the women who brought the news that he had risen.  (Luke 24:11)

    Doubt or denial can either shut off our curiosity to what we do not understand or inspire us to search until an answer can be found. 

    This morning no pastor would be using the call of Moses referenced in the Exodus passage.  From this passage, we learn that God had to provide a lot of evidence to instill confidence in a very reluctant Moses so that he would follow through on what God was asking him to do.  (Exodus 4:1)  

    As I mentioned last Sunday, Jesus' main mission statement was to teach people the truth."  (John 18:37) Like Moses who had to test the promises that God was making to him, the followers of Jesus also had to start experimenting with his guidance to understand the power of what he was teaching. 

    Jesus was not creating a new religion.  He was training his followers on how to harness their internal energy to open doors to great opportunities, to heal relationships, to move instantly away from hurt feelings, to let go of unjust treatment by others, and to look at each experience in life as a teachable moment.  In other words, people need to tame their egos.  His teachings could apply to all people regardless of their religious orientation.

    The crown jewel of the entire process of living was his declaration and demonstration that not one of us ceases to exist when our physical forms become too damaged, too diseased, or too old to sustain our presence. We simply leave the vehicle that was serving us during our earthly experiences.

    My brother's wife, Mary Ann Stetler, died on Palm Sunday morning.  Her family is celebrating her departure from stage-four pancreatic cancer. Her memorial service was yesterday.  

    The family not only has a belief that she has survived death, they know with one hundred percent certainty that she graduated from life and has assumed a different form. (2nd Corinthians 5:1) Their complete trust in God has given them spiritual freedom from fear.

    During my ministry, I have come into contact with many people that wanted as many prayers for healing for their loved ones as they could get. They contacted other churches to include the name in their bulletins' prayer listings.  They were preoccupied and immobilized by their fears of what more to do to save their loved one from dying.

    Others needed to hover around the bed of terminally ill patients hour after hour beseeching God to give them a miracle.  They did not realize that physical death is the final miracle.  When death happens, it comes as a blessing that gives the patient spiritual freedom from pain and suffering.  Death comes as another form of God's love.  I remember my own mother begging for me to ask God "to take her."

    So often when people leave their bodies, the family members hold God responsible for allowing death to happen. Actually, God is ultimately responsible.  Living beyond this life has to do with the way creation is designed.  It is automatic for all of us.  Our bodies were not designed to live forever in our current form.

    We are surrounded by people that do not have an ounce of faith in anything spiritual.  If they once had some background by growing up in Sunday School or being home schooled, they have neglected or abandoned the thoughts that could have remained part of their spiritual formation.  A friend once said to me:

Of all the people I know, I would never have pegged you to go into the ministry.  Why in the world did you choose to become a pastor? All religions are filled with myths and lies that no intelligent person would accept. Churches lure insecure people, feed them a bunch of new rules and beliefs and then dare to ask for money from their members to pay for all of this. Are you kidding me?

    I remember telling him that once a person understands what Jesus was actually teaching rather than what later writers said about him, it is hard to understand why anyone would refuse to want more of what he was offering.

    Knowing what Jesus taught is like giving people a map for how to navigate successfully in life. So many people do not have a clue that everything they need is already within them.  All that Jesus was telling his followers to do was to use what they find inside of themselves by developing it.

    Human Resources people who do the hiring would give anything to find people who know how to work in a team environment, build relationships with their customer base, and possess personalities filled with compassion, under- standing, and a sense of humor.  They can teach particular skills to the newly hired, but people-skills come from within each individual. The right mix is seldom there in job applicants.  

    Most people rely on the environment to bring them joy, peace and happiness. They have little or no understanding about their inner world which is the creator of the quality of what they experience.  From this foundation comes their prism of attitudes that determines their likes and dislikes.

    A good number of young people today would attend a party every weekend if one were available.  They cannot keep their eyes off of their cell phones.  They enjoy the feel-good results from consuming alcohol, comfort foods, and hanging out with their friends.  They spend their money as though their steady cash-flow is endless.  Is this a negative judgment or is this the way life appears to be for many people?

    Jesus warned people that the external world does not have authentic, long-lasting answers to anything when it comes to growing up and assuming responsibility for all our thoughts, feelings, and responses to life.  We cannot blame anyone for our choices or where those choices have led us. 

    What awakened the disciples to a new dimension of life did not come from the testimony of the women.  What shook them to the core was having an encounter with Jesus themselves and finding him very much alive but in a different form. He materialized in a room where the door had been locked. (John 20:19) This kind of experience can be earth-shaking for people who have remained unacquainted with spiritual matters.  Spirituality has little in common with religion.

    My twin sisters once asked if I would perform a wedding for one of their friends. I said, "Of course."  They said, "You need to know that her fiancé is an atheist, but our friend is insisting that they get married in a church." 

    When I met with the couple, he wanted no mention of God, no prayers, and no scripture passages during the ceremony.  I told them that I would create a secular ceremony that would meet their needs since their goal was to be officially married.  I performed the ceremony, and all was well.  His strong resistance to God was where he was in life.  I was okay with that. We pastors have to meet people where they are in life. We cannot withhold our caring for their needs because we disagree with their beliefs.  

    Years later, John called me from Prince George's General Hospital where our children were born.  He wanted to see me right away. As I sat by his bedside, he described an experience he had earlier in the week:

I have been having severe angina attacks and my cardiologist put me in the hospital for some tests.  I was lying on a gurney as an orderly was taking me for a catheterization.  A drop-dead gorgeous nurse was rushing toward me.  I sat up on my arms and began flirting with her, 'Hey beautiful, what's your hurry?'  She began shouting code blue as she yelled for a crash cart.  I said, 'Are you out of your mind? Why are you screaming for a crash cart?'  People came running from every direction to my gurney. I watched her take the paddles of a defibrillator, lubricate them and shout 'Clear'!  I protested, 'No! Stop! Are you insane? Somebody stop this crazy woman!'  Dick, I swear, I saw her take those paddles and reach through my body.  I turned my head around and saw my body still lying flat on the gurney before she delivered the shock. Once delivered, I spun around and fell back. The last thing I remember was seeing the dots in the acoustical tile on the ceiling as I settled back into my body.  She brought me back from a cardiac arrest.

 

I remember how accepting you were of me when you performed my marriage and I knew you might be able to give me some perspective on what I have just experienced.

    I said, "John, you have just experienced a reality that you have spent a good part of your life doubting and denying.  Your spirit left your physical form."

    When John died some 6 or 8 years later from his heart disease, his wife told me that he had accumulated a very extensive metaphysical library with many volumes on the subject of spirituality.  His funeral was gigantic.  He had been a captain in the Prince George's County Police Department, so a large number of blue shirts were in the audience.  Following the service, many of his colleagues told me how they had never seen anyone totally change their character qualities over night following his near-death experience.

    Is there anything that we can learn from John or from others in my experience who have told me similar stories?   John knew nothing about Jesus and nothing about Christianity. Yet, John was suddenly confronted with the experience that he was alive while his body was still lying on the gurney clinically dead. 

    John was faced with a mysterious event that so excited him that he spent the rest of his life exploring a level of reality that he never thought existed. He took off the mask of being a party animal and began experimenting with mastering his inner world.   

    To grow spiritually, people must let go of their doubts and denial long enough to experiment with what Jesus taught.  Kindness and compassion work.  Having a positive, enthusiastic personality works.  Letting go of being affected by the toxic attitudes of others also works.

    Every one  of us is maturing at our own pace. We do not need to allow others to have control over our spiritual growth unless they are standing on higher ground.  Again, what matters is taming our egos and concentrating on allowing our compassionate energy to flow away from us every day.  This is what makes our personalities and character qualities so contagious to others.

    What we can learn from Jesus' teaching is that we have nothing in life of which to be afraid. God's love for each of us is that BIG.  We are all infinite beings having a physical experience only we do not realize it.   When death comes, that is often the first time that most people discover that many of their earthly skills have no application in a world where there are no physical forms.

    However, if we want the fruits of Heaven to grow during our present journey, we are the only ones who can create them. (Galatians 5:22) Even in his death, Jesus was leading the way for the rest of us.  What is there to lose by following him?

 

CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

O God, how often we enter the experience of life with resurrection-faith as our hope but have the doubts of Thomas in our hearts. Help us this Easter morning to walk away from the tombs that so easily imprison us: a spirit that cannot forgive, pursuits that seemingly prevent us from feeding our spirits, and decisions that bind us because we live in a world that never stops changing. Jesus left his tomb and bid us to follow him.  Help us to re-enter our world with faith and trust that the life we create goes on and on.   Amen.

                                          

PASTORAL PRAYER

Loving and eternally faithful God, we thank you for your inexhaustible patience with the people living in our present age.  We are so aware that all of us are spiritually evolving at a very different pace.  We are grateful that your love for us is so all-encompassing that you have provided us with insight through the resurrection of Jesus that life never ends once we leave our bodies. There is no greater lesson that can provide us with the staying power to persevere wherever our journeys take us.

Inspire us to recognize that the material world is what it is and that all of us are angels in the flesh that are only passing through during a brief chapter of its history.  Help us never to grow weary of sowing our seeds as we extend our love to each other. Cause us to remember how fortunate we are to be able to use our lives as vehicles through which your love comes into our world.  Our world is filled with diverse people that have their own individual interpretation of what it means to live in community.

Our world is filled with so many attractive distractions that can lead us to one detour after another. Cause the scales to fall from our eyes so that we understand that we do not have to wait until our death before we live in your Kingdom. Truly your Kingdom is spread throughout our world and only those that have learned how to love can see it. We pray these thoughts through Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .