“When Love Clashes With Governing”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – May 6, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 98, John 15:9-17

    One of the red-button issues of living in our present age is when certain pockets of like-minded people clash with the ethics and values of the leaders who are governing various countries. Every week, violence erupts in nations like Venezuela, Syria, Iran, and Russia.  We even find a number of Christians asking, "What would Jesus do?" if he were confronted with certain social, economic, and political issues. 

    This morning we have a firm answer about what Jesus would do, with little wiggle room for speculation.  According to John's Gospel, Jesus said:

I love you just as the Father loves me.  Persist in maintaining your loving energy just as I have shown you.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  (John 15:9f)

    Sometimes we find ourselves saying to one another, "Wouldn't it be great if everyone in the world could get along?"  The reality is that such a condition is impossible to achieve among seven billion people in the world.  Billions of people have differing opinions about what needs to be done in the external world for their lives to become better.

    A number of months ago, Lois and I happened to be in a restaurant where we noticed one of the Ministers of our new government sitting about fifteen feet from us.  An opportunity presented itself to meet him.  During our conversation, I asked him, "Which would you rather do, campaign or govern?"  After a lengthy pause, he gave what I felt was a very insightful answer.  He said,

I would rather campaign. When I was campaigning, I was hoping to get elected.  Now that I have been elected, I have to govern by giving considerable attention to the agendas held by a vast array of my constituents. One of the challenges of governing is now I will be one of the bull's-eyes of public opinion.  

    The firm answer that Jesus gave was different from that of the Minister.  However, Jesus' answer was equally as valid.  Like the Minister, Jesus was campaigning, hoping to be elected to become the role model of each individual's life.   

    While John's Gospel was being read to us this morning, you may have noticed that Jesus said a version of the word "You" over and over again.  In my version, Jesus used "You" twenty times in just eight verses.   

    Jesus was not addressing the world's vast populations.  He was not addressing how governments should govern. He was not addressing the Jews' opinions and attitudes about the Roman occupation.  He was addressing the individuals who were listening to him.

    Jesus knew that the world needed individuals who could influence other people just as leaven does to a batch of dough.  The salvation Jesus was offering was for individuals who wanted to learn how best to navigate in a world filled with temptations and obstacles alongside countless opportunities.

    When Lois and I were attempting to enter Bermuda to become residents in January 2011, we had to supply the government with an enormous amount of documented information. The process was very invasive.  Immigration wanted to know exactly who we were and why we wanted to relocate to Bermuda from the United States. 

    We needed to provide three personal references on their letterhead from people who knew us well.  They needed official documents attesting to our financial worth.  Immigration needed to see our credit scores from the three major companies that compile the credit history of U.S. citizens.  A thorough police background check was required. The government needed evidence that we were carrying medical insurance in the United States.  They wanted to know when we were leaving Bermuda. 

    The government was not exactly rolling out the red carpet for the Stetlers.  We were being confronted by a very responsible government that was protecting the needs and well-being of Bermudians.   

    Jesus was attempting to influence the quality of the spirit by which individuals live.  He was not insisting that any national leaders should govern this way or that way.  He lived with a Roman occupation with its own rules and regulations that often differed from those of the Torah.

    When the Jews were carried off into captivity in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar 600 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Jeremiah counseled his people to abide by the wishes of the government.  He wrote:

Stop whining about your being held captive.  Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what you grow. Get married and have lots of children. Grow your population. Work for the good of the cities. Change your attitudes. Pray for your captors because when they are prosperous, you will be prosperous too.  (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

    The early followers of Jesus were admonished by the Apostle Paul to cooperate and remain supportive of those who were governing them. Paul wrote,

Everyone must obey those who govern.  You must not oppose governing authorities.  If you do, you will find yourselves opposing God. Those who govern must not be feared by those who are doing good.  When you are doing good things, those in authority will praise you because they are God's servants who are working for the good of all of you.  (Romans 13:1-7)

    We can hardly imagine that the separation of Church and State existed during both the Old and New Testament times.  This is a lesson that many of today's clergy and church leaders have failed to grasp.  To the chagrin of  many parishioners, partisan politics continues to creep into many sermons and the official Episcopal communications from the Pope, Cardinals and Bishops.  

    People do not come to church to hear the sanctimonious pronouncements of their spiritual leaders which often are nothing more than sanitized versions of the talking points of yesterday's news.

    The world is perfect just as it is.  The world has all the ingredients that are necessary for us to perfect our skills of spirit.  Jesus' ministry was about saving people from falling prey to all the illusionary temptations present in the material world.  He was teaching people how to live in the Kingdom of God while also living peacefully in the secular world.  Jesus said, "I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."

    Jesus was teaching that his listeners can be happy anywhere at any time when their attitudes come from a loving spirit.  Who would not want such spiritual freedom?  The answer is, "All of those who will never be satisfied until their society is being governed in a manner they feel and think it should be." 

    People are not prepared to understand that the world is the way it is by design and not because it is governed by evil people living by different values.  Jesus was providing a different message to listeners who wanted the Christ-mind -- God within them -- that would fill them with love, compassion, and love-your-enemy attitudes.  Jesus was teaching his listeners to bloom where they are planted and not by first demanding that the soil needs to be a better quality before they bloom.

    He never tried to influence the policies and style of those responsible for governing his nation by maintaining a strong military, by administering justice to those who broke the law, and by building and maintaining the society's infrastructure like aqueducts, roads, and the free and fair flow of commerce.

    Governments have to govern people on all levels of awareness, of political points of view, whether they are misguided actors who prey on the elderly, engage in terrorism and mayhem, or teachers that are passionate for their curricula.  

    The police and the military cannot afford to love their enemies.  Many people in these professions are prepared to lay down their lives while protecting us from such people.  Societies have to achieve a balance between those who live peacefully and lovingly in their communities and those who stand watch to protect the rights of their people to live safely in their freedom.

    Jesus was teaching individuals how to sow seeds of joy, peace, and compassion in a world that lobbies people to go in all directions in search of what the world can never deliver.  Jesus wanted to teach people how to control their emotions, intellect, and spirit by learning that the quality of their lives comes by choice and not by knee-jerk reactions to what is happening in their external world.

    Think about how difficult it might be for Bermudian Christians to set aside their compassion if countless boats were approaching our shorelines filled with mothers and children seeking asylum.  Coming behind them are more boats equally filled to capacity.  Such refugees want what we have because their native lands are filled with drug cartels, ruthlessness, and the results of savage anarchy.

    Compassion and empathy demand that we accommodate the needs of such people.  The struggle for any society is assimilating people who come from a very different culture, possess their culture's values, do not speak the language, have few marketable skills, have no medical insurance, no clothing but what they are wearing, and no financial resources.

    How fortunate that we have a government that can make those very difficult choices on our behalf.  Clearly, there is a role for those, who among their many governing tasks, is to maintain law and order on the behalf of all of us.  

    Equally, there is a role for the followers of Jesus. Many of us feel called to set up orphanages, provide clothing, establish feeding programs, adopt orphans, and provide educational opportunities.

    We have to remember Jesus' mission.  He once said,

Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. The world cannot provide peace by creating new laws.  Peace grows only by your choice to develop such a spirit. Do not be worried, afraid, and upset. I have taught you how to overcome the world.  (John 14:27f) 

    There are no easy answers to meeting the needs of people that are all over the landscape of human experience. Jesus wanted people to live as though the dawn of that new day is already here. 



Ever faithful God, you have freely given us everything we need to live a creative and productive life.  You have given us the capacity to live peaceful lives yet often we respond to numerous experiences with worry.  You have provided us with the deep capacity to love one another and we find ways to build walls.  We find ourselves in a world filled with opportunities to serve and we hesitate. You have promised that our faith can move barriers, yet we find ourselves seeking reassurance.  Enable us to embrace love with both hands so that we can live with greater honesty what we claim with our words.  Amen.



Infinite and always loving God, we live in a day of contrasts.  Here in Bermuda we are experiencing a magnificent Spring.  We experience the resurrection of all vegetation from the strong gale force winds of winter.  There are moments when we celebrate our material blessings and times when our current obligations are very difficult to manage.  We praise medical breakthroughs while the death of our loved ones continues unabated. While we like to think that these contrasts are unique, similar events have been present in every generation since the beginning of time.  We are all brothers and sisters to everyone who has ever lived.

God, help us to follow your Son's example.  Guide us to learn how to give our friendship away in a world that often seems cruel.  Shape our responses so that we automatically encourage others, forgive their unproductive attitudes, and remain generous with our patience with how our lives are unfolding.

Teach us to be compassionate with people who look for answers in the constantly changing material world that cannot deliver what they expect.  Help us every day to realize that we mature in our understanding not only at a different pace but also during different stages of our lives. Yet, when the scales fall from our eyes and the wax melts in our ears, we discover that all of us remain students who are always learning.  Thank you for teaching us the humility of knowing that we must first learn to crawl before we walk and walk before we run.  In time and when we are ready, wisdom does come. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .