“When the World’s Storylines are in Control”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – June 10, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 138; Mark 3:20:28

    Most of us are well acquainted with the world’s countless storylines.  No one can escape their influence because most of them invite us to have an opinion about them.  This morning we are going to consider what happens to us when the world's storylines become so influential that they cause our spirits to communicate mixed messages.

    In Mark’s lesson this morning, religious authorities were so threatened by Jesus’ ministry that they attacked him with an accusation that sounded foolish. Teachers of the Law were among Jesus' listeners when they told everyone in the crowd, "It is the chief of demons who gives Jesus the power to drive out demons."  (Mark 3:22)

    Jesus gathered everyone around him and responded to this remark by telling his listeners how ridiculous these religious leaders sounded.  He asked them, "How can Satan drive out Satan?"  Jesus went on to teach a more global message.   He said,

If a country divides itself into groups which fight with each other, that country will fall apart.  If a family divides itself into groups which fight with each other, that family will also fall apart. (Mark 3:24f)

    Whatever side people choose to justify their responses, they are still fighting.  Today many people are so used to having their lives filled with everything they want that little disagreements and inconveniences can bring responses that were once reserved for traumatic events.  Can anyone make sense out of road rage?

    When we were recently in the United States, there appeared to be one example after another illustrating how many Americans still have not successfully negotiated the results of our National Elections that were held on November 8, 2016.  Good friends are no longer talking to each other. Marriages have ended.   A few people no longer allow political discussions to take place in their homes.  

    English anthropologists are conducting a study to determine what the root causes are for the unprecedented division that has taken place among many Americans. Democracy does not appear to be working for them.  Many Americans cannot abide by the result of who was elected to the Presidency.  Attitudes and name-calling are flourishing in ways that very few people can remember happening during their lifetime.

    For instance, an excellent and much-loved dentist placed a cap on display at the counter where people come to schedule their appointments or pay their bills. The cap read, "Make America Great Again," the slogan used by the current President when he was campaigning.  Countless people left his practice after seeing that cap.  What mattered more than the dentist’s skills and his friendly nature with all his clients was his political affiliation. The group of researchers has found countless examples like this response taking place everywhere.

    Another question was even more revealing: "If you possessed accurate information that your sources of news were engaged in deceptive and highly biased reporting, would you continue to use these news outlets as a source for your information?"  Eighty-five percent of the people interviewed indicated that they would continue using these outlets. 

    The research group is suggesting that individual passions remain inflamed due to a steady diet of hearing and seeing information that feeds their current attitudes.  This is the same mental programming used by Islamic patriots to win converts among people who feel that their world has betrayed them. 

    Jesus said, "Think of how ridiculous it is to assume that I am healing people because Satan is working through me."  No matter what Jesus did, it was seen as evil by most religious leaders.  Rumors were started that Jesus had lost his mind, a storyline that raised concerns among his immediate family. (Mark 3:21)

    A political commentator recently said, "Our President is so hated by the people who are opposed to him that if they saw him walking on water, an Opposition Commentator would say, 'This stunt proves that our President never learned how to swim.'"

    As we learned from our Scripture lesson last week, religious leaders were so threatened by Jesus that two political parties gathered to develop a plan to kill him. (Mark 3:6)

    Jesus wanted people to understand that many storylines that divide people are ridiculous. These great issues that threaten people's security today may not be remembered in the future by anyone but historians.

    Who among us today can remember any of the issues that mattered greatly in 1955 that inspired the Vietnam War that lasted nearly twenty years?  People, who are 31 years old this year, were not yet born when the war ended. Today, Vietnam has become a tourist destination.  Yet, over 3 million people were killed over issues few of us remember.

    What mattered to Jesus was not between what appeared right and wrong at the moment.  What mattered was whether or not his listeners were able to develop patience, tolerance, and above all else the ability to forgive one another while living in the midst of swirling opinions.

Jesus was teaching people why it is important to preserve the character and integrity of their inner world rather than allowing the fleeting storylines of the world to influence their attitudes and moods.  

    One of the most emotion-packed events that I ever witnessed a number of years ago was the one hundred meter dash during the Special Olympics.  The athletes knew that the gold, silver, and bronze medals were waiting for the winners. During the final moments of the race, however, one of the athletes fell. 

    Suddenly all of the athletes from numerous nations stopped running. The athletes walked back to their fallen opponent.  They helped him to get up.  Then, together and without any prompting from an outside source, they linked arms and walked across the finish line as a group. What caused them to do this?  These athletes are, indeed, special.  Collectively, they understood that compassion for a fallen brother was of much greater value than winning.

    A meaningful life is one where each of us has a firm understanding of who we are and what values we want to display on a daily basis.  Not everyone has developed this ability. The British anthropologists are finding many variables that produce deep seated divisions among people not only in the United States but all over the world.

    More people today are unhappy with their lives than at any other time in the history of such record keeping.  Most informed commentators believe that social media has played a tremendous role in causing confusion among people.  Rather than bringing people together as claimed by social media vendors, the flow of information is actually having the exact opposite effect on people's lives.  Facts and truth of such information are not reliable or accurate.  

    People are experiencing loneliness, isolation, and are confused by their lack of having developed adequate coping skills for the rapid changes happening all around them.

    In the States, suicides are up 30 percent. Opioid abuse is killing one hundred people every day.  People can be financially independent and well-known, but such things do not help people who are emotionally and spiritually malnourished. Two well known people took their lives this past week.

    People have learned to disguise how they feel. A quote being used by many professionals today is this:  "You do not know that the roof is leaking until you live in the house." People are complicated, and we seldom recognize from outward appearances what is going on inside of people we believe we know well.

    We live in a world of opposites, e.g., right and wrong, left and right, male and female, good and evil, rich and poor, love and fear, success and failure, Heaven and Hell, etc.  The list is nearly endless.  Has it ever dawned on us that living in a world of opposites has a purpose?

    Our choices have a refining property that is similar to sandpaper.  Each choice has consequences that have the potential to make our rough edges smooth.  Every opposite we encounter loses its impact when we live with attitudes-of-being that are rooted in compassion.  The more we give away, the more we keep.

    Since our spirits show up in every circumstance that we face, why not embolden the angel within us when we make our spirits visible?  If we are constantly going to share our opinions with people, why not radiate with enthusiasm how fortunate we are to be alive today in the twenty-first century?

    We are living in the Golden Age that our forefathers and mothers hoped would one day dawn. How many of us have this perspective on life?  Think of everything that we have at our beck and call.   We have the ability to prevent the world's storylines from clouding our judgment.  We have to recognize their influence over us and cleanse our thought-forms.

    Knowing the message that Jesus was teaching, the Apostle Paul wrote, "Do not conform yourselves to the storylines of this world.  Instead, let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your attitudes and thoughts.  Then you will have the understanding to solve many of the issues that are inspiring your unhappiness."  (Romans 12:2f)

       Jesus taught, "Develop within you the qualities that you will use in Heaven.  Your spirits will always be at peace when these qualities have become your treasure." (Matthew 5:20) 

    Once we learn this, we will be in possession of the pearl of great price and more in control of our lives than most people.  Remember, we are responsible for who and what we are becoming.  Our purpose is to become lights in darkness.



We thank you, God, that life is a classroom without walls.  We thank you that we have the privilege of refining and defining ourselves each day.  We have learned that struggling helps to establish our lasting values.  We have learned how our choices direct our lives.  We have learned that there can be no growth of spirit unless our spirits seek understanding. Lead us, O God, to recreate ourselves by learning and discovering better ways to extend who we are.  Spare us from asking you to do for us what we need to do for ourselves.  Amen.



Ever loving and faithful God, how conscious we are of our need to be reminded of who you created us to be. Worship is often a time when our spirits can resonate with your presence.  You have called us to be carriers of your spirit into a world that is much like Jesus' world -- filled with people who do not know or believe that you provided everything that we take for granted.

We often allow the distractions of our world's many storylines to define who we are. They cause us to believe that we are bound by events happening all around us. They cause us to believe that we are victims of some experience over which we had no control. They tempt us to believe that some heartbreak or major upset will never heal. They cause us to hold resentments toward others who differ in their observations from what we see. They try to convince us that the world has the answers for what will cause us never to hunger and thirst again.

Help us, O God, to allow such thoughts and attitudes to dissolve on the sands of your unconditional understanding.  Enable us to realize that you have given us a body of light, one that radiates the timeless qualities of acceptance, compassion, and kindness. Enable us to understand better our role in this world by accepting Jesus’ words, "You are the light of the world."  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ who taught us to say when we pray . . .