“Wonderful, Unintended Consequences”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – January 21, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 62:5-12; Mark 1:14-20


    Our Scripture lesson this morning focuses on Jesus choosing a number of his future disciples.  According to Mark's Gospel, Jesus initially invited two sets of brothers; first he selected Simon Peter and his brother Andrew.  Secondly, he invited two of his first cousins to join his group. James and his brother John were fishermen working for their father, Zebedee.

    What is curious is how he enticed them to follow him.  He said, "Come with me and I will teach you how to catch people."  With the four being fisherman, they were intrigued by what he said, so the four readily accepted his invitation.

     Part of Jesus' lesson plan was to encourage people to turn away from missing the mark (sinning) with their lives and to believe The Good News that the Kingdom of God was near.  What is missing is how Jesus intended to motivate people who may not be interested in making any changes to their lives. How does anyone challenge others to engage in a major lifestyle change?

    One of the challenges that any teacher can face is offering instruction to students with information that they are not seeking.  In addition to this potential barrier, how does anyone entice others to move beyond what they have taught themselves in order to incorporate changes that would improve their attitudes?

    The name Bill Gates is fairly well-known all over the world.  Gates is the creator of Microsoft, a major software company that supplies applications that help average people to use their high-tech devices.  Along with his becoming a multi-billionaire, he developed an arrogance that had few boundaries. 

    His early reputation was notorious among Microsoft's employees.   While interviewing potential engineers, he would often say to his Human Resources people, "Where did you find this guy? I am looking for real talent to work here." Interviews with Gates were emotionally brutal!

    Wealth and power can greatly handicap people in the area of their people-skills.  When a person understands his identity as living among the Greek gods on Mt. Olympus, he or she can easily become condescending and arrogant in their approach to others. 

    It took a number of accomplished instructors to tutor Bill Gates in his development of qualities like humility, compassion, kindness and good old- fashioned manners.  He did not communicate very well when he first appeared in front of members of the United States Congress. 

    Gates had to be taught how to unlearn many of his attitudes, to change his choice of words, to soften the tone of his voice, and to recognize that lacking these skills really would never work for him.

    Gates, a brilliant linear-thinker, had to incorporate new information that would transform his personality and spirit.  Eventually, Gates got with the program and developed into a person who became a pleasure to meet. Today he is no longer dripping with self-importance.

    This is the kind of experience that Jesus and his band of disciples faced when it came to dealing with the attitudes and lifestyles of religious leaders and the highly polished skills of the scribes and Pharisees.  The elite citizens in Jesus' society understood their identities as being far removed from the common, ignorant masses of people that surrounded them.

    Here in Bermuda, when Lois and I greet people with "Good afternoon," a few times we are greeted with silence and no eye contact.  We remain invisible to these people. While driving we encounter drivers who appear to have learned very few common courtesies, thus missing the mark with their attitudes.

    Many of us have come into contact with people who are not interested in responses like forgiveness or overlooking a person's toxic behavior. There is no way that they want to turn the other cheek to such individuals. They feel entitled to their feelings.  Jesus was correct, The Kingdom of God is near for all people and has been near since the beginning of time, but it remains a choice away from people being included. 

    If we speak to people about their need to change, we can run the risk of causing them to feel that we are disrespecting their feelings, of judging them and of not understanding what they have been through. We can easily appear as having a holier-than-thou personality.  Jesus' initial response to all people was to love and accept them just as he found them. 

    A remarkable event took place in Washington, D.C. when we lived there.  On Capital Hill, there are walkways separating many town houses that open up into beautifully decorated courtyards with high fences to insure privacy.  Frequently, young government workers would get together in one of these courtyards on a Friday or Saturday evening and have a wine and cheese party with heavy hors d'oeuvres.

     The Washington Post covered a high drama that took place during one such gathering. There were about eight to ten people gathered in one of these courtyards when it was interrupted by a young man brandishing a handgun.  He demanded that they fill his bag with their wallets, their rings, watches and all the normal trinkets that such people want to collect as their prizes.

    One of the women blurted out, "Please!  You know as well as we do that we are poorer than you are. Put your gun away, sit down and have some wine and cheese with other poor people.  Judy, get this man a wine glass!  Would you like red or white?" 

    The gunman was confused by their total lack of fear.  When he saw the wine, cheese, and plates covered with barbecued wings, baby-back ribs, and large scallops surrounded by bacon, he could not resist her invitation.  He sat down and spent about forty minutes with them, visiting, laughing, eating and drinking.  He had become one of them. Before he left, he told them that they were the most decent people he had ever met in his life.  He apologized for his intrusion.

     Often what we say is not what matters. What matters is the spirit in which our words are spoken, that wins the confidence of people.  If there is even a hint of judgment, the one offering advice can receive a chilly response.

    Jesus loved sinners and he demonstrated it in such a way that others could experience it.  The people that Jesus had an allergy to were the righteous-minded who knew they lived on Mt. Olympus and advertised that fact every day.

    Every year my church in West Virginia would gather with people from two or three churches in Maryland to repair houses in the immediate area of my community.  The churches would bring their high school youth groups. The entire crew of thirty-five to forty people stayed in a dormitory freely supplied by Shepherd College, a facility that was not far from our work sites.  During the evening, families in my church that had swimming pools, supplied a picnic supper for the group.      

    All our building supplies were donated by John Hechinger who later sold his stores to Home Depot.  I had access to farm equipment from the orchardists and farmers in my church.

    During the process, I had attracted the attention of a college student who was eager to tag along with me.  I drove an old dump truck, and she would ride along as I took truckloads of debris to the Martinsburg dump.

    I believe her parents were among those who never permitted her to make mud pies in the backyard when she was young.  Later in life she did not want to get her hands dirty. Such an attitude came from somewhere.

    Mid-week, she asked me if I was one of the farmers.  When I told her that I was the Pastor of Arden United Methodist Church, she was shocked.  She said, "Really? You are not like any pastor I have ever met.  You are like a normal person." I laughed at her comments. I responded by saying,

When we go to the picnic tonight, see if you can identify the medical doctor, the attorney and the architect that have joined our work crews. We are people just like you who are working together putting new roofs and siding on several houses for families that cannot afford to make these repairs by themselves. 

    It was interesting to see how easy it is for people to make assumptions about others because of how they are dressed or by their titles.  Many of us would rather be known by how quickly we help others to feel comfortable with us. This was what Jesus used to gain a foot-hold in people's lives. He loved sinners. 

     That young woman taught me that the vital messages that we pastors deliver often come from the spirit of our living rather than from the words we express from our pulpits on Sunday mornings.  By the end of the week, she showed me her hands and they were filthy dirty.  I gave her a thumbs-up approval.

    We have to realize that everyone from Bill Gates, to an intruder to a social gathering, to a young woman helping to repair homes, need to feel attractive and valued when they are with us.  This in how Jesus taught. His love had no agenda connected with it.

    Brenda MacDowell, who recently visited us for the second year in a row, had some wonderful things to say about all of you.  It was her grandfather that built and installed the candle holders in our sanctuary's windowsills.  She sent an email to me last week containing these words:

I consider myself a member of your church even though my physical presence there is infrequent. You are my church and my church family, and I cherish my time with you. I feel more at home and more loved with your wonderful, kind and generous congregation than any other place on earth. I miss all of you so very much. I am blessed indeed to feel a part of this center of God's Love.  Please pass on my love and best wishes to all my church family.

     We never know how we influence others. When we extend our loving energy, we can offer an opportunity for others to make changes in themselves.  These changes are part of wonderful unintended consequences that result from our willingness to be an instrument of God's presence. 

     Our best sermons are often those that remain unspoken. They are demonstrated by our living them.  With God as our partner, we do not have to worry about anything, nor do we have to act in any particular way. All we have to do is show up with love in our spirits and God will do the rest. 

    Love that created substance when there was nothing in the universe can certainly create changes in others because of the spirit-being that we have become. However, we have to remember everyday who we are.



Merciful God, how grateful we are that you created us to serve.  Our lives thrive when we learn to let our inner world glow in the dark.  Our confidence in you is revealed when our fears no longer hold our attention.  Our courage increases when we no longer are shaken by the unexpected.  We have learned that approval from others no longer defines our identity. Teach us how to remain sensitive to the movements of your spirit.  Help us to learn that extending love automatically is a remarkable talent and guide.  We trust you to plant us in the gardens where we are most needed. Teach us to remember that where we are is where we need to be.  Amen.   



Loving God, Jesus came into our midst so that we might learn how to become more loving, patient and peaceful men and women.  In spite of all the truth he taught, it was you, O God, who created us with the power of making choices.  Even though our thoughts and actions frequently do not serve your will or even our own, you gave us freewill as a gift. 

In the drama that life represents, you have allowed distractions to intrude on the teachings of your son.  As many tantalizing alternatives surround us, it is we who must choose between the pearl of great price and the idol. It is we who must select between what will enhance our skills of spirit and what is only an imitation that pretends to offer us what we believe we lack.   

Thank you, God, for being so confident in us. You appear to know that eventually we will find our way through the maze that life represents.  We will return to you with a distilled wisdom that could not have been learned by any other means but our willingness to make better choices.  We are frail.  We make mistakes.  We frequently forsake the substance for the shadow.  Yet, O God, we understand that you would have it no other way. You want us to come to you because we love you and not because you will save us from ourselves.  What a joy it is for us to know that your love is so enormous that it surrounds us and protects us even though many of us remain blind.  With grateful hearts, we pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .