Category: Sermon

Many Gifts; One Spirit

John 2:1-11 l-951-jesus-was-here
1 Cor. 12:1-11

In the shadow of the Apollo Temple sits the Corinthian church. They receive a letter one day from the Apostle Paul. He writes them that they are uninformed. They, who are stellar examples of Roman wisdom. They – who are in the shadow of THE religious place to be and have all the world at their finger tips – They do not know what they’re doing.

Paul explains that the people in the congregation once went to statues and idols who cannot speak, such as the ones in the Apollo Temple… but now they are led to another who CAN speak. Statues and idols cannot testify about a god, but the Holy Spirit of God that is in each believer CAN testify. So whenever someone says, “Jesus is Lord!” you know that person has God within them.

The people likely nodded, yes. This is true. But why bring it up?

So Paul explains his logic… since the Spirit of God is not in a temple or in statues, but it people…

… if John Dough looks different, and talks different, and worships differently… but testifies Jesus is Lord… he has the Holy Spirit in him.

If Jane Dough looks the same as you, speaks the same, and worships in the same place… but spits on Jesus’ name… she doesn’t have the Holy Spirit within her.

The testimony of Christians is not statues. Not crosses. Not churches. But people. We are the Temple of God. We are the body of Jesus. We are the bearers of the Holy Spirit.

People. Among people are where you find God.

The awful thing about that is that people are much harder to get along with than say, tolerating a beautiful temple in the middle of the city… or driving by that quaint church. Seeing a cross is pretty easy. Living the cross is hard. We even say someone is a “Good Christian” to mean they’re a Good Person… but a person living in the footsteps of Jesus is not good… they’re usually causing trouble, rocking the boat, demanding things change, and that the weak should ban together to take the power from the mighty. They’re sitting in protests and signing conscientious objections to war and all the other counter-cultural things that the Spirit leads them to live in to.

Often, they’re at odds with other Christians who have just as solidly held beliefs in other protests, and in going to war.

In Corinth, things were no different. People are people. And people are hard to get along with.

The church in Corinth was much like Saint Michael’s. And like us, they had particular gifts… some things the Spirit leads people to do… that they valued much more than others. We always have music every Sunday. And a sermon. And candle lighters. And a bell. Why don’t we have cookies every Sunday? Or dance? Or puppet shows? We pray every Sunday with words… but when do we pray with our hands? When we do speak in tongues? When do we do art and take long walks in nature?

Now, the church in Corinth began to think that just their way of knowing God was the right way. All the other ways of worshiping, of moving with the Spirit, and knowing the Divine was inferior. “They’re just not wise. We, we’re smart. We’re educated. We’re enlightened. We do it this way.”

Things got even more intense when it came to beliefs and activities. Corinth was fighting over whether or not it was okay to eat meat sacrificed to other gods… because if not… you pretty much had to go vegetarian in the city. They were also fighting about circumcision. And kosher. And just how Jewish or how Pagan a person could be and still be Christian.

Churches with one another and inside themselves are fighting today, too. We’re fighting over whether or not homosexuality is a sin. We’re arguing over how patriotic, or not, a person can be and still be a Christian. We’re debating the role of women in the church. We’re debating the role and place of children in the church. We’re debating what is and in whom and where CHURCH can be found. And we’ve been splitting over baptism for centuries.

Paul steps into the middle of this and says: you’re all different. You’re all different! If he were poetic, he might say: you are each a different wildflower in a field.

But there is only one Spirit in each of you. There is only one sun who shines on you. Because you are all different, you are beautiful. Because you are all different, you are united into community. The differences are gifts!

Our diversity is given to us for the common good.

We’re farmers. We know what monocropping is. It’s very efficient farming. We plant the same exact type of corn for several hundred acres and kill all the other plants. We know just when to harvest all that, we know what kinds of chemicals to use, we know just the machine for harvest. We know the kind of corn or soy or wheat we’re getting and don’t have to sift it out into different varieties and uses.

The problem with monocropping is that if a new virus springs up and eats THAT crop… the entire crop is gone with no back up.

Think… Irish potato famine. Most people in Ireland ate a potato called the Irish Lumper. A blight got into the crop and it spread like wildfire. Combine this with poverty, poor management, racism, and a host of other issues… and you have 2 million starving refugees and 1 million dead in the matter of 4 years. Monocrops are efficient… but risky. They don’t have a lot of flexibility and resiliency.

Diverse crops – like planting two varieties at once, or the old fashioned 3 sisters of corn, beans, and squash in one hole– are resilient and handle more blights, weather changes, and viruses. However, they’re the hardest to manage. Your garden is a diverse crop. It’s okay if its a bad tomato year – the corn did awesome. However, you had to put way more work into that diverse crop than in a monocrop.

Monocrop churches are efficient. Nothing is unplanned. But they’re fragile. Get a blight in there… a poor preacher. A poor organists. A poor parishioner… and things go badly.

Diverse crop churches are chaotic, but strong. It’s okay if something goes bad, the rest is still good. The next sermon or pastor will be better. The next organists or song will rock. I don’t like this parishioner, but I like all the rest.

Paul tells us to welcome the chaos and diversity. It’s what makes us strong. In the diversity of ideas and opinions and ways of knowing God we support one another for the common good. So if one person has an off day, the whole community isn’t ruined. We support the weak until they’re strong again. And if one person feels moved to protest gay rights because of scripture, and another feels moved to protest homophobia because of scripture, then because of scripture they can sit and talk and understand why the other feels so strongly.

For the common good we’re given DIVERSE gifts. Gifts of wisdom and insight. Gifts of intelligence and education. Gifts of healing faith and gifts of powerful prayers. Gifts of prophecy, and discernment, and yes – speaking in tongues and dancing in aisles and interpreting ancient languages and interpreting current affairs. Gifts of being the naysayer who finds holes in plans. Gifts of being dreamers who see what others cannot. Gifts of being a source of humor. A warm hug giver. The gift of holy tears. Gifts of understanding finances, or understanding poverty, or understanding loneliness. And gifts of Holy joy. Holy love.

The holy gift of presence.

All gifts of the Spirit are given for the common good, allotted in different amounts and given in great diversity, make us the strong vegetable garden that with stands whatever crazy weather we get.

Because we are united in the one Spirit, from our one Lord, of our one God. We’ve got one Gardener care taking for us who knows just what the plan of the garden is.

Our lectionary ties today’s reading from Paul’s letters with Jesus’ very first miracle. And it isn’t raising a person from the dead. It isn’t walking on water. It isn’t bread. It’s wine. Turning water into wine.

What a strange gift of the Spirit!

Can you imagine finding out your gift is making wine? What other weird gifts do we have hiding in our pews?

Jesus has a strange gift, but he knows just what gifts are supposed to be used for: the common good.

And so, that’s how he uses it.

There’s a wedding in the little village of Cana. The groom and bride are supposed to provide wine for as long as people stay and party with them. It’s tradition. Its good luck. Most importantly, its hospitality. Usually guest bring along a little wine or food for the party too. Think of it like a potluck. But, for whatever reason, the wine has run out. The party is going to be over early. The couple are going to start their wedding on a bad foot.

In the course of the world, its very small. An auspicious start to a wedding. So what? No one will die. No lives are ruined.

In the course of the world, most of us are very small. And our gifts are small. What good is a talent for cooking chili? Or a talent for understanding how to program a TV remote?

Jesus is reluctant to share. But Mary encourages him. There’s no silly gifts! ALL gifts are given for the common good of us all!

So Jesus goes and asks for the jars of water. And wedding servants… not the bride and groom, not their parents, not the guests… witness Jesus’ very first public miracle. Along with his disciples. Plain water, in jars meant for washing hands and dishes and ritual cleanliness, turns into the sweetest wine.

When the gift is shared, the sweetest delight is spread among the whole community. From God comes abundance! From God comes diversity! From God comes all good things!

The wedding’s party in the community is saved, and people continue to stay together happily.

The disciples begin to believe in Jesus after this. They begin to believe he IS heralding the in-breaking of God into the world in a brand new way. They begin to understand the generosity of God, the hospitality of God, and perhaps even the joy of God.

God rejoices over us!

When we’re sticking by each other, helping one another, using our gifts for one another – the heart of God is joyful!

For among people is where God delights to be.

And God delights to make each of us unique.

Amen!

 

Reflection:

The take home message for the day is every one of us have unique gifts. Turning water into wine is pretty silly. But Jesus knew how to use it for the common good. What silly gifts do you have? How could you use them to bring joy, happiness, and love to others?
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I Have Called You By Name

Isaiah 43:1-7 cb1453_grande
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

I once had a job I was so unhappy with. I really disliked going in. I took as much sick time and vacation time as I could, and loathed Mondays.

I remember my friends asking me, why not get a new job? Why continue here? Was it the benefits? No. Lack of other jobs? No. The people? Oh no, absolutely not. So why? Why did I keep going in to THAT work?

I couldn’t come up with a good reason. I just kept going. When I thought about seeking a new job, I got anxious and worried. What if the new one is even worse? I mean, it was hard to get a worse job than the one I had, but they’re out there.

What if … what if…

Eventually, I realized that some people suffer from thinking the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…

… and other people suffer from thinking the brown grass they got is still grass and try to convince themselves the green grass they see on the other side of the fence isn’t worth climbing over.

In other words: we prefer the hell we know to the hell we don’t know.

We fear the unknown. It’s better to be in an awful position than take a risk into… that great unknown. We don’t know what we’ll face if we change. We do know what we’ll face if we stay the same.

I knew what every day would involve. It would be trying to sell ‘insurance’ which really wasn’t insurance and feeling like a scammer… because I was…

But if I applied to work elsewhere, would it be any better? I didn’t know. And I feared that unknown. So back to door-to-door sales I went.

The ancient Israelites were in the hell they knew. They were in exile in Babylon. They, or their parents, had gotten settled in the new land. For awhile, everyone was miserable. But now they’re comfortably miserable. Some are even starting to like this exile.

But now the prophets are calling them back to their ancestral land in Israel, and the king of Babylon was saying they could go back too. So who will go? Who will leave the known for the unknown?

The people were comfortable in their known exilic shame, and scared of the unknown of traveling back to Israel. Fearful.

“O Israel, do not fear,” says God through the Prophet Isaiah. “For I have redeemed you.” I have bought you. I have taken you from debt, from shame, and released you. “I have called you by name, you are mine.” God is calling your name. Your own personal name.

You, listening, are called to risk the unknown.

I, back then in that awful job, was called to risk the unknown.

Today, we’re all called to still walk with God into the wilderness and unknowns where the Spirit moves us, like it does to Jesus after his baptism.

God promises to stick by us through that wilderness journey into the unknown. Stick through us through whatever we can image.

God said, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
I will be with you through the rivers and they shall not overwhelm you.
“When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned,
And the flame shall not consume you.”

What other horrible things can you picture happening?
I pictured leaving my job and not finding another. Then I’d be back on food stamps. Then maybe I’d lose my apartment and have to move home to my mother’s couch. Then I’d be a failure and ashamed.

The Israelites may have thought about robbery and being stolen and taken into slavery.
God told them, “I give Egypt as your ransom, and Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

Talk about a kick to the butt for me. God would give an entire nation – or the richest nations – for me. I’m worth that much. How could God want me to stay in a sleazy job? How could being fired from a sleazy job for telling the truth “No, this insurance ISN’T going to help you” make me a failure? I am precious in the sight of God. My honor is from God, not my boss. I am loved… by God.

God promises to give whole “nations in exchange” not just for my life, but “for your life” too. You are worth whole nations to God. You are precious. You are honored. You are LOVED by the very creator who moved the waters of creation and spoke through the flaming bush. You – you who are terrified of what might be on the other side of the fence – you who are scared of the unknown – are loved by the unknowable itself who reassures you – I AM WITH YOU DO NOT FEAR!

God says that from the east and west we’re called. From the north and south. Everyone is called, called by their own name, and lovingly created as the sons and daughters of God.

God is calling the Israelites to their ancestral home, and to not fear the land and troubles in between.

But God is still calling today. Calling all of us to God’s self, and to not fear the reputation and troubles we’ll get for being faithful to God.

I listened back then to the call. And when this little old lady answered the door to me one afternoon with a big, brilliant smile on her lips and the fogginess in her eyes saying she couldn’t see… I couldn’t lie to her. She directly asked me, “Will what you’re selling actually help me?”

“No.” No, it would not.

At that moment, I stepped into the unknown. Time to buckle up! Now we’re off the script my boss had my memorize!

God never promises there will be no fire and there won’t be water. Instead, God said God will be with us in these things.

And yeah, I got fired real quick. But it felt… good. It felt good to be without a job. That time without a job, and that time of choosing to not lie to the elderly lady helped lead me towards seminary. I know it. Joblessness pushed me back into school… and although it took some time, eventually I began to say yes to God more and more often until I ended up in seminary, and chaplaincy, and that to here.

The grass was greener on the other side. But man, getting over that fence was rough. I’m so glad God the Good Shepherd was there to help me get from one pasture to the next.

If God were as John describes God, I’m not certain any of us would dare to call God a shepherd… let alone, ‘Good.’ John the Baptist preaches about the forthcoming “ax-wielding arsonist.” ((Barbara Brown Taylor)) That guy terrifies me. And he is some people’s God. Some people do picture God as wrathful and angry and hacking the world to bits and burning it.

But that’s not who Jesus reveals God to be. Jesus reveals God’s personality as the “gentle carpenter whom the Holy Spirit chose for a roost” ((Barbara Brown Taylor)). Since we know who God is through Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection… I’m inclined to think the gentle carpenter is more accurate of who God is – THE God of love – than the ax-wielding arsonist.

That’s not to say John was wrong and not the messenger preparing the way for God. I’m just pointing out it is Jesus who is more powerful than John, and Jesus who John feels unworthy beside. So it’s Jesus’ depictions and examples of God I feel more confident relying upon.

Still, Jesus does come with fire and water.

Jesus came to John to be baptized. And he stepped into the waters, the heavens opened – but instead of raining down fire, from heaven came the Holy Spirit, which was like a dove, to alight upon Jesus and infuse in his soul an unquenchable fiery spirit.

“When you pass through the water I will be with you”
In the waters of baptism – there is God!
In the waters of birth – there is God!
In the water of rain, and flood, and snows, and ice – there is God!
In the water of tears of sorrow and the tears of joy – there is God.
When we pass through the waters of life, God is with us.
And the waters will not overwhelm us because we have God, and we have one another.

Troubles will be there, but we shall overcome.

And,

“When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned.”
The fire of the Holy Spirit alighting upon us will not burn, but refine.
The fires that consume houses, and lands, and bodies cannot consume souls.
The fire that rages in anger and in war will and do surround us – but God sticks with us offering always the hope of peace of soul and mind and world.

Through this all, God declares: “You are my child, and loved, with you I am well pleased.”

You are my daughter.
You are my son.
You are my love.

We are NAMED by God. NAMED beloved child. NAMED and CLAIMED. Given a family. Given a protector. Given a companion. A brother. A redeemer. A savior.

If that’s not enough to encourage us to step out in faith and take a risk to do good; what would be?
If you’re in a bad situation and scared to change… Do not fear.
When you’re comfortable in the earthly hell you’re in… trust God will be with you through the transition towards living into the reign of God now.

Changing jobs. Starting relationships. Ending relationships. Telling the truth. Moving. Downsizing. These are scary waters! God promises to stick by us and not let us drown in them.

Confronting our sins. Confronting complacency. Confronting family racism. Addressing gay or lesbian intolerance. Welcoming strangers… These are fires God promises will not consume our souls.

In the waters of baptism we were given unquenchable holy fire for we are created for the glory of God and personally, PERSONALLY called by our names to relationship with God.

You can do this.

You’re not alone!

Amen.

New Year Resolutions

Luke 2:41-52
Colossians 3:12-17love

We have yearly traditions. Things we do, year after year, to mark the passage of time. Christmas with Christmas trees, and stockings, and cookies and milk set out to Santa. New Years with a ball drop in Times Square where many have pilgrimaged to see it. Valentine’s Day cards. Independence Day fireworks. Trick or Treating for Halloween and carved pumpkins. These are all religious, secular, traditional and commercialized at the same time. This is because rituals have so much meaning! And mean something a little different to each person.

Ancient Israel had these yearly traditions too. One was going to the Temple in Jerusalem during Passover. Everyone who could would ban together, load up the donkeys and camels, and walk to the big city for the celebration. Back at home would be just those too old or sick to make it, too young, or those watching over the flocks this year. (Someone has to feed the sheep!) Everyone else, all the extended family, headed into the city for the party.

At big family reunions, you know how kids get lost. They run around from table to table, place to place, and you’re generally sure they’re okay because this is all family and no one has yelled out ‘MOMMY OF SUSIE! SUSIE NEEDS YOU!’ or something similar.

This is the big family tradition Luke describes to us. Pre-teen Jesus and all his extended family show up for the party at the temple. When its time to go home, Mary assumes Jesus is with Joseph. Joseph assumes Jesus is with Mary. Both then assume he’s off with family somewhere in this mess of people. And when they get home… and everyone is sorted out to their own houses… they realize there’s no Jesus. So back to the city they rush to look for their missing teen.

They find him in the Temple, after the party has ended, debating with the Rabbis and impressing them with his knowledge. The story transitions here from describing customs in ancient Israel, to… making a statement about Jesus.

Remember Luke is writing under Roman rule, and explaining to Roman-Jews and Gentile converts who Jesus is. They all know how Caesar came to power. Some remember it from personally lived history.

It began like this: At age of 12, the boy Augustus gave the funeral oration for his grandmother Julia Caesaris, the sister of Julius Caesar. Emperor Julius Caesar adopted his grand-nephew Augustus as his son. When Julius Caesar died, his adopted son Augustus named Julius a god, himself the Son of God, and took control of Rome through the Senate to rule over the known world. Now Augustus Caesar rules as Emperor with as much, if not more, power than his uncle / adopted-father.

Luke knows these facts. And he knows his audience does, too. He writes a new version of the Son of God.

Jesus was an exceptional child by the age of 12. He impressed adults with his speech qualities. Since Jesus is the son not of Joseph, but of ‘his father’ who lives in the Temple… Jesus is the Son of God. The Son of God grows into an exceptional leader who is appointed not by humans, but by God, to reign over the whole universe.

Luke is asserting Jesus is better than Augustus.

We don’t know if the story we read today did happened or not. The message is true, one way or the other, however – Jesus, not Caesar Augustus – reigns. Jesus, not Caesar Augustus, is divine. Jesus, not Caesar Augustus, is our savior.

Luke is so full of sedition! He writes and encourages his fellows to see not their God-King in Caesar… but in this Jesus fellow.

This Jesus… who is shown in story after story as better than Caesar… but opposite him in leadership style and qualities.

“Pax Romana” was the Peace of Rome. This peace was maintained with fear, and violence, and was the absence of conflict between nation states. Absence of conflict is not peace. Peace is an end of fear. Fear was how Rome ruled. People had to fear non-Romans to justify having authoritarian leaders. People had to fear Roman soldiers to keep from rebelling. People had to fear falling to the station of non-Romans to stay in line and not empathize with slaves, or foreigners. People had to fear for Rome to rule.

“Pax Christi” is the Peace of Christ. This is peace maintained through an end of fear. Conflict may still arise, but we will work through it together without resulting to violence. We may disagree, but we continue to love one another. We don’t fear. We don’t fear soldiers because we know our bodies are not our forever homes. We don’t fear falling in station because we voluntarily call ourselves slaves and the least. We don’t fear foreigners because we remember we are foreigners ourselves right now. We don’t fear mortal leaders because we have a heavenly leader. We reject the leadership of fear, for the leadership of Peace.

Which means we, like Luke, are pretty seditious and radical. We’re rebellious. We’re living in the world, but are not of it.

The letter to Collossians reminds us we are called to be the “people who embody compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, and thanksgiving.” ((Frank L. Crouch.))

That’s quite the list! I think Mary would have just been happy if Jesus just told her where he was going instead of worrying her and Joseph sick for days.

But this awesome list is my New Years Resolution.

See, much like everyone going to the Temple for Passover or later, Hanukkah, we have the tradition of making goals for the new year. People set out New Year Resolutions. Big ones – this year I’ll win the lottery and lose 100 lbs! Small ones – this year I’ll remember my brother’s birthday and eat more carrots. And every year, whether big or small, most of us forget our resolutions by February.

Why?

Because change is hard! It really is. It doesn’t matter if we’re trying a big change or a little change, we habitually resist it.

A change that lasts must be practiced not just one month in twelve… but daily, until it becomes part of our nature instead of something we are purposefully reminding ourselves to do.

Colossians gives us some new year resolutions to work on, and says this habit is for us in “whatever we do, in word or in deed,” Habits for daily living.

Paul writes to have Compassion. This is not sympathy and thinking ‘thank God I’m not like them,’ but rather, ‘there I go but for the Grace of God.’ Compassion is seeing every person as someone in whom Christ dwells. Would you cut Jesus off in traffic? Would you deny Jesus asylum from drug cartels? Would you tell Jesus its his own fault he’s poor? Compassion is looking at each person and seeing them as God sees them. Beloved.

And clothe yourselves with kindness. I think we understand this one. Kindness is being kind to others. Kindness is to walk about with gentle feet. You may have heard the Boy Scout’s saying of leaving a place better than you found it… so if you stay in a cabin, you leave it cleaner than when you arrived. This is kindness. Caring for others, walking lightly upon the earth, and having a warmth about you.

Our author ties kindness with humility. This is not humiliation! Don’t think scripture is ever asking you to be humiliated, ashamed, belittled. That is not kindness and compassion. Humility is not taking yourself too seriously. It is knowing you’re not the final authority on every subject, knowing you make mistakes, and knowing you’re not perfect. Humility is humbleness. Its the opposite not of pride, but of vanity.  No one is sinning when they’re proud of their grandkids! Someone may  be sinning if they shove those grandkids out of the way to be the center of attention. A vain person talks about themselves, praises themselves, and encourages other to talk about how great the vain person is. A humble person talks about themselves and others. Praises where praise is due. Encourages all people’s voices to be heard.

Along with humility, we’re told to wear gentleness. Gentleness is meekness, being mild. Don’t think of this one as “be a mat for people to walk upon” but as the difference among how you make your needs known. A gentle person says, “Jesus, why have you worried us?” A hard person says, “Jesus The Christ! I’m going to paddle you into next week!” A gentle person has the strength to control themselves. It used to be gentle was also attributed to people who are born of nobility. A gentle person is courteous, chivalrous, benevolent – the type of leader you want. We’re called to be nobility – the very children of God.

Gentleness is tied with Patience. Patience – we’re urged in Collosians. Patience I usually hear as being able to count to three when angry before responding. But patience is more than just that. It is being able to not have instant gratification. It’s great to eat all our Christmas chocolate. Patience says space that chocolate out so you don’t eat it in one sitting. Patience says teenagers and preteens are going to cause us fear and worry – regardless if it is 12 CE or 2018… 2019… CE. Patience knows we grow up, mature, and wisen. Patience is forbearance. Waiting. Tolerating. Not necessarily accepting… but willing to postpone our judgement and reaction.

Next, we’re told to forgive. We literally pray this every Sunday, and some of us pray it daily: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” God, forgive us, because we are forgiving others. God, we forgive others, because you forgave us.

Forgiveness is not forgetting, but its not expecting that person or persons to do more towards making things right. Forgiveness is needed. Sorely needed. We need others to forgive us when we try our best and still fail. We need to forgive others, when they mess up and repent, but can’t turn back the clock. We need forgiveness from God for all the sins we do and that over take us. We need to give forgiveness to all the people who harm us, and moved on oblivious or not caring we were hurt. Forgiveness is necessary to any relationship that lasts.

Over all these garments of Christianity, place on the cloak of Love. Clothe yourselves in love! Everyone knows a police officer because they see the woman or man in a uniform. Everyone knows who is a doctor because of wearing scrubs and a lab coat. Love is the clothes of Christians. Meeting someone who is very loving should immediately clue others that this person is a Christian. They will know us by our love!

Christians today are often NOT known by their love. They’re known for their hate of Gays, hate of women who have abortions, and intolerance or complete disregard for the concerns of the dreaded ‘Millennial’ and ‘Nones’ generation.

Love alone will fix this. Radical acts of love that counter the messages of hate. Radical acts of love that say each person is valued. Radical acts of love that welcome in the budding Rabbis, sit them in the middle of the temple, and really HEAR what they have to say. Acts of love that is impressed with the concerns and Christianity emerging from our next generation.

Acts of love, words of love, deeds of love, thoughts of love – that defy the way the world does things but herald the way God does things – that is our main clothing. Our outer garment. Our uniform over all these other clothes we’ve put on.

All of of this together leads to Peace. The real peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding. The peace that is the absence of fear, the tolerance of differences, the forgiveness of wrongs, the humility to admits wrongs, the compassion to see all sides of an argument, the kindness to stand with the gentle and the patience to try, try, and try again to live this Christian life. Peace is living with one another as we grow and change. Peace is not fearing tomorrow or today. Peace is knowing we rest securely in the love of God.

Peace is what I wish for you this New Years. As you go and do your yearly traditions – whatever they may be – may you go clothed in your uniform of Christian Love and be the messenger of peace. May your yearly, monthly, daily, hourly tradition be embodying Christ’s peace.

Amen!

Good News to the People

Zephaniah 3:14-20 140803213440
Luke 3:7-18

How do you get your news? Today, maybe your phone. Or turned on the TV. Twenty years ago did you read the paper? I remember my dad listening to the radio while he worked in the barn. That’s how he got his news. Do you remember the news reels at the beginning of movies?

My grandmother taught me young how to get news. You sneakily lift up the telephone receive to listen into the party-line for news. Make sure you cover your mouth so no one hears your breath! And turn the thing upside down away from your mouth!

Telegrams and bulletins posted at the post office used to give news. Before that, news would be tacked to the church doors, or read from the pulpit with announcements. News could also spread with town criers – who went around crying out the news. Calling it loudly. There was also bards who traveled, singing songs from one town to the next telling stories. And there were messenger pigeons and smoke signals and sigils on rocks or paint in caves, hieroglyphics on tombs and steles of stone piles.

We humans love to communicate to one another!

One such mode of communication was the evangelist. His job, in the ancient world, was to stand in the middle of town and yell out the official news. The official Roman news often went a bit like this…

“HEAR YE, HEAR YE! In honor of the Caesar’s Nephew’s Birthday, free bread is available to all citizens of Rome, courtesy of the Apollo Baker’s Guild. Freed men, slaves, and subjects may pick up scraps after dark. Praise Caesar – the Son of God! HEAR YE, HEAR YE! Good news! Glorious Rome was victorious in capturing the land of Judea. Judean slaves will be available for purchase as early as next week. Caesar is our light upon a hill bringing good news to all nations. HEAR YE, HEAR YE…”

The good news from the evangelists was rarely good news to the average Israelite. They were not Roman citizens. They did not want to be ruled by Rome. They didn’t want to worship Caesar, or his gods, or his family, and he sure didn’t feel like a shining sun or lamp upon the country.

The king Caesar put in place over the people was King Herod (one of a few by this name.) His job was to keep the people placated, not organized around any particular leader but Caesar, and not challenging Rome. Herod gave money to expand the temple to let the people worship… but he also was working at getting Roman gods into the Jewish temple. (This will later cause a riot.)

At the time of John in the scene, John is the current rabble raiser that is giving Herod a headache. He’s getting people together, calling them from their apathy, and making them picture a different world.

Luke also calls him an evangelist. Calls him the official guy giving the good news out. This immediately implies several big political statements…

Human Caesar’s news is not good news.

John is working for the True Caesar – the True King.

Caesar is a false king.

John is spreading the messages of the True Son of God.

Caesar is not the Son of God.

Caesar is mortal.

Caesar is fallible.

Caesar is … killable. Replaceable.

This is sedition! This is challenging Caesar for rule! This is dangerous, political, rebellious talk.

This is very good news to the poor, the weak, the outcasts… this is very bad news to the rich, the strong, the in-crowd.

Is it any wonder why John is swiftly murdered?!

But John was walking in the footsteps of the prophets before him who were opposing all powers that promote apathy and indifference.

Our Prophetic reading today is the very end of the book of Zephaniah. The rest of the book is about how the country got into this position of needing saved. The ancient Israelites came to believe God didn’t matter to their daily lives, combined their religion with others and said there’s no real difference between this religion or that, were complacent, had corrupt leaders, and permitted injustice.

People weren’t evil… just indifferent. Truly, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

So good men and women of Israel did nothing… and evil took over, and suffering increased, and religion became weak. People minded their own business. This means ignoring the plight of others. This means ignoring evil. Doing nothing assists evil as it targets the weak.

Therefore, Zephaniah prophesizes a terrible, awful, horrific Day of the Lord when everything is turned on its heads. Creation suffers because of human apathy to evil. He foresees great environmental destruction, and wars, and death. If you want a fire and brimstone prophecy – turn to the book of Zephaniah.

But it ends with the verses we heard today… REJOICE. Why rejoice?! Because God is doing a new thing. God is coming into the midst of us to set things right. God judges us, but also forgives us. God is showing special favor to the people society, or we, hurt — the outcasts. The handicapped. The meek. The weak. And God is turning everything topsy-turvy. So we hear elsewhere – the rich made poor, the poor made rich, the proud humbled, the shamed given pride. A leveling of all people. An equaling. A making us all brothers and sisters and no more slaves and kings. Reminding us that we ARE each other’s business. And what hurts one, hurts all. What honors one, honors all.

John continues this theme of get moving and stop being apathetic. Giving up only helps evil. Do something! Do good! Bear good fruit!

I like that the crowd asks for John to tell them what to do. It gives us insight into John’s thinking about how to cure apathy. John doesn’t tell the people to give up their lives. “Tax collectors are not called to sever their relationship with Rome, nor are the soldiers exhorted to lives of pacifism. Even in light of impending eschatological [Day of the Lord] judgment, they are called to serve where they are; to take their stand for neighbor amid, rather than apart from, the turbulence and trouble of the present age; and to do good because, rather than in spite, of their compromised positions. By sandwiching such ordinary instruction amid eschatological warning and messianic expectation, Luke’s John hallows the mundane elements of daily life… the crowds hear John speak of a role in the coming kingdom they can play.

It demands neither renunciation nor asceticism, neither pilgrimage nor sacrifice. Rather, participating in God’s new kingdom is available to them where they are, requiring only the modicum of faith necessary to perceive the sacred in the ordinary.

It is, in short, entirely within their reach: “Share. Be fair. Don’t bully.” It may not be heroic, but it is something they can do. It is something, when you think about it, that anyone can do. Which means that it is something we can do, too.

“So with many other exhortations, John proclaimed the good news to the people.” Good news, indeed.” ((David Lose))

Although it would be great if you could sell all you own and give it to the poor… although it would be great if you could donate a kidney, give plasma and blood, and open your house to every homeless in the nation… although it would be amazing if you could cure cancer, end world hunger, and cause world peace…

… Just because you can’t doesn’t mean do nothing.

John says: work where you are. Do all the good you can where you are with what you have.

Mother Theresa said, “Do small things with great love.” Small things – noticing people. “The biggest disease today,” she once said, “is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference toward one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside, assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.”

The Good News is you have an important role in God’s kin-dom… and all it requires is for you to do SOMETHING instead of sitting around doing nothing. It means share. Be fair. Don’t bully. It means love, help others, take notice. It means listen. Don’t tune out. Care.

Evil hates us doing deeds. Remember, evil stays in power by making us feel powerless. Evil spreads when we do nothing. When we do good, it not only stops evil, but reduces it. Others see our good. Others feel empowered. Others do more good.

The evangelist comes with truly good news – joyful news – you matter! You matter because you matter to God! You matter, you are loved, so go and make others matter, let others know they are loved!

Your faith can move mountains.

It may just move them one tiny pebble of a good deed at a time.

Rejoice! Be the church!

Amen.

Make Way! Make Way!

bonhoefferMalachi 3:1-4
Luke 3:1-6

In 1937, a German theologian and pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer was watching the rise of the Nazi regime in his country. He saw how faith in Christ was becoming muddled with faith in country. It was anti-German to be welcoming outsiders. It is anti-German to not be Christian. Therefore, not welcoming outsiders and being Christian go hand-in-hand — since they’re both pro-Germany.

This very same kind of fuzzy logic happens in our own country right now. When a person says they are Christian, immediately some assume that means they must also be pro-life, love America, vote Republican, and be against immigration.
But that’s not true… that’s fuzzy logic. Logic that makes grand assumptions. There are pro-choice Christians, and there are pro-life atheists. Polarizing language that breaks us up into two camps — the enemy and the good guys — (always, we find ourselves in the good guy camp no matter which side we pick) makes this fuzzy logic grow.

Soon there is no middle ground. Soon there is no real self-reflection. Soon, churches begin to offer only cheap grace.

Bonhoeffer coined this term in the book The Cost of Discipleship. Hear his words:

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! …

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Cheap grace, to Bonheoffer, is when the church bows to society and silences those who question the way things are. It is cheap grace when we tell ourselves we’re good people because we’re Christians… but don’t actually follow Christ. It is cheap grace when scripture and faith don’t challenge us, and God looks and thinks and acts just as we do.

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” ((Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies.)) It’s a mirror. It’s yourself. An idol.

Our church gives cheap grace when it says “Things are fine for me, so stop your complaining.” “I’ve never been gay, so nor should you be.” “I’ve never needed to flee my country’s violence: so go home and leave me be.” Cheap grace is grace not from God — but from ourselves. It is patting ourselves on our backs and saying “What good Christians we are!”

Cheap grace is the love we give ourselves at the expense of following Jesus.

Opposite of this, says Bonhoeffer, is costly grace. He writes,

“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods…

Costly grace is the Gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.

Above all, it is costly because it costs God the life of His Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Bonhoeffer’s words mean Christianity is costly. It doesn’t let us follow society. It makes us follow a different law – the law of love. Christianity demands repentance – repentance means to radically change your life. It isn’t just “I’m sorry,” when you do something… it is “I’m sorry and I will never do that again.” Repentance is the idea that we are walking the wrong direction and must completely turn around, back towards God The baptism of repentance that John calls for is having a water baptism as a sign of washing away the old life and beginning a new. The baptism in the name of Christ, the Father, and Holy Spirit we do is a sign of what happens invisibly of the new life a person has. And when we take communion, we confess our sins and pledge to begin anew our life with God and one another.

New as in… not repeating those wrongs.

And that is costly.

But grace is defined as a free gift. Confusing? Let me explain…

Cheap free gifts, cheap grace, are like… the really cheap chocolate you can get for Christmas. It’s mostly wax. The sugar tastes good. For a moment. Then it is awful.

The cheap free gift of a faith that doesn’t challenge us a faith that won’t stand up to pressure. When we face truly awful things – the death of a child, the betrayal of a friend, the injustice of law, the sexual abuse of clergy on children – and our faith hasn’t grown beyond the basic step… that faith crumbles. How could God permit such evil? How could I ever forgive such a friend? How can I have faith in any laws or any clergy? When our faith is given to us cheaply without challenge… it just wilts and has nothing to say to these situations.

Costly grace is a gift that cost a lost to give. It’s like the expensive chocolate. Just a little bit goes a long way because it is mostly cocoa. It tastes good, and leaves a good taste. But it cost way more.

The costly gift of faith that does challenge us is faith that stands up under the pressure of the evils of life. It reminds us that God is a parent grieving the loss of their child. God-in-Christ knew the betrayal of Judas… then each disciple… all the way to Peter, his best friend, who denied ever even knowing Jesus. It reminds us that wherever there are humans, there is sin… this includes our most sacred institutions and worship spaces. Costly grace is messy. It can’t be summed up on a coffee cup. It says there are real sins, real evils, but also real forgiveness, real repentance, really changed lives.

Malachi writes at a time the cheap grace of the Jewish faith is failing people. He prophesizes that God will refine the priests and make them strong – strong enough to lead the people back into costly grace. But costly grace – faith that can move mountains – costs.

So Malachi warns us this cost is like a fire that burns away impurities to leave behind the gold and silver. It is like bleach, that will turn dull and dirty cloth into dazzling white as snow cloth. Who can withstand this, wonders Malachi. Who can handle the cost of discipleship?

Bonhoeffer wrote about this in his own Advent sermons a few years before writing The Cost of Discipleship. He wrote,

“It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming, so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God . . . . We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for every one who has a conscience.

Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love.”

Fear and wonder. Terror. Like the shepherds seeing the angels. Like those who came to hear John preach. Like those who found Jesus’ tomb empty.

But also grace. Love. Forgiveness. Acceptance.

God’s question to us again and again is who shall I send? Who will go? Who will prepare the way? Who will keep awake? Who will walk the narrow way, the costly way, instead of the wide way, the way that offers no challenges… but no rewards? Who will be silver and gold? Who will withstand the bleach to be washed whiter than snow? Who will tackle their own sins?

I wonder, sometimes, if the paths Isaiah speaks about are us. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make God’s people ready. Everyone who is low should be encouraged and lifted up. Everyone who is high and powerful should be humbled and lowered. The crooked and sinful shall be made straight and true; the rough made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

It’s what John was doing. He was offering repentance. A way to turn our crooked path around and walk right back to God. And what Malachi foretold.

It is easy to love upon a cute baby cuddled in his mama’s arms.

But Christmas means so much more.

Are you preparing yourself for the more?

Amen.

Kin-dom of God

John 18:33-37 crown
Revelation 1:4b-8

It is 1925: Secularism and nationalism is on the rise. Fewer people go to church, and more people identify with their country saying things like “America first!” Churches observe national holidays and sing hymns to the country, rather than to God. Many feel jaded… like God is an old notion and the new way is to follow someone who identified with the common man, speaks like him, and has good and bad qualities like him.

I’m speaking about the year 1925 – but it could be 2018. In 1925, the Great War, rumored to be the Final War, World War I had finished. The great kings and czars and ruling families of the Romanovs, the Habsburgs, the Osmans and Hohenzollerns were destroyed. People no longer identified with kings. They identified with presidents. Führers. Elected leaders. And since these people come and go quickly, they identified with their counties. I am French! I am English! I am American!

Churches began to display country’s flags, and hymns were rewritten to new words to honor countries.

But fewer people came to church. Church was too quaint, too antiquated, to answer to the pain that was Guernica, trench war fare, and missing brothers.

So Pope Pius XI said, we need a king “whose kingdom there shall be no end.” Who will be able to lead and answer to this world of pain. And over a few years, he and theologians worked together to craft a long letter explaining how Jesus is a king. If everyone saw Jesus as their ruler, their king, their president, their czar or führer, then there is hope of lasting peace among all these nations and never again would the whole world break out in to war. Truly, the Great War was the War to end all Wars.

We know it didn’t last. WWII breaks out. We have rumors of WWIII ever since WWII ended. Nationalism rises and falls. Secularism rises and falls. And even among Christian to Christian, we argue and fight.

But the goal of the Pope was lofty and right. He instituted this day, the last Sunday of the Church Year, as Christ the King Sunday. We Protestants adopted it, and sometimes call it Reign of Christ Sunday. Or something similar. The idea is the same: there is no king but Jesus. There is no Caesar but Jesus. There is no president but Jesus. There is no reign, no ruler, but Jesus. And since we’re all under the one same ruler, then there are no French, no English, no Americans. We are all one people – Christians.

And this gives us the hope of peace.

Really, the same notion is what holds the United Church of Christ together. We affirm there is no head of the church but Christ – and that is the bridge that unites us with all our different theologies, different political views, and different ways of worshiping and being.

But, I don’t know about you, the idea of Jesus as “King” sits a little awkward with our scripture.

Consider… Jesus NEVER calls himself king. Not once. He calls himself the ‘son of man.’ A human. He calls himself a child of god, but also calls you a child of god. He calls himself a servant, and a slave, and a witness to truth. After giving the people bread, the people went to take Jesus and make him king. He runs away. When the disciples want Jesus to go to Jerusalem and be king, he tells them kings are tyrants. Be servants. When Satan offers Jesus to be king of the world… Jesus refuses. Three of our four gospels are concerned with showing Jesus as a humble man, with humble beginnings, living a humble life, and dying ignobly.

All four note he dies, however, with the sign declaring his guilty charge above his head. And that sign reads: “KING OF THE JEWS.” in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. This sign is abbreviated on some crosses as INBI or INRI.

How did he come to be charged with sedition, with trying to become king, when he was adamant he was NOT an earthly king?

John teases us with it from the beginning,  but the bulk of the testimony to Jesus’ kingship is in the final chapters of the book of John. ((We’re setting aside Matthew, Mark, and Luke who do not really use king language.))

In John,

“John intentionally and dramatically arranges the trial of Jesus before Pilate into 7 or 8 scenes, punctuated by Pilate’s egress to meet the Jews and ingress to interact with Jesus.1 Each scene — and the whole trial — centers on kingship.

Scene 1: 18:28-32
Jesus is accused; the charge will be sedition — making himself a king.

Scene 2: 18:33-38a
The nature of Jesus’ kingship is raised. Is he king on Earth, king of Israel? King of who?

Scene 3: 18:38b-40
The choice: King of the Jews or Barabbas? The people reject the king for a bandit.

Scene 4: 19:1-3
Jesus is crowned King of the Jews by the local king.

Scene 5: 19:4-7
Jesus is presented to the people dressed ironically as a king. The chief priests and police, seeking Jesus’ death, demand Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate has put them in the position of demanding the death of their own king (19:6).

Scene 6: 19:8-11
Jesus’ authority as king and Son of God is revealed: Jesus won’t bow to Pilate.

Scene 7: 19:12-16a
Jesus is presented as King of the Jews. Pilate maneuvers in Jesus’ trial to appear as the one who crucifies the Jewish king. John recreates this scene of the demand for Jesus’ crucifixion twice. The second time, he underscores that it is the beginning of Passover, the moment when Israel would stop and remember God’s kingship and God’s rule over other powers. Instead, at that same moment, Pilate asks the Jews again, “Shall I crucify your king?” In their reply, “we have no king but the emperor” (John 19:15), John shows that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus leads them to deny God’s kingship and embrace Roman rule.

Some add an 8th scene: 19:16b-22
Jesus is exalted on the cross and reigns as King of the Jews. Part of the irony of John’s presentation of the trial and crucifixion is that Pilate uses his own authority to declare Jesus’ kingship. Pilate places an inscription over the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” (John 19:19). The chief priests protest, asking Pilate to clarify that this was only what Jesus claimed. But Pilate refuses their request with a solemn pronouncement, “What I have written, I have written” (19:22).

In this way, John crafts his narrative so that Jesus’ kingship becomes most visible in his crucifixion. It is as if his crucifixion is his enthronement as king, the moment at which the declaration of his kingship is made public
((WorkingPreacher))

By the time of the crucifixion in John, Jesus is established as the king of not Jews… but “Jews,” which in John means all people whether or not they accept Jesus as king. He is king over the local kings and king over Caesar – for he is now lifted up and taken to heaven to rule.

As the crucifixion makes clear, Jesus’ kingship is “not of this world” (John 18:36). All of the gospels agree that Jesus and Caesar reigned in opposite ways. Caesar stayed in charge with violence, bread and circuses, militaries. Violence kept people fearful. Free bread fed their bellies. Circuses entertained them. Militaries oppressed neighbors and stole wealth and labor for Rome.

Jesus reigns with peace and repeatedly says “Do not be afraid.” He tells us to forgive one another. Jesus reigns with bread – the free bread from heaven that fulfills not bellies, but souls. Jesus reigns without circuses. Without entertainment that makes you forget your troubles because Jesus goes into your troubles and invites us to address them. Jesus rules without militaries. We’re told to set down our weapons, and to pray blessings upon our enemies.

Because Jesus reigns as no other king, some Christians have taken to referring to the Kin-dom of Heaven instead of the Kingdom. In a kingdom, a king is in charge. A male over all others. And the idea of a king brings forward the idea of hierarchy. Crowns. The king ruling over the impoverished and lowly serfs. A king with knights for war. A king with power stolen from others and kept with fear and manipulation. By referring to the kin-dom of God, we remember Jesus isn’t king like an earthly king.

Kin means family. Jesus reigns as our brother, our beloved, our friend. Jesus reigns as our servant, our slave, our sacrifice. Jesus reigns with hope, peace, joy, compassion, forgiveness – with love.

Kin-dom of God reminds us that WE are family. Much like Pope Pious intended the Reign of Christ to remind us: we are one. Our nationalities, our race, our gender expressions and sexual orientations, our ways of worship, our political views, our secular allegiances and clubs and groups do not separate us because… we are one. We are the children of God. We are all brothers and sisters.

Amen.

Peer Pressure

Mark 13:1-8 rumor
Hebrews 10:11-25

In Actalan Mexico this year, a rumor began to spread in a rural town similar to Baltimore. “Child abductors!” “Kidnappers!” “Be warned!” It began on social media — WhatsApp and Facebook and forwarded emails. Then it began to spread by word of mouth.

An uncle and his nephew left their farm to go into town for supplies. Someone didn’t recognize them – they weren’t from the town. They were outsiders. This person whispered, “Do you think those two strangers are the kidnappers everyone is talking about?”

“Did you hear in the neighboring town they didn’t find their abducted kids until their organs had been cut out?”

“We can’t let that happen here!”

Angry, people went to the police and demanded they do something about the kidnappers in their midst. The police asked who the horrible murdering abductors were – and several citizens pointed to the uncle and nephew.

So the police arrested them for disturbing the peace and began to look into it. The uncle has a wife and several daughters out on his farm. His nephew is a young man engaged to be married. They have no idea what the rumors are about.

Meanwhile, outside the Police station, a crowd has grown. They began to bang on the doors, “Give us the pedophiles!” “Give us the murderers!” The shops around the police station start closing their doors and closing down. A larger crowd comes as they hear from facebook to email to phone call to text message to gossip at the gas station — the police are protecting child abductors who eat the organs of children. There is no justice! We must have justice for the children!

A man climbed up on the church in the town square and began to ring the bell. This summoned more people. He yelled, “The police are ready to let these evil men go without charging them of a thing!” The crowd broke down the police station doors and yanked the two men out.

Phones came out and people began to record this. In the USA, the mother of the nephew was alerted to get online and look at a live feed. Isn’t that her son? She tried posting ‘do not harm my son, he is not a child abductor’ and she tried to get help – but in a very short time a man stood on the step and chanted, “Petro! Petro!” He promised money to whomever got gasoline.

The mother watched her brother and son beat by a crowd screaming that her loved ones consumed the organs of boys they abducted and assaulted. Then the crowd poured gasoline on them and burned them alive. The thick black oily smoke was recorded from hundreds of cheering phones.

All because of a rumor.

The widows. The police. The children with no father. The citizens all testify: the crowds were provoked by lies into mob action, into murder. No one will look the widows in the eyes. Shame settles in the city.

No children were ever abducted.

Let alone assaulted with their organs cut out and consumed by two local farmers who had come to town for supplies.

((https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-46145986))

… But this is not the first time this has happened. It happened in another Mexican city on the same day based on the same rumor. It’s so common in India that there are calls for companies to not permit forwards on their platforms. Sri Lanka, Mynamar… and us, the United States. We’ve all fell victim. Do you remember “Pizza-gate” here?

Two years ago a man heard across social media, and television, and word of mouth that Hillary Clinton was hiding abducted children as part of a sex slave trade in a mom and pop pizza joint. He heard it repeated enough times and there were enough calls for justice that he took two guns into the shop determined to rescue the children himself. Praise God he killed no one! And of course, there were no children there.

((https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/pizzagate-from-rumor-to-hashtag-to-gunfire-in-dc/2016/12/06/4c7def50-bbd4-11e6-94ac-3d324840106c_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.13973dcf060e))

We provoke one another. When we hear one person saying something we think little of it. But when several are saying it – or it seems everyone is saying it – we believe it. Even if what is being say is a pure lie we’d never believe on our own.

In a crowd, in an echo chamber, humans lose their minds. This “mob mentality” is a well studied phenomenon. It’s why concerts are so exciting – why pep rallies work – and how some modern churches run themselves. Inside a mob, or crowd, or online, we lose our individual identities and become part of something larger and more powerful than ourselves. We gain energy from everyone around us and what was unthinkable now is possible.

Such as burning two men to death based on a rumor.

Or such as throwing a convoy birthday party for a mentally challenged young man.

((https://www.channel3000.com/news/18-wheels-for-bubba-how-a-team-of-truck-drivers-worked-to-make-a-boy-s-wish-come-true/783303571))

In Wisconsin, a young man sits by a highway in his backyard. He hasn’t many friends, and is mentally challenged. But he LOVES semis and watches them every day. Drivers began to notice, and across their CBs and social media began to talk about him. This led to the idea that the truckers would throw a birthday party for the boy. On the boy’s 16th birthday, trucks began to pull into a local park. The organizer and the boy’s parents thought maybe one or two semis would show up and let their son finally touch and see up close the trucks he loves… but instead dozens pulled in… then a hundred! The story had spread and spread and a huge convoy overwhelmed the little place all for this boy to have a most marvelous birthday. His parents were in tears and he laughed and smiled and was not alone.

When we’re in groups, we’re provoked to be so much more. The author of the letter to the Hebrew church urges us to provoke one another to love and good deeds. When everyone around us is living in loving kindness, we are peer pressured to do the same.

We are entering the holiday season which is full of loving kindness and random acts of charity. Our television shows, and plays, and books, and stories all peer pressure one another to join the mob of… gift giving. Of selflessness. Of generosity . Of forgiveness and love. From “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to “A Christmas Carol” to even Santa Claus – We enforce a message of loving kindness and a judgment against those who don’t have the “Christmas Spirit.” The… mob spirit… of good deeds and love.

In Minnesota, a grandmother was driving home and saw a young woman step over the fence over a bridge, ready to commit suicide by throwing herself down into the freeway traffic below. The grandmother prayed to God, called the cops, and ran to the young girl.

She pleaded, “Please, honey, you don’t want to do this. You have so much life to live.”

The suicidal young woman said, “No, my mom doesn’t love me.”

The grandmother swore, “I love you!” and reached through the fence and grabbed the young woman. The young woman struggled, but the old woman hung on proclaiming how much she loved her, and would give her all the support and help.

The grandmother yelled to another woman to get the traffic to stop. That woman kicked off her heels, hefted a construction cone, and rolled it out to stop the traffic.

Other people began to run to the grandmother, or pick up more cones, or call the cops for more details.

When a cop arrived he saw a “mass” of people holding onto a woman hanging from a fence over the stopped traffic. He got the tools to cut the fence and pull the woman through to safety.

At that time the grandmother yelled, “AMEN!” Ending the prayer she’d been living the entire time.

This crowd of strangers – of white police and black citizens in a city charged with violence between such – saved a Native American young woman – because of love.

((http://www.startribune.com/shoulder-to-shoulder-strangers-came-to-the-rescue-of-a-suicidal-woman-in-st-paul/389017491/ and https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/08/04/how-a-crowd-of-diverse-strangers-saved-a-suicidal-woman-from-jumping-off-a-bridge/?utm_term=.2fc6ffd16498 ))

“Jonathan Haidt has dubbed the feeling we get from seeing loving kindness as “elevation,” a condition he defines as “a warm, uplifting feeling that people experience when they see unexpected acts of human good­ness, kindness, courage, or compassion. It makes a person want to help others and to become a better person himself or herself.”

In an essay on the subject, he once wrote: “Most people don’t want to rape, steal, and kill. What they really want is to live in a moral community where people treat each other well, and in which they can satisfy their needs for love, productive work, and a sense of belonging to groups of which they are proud.

“We get a visceral sense that we do not live in such a moral world when we see people behave in petty, cruel, or selfish ways. But when we see a stranger perform a simple act of kindness for another stranger, it gives us a thrilling sense that maybe we do live in such a world.”

((https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/schmich/ct-met-schmich-good-deed-20181018-story.html ))

Humans are so interesting! People influencing people. People repeating what they see – evil or kindness. We can be moved to great evil or great good. Someone starts the movement, but soon it is a power greater than we are – and sweeps up others.

What force will you be in the world?

Jesus warned his disciples of the power of peer pressure and mobs. He said some will come saying “I am the messiah” or pointing to other mortals and saying “That is the Word made Flesh.” But the person being pointed to will not do good things, will be hypocritical, and inspire groups to evil.

So don’t fall for it. Don’t get wrapped up in the rumors. Think for yourself. Take a moment. Step aside. God gifted you a mind, so use it!

It is an unthinking mob that kills Jesus. A mob wrapped up in the rumors Jesus is claiming he is the King of the Jews… but he only calls himself a servant and slave and the son of man… It is an unthinking mob that will destroy the temple and rob it thinking this will give them immortality from Cesar.

But crowds can do great good, too.

What crowd will you be part of? Who will you follow? The rumors of war and famine and child abductors… or the rumors of faith, hope and love?

Amen.