Here are my thoughts for this past Sunday, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (6 June 2010). The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Kings 21: 1 – 21, Galatians 2: 15 – 21, and Luke 7: 36 – 8: 3.
Stephen Stills wrote a song a few years back called “For What It’s Worth”. Many people thought that this song was a commentary on the shootings at Kent State (May 4, 1970) or perhaps as anti-Viet Nam war song. But despite the appropriateness of the lyrics for those two incidents, it was really written as a commentary for something that happened in Los Angeles while Stills was recording an album with Graham Nash and David Crosby. ("Wisdom, Power, and the Way of Life")
But I suppose that what make any particular piece of music good is its timelessness and appropriateness for other situations. And so the words of the song, written some 45 years ago, are still highly appropriate today.
The thoughts and expressions of my generation, growing up in the 60s, seem to still echo through today’s news. Yet, while the war in Viet Nam may be over, we are still engaged in another set of wars. And they are wars that have gone on far longer than Viet Nam and which threaten to continue for an unforeseeable length of time. There may be those who would proclaim that the battle for civil rights has been won but it still seems as if the rights of any one individual are still dependent on where one was born and the social, economic, and educational status in which one is raised. Despite the rhetoric of many, the American Dream is more of a nightmare than a reality.
And as I look around my own area and as I read what is happening in other areas of this country, I sense that this country is sinking slowing into a dark sea of fear and paranoia. It is as if we are afraid of what tomorrow might bring, of thinking that today is as good as it is going to get.
Some might say that we have been conditioned to accept that last idea. We are supposed to be quite content with our lot in life, even when it is not the best. And anything that might disturb this status quo makes us very fearful and very afraid.
I am not ready to completely accept that notion if for no other reason that I have seen too many individuals use that idea to justify a society where success is pre-ordained by birth and location of birth. It also speaks of a contradiction where we say we can express our own thoughts yet are limited in what we can say and do. We speak of being able to do whatever we want yet are forced to accept what we have now. From what I trust is a theological viewpoint, it is almost Calvinist in scope. It doesn’t matter what we think we can do, we are doomed to accept the notion of what we have as the very essence of our soul and being.
It boggles my mind that we should even make this argument as runs counter to free will and political freedom. Yet, as I look around this world and see the protests that are taking place and the rhetoric being espoused, I see that contradiction. I see people arguing for the status quo while being oppressed by the status quo. Somehow, they have accepted the notion that their lot in life will be better only when it remains the same. And anything that is done to disturb that situation, to offer a better alternative or let others share is to be feared.
Look around and tell me if that is not what is happening in this country today. We seek individuals who will quickly bring us out of the mire of our own confusion and ignorance; we gladly listen to individuals who offer solutions that are contrary to what is transpiring. We hear individuals call for smaller government and less interference from the federal government in local businesses but then turn around and demand that the federal government get involved. We hear individuals call for no federal health care programs but don’t want anyone to touch Medicare.
The fear that is expressed today is much the same fear that the people two thousand years ago expressed. It is the same fear expressed by the people when Jesus healed the individual in today’s Gospel reading. The people were not prepared for what Jesus would offer them. Yes, they wanted a Messiah but they wanted a political and military Messiah, one who would offer a traditional response to the political and military rule of Rome.
The people then and now were thirsty but all they are being offered is salt water. And when you drink salt water to quench your thirst, all you get is more thirst.
I also think that there is a reluctance to seek something new, a reluctance to go beyond the moment. The best counter to fear is knowledge and it is too bad that much of the protests today are done without knowledge. If the people understood what they are saying, then there might be some hope for true change in this country.
The widow in the Old Testament reading was afraid to take on the task that Elijah asked her to do, because it was an illogical request. But it was an illogical request because it was seen in terms of the world in which she lived, not in the world that God had and has to offer. The church today sees the world in the same way that the widow does and not in terms of what God asks of us. The church’s problems, like those of the world around it, are created because we refuse to see the world in a different light, because we refuse to accept an alternative.
I don’t know why it is but it always seems that the easiest response is one made out of fear and ignorance. Maybe it takes too much effort to stop and see what is transpiring. Sometimes fear is the proper response but we still have to stop and see what is happening.
As John Kennedy said, “our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man.” (Speech at American University, 10 June 1963) Yet, it seems so often that we are unwilling to do that. The problems of this world call for solutions not found by traditional methods. There is also no moral voice speaking out against the fear that seeks to encompass this world. It was the church that spoke out against the Viet Nam war; it was the church that was at the forefront of the civil rights struggle. Yet, the church today is remarkably silent when it comes to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The church, while proclaiming that we are all God’s children, seems to think that this proclamation is only for a few selected souls. And the church leaders of today are the ones who are making the selection, not God.
The image of the church today is one that mankind has made; it is an image of man, not Christ. But then, I doubt very seriously that many people can even provide the beginnings of an image of Christ because we have very carefully crafted that image in terms of what we want. Though many people are trying to change the nature of the church in what it says and what it does, the image of the church today is still one of a selfish, self-righteous group interested in only their own self preservation. The church today bears little resemblance to the church of two thousand years ago because we have forced it into a box of our design; we have failed to respond to what God wants us to do. Paul points out to the Galatians that the Gospel was not his but that is what we have made it. We have twisted it and modified it so much that we don’t even recognize it.
So perhaps it is time that we stop and look around at where we are and what we are doing. Instead of countering fear with fear, let us counter it with knowledge. Instead of countering violence with violence, let us remove the need for violence. Ignorance, hatred, fear and violence grow out of the very issues that Jesus sought to overcome in His Gospel message – hunger, sickness, poverty, and oppression. If you remove the factors that cause those things, what would happen? The problem is that we don’t often ask that question and perhaps it is time that we begin to do just that?
Why can’t we ask the question about what it is that the church is supposed to be doing in this time and place? Are we afraid of the answer we might receive? Are we afraid, like so many before, who heard the answer to “follow me” but were reluctant and afraid to do so?
We call ourselves Christian so perhaps now is the time to live as such. We call ourselves Methodist so let us begin once again to wear what was intended as an insult as a badge of honor. Or are we to afraid of what others might say?
Is it that we live our lives as Christians on Sunday morning only? If we live our lives as Christians 24/7, then we have nothing to fear. But are our lives lived in that manner? Those who wear the cloak of Christian righteousness on Sunday morning and carefully take it off and fold it up and put it in the pew that has belonged to their family for generation after generation when they leave church on Sunday should be afraid. For they will find that the clothes they wear the rest of the week cannot protect them.
Those who proclaim they have no belief in God or say there is no reason to believe in God have everything to be afraid of. For there will come a time when they will seek help and have nowhere to turn. (But the church today cannot offer the help because it doesn’t understand how to deal with this issue and, for that, the church needs to be afraid.)
But, amidst all of this, this fear, this uncertainty, this paranoia, comes a small voice. It began with the prophets on the plains of Israel, it was spoken by the voice of the Baptizer calling out in the wilderness, and it was spoken by Christ Himself. It was and is the call to repent, to begin anew.
But we don’t like to hear this call; we don’t like the very notion of repentance. We think of repentance as a momentary act, one that we can make anytime we want and done over and over. But we are afraid because, deep down inside, we know that repentance requires that we give up all that we have, to cast aside our old ways and begin a new life, a life in Christ. We like our old ways, even if we do not understand the trouble and danger that such a life encompasses. We don’t want to give up our old ways.
But the promise of tomorrow cannot be met unless we do just that, give up our olds ways and begin a new life. We cannot make the journey to tomorrow by moving to the past or trying to stay in the present. When Jesus began His ministry, He knew where it would end. His understanding of what He would ask the people to do would cause some to react in fear, paranoia, and hatred. He knew that He would be challenging the status quo and that He would offer a life with a different outcome.
We know what that outcome is; we know what we are being asked to do. Perhaps that is why we are afraid; we know the outcome. We see the Cross and we see Christ’s death on the Cross and we see ourselves hanging there. We see that image as the end of the journey and we are afraid.
But if we understand that Christ’s death on the Cross was necessary so that we could begin a new journey, we wouldn’t be afraid
So, our challenge today is to hear the call to repent and begin anew. You may choose to ignore this call because you are afraid. And the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning and the problems of the world will seem bigger and harder than ever before and you will have reason to be afraid. You will be afraid because you have no hope.
Or you can commit your life to Christ. It will not make the problems go away; it will not make the problems smaller or easier to solve. But it will take away that fear, that uncertainty that prevents you from solving the problems.
This is an unknown and uncharted path but you walk with Christ and many others so you need not be afraid. For in Christ comes the hope of tomorrow.