It’s Thursday Night and I’ll be back on the air with my weekly radio show “The Week That Is” on http://www.wovv.org 90.1 fm in Ocracoke, NC. Listen online from anywhere in the known universe or on the fm dial locally.
One thing the Protestant Reformers and Roman Catholic churches could agree was their mutual hatred for Copernicus and his heliocentric theories. After five hundred years, do the organized denominations still gang up on those who challenge the the orthodoxy of the day? Yes. Copernicus’ life and the response of men like Martin Luther and John Calvin have much to teach churches in the post-modern era.
The fear of death is premised largely on one idea; what comes next. What happens after we die? We are afraid to die because we are afraid of the unknown reality or unreality beyond death. For many people this takes the form of black and white, either/or debate. Will I go to heaven or will I go to hell? At this time of year, the emphasis seems to be on hell (though in reality it never does stray far “the bad place”). Demons and ghouls emerge from the shadows to frighten our moral souls. Those opposed to the activities of persons who practiced witchcraft in the 1500’s and prevent their children from dressing in a witches outfit for couple of hours one night a year also fear the creeping and eternal influence of evil beyond death. Are such actions damnable? Could we be held eternally liable? Am I going to Hell?
If you’re afraid to die and go to Hell, it would seem that the people who held the information to keep you out of Hell and safe in Jesus’ loving arms would hold immense power. Those people with the access and understanding to talk about such things would have a vested interest in wanting to keep the idea of death, fear, and Hell burning forever. If people weren’t motivated by a fear of death, or even going to Hell, what would they do?
I think you would hear constant conversations about love. The words wrath and condemnation would never enter into the picture. The old clichés would fall by the wayside and people would be constantly looking up to God instead of lugging the guilt and fear they carry now; the guilt and fear we need them to carry because fear is part and parcel keeping people terrified of their need for God. We don’t want people terrified. We want people longing for a living, normal, healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.
A faith without a fear of death or Hell would be grounded in benevolence for everyone. We would possess such an unbounded love for people our most important message would be that God’s love is not limited by our own mortality.
Christianity without a fear of death and Hell would have total trust in God to handle the geography, furniture, and thermostat in eternity. We don’t have that kind of trust right now. We don’t trust God enough but we do trust our own fear to know more about life after death and God’s business than God does. We are comfortable with our fears. We love our fears. We know them. It doesn’t have to be this way.
The fear system is far from broken,
the costume markets are always open,
you’re going to die says the man on TV,
take these drugs, don’t wait and see,
a virus from Africa stalks our streets,
men in space suits scare ghosts in sheets,
arterial plaque and hemorrhagic fever,
between clips of a drunken Justin Bieber,
this is the Halloween you asked for,
standing at our front doors,
courtesy of the good people,
the ones you’d never suspect,
the military, industrial, pharmaceutical,
and costume complex.
If there is one thing we are afraid of it is death. You can’t help but notice it. We want to live forever. That’s what medical advertisements and the pharmaceutical industry say to us each day. You can and should want to live forever with the quality of life you have come to know and expect as “normative” at this moment. You should never have to live with any degree of diminished capacity in an assisted living facility or hospital. Those places are places of death. That is this message we received. The fear of death is further compounded, glorified, and commercialized through the celebration of this thing we call “Halloween”. Scare me to the point of death, dress yourself in something scary (yet provocative), unleash your deepest fears and anxieties about death for one night. We then justify all of this psychological and pent-up emotional weirdness in the name of “the children” having fun and getting candy. Because when it’s about the kids having fun, who can really mock the adults for only remembering what’s like to be frightened? After all, how will our children learn to be frightened of death and carry on these bizarre rituals unless we teach them that death stalks in these colder months with shorter days? Yes, we’re afraid of death and we’ve made it into a celebration. We’ve allowed “Big Death” to become an industry that rivals its subsidiaries Big Oil and Big Pharma.
My point is this: we don’t have to be afraid of death. We choose to be. We don’t have to buy into the fear laced, Ebola laden, Halloween infused, these side-effects might kill you propaganda trying to convince us that death is the only undeniable reality of the human condition. When people accept such propaganda as truth, hope is eroded faster than the sands of the beaches that surround this island. Hopelessness is the living legacy of people who’ve bought into fear as a way of life. There is another reality; one that transcends death itself. There is a reality which is rooted in hope. It goes something like this: death need not be feared because death is not final. It’s a promise, made to us by those saints who have gone before us. It’s what scripture says.
Do I understand the physics and mathematics of that promise? Do I want to? Do I need to? No. For one, I believe the promise. With each sunrise and sunset I see on this island the reality of God’s presence beyond this finite realm becomes clearer each day. Secondly, my work is here, not there. I’m not working for a ticket out of here. I’m working so when I’m asked, “did you feed me, clothe me, and visit me in prison?” I can say yes. Let Jesus worry about getting us “up there”. Our work is here. Our preoccupation is not to be with what will get is to the afterlife. When we get so preoccupied with talking about the afterlife, the rapture, and whose left behind it’s like we’re second guessing the work Jesus has done. Christ doesn’t call us to hunker down in apocalypse bunkers feeding on each other’s negativity and hopelessness. We are called to be outside, on the front-lines, modeling our hope for everyone to see.
Everyone has an idea,
They’ve it figured out,
What to do,
And they tell me,
Times a day,
How the world
Must be saved,
From the evil,
We’ve gone astray
Let me say,
To the mob,
Get out of my way,
And let me do,
My sacred job.
1. I don’t believe there is a one size fits all version of Christianity.
2. I don’t believe all Christians should agree on 100% of everything.
3. There is strength in Christians holding a diversity of opinions.
4. Our faith journey is a work in progress.
5. Conversion is never a one-time event; God is always in the process of converting and reconverting our lives.
6. Love is more powerful than guilt. We learn this from Jesus.
7. Prayer is about listening and not about talking.
8. Scripture means more to us today by understanding the context in which it was written.
9. We have one story tell; the story of a world upended by the itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth.
10. Jesus teaches us to value people and relationships over processes and institutions.
1. Effectiveness can’t always be measured in an Excel spreadsheet or by other quantitative means. The effect you have on the lives of others may never be fully known. You are planting seeds that may grow into maturity long after today or this quarter has ended. How effective your work, words, and knowledge have been may not be realized by an arbitrary date on the calendar. While you may have to work within such a paradigm, this is not the true measure of effectiveness.
2. It’s important for us to measure our efforts by living up to the fullest potential of the gifts we have received. We’ve been gifted in certain areas. If we’re living up to our abilities in the areas where we most gifted we will be most effective in the day ahead.
3. Effectiveness is about creating a legacy, not a report. If you’re effective at what you do, your work continues beyond your physical presence. Ideas, motivation, inspiration keep going long after we move on.
What’s My Motivation?
“What’s my motivation?” I know you’ve heard that question before. It’s often asked by actors playing pretentious actors on television and in movies. It’s not a bad question. What motivates us to get up in the morning and be the person we are called to be? Why are we disciples? Why do we follow Jesus Christ? Why do we do “this”? I also see it as the underlying question behind these few verses Paul is writing to the Thessalonians in this morning’s lectionary reading.
1) Ultimately and always everything comes back to the Good News. We have one story to tell. It’s the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have to tell it, in the words of the BBC Radio 4 program “Just a Minute” without hesitation, deviation, or repetition. We can’t put words in Jesus’ mouth. Nor can we subtract from the words he said. We can’t make him out to be an icon of the religious right or the political left. He transcends any distinction. The kingdom of God is a place which operates beyond the conventional political boundaries created by the fall of the Roman Empire and the eventual rise of parliamentary democracy in Western Europe and representative democracy in the United States of America. Do we want to conform to his story or will we continue trying to mold him to our own story? Paul’s answer is clear. Conforming to Christ’s story is the only authentic answer.
2) Here’s where a direct quote comes in to play. “We aren’t trying to please people but we are trying to please God.” Who are we trying to please? Are we trying to please what our neighbors as to what constitutes a good Christian? Are we trying to please some kind of flawed internal standard that was warped when we were children or in a youth group as to what God really wanted from us and as a consequence we’ve always been trying to please other people? Pleasing God is our first priority. It always has been and always will be.
If we were in the business of pleasing people, we are in the wrong business. We are not in this for ourselves. We should be doing something else. Was Jesus in the business of pleasing people? If you look holistically, across the board, at his life and ministry, was it about pleasing people? No. It was about pleasing God. People’s lives were made better; infinitely better, through serving and pleasing God.
Is the message of the Good News ultimately about pleasing people or doing God’s will and reflecting God’s glory in our actions? In reflecting God’s glory in our actions and doing God’s will; letting people know the Good News (the one story), we are given the tools and the stage is set for their needs to be met.
3) Paul says, “As you know, we never used flattery.” There are two basic approaches (both in Paul’s day and our own) to sharing the gospel.
a) The “You sure to have a nice car, did I tell you that Jesus loves you?”
b) Or the “You dirty filthy miserable rotten no good sinner; you’re going straight to Hell.”
Paul says he neither flattered people nor did he unnecessarily condemn people outright and try to scare them into heaven. There is, with all good things, a middle ground. Jesus showed us this.
Jesus, Paul, (and you and I) showed us how to meet people where they are. If people are rich, poor, hungry, full, living in a shack, speaking English, or Spanish, they have the same spiritual and emotional needs. Jesus got that instinctively. If they were hungry, he fed them first. If they were sick, he made them better. Everybody was the same, a person searching for a better connection with God. Roman centurions loved their kids just like poor Samaritan widows did.
These are the things Paul says motivates us to keep going and do what we do.