July 2nd – Scott Harris – with audio

ROMANS 6:1B-11
MATTHEW 10:24-39

 The Opposite of Love

            Garry Trudeau, creator of the Doonesbury comic strip, tells the story about a man who considered himself a moth.  The man walked into a doctor’s office and said he needed help.  The doctor responded, “Well, I’m a general practitioner.  You need to see a psychiatrist.”  Whereupon the man replied, “Well, actually I was on my way to see him, but I noticed your light was on”

            Those who were attracted to Jesus were not moths, but they fluttered around him just as much.  It’s easy to figure out why.  The opening lines of John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is the true light that has come into the darkness of this world.  In Jesus time, as in ours, there is much darkness.

For those in the darkness of sickness of body and mind Jesus brings the light of healing.  For those who live in the darkness of neglect because they are poor or the elderly, Jesus calls them by name.  Those who are hated because they are foreigners excitedly buzz around Jesus because he accepts them as they are.  For the hungry Jesus feeds them.  For women who are denied their God-given human worth Jesus is the affirming light of hope in their darkness in an otherwise male dominated world.

But Jesus WAS not and IS not the welcomed light for everyone. Jesus’ light, then and now, reveals too much of some people’s carefully protected darkness.  Where many fluttered around Him, just as many hated him and secretly plotted against Him.  And such intense hated only resulted in Christ’s crucifixion and death.  But hatred not against Christ alone.

            Today we get a warning from Jesus.  As He is hated and demonized, Christ warns that many of His followers can expect the same.  Says Jesus: “A disciple is not above the teacher nor the slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.  If they call the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household?”

            It’s transparent, isn’t it, what Jesus means about being enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, to be like the master, with Jesus being both master and teacher?  But it’s the reference to Beelzebul that may seem puzzling.

            The word rolls easily off your lips–Beelzebul.  It also has an ominous sound to it.  Coming from the Hebrew, translated literally it means “Lord of the Flies,” or “moths” if you like. Author William Golding was not original when he titled his dark book, The Lord of the Flies.  But more than that: “Beelzebul” is first century hate speech accusing Jesus and his followers of being in league with the devil.  And such hate speech is not anchored in the past alone.  Moslems and immigrants are demonized today by hate speech and such demonization’s intent is to dehumanize.      

So Jesus announces to His followers: “If they call me the Master of irritating flies, in league with the devil, as my disciples, what does that make you?”

We need this message of Jesus especially today when Christians in some circles have become cozy bedfellows with politics, and even cozier bedfellows with our culture.  For many, being a Christian, especially the Conservative Evangelical Right, has become politically and culturally comfortable. The danger always facing the church is that it can become nothing more than a rubber stamp to how we live.  It’s not just unhealthy but spiritually dangerous so much so that we are destroyed in body and soul as Christ warns will happen.  Do you think that this isn’t so?

Author Kathleen Turner tells of the time when she attended the church of a friend.  At the time of prayers she was stunned when she heard the pastor pray, “O Lord, be with our president, our country, our military.  We pray for peace in the world.  We really do.  But, Oh Lord, not at the expense of our way of life.”

 “At first Turner felt physically ill, but upon further reflection she had to grant the pastor that he was at least being honest.  Don’t we all want peace so long as it is not at the expense of our way of life?”  Don’t we?

Be warned, however, if you accept that pastoral prayer, then the whole of Jesus Christ’s life is meaningless—His life, His death, His resurrection from dead—meaningless. 

Contrary to the pastor’s prayer, Christ does not live among us to baptize the status quo, as if to support our way of life. The whole of Christ’s life is aimed at altering the status quo, upsetting it, turning upside down our way of life when need be.   None other that Martin Luther King understood that.

It was King, who in the name of Jesus Christ, marshaled the forces of justice and peace to challenge the acceptable ways of segregation, racism, and bigotry.  It’s called the civil rights movement, and it’s not over.  While Martin Luther King is gone, alive and thriving still are segregation, racism, and bigotry—the status quo of our way of living.

As King was hated and demonized by some, so was Christ.  Today’s gospel lesson makes that patently clear.  But remarkably, to such demonizing name-calling Jesus shows no fear. But Christ knows that one of our greatest weaknesses is giving into our fears.

Immediately after Jesus warns His followers that they too will be demonized as nothing more than irritating flies because they are his followers, Jesus adds this: “So have no fear of them.”  Then says this: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”  Jesus is out to save more than our skin.  He is hotly campaigning to save our souls knowing that our greatest enemy is fear.

So when it comes to fear, what of us?  Look at it this way: did you ever wonder how historians will label this period of time in which we live? For example, earlier there was the Gilded Age.  Then the Roaring Twenties.  Then the Fabulous ‘50’s.  The Turbulent ‘60’s.  As for us, will we be remembered as the Age of Fear and Hate?

Speaking of which, can any of you identify these song lyrics:

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year

It’s got to be drummed

In your little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught

 

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

 

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late.

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Sound familiar?  The lyrics are from the musical South Pacific, 1949.  1949, on the eve of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s hate and fear mongering campaign of communists infiltrating our country to do us harm. Was that when America was great?  Then how about these words?  See if you can identify who said this.

“Make no mistake, we are a nation under attack…. We are under attack from terrorism both within and outside our borders.  These man and women are without conscience, and they operate without rules.  They despise the United States, because we are nation of rights, of laws and freedom.  They have a single mission, and that is our destruction.”  No, not Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Those are the recent words of John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security—an oxymoron if there ever was one making him sound like the Secretary of Homeland Insecurity.  In Mr. Kelly’s recent speech to lawmakers he admonished them to get tough on Moslems and immigrants because they pose a threat to our security.  In response to Mr. Kelly’s words an editorial titled, “Fear Mongering at Homeland Security,” offers its own warning: 

“That apocalyptic talk (of Mr. Kelly) turns the Islamophobia and immigrant scapegoating that turbocharged (the recent presidential campaign) into marching orders for federal law enforcement agents and bureaucrats. . .. The bashing of Muslims, meanwhile, is music to the ears of extremists, violent organizations that have used the notion that America is at war with Islam as a recruiting tool. . .. But even more alarming is (Mr. Kelly’s) unrestrained fear mongering.  If Americans take his discourse at face value, they will be living in a paranoid society willing to trade fundamental freedoms and principles for a sense of security.”

As the song lyrics say: “You’ve got to be taught/to hate and fear/You’ve got to be taught from year to year….” Month to month?  Week to week?  Day to day? 

As for hate and fear, we are good that that. But to that same hate and fear Christ says, “So have no fear. . .What I tell you in the dark tell it in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.  Do not fear. . . ” 

Christ knows, what many have yet to learn is that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear.  As scripture says: “Perfect love casts out fear.”  Those words we don’t heed or hear often enough.  Perfect love casts out fear. That explains why today’s lesson begins and ends as it does.

Today’s gospel begins with its own brand of hate and fearmongering generated by those accusing Jesus and his followers of being in league with Beelzebul. The same lessons ends with the lyrics of transforming love. Says Christ:

“Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

 If we leave here today with Jesus’ words ringing in our ears we may think that Christ wants to destroy our most cherished relationships of father, mother, son, daughter.  Jesus does not say stop loving your parents, imperfect as they are.  Christ does not say stop loving your son or daughter because they disappoint you or betray you.  But Christ makes it clear that one can only love another person, truly love one another person, despite of what or who they are, by loving Christ first. 

To love Christ first then equips us to see others with the same love that Christ loves us—despite who we are.  And love not just narrowly restricted to one’s family.  Christ only starts there to then expand such love to include people with whom we are not even related–the stranger, the foreigner, an immigrant, even a perceived enemy—such love being an act of defiance against the status quo of fear and hate. To love Christ first means to lose your old life and then by following Christ finding your life perhaps for the first time, and discovering what love really means.

It’s Christ love for us, Christ’s perfect love, which casts out our fears. Even the fear of death.  Christ’s perfect love given us and shown to us in his life, death and resurrection from the dead never to die again. Jesus Christ the life and love that is perfect.  Christ’s light in the darkness of this world.

So, welcome to Christ’s Church.  Did you notice that the light is on?  Christ is among us.  It’s time to love.  Christ first.  Then in the name of Christ love each other.  In the name of the resurrected Christ, the light of the world, do you see?   

 

 

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