January 28, 2001
Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
CHRISTIAN GOSPEL: Not What They Wanted to Hear ~ Luke 4:21-30
Some people are saying that George W.'s honeymoon is over already. It's been a busy week for President Bush - support for school vouchers and no support for reproductive rights for women. The critics are already speaking out and it looks like, if George W. ever did have a honeymoon, it is over already. Now the crowd, the masses, always have had a strange relationship with leaders and with celebrities. We like to be on their bandwagon when they're on the rise. But once they're in the position at the top, we are perfectly willing to turn our backs on them or turn against them. How many times have you stood in the line at the grocery store and looked through the tabloids filled with stories about the beautiful people and all of the problems that attack their lives? It seems that when there is a public figure, we project our hopes and dreams on that person expecting them to be the answer that we're looking for. When they're not, we're willing to throw them away quickly and project those hopes and expectations onto a new person. The cycle goes over and over again. I've seen it happen in churches, have experienced some of it in churches. Where people are very supportive of the pastor until the wrong word is said, the wrong project is proposed and then the minister can do no good and the people have turned. I've seen pastors serve faithfully with a great relationship with congregations for ten and fifteen years, then something happens and the love is gone quickly.
Jesus experienced these same kinds of things. Perhaps the most powerful story is from Holy Week. Jesus comes into Jerusalem and the crowds are cheering, crying out their words of praise and support, tearing branches off the trees to lay down in the road, taking off their cloaks, so that the donkey might walk on a clean path. It's only a few days before arrest and trial Now those people who cried out, "Hosanna, Son of David." are now shouting, "Crucify him. Put the joker to death. We have had it with him." How can people turn so quickly? How can the good that he did be forgotten?
We have another example in this story in the Scripture from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus is going back home again. We've had stories about him when he was twelve years old at the temple. But there is a big gap between that time and the beginning of his ministry. This is shortly after we pick up the story again. Jesus has been out in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights, tempted by Satan and now he's back in his hometown. He goes to the synagogue and he's been asked to read the scripture for the day. He reads scripture about helping those who are in need. This has always been the bottom line for the Jewish faith and the Christian faith: helping those who are in need. If you say, "You know, I would really like to do something to help humanity." Nobody is going to criticize you. People are going to say, "Yah that's good. Good for you. Go ahead and work on that." But then he said a little bit more. He said, "When we're talking about the oppressed and the blind and the needy, you're thinking about yourselves. You're thinking about your friends, your neighbors. You're thinking about the people that you like. You're excited about the possibility of helping all of those folks, but let me say a little bit more. I'm talking about the people that you don't like. I'm talking about the people you hate, the people that you can't stand. When the prophets came they didn't come just to help the Jews, the sons of Abraham. There were widows and lepers. And God's love was poured out for them."
Luke doesn't waste any words. He doesn't give any psychological background about why the crowd is upset. He says, "They were immediately furious." From "Isn't this kid great, that's Joe's boy." to "Let's throw him out of town, let's tar and feather him, get him out of here." Just like that. When you cross the hopes and expectations of the crowd, they're ready to throw you out and hang those hopes and expectations on the next person to walk down the road.
The word that I use for all of this is a "consumer mentality." Consumer advocacy is the positive spin on this whole idea. The name that comes to mind for me when I think about consumer advocacy or consumer mentality is Ralph Nader. Early this past week, Dave Ross from KIRO radio was putting out an all-points bulletin asking, "Where is Ralph Nader?" He was trying to get Nader on his show. He wasn't able to make contact and so he proclaimed, "Ralph Nader is missing." I heard by the end of the week they were finally able to make contact and Nader was scheduled to be on the show. I'm not sure what he had to say. For me his name will always be tied to consumer advocacy. Certainly he was right in pushing for people to demand quality in a product. To demand responsibility from a company. I think that those concerns are appropriate. We've taken those concerns and pushed them further and further and further to the point where they had become "me first," "not in my backyard." If I don't like it, it's not going to happen. I paid my money and I want what I paid for. An antagonistic response, an adversarial relationship in which we are insistent that things have to be the way that we want them to be or we're going to take our ball and go home. We're all guilty of this. I know that I'm guilty of this in my life. When I go and buy a product, I want the product to work. I want it to work like it's supposed to work. After I've spent all the time researching and preparing myself for the purchase I want it to be the way it's supposed to be. If I go and give my time and energy to an organization, I want that organization to function well, to be effective and to make a difference in the world. That's why I signed as a member.
The me first, the not in my backyard, the consumer mentality misses out on the whole element of love, the whole concept of a covenant relationship of people that are involved with one another. If you want to do the most constructive thing, then you need to work together. That's what consumer advocacy was about in the beginning. For people to work together with companies to produce good products. We don't want the companies to go out of business. We need the things that they produce, but we want them to produce quality goods that are going to be good for the society. When we start to demand that things have to be our way, that we have to be the ones that get the benefit, then we've gone too far astray and we miss out on the very thing that Jesus was trying to share with us.
Jesus was always countering the law, the rules. The rules were developed over time so that people knew that they were getting a quality product. If you follow the rules, if you pay your money you'll get the reward you're looking for. Guaranteed. And Jesus said, "It's not that way. It's not just about following the rules. It's about spirit. It's about heart. It's about the way you live with people, the way you share yourselves with others. People are more important than rules. You have to have the right spirit about things. You have to be working together in a community for the common good."
We're a country of rugged individualists - moving west across the prairie, leaving behind home and family in some far off land, coming here for a new start, for a new opportunity. We're uncomfortable with the idea that we need to work together with everyone else. That's the reality of it. But we're not individuals. We're a community. A community of people created by God. The more that we can work together and help each one share the gifts that a person has to contribute, the more that we will be the kind of people God wants us to be. May God's Spirit speak to us today. Help us to see past our consumer mentality. Help us to share God's love with all people. Thanks be to God. Amen.