Sermon Archives

No Little Disturbance ~ Acts 19:23-27

I, like hundreds of millions of people across this country and across the globe, tuned in to this year’s Super Bowl… yes, to watch the game but more to watch the commercials. I think Pittsburgh lost… which is a good thing! (Although that will cause “no little disturbance” among some of you.)

I Googled “Super Bowl Ads” in order to refresh my memory. I liked the one about Detroit making cars. The VW Jetta ad about the little child dressed up as Darth Vader thinking that the power of the “Force” actually turned the lights on in his father’s new car was cute. The one about the power of Dorito’s to bring things back to life was clever. A guy left to take care of his friends stuff doesn’t water the flower or feed the fish so they both die. Moments before his friend returns, the guy sprinkles Dorito crumbs in the vase and restores the flower. He sprinkles Doritos into the bowl and the fish lives. He even resurrects the grandfather whose urn has broken on the floor and whose ashes had been scattered about.

From watching the ads an essential truth remains: sex sells, and we love our beer and cars. They are the small deities that serve the greater god of capitalism; the free market working its power, encouraging us to make choices and to spend. It creates wealth, creates jobs, and gets us out of recession and all of that.

And I am have to admit – I love sports, I like to spend money and buy things; it makes me feel better sometimes. So I am well aware of the hypocrisy of what I am about to say. I confess it. I line up right there with St. Paul when he expressed “I am the worst of sinners.”

But I am disturbed by how easily I am bow down to the gods’ of materialism. I worry about the world my kids will inherit – a disposable world, easy come, easy go – you can get whatever you want, really whenever you want it. It is all about money and wealth creation and looking “hot” and having things.

It causes “no little disturbance” in me how, as a Christian, I should respond. I don’t want to feel guilty, I want to feel empowered.

H. Richard Niehbur, wrote a book entitled “Christ and Culture” about 50 years ago. He explored how Christians struggle to live a life recognizably different from the dominant culture. Christians should never feel completely at ease in this world. Our call to follow Jesus Christ will always stir things up whether we mean to do that or not. Jesus Christ and him crucified will always disturb, always judge systems and structures, political, economic, personal, social – always. We are citizens, St. Paul reminds us, of another country. We are resident aliens on this earth, never completely at home. Paul in Romans wrote: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good, acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

Christians are always in the midst and on the edge. Our call is to bring the marginalized into the center. But as Christians we are always, by definition, somewhat marginalized by our identity and by our actions.

Back in the 50’s everyone went to church. Forest Hill had over1,500 members. But then this young preacher – Ned Edwards – caused “no little disturbance” moving us beyond these walls into the world, becoming active in the issues of the day. In just a few weeks, we lost half our members and most of the wealthy ones.

And Noble Road Church, just a mile from here, caused “no little disturbance” by becoming a “More Light Church” and it cost them members as well. Likewise, the minister of the church I grew up in caused “no little disturbance” when he told the Session he was marching in Selma.

I will never forget the comments of a young Christian leader in Ethiopia who I met years ago. He had been in prison – tortured by the oppressive regime in power – just because he was a Christian. The regime had been replaced by one more friendly to people of faith and he was released. He was part of a fast growing church – it was spreading like wild fire. But he told me that he wasn’t quite sure he liked it now. To him, the faith had lost its power to disturb.

Last week’s service was so exhilarating – but it could cause “no little disturbance” if we began to really look like a Christian community of various abilities, or reflected the true racial diversity of our community.

It causes me “no little disturbance” that the program staff is all white and the custodial staff isn’t.

Cutting benevolences and freezing salaries in this current budget caused “no little disturbance.”

It is a funny way to be and a weird way to live – to have one foot here and one foot there; claiming an identity that puts us at odds with everything.

The national conversation about balancing the budget is causing me no little disturbance. We could cut our military spending in half and still spend more on defense then the next number of nations in the world combined. Planned Parenthood could stay open. After-school programs and feeding programs and job training programs could be fully funded. It causes me no little disturbance how teachers are depicted by some as greedy radicals. And we dismiss environmental concerns and keep the oil pipeline open.

There was an interesting conversation between my brother who works for the State Department and my cousin’s husband whose daughter serves in the armed forces playing clarinet in the military band. My cousin’s husband believes that there are too many diplomats in the world and he said so. My brother was too polite to come back with the obvious response about perhaps there were too many clarinets in uniform. It would have caused no little disturbance.

It causes me no little disturbance that when all is said and done, the ones on the margin will be hurt the most: The ones without education, the ones without training, the ones without transportation, the ones who go to the emergency rooms for primary care, the ones who deal with check cashing services instead of banks, the ones who live in neighborhoods devastated with foreclosed properties, the ones with little or no hope of ever buying a house, or a car, and doing anything but the lowest job of survival.

“About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way.” (v. 23)

Demetrius, a silver smith, a very smart man, saw what others didn’t see – this Christian message was problematic. He correctly pointed out that Paul’s message – that “gods made with hands are not gods.” (v. 26) – was hurting business.  Who would have thought that monotheism would cause such a stir?

So Demetrius calls those who made their money producing charms for the tourists together. A lot of people made a living on the occupation of making silver shrines for the goddess Artemis. The city of Ephesus depended on this cash cow. The Roman Empire protected such entrepreneurship. Don’t mess with Artemis, or Pepsi, or BP, or Chief Wahoo or oh yes, the “invisible hand” of the gods of Wall Street.

Demetrius merely did what the tobacco barons did and what every institution does (churches too): he circled the wagons to protect the assets. The powers that be protect the status quo. Those who control want to stay in control. Those who benefit from the structures will go to any length to keep it. It is an age-old story. And in every age and culture, the gospel of Jesus Christ still causes “no little disturbance.” The gospel is not supposed to support the social network, it is supposed to turn it on its head.

Who would have thought that something like “Blessed are the peacemakers” would cause “no little disturbance” at the Pentagon?

Who would have imagined that “there are no free or slave, Jew or Greek, male or female” would cause no little disturbance in South Africa or in the statehouses of our country in the 1960’s?

St. Paul didn’t mean to get political, he was just preaching.

“Considering the lilies,” forgiving sinners and welcoming all to the table doesn’t sound very radical to me…and yet these teachings continue to cause no little disturbance in my life.

Jesus may calm the troubled waters my soul but the spirit of Jesus rages against the ways I try to protect myself. Jesus stirs up all the tensions, even as he says “Come to me, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The message of the gospel may comfort the afflicted, but it surely also afflicts the comfortable.

In your own life; try to name your “gods” – the things you think are the most important things. How do they stack up against the Way, the truth and the light that is ours in Jesus Christ. I won’t tell you who your “gods” are, because I am too busy trying to be honest with my own. I don’t want to judge you because that would be like telling you to take the speck out of your own eye, while a big log is sticking out of mine. I just want us to have the courage to change and stand for something.

All I am saying is that the Way still causes no little disturbance. As William Faulkner once wrote: “The past isn’t dead…It isn’t even past!”

I started with a reference to the Super Bowl and I will close with one too. Walter Brueggeman, a modern prophetic voice, wrote a prayer for Super Bowl Sunday.

“The world of fast money and loud talk, and much hype is upon us. We praise huge men whose names will linger only briefly… We show up, most of us, for such a circus, and such an indulgence. Loud clashing bodies, violence within rules, and money and merchandise and music. And you, God, – today like every day – you govern and watch and summon; you are glad when there is joy in the earth, BUT you notice our liturgies of disregard and our litanies of selves made too big, our fascination with machismo power, and lust for bodies and for big bucks… And around you gather today, as every day, elsewhere uninvited but noticed acutely by you, those disabled and gone feeble, those alone and failed, those uninvited and shamed. And you, whose gift is more than “super” – overflowing, abundant, adequate, all sufficient…. May we remember that our life consists not in things we consume but in neighbors we embrace.”

I will still enjoy the Super Bowl and watch the commercials, I will still spend my money and seek to protect my way of life, but, with no little disturbance, because “gods made with hands are no gods” and because I claim to be a member of the WAY.