Rev. Canon Dr. William J. Danaher Jr.
Sunday, January 27th, 2019
(This sermon has been transcribed from live video. Please click here to watch the video version.)
A couple of weeks ago I had one of those moments in life when you have a bit of insomnia. So at about 1:30 in the morning, I found myself up and having some trouble getting back to sleep. I did something that you should never do when you’re trying to fall asleep, when you have a little bit of insomnia, there are public service announcements about this. They say, you should never do – and I did it which is, I picked up my iPad. I picked up my technology and there are people that will tell you that, that is as dangerous as smoking in bed. You shouldn’t do it.
But I did it. I picked it up and then I began to scroll through things and I went to CNN which was a bad idea. Not because of the news that it reports but because at the bottom of the CNN webpage there are all these little listicles, all these little clicks, this clickbait that if you click on it, you will be lost for hours. Following the next line that will load very slowly because they want you to kind of be tantalized by what is next. And they have these advertisements that will say, you will never believe what she looks like now. And you click on it and you are there and over time, you get these advertisements. Well, I knew enough not to click on that. That clickbait kind of went by the largemouth bass of my attention.
But then I saw something that I couldn’t resist and I’m a little embarrassed to admit. I saw this advertisement that said, these guys have reinvented the adult onesie. And it showed these guys with these incredible wondrous beards in an action-filled adventure. Together, they’re there and there were so many accoutrements of action stuff. There were kayaks and there were tents and they are hanging around and they’re all wearing their onesies and I clicked on it. And I became engrossed. It was a special onesie. It’s called the Tuxy. It looks like you’re wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants. It looks like a two-piece but in fact, it’s a onesie. The comfort is known largely to you. And I found myself looking at all these images of action and fun and camaraderie and then I did something I shouldn’t have done.
I went on Amazon.com and I typed in “Tuxy” and it appeared. It was only a $169. And I clicked “Purchase”. And then I closed the iPad and I put it down by my bed and I went to sleep. I don’t know why – that something made me drowsy. And I woke up the next morning and there were two emails that were top of the queue. One was that my purchase had gone through and the second was the good news that my Tuxy was already shipped. It was on its way. And so last Sunday, my Tuxy came in and my daughter Phoebe was back from school and everybody was there and my family decided there’d be a fashion show after church. So I went upstairs and I put it on and I realized as soon as I zipped it up which, it wasn’t – the zipper is on the side which is not quite what you can do when you’re 53 years old.
It’s a little hard to get into but I got it on and I suddenly realized that these models in the advertisement, they were young men full of beard but quite narrow at hip and butt and so – and over the years, I’ve become a little presidential and it didn’t quite look as lethal as I was hoping for. I didn’t look like, you know, a professional athlete that was off duty. I kind of looked like I am, a middle-aged man in a onesie which was kind of ridiculous. So, I went downstairs dutifully and Claire said, “Oh, that’s adorable.” Ladies, never say that to your husband. Never say that to a man. No man wants to be known as adorable. The Tuxy had a cargo. It was not adorable. It’s as bad as saying, that’s cute to a woman. You should never say that, that’s cute. If you’re going to say anything to a woman, you say, it’s fun. What you’re wearing are fun, not cute.
And I guess, it would have been better if I heard, oh that looks fun. But it took a little getting used to. And I’ve been wearing it dutifully because I’m all in at $169. And I suppose that onesies are a little bit like swimsuits. You can’t really return them because they lie close to the skin. And I’m getting used to it. And all of this, I think, communicated to me this incredible power and this incredible proclivity that I have developed over the years. Somehow over the last 20 years or so, I’ve become a little more impulsive with my buying. I see something and it can get at me and it knows how to create a reality that I’ll inhabit when I’m online so that all I do is see what I want.
And of course, in the old days, that kind of impulse buying usually had to go someplace to fall captive to it. About 15 years ago, I went to Costco and we had just moved to Canada and our Electrolux was kind of beaten up and I saw the Dyson vacuum cleaner. And it was just me and my daughters. And I looked at that and I suddenly heard in my mind, the words of the Dyson founder, “I think things should work better.” And even though that was a $500 vacuum cleaner, I picked it up and I put it in the shopping cart and Phoebe turned to me and she said, “Mom is going to kill you.” But I bought it. And it was fantastic.
And that success story maybe weakened me a little bit, but I think in fact, it’s due to the way in which we inhabit reality online. We are being watched and we are having a reality that is created for us and that reality wants us to engage in an impulsive buy. And I know this most recently because as soon as I looked at the Tuxy, suddenly on my Facebook page, it was full of Tuxy ads. How did they know that? Someone knew that. Someone exploited it to their advantage, not mine.
And this raises for me a kind of serious issue because you see as psychologists will tell us that, that reward center of the brain, it’s the same part of the brain that determines fight or flight. The amygdala. The place of the brain that kind of responds with a fight or flight is now being harnessed by social media to get at our reward center. And it’s even people such as ourselves, even people like me can fall prey to those kinds of messages. And this actually is an incredibly important thing for us to notice as Christians. Because I think a great deal hinges on our community not being mediated screen to screen but face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder and hand-to-hand and heart-to-heart.
Christianity is a way of life in relation to each other. So that we can see in each other Christ and that almost always means that Christianity when it’s well lived will bring together people from very different perspectives so that each may find in the other their salvation. So that each might be challenged and comforted and encouraged by the faces they meet, by the life that is lived.
And this is a serious question for me because I think a great deal rides upon it. On January 18th, there was a confrontation that happened at the Lincoln Memorial. You had three groups that were vying for the same space. You had the Black Hebrew Israelites who were baiting a group of high school students from Covington Catholic High who had come to march in the March for Life and they were wearing, it’s an all-boys school. They were wearing MAGA hats. Then you had a group of indigenous peoples who had come for the Indigenous Peoples March and in that group was Nathan Phillips who is someone from Ypsilanti and who was a Native American and who decided to somehow get involved when a confrontation began to happen.
And this confrontation was something that spun out of control when social media got hold of it. And there was a huge amount of vilification of others. And everybody took umbrage. It was amazing to me. Every person retreated to some of their most basic beliefs and took umbrage at what happened. And the thing that struck me more than the fact that there was a confrontation was the way in which our world, the social media world we’ve created for ourselves has actually become a kind of theater of our desires and a kind of echo chamber.
And there was no room in that reality for a complex truth. I’ve been thinking back upon those, that kind of confrontation and all of the people that have commented on it, nobody has noticed the fact it seems. That all three of those groups are religious groups. The Hebrew Israelites were motivated by a belief that they are the true descendants of the Nation of Israel. And of course, the group from Covington Catholic High, they were going there to march for life to protest abortion. Based on their beliefs. And, finally, even Nathan Phillips, even his work with the American Indian movement, the song that they chanted, that was actually, originally at its core a religious movement.
The American Indian movement was initially funded heavily by the National Council of Churches. It was its largest contributor when it started in the 60s. True. And while he was doing that beating of the drum, that was a prayer. So, the problem I have with what happened there is that you had three different representatives of three different views of religion and they had a conflict over space. So, you and I are called as Christians to inhabit the space of this world differently. You and I are called as Christians to use the beliefs we have to create a kind of world loyalty that goes with the grain of the world loyalty of Jesus.
When Jesus is born to us, he comes not because Jesus wants to institute some kind of righteousness that is unattainable or some kind of ideal that has escaped us. Jesus has come into a broken world hoping that through his own breaking, it might be made whole and that love would reign and that the body of Christ which you and I are members of today, that, that body of Christ would be big enough to welcome all.
And all of this is at stake in our reading from the Gospel of Luke. And our reading for today, Jesus stands up – and this is the moment in which He decides to respond to everything that God has done in His life, to respond to the moment, when He was baptized and God says, you are my beloved son. Today, I have begotten you. To respond to the testing that He has suffered in the wilderness when He is tempted, He comes to Nazareth, His hometown, and He says, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me.
And that is not an exercise in impulsivity. It’s Jesus’s answer to an amazing call by God. That Jesus understanding that love and covenantal responsibility requires a kind of disciplined endurance, a kind of durability in the face of opposition that love means fidelity. And when Jesus says, the Spirit of Lord is upon me, to preach good news to the poor, He is bringing a whole new world into being through his life. And He says to the crowd, today the scriptures have been fulfilled. And the crowd becomes impulsive. What we did not read is that their immediate reaction is that Jesus would do the kinds of cures that He did elsewhere. So that He would remove their pain and give them a bit of pleasure, you see. And when Jesus tells them in quite tactful ways that the kingdom of God is not about that. They take Him to a high hill and they try to throw Him over it. And Jesus instead passes through their midst because His time has not yet come. But love incarnate begins, you see.
In our hymn today, there is this incredible line. It seems to summarize the love commitment of Jesus, the durability of being a disciple of Jesus. The commitment and discipline of following Jesus. It all stems from Jesus’s own fidelity to us and Jesus’s fidelity of God. This is what it says on the last line, the tide of time shall never His covenant remove. The tide of time shall never His covenant remove. Christ has come into our midst to be the agent of a new covenant. To bring forth a new kind of community so that we would have love for this world. And so, love God who made it.
You and I are called and we have lived up to a founding vision by our founders which we summarize through a vision that is four-fold where we say, that we are all called to meet Jesus. We are all called to find joy. We are all called to share beauty and we are all called to serve others. Each of our readings has something to say about each of those activities that we do. Each of those callings. And so, in our reading from the first, from the Old Testament, we have a line in which we have Nehemiah quoting Ezra saying, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. That joy comes after the people have been incredibly disciplined and rebuilt Jerusalem while they were trying to return from exile.
And in our reading from the Psalms, we have an incredible language of excellence which is a kind of language of beauty. So, in our first reading, we have the whole idea of finding joy. Joy comes when we get a bit durable and we get a bit disciplined in how we live our lives. And beauty comes when we see the love of the Lord as our light, when we treat it as finer than gold and sweeter than honey. And then finally, we have in our reading from 1 Corinthians an incredible vision of service. And service to others in 1 Corinthians is the determination and discipline that says that we never say to one another, I have no need of you. I need you and you need me and each of us brings gifts and these gifts are profound and they will change us because God will change us through God’s grace given through Jesus Christ, and that is the gospel.
And of course, finally, we have in our reading for today, the moment in which we meet Jesus spirit filled. The project here, the work we have to do is for us to meet a spirit filled Jesus in our lives. The work you and I have done this past year has been incredibly profound. We have not only grown as a congregation but we have gone deeper in our faith. But the project ahead of us is now to live into the durability of Christian discipleship together. To be steadfast in our love and steadfast in our loyalty.
David Brooks wrote a beautiful essay earlier this week in which he talked about the work of Josiah Royce, who was an incredible philosopher. Royce wrote – he is the originator of the term, the “beloved community.” It happened in a book on ethics that he published in the early 20th century called the Philosophy of Loyalty, 1908. And in it Joyce said that we all are complete not by being able to tolerate one another but by somehow committing our lives to each other. And when we commit our lives to each other, when we dedicate ourselves to a cause, a cause that completes us, Royce says that we somehow begin to experience the true meaning of life which is that we all work together so that we become servants of a city, he writes, we have not yet seen.
All of that goes with the grain of the gospel. Are you willing to follow Jesus on His way to Jerusalem? Are you willing to be and folded in His love? Are you willing to build a community that is not brought together screen to screen but face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder and heart-to-heart? Are you willing to lift up and show some light on what God is doing here and now among us? And are you willing to see that light and that truth wherever it comes from and whatever it costs? This is what it means. To follow a Lord who says, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me. May that same spirit be upon you and me and us together.