3 Advent A—12/11/16
Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Pr. Scott Kramer
Did you know that KFC–Kentucky Fried Chicken–has been licensed to sell marijuana in Colorado? Did you know that loggers in South America have cut down the world’s oldest tree? Did you know that a Texas turkey farm was found to be contaminated with the Ebola virus? Did you know that Facebook is reporting the names of gun owners to the Department of Homeland Security? Did you know that…none of these stories is true. All of these stories have been reported, but none of them is true!
One of the big news stories of this year 2016 is…fake news! Millions of people are being taken in by hoaxes and rumors and fake internet news sites. In this Advent season of being watchful and awake, we ponder fake news.
As far as we know, Jesus never had a Facebook account or a laptop computer or a smart phone or a TV. But rumors and lies and deception were part of his world, just as they are part of ours. It wasn’t always easy to sort out fact from fiction.
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see…
Sounds simple enough–but hearing and seeing are not always reliable, are they! We hear many things in the news. If a story fits our world view and confirms what we already believe–no matter how outlandish—there’s a good chance we’ll believe it. Seeing is no guarantee of knowing the truth, either. Digital technology, for example, is so advanced that we can’t even guarantee if a photo is genuine.
Go and tell John what you hear and see…
How are we supposed to know what’s true? Our spiritual ancestors had an answer for that. We pay attention to them! In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah speaks of a time when
the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
Jesus speaks not of fake news, but of Good News! Go and tell John what you hear and see–not because what you hear and see looks good or sounds good or feels good or supports what you already believe but because what you see and hear in Jesus confirms who God has been revealed to be to God’s people for hundreds, and even thousands, of years.
The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
Here it is in a nutshell: God’s love is for all people, no matter what. AND, while that’s true, God does take sides! According to the stories of our faith, when God takes sides, it’s on behalf of the poor, the persecuted, the powerless, the voiceless. The God we worship, as today’s psalm reminds us,
gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who hunger. The Lord sets the captive free. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind…the Lord cares for the stranger; the Lord sustains the orphan and widow.
This is who God is. Therefore, this is who we are!
I met a pastor this past week who had just returned from the Standing Rock community in the Dakotas, standing with Native peoples who are up against the economic and political might of the rich and powerful.
This pastor has a huge heart; when she’s not at Standing Rock, here at home she visits people in prison. In response to her prison visits she said she’s gotten what she calls “hate mail” from some members of her congregation. “You should be visiting our homebound people,” they say.
Here is an example of Christians who have lost their way. These who complain have forgotten what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We Christians do take care of our own, but so do criminals and bigots and gang members. What identifies disciples of Jesus is not how well we take care of those who are like us but how we treat those invisible ones who have been ignored and cast aside by society, as those U.S. veterans showed us at Standing Rock this past week.
The good news of Jesus Christ is for all people. But there are many who will hear this good news as bad news, and maybe we’re among them! In today’s reading from Matthew Jesus says, “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Who among us does not take offense at Jesus? Only those who have nothing will hear good news!
The rest of us, if we’re awake, can only take offense at Jesus—at least at first. I was at Bible study with my pastor friends this past week and we found ourselves laughing at the absurdity of our situation. This time of year we hear Mary’s song of praise in Luke, ch. 1, which we call the Magnificat:
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
Good news? Yes! If you’re poor. If you’re powerless. If you’re an immigrant or refugee or without a voice. The gospel of Jesus Christ is very good news. But among those of us who benefit from the way things are and just want to keep it that way, or maybe even roll back progress that’s been made, Mary’s song may sound like very bad news.
We know the appeal of fake news, right? It’s geared toward what we want to hear: “Jesus doesn’t care how you live because God loves all people.” “Jesus doesn’t care how you live your life because you’re baptized.” “Jesus doesn’t care how you live your life because you go to church.”
That’s fake news! Fake news appeals to people who are not interested in repentance, not interested in changing direction, not interested in following Jesus. It is so much easier to chase after fake news or make up our own news, even if it doesn’t square with Jesus’ teachings and priorities.
What is our God to make of us Americans, do you think? We who chase after fake news, we who have chosen a master liar as our leader, a man who is surrounding himself with a wolf pack—people whose track records represent interests decidedly hostile to the poor, the oppressed, the powerless, the voiceless, the sick, the hungry, the immigrant, the refugee, the person of color, the sexual minority. What chance do such people have in the years ahead?
Did you know that Washington is now one of the top five states in the nation for hate crimes? Sadly, that’s not fake news! For many of God’s children, the result of last month’s election may be very, very bad news.
BUT…only for a while! Our Advent readings assure us that nothing in this life is forever. Good News has a habit of bubbling up, no matter how bleak things look, and God does side with the oppressed, as the prophet Isaiah proclaims:
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.
People of God, we can’t stop fake news. But we can proclaim Good News! In Advent—watchful and waiting, we remember who we are…and whose we are!