In the (approximately) 5.6 seconds I’ve had to watch the news this week, I am sorry to say that I have learned entirely too much about the website “Ashley Madison” and the recent information breach they experienced. Now, if you don’t know about this, I am going to attempt to make this as “PG” as possible. Ashley Madison is a website that exists solely for the purpose of helping married people have affairs. The website, according to sources, had 30 million users. These were people paying to have affairs. And, as reliable as technology can be, it can also be very unreliable. And in the last few weeks, the names, addresses, email addresses, and other personal information for users of this website were released to the public. These “John and Jane Doe” types had been outed. And the public and media ate it up.
This was especially true when some of the names of those involved in the website were made public and it turned out to be several people heavily involved in Evangelical Christian movements. Those types preaching and talking about the sanctity of marriage all while going online to find a special friend. What is it about us that loves to see the mighty and powerful fall? And it’s when people say “see…they’re not any better than the rest of us” that I wonder what that is saying about the “rest of us.” So, I want to share something with you all that I’m not necessarily proud of, but I trust that you’ll still love me still the same. I have a weakness for reality television. I don’t know what it is about reality television that sucks me in time after time, but I fall for it. And I know it’s not actually reality but a “reality” that a director and editor have constructed.
I think I watch reality television as much as I do because I get to see someone else having problems in their life. When we can watch someone else’s life fall apart, we have the luxury of not observing our own lives falling apart. The art of distraction is something we all probably have mastered without realizing we have mastered it. “Look over here at something shiny so that you don’t look over here at the thing I don’t want you to look at!” I’ll watch reality tv and think “well, at least I’m not as crazy as that person.” Or when I hear a piece of juicy gossip I may think “I have it more together than that person!” There is just something in us that wants to watch other people fail or at least watch other people screw up a little. Because really, as long as we can hear about other people’s lives not being perfect, or we can watch them actually be not perfect, we don’t have to admit that we’re not perfect either.
This Gospel text from Mark this week is so interesting because it actually starts in the middle of a conversation. Well, it actually starts in the middle of an argument to be a little bit more precise. This is probably an argument that you’ve had more than once in your house (especially if you have children or younger ones that visit you often) “did you wash your hands?” We kind of live in a germ-a-phobe society, so the idea of not washing your hands before eating (like the argument in our Gospel for today) grosses some people out. A lot of times, I find that there are two kinds of folks when it comes to germs: 1) scrub yourself with bleach type people or 2) a few germs won’t hurt you kind of people. Maybe instead of arguing about whether or not the disciples washed their hands before eating, the Pharisees should have perhaps checked their own hands. Perhaps the Pharisees were practicing the art of distraction.
Now, before I go on, it’s probably good for me to tell you that I’m not giving this sermon because of one particular thing or one particular person. So, before you get all nervous or worried that I’m talking about something specific, just know I’m not. As I’ve said before, I often write the sermon first and foremost for myself and then I pray that someone else needs to hear it as well. See, my brothers and sisters, I speak too quickly and too harshly sometimes. The evil that lives in my heart and spills across my lips is not attractive and does not bring praise to God in the least. I think it was Gandhi that was quoted as saying “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Well, ouch. That hurts. But he was right.
How often do we stand in this church, decorate our homes and ourselves with Christian artwork, have our Bibles out so people can see them, put those little fish on our bumpers, and yet our actions and words speak louder than anything that we are not who we say we are. And it’s not like I set out to say hurtful things, or act in sinful ways, but my ego gets the best of me and sin always gets in the way. And then there I am, setting a horrible example for Christians everywhere. All it takes is one interaction for someone to decide that a church or even an entire religion is for them or not. Remember, people who don’t know Christ, or don’t know what he’s all about, look to us to get to know Christ. What are we showing people through our words and actions? With the way I act on occasion or with the things I say I know I am not helping people get to know Christ.
As I said last week, you have to think of Satan almost like a jealous lover. Satan wants all of us. And each and every time we engage in theft, murder, slander, pride, all that list of things that is at the end of our reading today, Satan steals a little bit more of our heart. The more we engage in sin, sinful thoughts, sinful actions, and sinful words, the more evil has a presence in our heart and in our world. It doesn’t matter if you are living what you believe to be the holiest of lives; you and God know what is in your heart and what comes from your lips.
I’m not telling you anything I myself don’t struggle with. I love a piece of juicy gossip just as much as the next person. I murder someone’s self esteem with back handed remarks. I steal time away from Ellen by spending too much time on my phone. I engage in avarice by wanting and desiring the next big thing (even though I know it won’t ultimately bring me happiness). In one way or another, I am sure I have engaged in that list of things that defile God. I am no better than those people I watch on reality television. I am a sinner in need, in dire need, of God’s redeeming.
And the great thing is this: I receive it. And so do you. We receive God’s forgiveness and redemption despite the fact that we are very very far from deserving it. That is what makes our God so hard to understand. We live in a world that says you must do something in order to receive something. But, God gives us grace despite the fact that we do nothing to earn it. Crazier than that, we actually can’t do anything to earn it. This forgiveness isn’t just given to us once. It’s not bestowed upon us at the end of our lives as we draw close to death. No. This forgiveness is showered on us day after day, minute after minute, without exception.
I got to thinking about this scripture as yet another political candidate called the parsonage sometime this week. Here’s what I would love this election season: a candidate that refuses to speak negatively about their opponents; a candidate that would fully admit to their shortcomings; a candidate that manages to live within their means and give back to the community; a candidate that instead of focusing on the dirty hands of those around them, celebrates the work that got those hands dirty. A girl can dream, right? But, really, isn’t that how Jesus ended up on the cross? Jesus refused to engage in slander. Now remember, the truth was sometimes harsh, but it was still the truth and not slander. Jesus refused to engage in pettiness, bickering, arguing, pride, or deceit. He refused it all. Instead, he fed the hungry, clothed the poor, healed the sick, taught those eager to learn, and hung out with a bunch of rag-tag fishermen. And because of that, he hung on a cross so that when we engage in those sins, we are forgiven. It seems like a pretty uneven trade, but it was a trade he willingingly made. And so how can we bring him glory? What will come out of your mouth that brings him glory? What can your hands and feet do that point to him? Will we continue to engage in the art of deception or will we instead engage in the art of discipleship? The cross will be there no matter what. Let it not be in vain.