Traditional Sermon Pentecost 19
My big brother swears I got him into trouble. If I did, there was only one time, that I remember feeling bad about it, lol. I guess I’m still that way. If something is not right, I generally tell someone. I tell Customer Service about car lights on in the parking lot. Before car alarms, if the door was unlocked, I’d turn them off myself. If I see something broken or hazardous, I’m likely to find a person who can do something about it, if I can’t.
That’s exactly what John did in today’s gospel reading. “Hey, there’s this guy casting out demons in your name, Jesus. I tried to stop him. It just didn’t seem right, since he’s not following us.” Not until coming to Lancaster, had I heard about or tasted Wilbur Buds®. When I heard that Mr. Hershey stole the idea for chocolate kisses, I had to find out the truth…so I could tell somebody. It just didn’t seem right.
What you needed to make candy back then, was a kettle, a fire, some buckets, and a marble slab. What mattered was technique. Most important, was the recipe. John and the other disciples thought it was too easy for somebody to be able to manufacture healing simply by using Jesus’ name. It was as if they stole the recipe, since they had duplicated the end result.
The mechanism was straightforward and simple. The ingredients were faith in the name of Jesus and belief. Belief in the power that Jesus’ name carried, the power to heal and drive out demons. The disciples didn’t realize a basic premise.
No one can claim exclusive rights to use or own what God uses.
All basic ingredients come from God, as do our abilities and resources. Every quantity of things we enjoy and use, come from and belong to, God.
The human need for chocolate and wholeness is so great, it requires the hands of many workers. If there is more demand than supply, why wouldn’t God enlist the help of others? In all three readings, the Holy Spirit appears to deputize normal folk, not just priests or disciples.
According to the Augsburg Confession:
God gives every person the capability of doing external good works and can act through non-believers. But without grace, we cannot fear, love or believe. That gift of grace from God’s Holy Spirit is not the result of works, so no one may boast.
One person said, “Hershey’s kisses were the first to wrap chocolate drops in foil.” I thought, “That still doesn’t seem fair.” In fact, the third generation of Wilburs developed the machine to foil-wrap Wilbur Buds®.
The information we receive can be misleading. What we hear can cause us to misjudge or make false accusations. Hearsay can become a stumbling block to the truth.
Wilbur Chocolates accused Hershey’s chocolates of being ordinary, of attempting to satisfy a natural hunger for chocolate in an unhealthy way. The product they saw gaining popularity was portrayed as a shameless imitation, a counterfeit that attempted to satisfy by offering an excess of the wrong thing, mere sweetness. To be satisfied in any other sort of way, would be dangerous. I drew these words from actual print ads.
They’re the same words Christians use when referring to some other denominations and faiths. We call different lifestyles: unhealthy, shameless, excessive and dangerous. We suggest criminals and addicts take the easy way to satisfy their natural hunger for self-esteem.
We hold onto our Christian identity as though it is exclusive. We liken the religious devotion and practices of other faiths to a Hershey’s kiss. We say, They might have similarities, but “they would not dare use the name [Christian]. The safest way to ensure you get what you intended to get is to contact Wilbur Chocolates directly.”
By doubting the genuine substance of churches growing large in number, we hold onto similar feelings. I sincerely feel the safest way to ensure [people] get what [Jesus] intended [us] to get, is to become a Lutheran.
Maybe what we and all disciples really want, is for people to come directly to Jesus to fill their spiritual hunger. Luther believed Christianity was best for the world. As a successful prosperous nation, we claim to know what is best. As Christians, our mental picture of heaven is all nations worshipping one God, our God, right?
Did you know that devout muslims do not believe in borrowing money or earning interest? Jewish charitable foundations build hospitals, sponsor documentaries on PBS, and wish their legacy to live on under the names of generous donors. How do Christians measure up? Does the world see us striving to make life better for others in generous ways? I wish Bill and Melinda Gates were Christians. I’d like Jesus to get the credit for their dedicated initiative and philanthropic efforts around the globe.
As it turned out, Hershey was the first to patent the recognizable shape and distinctive wrapper. Both political parties deliver a patented shape of responses. Both conservatives and liberals claim that certain virtues and values are exclusive to their concerns. But neither hold the patent on truth and justice as their recognizable shape or distinctive wrapper. We can’t deny that we too, want control, and for our efforts to profit above our competitor.
In 1909, Wilbur chocolates goes to court. Hershey was able to patent the little paper plume that became the kisses trademark. The distinctive petal shaped bottom that came from hand pouring chocolate into molds was no longer a strong selling point. Automation was in hand. Hershey’s kisses were dropped onto a conveyor belt. No one cared that chocolate drops now had a flat bottom.
Hershey succeeded because he was a brilliant businessman and philanthropist. Milton Hershey and Jesus are both “examples of doing well by doing good.” They became famous for two things, what they did and who they were.
It wasn’t the product that built the reputation, it was the individual.
The worth of Christian stock, is built on a reputation for integrity and benevolence. When Mr. Reese was laid off by Mr. Hershey, there was no non-compete agreement. He could have taken his knowledge, and run with it. But, when he wanted to create his own peanut butter confections, Mr. Reese went to Mr. Hershey. He asked for his blessing and permission. He was given both. “Just come to me to buy your chocolate,” said Mr. Hershey.
Do you see the similarity between this and Jesus’ response to his disciples? He said, “As long as the good deed, the kindness, the healing is done in my name, they have my blessing.” Jesus already owned all the company stock in the essential ingredient, love.
God told the psalmist, “ I own the cattle on a thousand hills.” God’s probably thinking, I own the cows in Pennsylvania, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany, all those places that make the finest chocolates, too. I’m waiting for the day scientists figure how to turn grass into milk like my cows can.”
We may not figure out how God works, but we can watch and directly participate. We don’t own what we use, or always recognize whom God chooses to use. But, don’t think that God makes use of unbelievers, merely in some pragmatic way, to further God’s will or kingdom.
The point is, God loves the person who does not currently follow the Jesus crowd. God gives them grace to have just enough faith to believe in the power of his name. Just as God is sanctifying you, making you, the justified believer holy through good works, God is working in the lives of those we label as lost. Whenever any person does good to their neighbor, stumbling blocks on the road to peace to disappear.
So why must we read, “Cut off your limb or pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin?” Then I realized that those parts of your body don’t cause us to sin against God, they cause us to hurt other people. Jesus says, “If you recognize that something is bringing pain into your life, or to others, get rid of it, in a drastic way. Jesus doesn’t want anything to keep you from being in eternity with him, and your brothers and sisters. Jesus don’t want to lose any of you because you cannot control your behavior.
Do whatever it takes to be together in heaven. That’s what Jesus did for us…whatever it took to remove the torment of sin from our lives. That’s how the Bible goes from talking about disfigurement and hell to “Be at peace with one another,” in just a few verses. Jesus is passionate that no one become lost forever, separated or abandoned. He passionately loves.
Jesus’ brand is recognizable. He embodies his famous trademarks, kindness forgiveness, love, and mercy. Parallels between chocolate and the goodness of God’s plan for your life never end. You’ve already experienced their many benefits and the effect of their healing powers. Amen to that. Amen.