Below is my sermon from January 10, 2021. It is based on a meditation on both Proverbs 1:1-7 and Matthew 7:24-27
I preached the Sunday following 9/11, and I thought it would probably be the most difficult sermon I would ever have to preach. After the events of this past week I have to say this is so much more difficult.
Back in July and August, when I was mapping out my sermons for the coming year, I found myself alarmed by the growing spread of conspiracy theories like “Q Anon” and “plandemic” among people who claimed to be committed to the truth of Christ. The more time seemed to pass, the more and more insistent people became about stories which were less and less grounded in anything recognizable as “reality.” I watched as anyone who didn’t agree with the lastest round of conspiracies, on sites like FaceBook and Twitter, was suddenly treated as an enemy who wanted to destroy the country. It seemed that many in this nation had lost their grip on reality–and to my great shame Christians were far too often at the vanguard of these lies. The ability to discern between insight and foolishness, which had been fading for years, evaporated.
I determined over those summer months that it would probably be a good idea to begin 2021 by delving into the Bible’s wisdom tradition–reinvestigating how to live well before both God and neighbor and reinvest ourselves in the call to be a discerning people. I thought maybe we could ponder together and begin to call folks in our orbits back from the nightmare of delusion.
And then the election hit and the conspiracy theories and delusions accelerated–culminating in Wednesday’s insurrection and storming of the US Capital. This event was stoked by people who manipulated the mob for their own ends and executed by people who have lost any semblance of wisdom.
But that’s all “political,” right? Why would I waste time bringing it up in a sermon? Because in the midst of Wednesday’s insurrectionists were banners declaring the name of Jesus. People who claim to be Christians but have abandoned wisdom and been transformed into agents of chaos and evil. And as the images of insurrection played out other Christians on TV refused to recognize reality–passing on yet another delusion that it was really Antifa causing all the problems. Those are things I must spend time on in a sermon. Because when the lordship of Christ is being used as cover for delusions and lies and hatred pastors have to do what too many politicians won’t.
Tell the truth.
And the truth is this, a too-large swath of the church in the United Sates cannot be recognized in the opening verses of Proverbs. I didn’t want to take this track for my sermon this week, and until Wednesday I wasn’t going to. After 17 years here I hope everyone understands that my style is to offer invitations rather than make accusations. But seeing the name “Jesus” festooned on flags among a mob which sent our elected officials into hiding, with videos revealing they were calling to hang the Vice President, has made this the track I must take. The divorce of these people from both the teachings of Jesus and the wider wisdom tradition of the Bible must be pointed out. To do anything else would be a betrayal of my calling as a pastor.
Look at the words of Proverbs 1:1-7. The purpose of wisdom is to give insight. It provides people with the ability to recognize true righteousness and upright judgement. It shows the simple-minded “craftiness” or “prudence”–helping them to recognize when they are being taken for a ride by the wicked–and it opens up discretion to the young.
Have we seen a lot of that these past nine months? Anti-mask protests because personal autonomy is deemed to be more important than public health–and, here too Christians are at the vanguard of protesting this. Stores were looted because people were angry about racial injustice. Search youtube and you’ll find no end of folks who believe there is no pandemic yelling at minimum wage store clerks for not embracing their delusion–and, again, here is where a number of Christians live. We’ve seen Christians insist their liberties are being deprived by a public health crisis, and insist that this is more important than helping bring a virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of people in this country under control so we can all be free. We have witnessed people confuse abuse of power with strength and injustice with justice. And this was all happening before the ground work was laid back in the Spring for the current claims that the Presidential election was a fraud.
In all of this, where is insight granted by wisdom? Where is our ability to be subtle in our thinking? Where’s the prudence wisdom is supposed to grant us? Too many people who claim to follow Jesus have built their worldview, noting Jesus Parable in Matthew 7, on sand–we’ve become dependent on wielding cultural power and enjoying the privilege of being the “default religion” of our society. This has left Christians wide open to diabolical manipulation 1. And I fear that our rejection of wisdom will, as Jesus’ own teaching points out, lead to a great crash. The rains will come and the floods will rise and the winds will blow and it will all come down. And I am concerned that when it does we’ll look up to Jesus and, as our savior points out in the verses just before the parable of the wise and foolish builders, say to him, “Look at all that we’ve done for you!” And I fear we may hear Jesus’ words back, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers 2.”
As disciples of Jesus Christ, it is far past time for us to rise up and reject lies and foolishness and return to the beginning of wisdom–a deep and abiding reverence for the God who embraces truth and exposes lies. We must not sit back and shrug off falsehoods and delusions when they are shared with us–in person, through email, or though social media. We must absolutely not share these things when they trigger something visceral inside us. Claims have to be verified, evidence has to be demanded, and calling people to repent of their willingness to succumb to fear, anger, and hatred in order to feel powerful needs to become a spiritual discipline we all practice.
And, look, I recognize that folks in this congregation have not been ok with the growing delusions which have infected churches in this country. I’ve watched you though this season and I am proud of you. But we need to hear this too, so our tiny little body can re-invest itself in being a reflection of light and truth. Because after Wednesday, again, this country needs all its people to take a long, hard, look in the mirror–and Jesus’ disciples really need to be setting the example here and doing that difficult work first. Because if we don’t, we’re going to be building on sand. Amen.