Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Our question this week is about how and if our society is seduced. What might we be seduced by? Especially at this time of year during an election season, this question might be obvious to us as we hear debate go back and forth. Each party promises a brighter future, a more promising outcome, and the need to be swayed to a side in order for everything to be made right again.
But even if we look outside of the election season, aren’t we promised things on a daily basis? We are promised ways to satisfy our desires. We are promised fulfillment of purpose if we just buy the right clothes, buy the right foods, listen to just the right speaker and fulfill our every want by consuming in our culture. Our society is also tempting us to be busy all of the time. If we are just busy enough, we are productive and successful. Is this the kind of seduction that we are looking for?
We are not so different from the first churches or even the first disciples. We, like our brothers and sisters in James and our gospel of Mark, are searching for the larger meaning and may be looking in all of the wrong places. Maybe we are seduced by promises and consumerism.
In our first lesson, the writer of James warns us of such seductions to fulfill our desires. While society tells us we must be the loudest or the richest to obtain wisdom, James tells us that it is actually the holy life (or translated in NRSV as meekness) that allows us to gain wisdom. Real wisdom, real fulfillment, is by simplifying our lives in order to hear God. Instead of rugged individualism, it is community that truly fulfills our desires and fulfills what it means to be human. Instead of prestige setting us apart as God’s children, it is in getting along that we are given blessings.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus highlights the child and the servant as the one who will be blessed as well. It is not our fight for who is better that will be highlighted by God but it is our willingness to be in community and serve one another that truly fulfills our human spirit. It is seductive and seemingly human to fight about who is better but it is Jesus who turns our world upside down and reminds us of where we belong.
This is not easy to understand nor is it a popular notion. Jesus will be put to death for these kind of notions. It is not logical even for the disciples to fathom being like children, who were not even considered people at the time. Then maybe our conversation is about how to emulate those wise qualities, admitting that we do in fact live in a seductive society. Let us admit to our humanness, our own desires and what taps into them and then talk about how to rebuild the culture from community, getting along, and true wisdom.
Quotes for the Week
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” ― Epicurus
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” ― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” –Mahatma Gandhi
“I am as frustrated with society as a pyromaniac in a petrified forest.” A. Whitney Brown
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a (Message)
Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.
Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.
You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.
So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.
Mark 9:30-37 (NRSV)
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Questions for the Week
Do you think that we have been seduced?
What would be the alternate reality?
Were do you find yourself in the trap of wanting more?