SERMON ~ 07/24/2022 ~ “Tribes”

07/24/2022 ~ Seventh Sunday after Pentecost ~ Proper 12 ~ Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:


“Do not let anyone who worships angels and enjoys self-abasement disqualify you, judge you. These people go into great detail, dwell on their visions and their worldly minds keep puffing up their already inflated egos, their human way of thinking.” — Colossians 2:18.

They are popular, ubiquitous, common. Not a day goes by without one cropping up on a broadcast or cable channel or streaming on the internet. They are reality shows.

From a business perspective reality shows constantly get produced because they are inexpensive. It does not cost a lot to manufacture one.

Even shows that give away a million dollar prize, shows that send people overseas— Survivor, The Amazing Race— cost less to produce than scripted shows. Just for starters, no actors or people in many specialized crafts, usually a part of a scripted show, need to be paid.

But it is inaccurate to say reality shows do not have writers just because they are not scripted. The observant among you probably realize the scripts are written after the show is recorded, and the writing mostly happens in the process of compiling and editing the video.

Now, reality shows are not a new phenomena. They date not just from the infancy of television. Reality shows date even from the infancy of radio.

The Major Bowes Amateur Hour went on the air in 1934. Just like some shows today, unknown performers were contestants. The show had comedians, singers, instrumentalists, and despite the being on the radio, even dancers and jugglers.

Here’s a little know fact: Frank Sinatra was on the Amateur Hour as a member of a quartet known as The Hoboken Four. They were popular so Bowes had them back a lot. But, since they never actually won a weekly broadcast, when they did return Bowes changed the name under which they performed to hide the fact that the group had returned. And, not unlike one of the reality shows for unknown performers, American Idol, Bowes sent acts out on tour and, thereby, made more money.

Ted Mack took over from Bowes for this Armature Hour stuff in 1945 and brought it to televison in 1948 when television was in its infancy. I hope this is obvious: there is no difference between the Amateur Hour and programs like American Idol or America’s Got Talent— talent shows, yes, but reality shows also. Part of why people get enthralled is because they wonder who will win. It pits one group or person against another.

The well known reality show Candid Camera actually started on radio as Candid Microphone. It went over to the more visual medium of television in 1948 and that’s when it really became popular.

Candid Camera claimed what all reality shows claim. They said the goal was to try to catch people in the act of being real.

Of course, the phrase ‘people being real’ has a deeper implication. All people are flawed; noone is perfect, right? And, frankly, the last time I looked being flawed, not being perfect, is part of the human condition. We all share it. Anyone who thinks they’re perfect, please leave.

The current reality show Survivor displays serious and deep human imperfection since it is known for the cutthroat practice of the contestants voting one another off the island. The show’s motto is, after all, “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.” Outwit, outplay, outlast— the very motto sounds as if it’s about people intentionally being imperfect.

And have you noticed when Jeff Probst, the host of Survivor, dismisses a contestant he never says: “You have been voted off the island,” even though that’s what’s happening. Probst says, “The tribe has spoken.”

I find that phrase fascinating because it brings to light yet another human reality, another human frailty. We humans tend to form tribes. We tend to be tribal.

We form relational customs, habits, ritual behaviors to be shared only with other tribe members, other people in our social group. Further, we tend to ignore, even banish those who fail to conform or meet certain standards or criterium.

Interestingly, these standards are often hidden in a group, unspoken. Hence, the tribe speaks, even when not a word is uttered, everybody hears. (Slight pause.)

This is found in Colossians: “Do not let anyone who worships angels and enjoys self-abasement disqualify you, judge you. These people go into great detail, dwell on their visions and their worldly minds keep puffing up their already inflated egos, their human way of thinking.” (Slight pause.)

In my comments last week I effectively said Paul wrote Colossians and I want to be clear about this. There is a huge academic fight over weather or not Paul was the author. Right now my opinion is yes Paul wrote it. Who knows? Some academic article I read next week might change my mind.

But I am brining that up because I want to repeat something I said last week. Paul was a Jew. Hence, one question we should constantly keep in front of us is this: who is the God of Israel? (Slight pause.)

This is something we moderns don’t get. In ancient times everybody believed in a god or the gods. Many peoples, many nations, had gods but for only themselves or gods who took care of only specific tasks like harvests. Even Jewish people would have admitted other gods existed.

But Jews did not understand the God of Israel as being either a god of just one people or a god of specific tasks. For the Jews, the realm of God and the role of God was all encompassing. So what set the God of Israel apart is the Jewish people did not understand Yahweh, God, to only be the God of Israel.

But even if others did not believe the God of Israel was universal God, as the Jewish people thought, that did not matter to them. What counted is they believed God was a God of all people, God of the whole world, the whole universe.

Therefore God was inclusive. And indeed, this concept, that Yahweh, God, was the God of all people, God of the whole world, was a unique idea in ancient times.

Further, that Yahweh, God, was the God of the whole world had consequences. The obvious consequence was loving one’s neighbor became not just a duty. Loving one’s neighbor, as hard as that was and as hard as that is, became a way of life.

Thereby, love of neighbor was neither a demand nor a law. And neither was it something to be imposed on others.

Love of neighbor was and is a way to welcome others. Love of neighbor was a given because God was the God of all people. In short, God was not the God of just your tribe or the God of your people, people who conformed to your particular customs, habits or ritual behaviors.

And that brings us back to what Paul says in this passage. In verse 9 Paul states a concept about the Christ in this way (quote): “…in Christ the whole fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form…” (Slight pause.)

Paul has recognized God is fully present to all people in Christ and because of Christ. Hence (to truncate Paul’s words slightly), do not let anyone… disqualify you, judge you. (Slight pause.)

It seems to me we Christians often get into what I would label as a hostile pattern. Too often we make Jesus into the exclusive Child of God instead of the inclusive Child of God.

On the other hand, we need to face this reality. Being tribal is a very human tendency.

We do seem to have a proclivity to form into tribes. We do seem to have an inclination toward not seeing humanity as one family, one tribe. In fact, even within a given tribe we seem to have an inclination to divide into groups. (Slight pause.)

I want to suggest that God sees us as one family, one tribe. And our relationship with God, any relationship with God, is not and should not be seen as a pursuit or as a game to be won. That’s not religion. That’s not faith. That’s competition.

Religion, faith is not about how we outwit, outplay, outlast. Our relationship with God is and should be seen, should be practiced as a way of life. However, if we do see our relationship with God as a pursuit, as a game and not as a way of life— and I think we humans do that way too often— then it does become something to be won.

When our relationship with God becomes a game that is when we define it as a possession, our possession, and then we defended it as our possession. When religion, when faith is a possession, it becomes not just something to be defended. In fact too readily it becomes something to be imposed, something to be inflicted on others.

Additionally, if a relationship with God is something to be won— if a relationship with God is a game— it would require tribes. So we need to remind ourselves daily that no one— no one— gets voted off God’s island— not by us and not by anyone else.

Why? The call of God is simple: love your neighbor. And your neighbor is not a rival contestant to be outwitted, outplayed or outlasted. Your neighbor is simply to be loved. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Congregational Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “The late Dr. Paul Farmer was an American anthropologist, physician and Harvard professor. Unfortunately he died at age 62. This is something he said: ‘The idea that some lives matter less than other lives is the root of all that is wrong with the world.’ Who is your neighbor? Everyone. There are no tribes. Why? God is the God of everyone.”

BENEDICTION: This is the blessing used by natives of the islands in the South Pacific: O Jesus, please be the canoe that holds me up in the sea of life. Please be the rudder that keeps me on straight paths. Be the outrigger that supports me in times of stress. Let Your Spirit be the sail that carries me though each day. Keep me safe, so that I can paddle on steadily in the voyage called life. God of all, bless us so we may have calm seas, a warm sun and clear nights filled with stars. Amen.

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