Welcome to Reality
Imagine that you are a major network programming committee. Just for a
minute, imagine that you are decision makers in a powerful media empire.
Let me pitch you a story idea for the holidays. It's an amazing story.
I have this idea, based on some old material, about a small,
numerically insignificant but fascinating group. It follows their story.
First, set the scene. Imagine a desert: a cross between something from
a Bob Hope, Bing Crosby movie and The English Patient. Desolate,
struggling, but humorous sometimes, too. It has strong women and committed
men. Not Desperate Housewives, but The Power of One.
Now, imagine the context. It's like Dr. Zhivago. It is a time of
enormously expensive militarization and fear, yet there is also great
poverty, both material and spiritual. There is extensive accommodation
between giant religious groups and the dominant powers of the day,
including the government. I can't think of a show like that.
Now the group. Our little group has a spiritual, moral, charitable,
social, political, and even cosmic character. It's a combination of The
X Files and Joan of Arcadia. This group believes that the
"truth is out there" and that God touches our lives everyday.
But it's not a high school clique. It believes that
anyone can join -- anyone.
So anyway, the story traces the group from the birth of its founder
until one day it goes to the big city and tries to share its joyful
message there, but the powers-that-be reject the message, snuff it out,
cancel it. But then something magical happens. The actual rejection
of the message gets more attention than the group imagines. The snuffing
out becomes a symbol, even on popular jewelry, and the power of the
powerful is superseded by the rejection of the weak. The rejection reveals
the message of the little group. It's like Saul Alinsky's ju jitsu or
Peter Sellers in The Mouse that Roared.
Now this is all based on actual historical material that anyone can
read, but network executives haven't done that, so I'm bringing it to you
to see what you think. Could we tell this story of rejection and new life
this year? Would anyone believe it? Could this be reality TV?
Well, among all the things that I would like to say about the week that
just was, let me say this: it was an amazing week for our UCC denomination
and for the Christian faith across the United States. After a year of
planning, showing our new commercial to networks and to diverse groups
from other denominations and religions (who gave it a pass), this week,
citing the U.S. President's commitment to present a constitutional
amendment regarding marriage, two major networks spiked our little UCC
message because it shows men holding hands coming to worship and women
together in church, which is too controversial for CBS and NBC. We've
weathered the dangers of Harry Belafonte's interracial touch, Murphy
Brown's single parenting, and Ellen's kiss. Currently we're marinated in a
culture with thousands of grotesquely negative images of human love, along
with visuals of war, torture, and Viagra. But now the networks have said
that they can't allow a message of faithful inclusiveness and welcome,
extravagant welcome like God's, to be on public air. They don't want Saving
Private Ryan's explicit reality, and they don't want us to save a
place where the private lives of God's children are included. Yet in
rejecting our message, they've made it much bigger than ever it could have
hoped to be. In trying to kill it, they've given it abundant life. It
seems like the powers-that-be never read how history has a way of doing
that; it certainly seems they've taken no management lessons from the
Bible. Which turns out,
ironically, to be good news.
Welcome to the United Church of Christ. Welcome all you despised,
rejected, middle class troublemakers. Welcome you who work, you who are
retired, and you have lost your job. Welcome infants who cry, children who
talk back, and those of you who have lost children. Welcome you who are
gay or lesbian, you who are celibate, even if gay or lesbian, you who are
questioning. Welcome you who are Republican, Democratic, or dismissive of
such labels. Welcome theological conservatives, indignant Unitarians, and
morally grounded progressives. Welcome if you are differently abled or
care for those who are. Welcome powerful women and uppity men. Welcome you
who grieve in a season so often named by joy and you who seek in a house
so often feared for judgmental certainty. Welcome veterans and pacifists,
welcome saints and sinners, welcome Red Sox fans. And, welcome Yankee
This is not just my welcome nor just ours as a parish. It is what God
asks of us in the scriptures, even though we don't always do what we're
asked there. But this morning Hope read a small, revolutionary phrase from
Paul. "Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you." And do
this because it glorifies God, it shows something beautiful and meaningful
beyond yourself when you offer welcome.
This is not just my welcome, nor just ours alone. It is Jesus' welcome.
In this parish, at least for a time, we sang a certain song at baptisms.
It said, "Welcome home, little one, welcome into the fold. The Good
Shepherd will guide you, the flock will hold you safe, you are free now
grow strong and true in faith, and in hope, and in God's love for
you." We sang that song to little babies. All I'm saying now is that
we don't sing a different tune to grown ups. We don't change our song or
forget our promise as time goes by. We don't forget the
poetry just because innocence develops experience.
How did Jesus welcome people? He didn't turn away foreigners, lepers or
untouchable women and unimportant children. He ate with what we sometimes
call prostitutes and sinners. He embraced traitors and embezzlers. Did he
ever make a statement on gay rights? Well, sort of when he said the issue
in Sodom was inhospitality, but some issues didn't get much time. Did he
ever speak to the blending of religion and politics? Well, he was executed
not for his prayers but for his political stance. It seems that the only
people that Jesus didn't welcome were the powerful elite who oppressed the
poor. He condemned their behavior in the Sermon on the Mount. Although he
was polite even to Herod and to Pilate.
Jesus could welcome people because he knew that God isn't finished with
any of us yet. It's not how we enter a church that God sees us. It's how
we lead our lives, how we love, how we share, how we exit life.
After Jesus was born some looked back at the prophets, like Isaiah,
where it said one day someone would come who would not judge by what his
eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear, but with righteousness He would
judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. He would
be clothed in faithfulness, and around him there would be such an aura of
peace that the cosmos, nature itself, would change so that a lion and a
calf, and aggressor and a weakling, could live in harmony. And anybody who
had half a mind would want to be around him.
Do you think this story could sell? It is an unbelievable story on so
many levels. For one thing, the characters in it are so imperfect. I don't
live without anger or frustration or judgment. I am as ignorant and
foolish as anyone could be. My discomfort with change is gargantuan at
times. But I have no trouble saying, when I get together with all of you,
that extravagant welcome, divine welcome, is our greatest joy. Does that
mean anything goes? That's a silly question. Does it mean as a group we
know how to do it with perfection? Not at all. But we're trying. And it is
our call. If you want to be a Christian in your heart in your heart,
welcome someone as God would do.
You know, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. We are together in a
very privileged place. Somewhat guarded by our government, very graced by
our God, we can say anything we want in here. Anything, like "you
belong here." Maybe we can't sell our commercials, but we can
celebrate our sacramental center. As a small group of joyful, peaceful
travelers we proclaim that God is with us, all of us, and God has the
actual power of new life. It's coming in just twenty days. Assuming that
the networks aren't afraid to show advertisements about Christmas and
reporting its date. They wouldn't cancel those, would they? What is reality: TV? Amen.
Copyright © 2004 Kenneth F. Baily. Used by