Sermon: Proper 19 RCL B – “Build or Burn?”

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Jane Austen is the author of Pride and Prejudice.  Mark Twain was not a fan of Jane Austen and is reported to have said, “Everytime I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig Jane Austen up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

The American academic and Shakespearean scholar, Duncan Spaeth, stated, “I know why the sun never sets on the British Empire: God wouldn’t trust an Englishman in the dark.”

Someone once asked Ghandi: “What do you think of Western civilization?”  Ghandi replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”

A young Hollywood wannabe was once bragging to the the great actress Miriam Hopkins.  The wannabe said, “You know, my dear, I insured my voice for fifty thousand dollars.” Hopkins responded, “That’s wonderful. And what did you do with the money?”

Bessie Braddock served in the English Parliament for twenty-five years.  Encountering a somewhat intoxicated Winston Churchill, she said to him, “Winston, you’re drunk.”  Not thinking much of Bessie Braddock, Winston replied, “Bessie, you’re ugly, and tomorrow morning I’ll be sober.”

It seems that insulting someone has been around for a as long as there has been language and I’m guessing even the caveman new a thing or two about putting one another down.   Growing up, I would have to say that my ability to insult someone was limited to that witty comeback, “Yo mama!”  I may have improved since then.  Many have and some even make a living at insulting others.  For example, if it weren’t for the insults, the twenty-four hour news stations would run out of something to say within the first five minutes.

At times, the insult is just folks who give each other a hard time, and if they ever cross the line, an apology will follow, but it seems the insult has grown into a way of life.  Not the sign of some quick witted response, but an assault to tear down and destroy.  And when the words are no longer sufficient, threats and violence will ensue.

I remember years ago reading Ray Bradbury’s great dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451.  Seems it was one of those required readings, so I just muscled my way through it without much thought, but I reread it again just a few weeks ago and was amazed.  A bit too close to reality.  Neil Gaiman (sci-fi and horror author) wrote the introduction to the edition I ordered and although I don’t normally read the introductions to books—don’t necessarily want someone telling me what I’m supposed to think about a book I’m about to read—I did read this one, because of who wrote it.  In it, Gaiman wrote, “When I reread it as a teenager, Fahrenheit 451 had become about treasuring books and the dissent inside the covers of books.  It was about how we has humans begin by burning books and end by burning people.”  I had to underline that, because it is so true.  As the story goes, those who would read were first insulted, then persecuted, then… burned.  As I read the story, I came to a line that made me stop reading.  I had to get up and walk around for a bit before continuing: “Those who don’t build must burn.”  We see a lot of burning these days.  The events of twenty years ago that we remembered yesterday provide the perfect example, but in truth, we do the same thing everyday when we decide to burn instead of build. 

We burn others by cruelly insulting them from our hearts.  By speaking or even thinking of how to bring them lower.  By raising our voices in angry confrontation.  By dismantling the works of others for our own perceived benefit, in order to exert and promote our own opinion, or simply for the heck of it; but our ability to do so is not a sign of our strength.  It simply shows our capacity to burn.  Why?  “Those who don’t build must burn.”  Those who don’t want to take the time and find the courage to build and create, those who become jealous and feel threatened by others’ successes, those who are simply too lazy to create, and so on… those are the ones who will burn, because it is much much easier to burn than it is to build.  

Jesus has been going from town to town.  He has been teaching, healing, feeding, and loving.  Jesus has been building up the Kingdom of God.  He asked the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  In doing so, Jesus is not fishing for compliments.  He is secure in the knowledge of who he is, but he is evaluating the work.  Are the people… are you beginning to understand who I am and what we are building?   It sounds positive.  The disciples answer, some say you are “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”  That is good, but Jesus wants to know what those who have been closest to him think.  Are they grasping even more of the truth than the crowds, so he asked them specifically, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”  Yes!  The work is being accomplished and we are building something here, but don’t tell anyone about what you know of me.  Why?  Because there are those who aren’t building anything and if they discover too soon, they will try and burn it all down before the time has come; and Jesus knew who those were that would burn: the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes.  He also knew that they would eventually succeed, so he tells his disciples, you are not to be like them.  You are not to follow their example of burning.  Instead, you are to follow my example, by building: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  You as my disciples are to follow me in building up the kingdom of God, because we’re not building something that moths and rust can destroy or something that thieves can break in and steal.  No.  We are building something eternal.  What did Jesus say, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Destroy this temple, burn it to the ground, and I will build a temple that not even death can destroy.  He did and we are to follow, taking our cross, being crucified with him and being raised to a new and eternal life that not even death can touch.  And we not only build up ourselves, but we are to build up one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:11—“Encourage one another and build one another up.”

Ephesians 4:29—“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up.”

Romans 14:19—“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

1 Corinthians 14:26—“Let all things be done for building up.”

Not only does this apply to those we know and love, but Jesus also makes it clear that this applies to those that hate us: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45)

Am I preaching on this today because I know of a problem within this body of Christ?  Absolutely not.  I see nothing but love and compassion among you, but what I do see is an increased desire within society to insult and to burn.  It is like an infection that is going unchecked and unless we are aware of it and the symptoms, then we become susceptible, and then we become those who burn, no longer building up as Christ has called us to.  As St. Paul teaches, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  

From the poem, Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Come my friends, tis not too late to seek a newer world.”  Let us be the ones that build and in the process, join with Jesus in the great work of making all things new.

Let us pray: Lord, make us instruments of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  O, Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. Amen.F

2 Replies to “Sermon: Proper 19 RCL B – “Build or Burn?””

  1. And you’ve done it again! The deep thoughts that make me think more deeply than I already do! This, this is one of the many reasons I like you! Now I will go on building even if the world burns around me.

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