Well That’s Different

Sermon preached June 27, 2010

Texts: Luke 9:51-56; Galatians 5:1, 13-25

How many of you remember the scene from The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy meets the talking apple trees? Walking along the yellow brick road with the scarecrow – who utters one of the movies great lines – “some people without brains do an awful lot of talking” (it is taking a great deal of discipline not to make an election year joke here) – – – any way, Dorothy and the Scarecrow are walking along the yellow brick road and Dorothy decides to pick an apple from a tree. The tree objects, slapping Dorothy’s hand. She is startled. “Did you say something?” Then she states the obvious – “I keep forgetting I’m not in Kansas anymore.” The scarecrow, even without a brain, devises an ingenious plan for procuring apples, knowing that by taunting the trees they will throw their apples. It is picking up apples that Dorothy discovers again that she is not in Kansas as she meets a tin figure, saying, “Why it’s a man.”
Now if Dorothy was not from Kansas, but from Minnesota, instead of saying, “I keep forgetting I’m not in Kansas anymore,” she might say, “Well, that’s different.” A scarecrow without a brain who talks – well, that’s different. Apple trees that talk and are rather thin skinned when it comes to their fruit – well, that’s different. A tin man rusting in the woods – well, that’s different.
So picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies – sorry wrong metaphor. Picture yourself as a tree. What kind of fruit does your life produce? What kind of fruit might come from our lives as disciples of Jesus?
If we are honest, we must admit sometimes we produce crab apples in our lives – wormy, sour apples. I appreciate the honesty in this morning’s gospel reading. Some of the disciples don’t come off so well – just like us sometimes. Jesus and the disciples are walking through a Samaritan village, but they are not well received. James and John react. “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Don’t you feel like that sometime? Let’s call down a little fire from heaven and get rid of the troublemakers.
Christians are sometimes thought of as sour apples. In 2005, the Barna group polled 16-29 year olds asking the question, “What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Christian’?” 91% of young adults outside the church replied, “anti-homosexual;” 87% responded “judgmental;” 85% said “hypocritical;” 72% reported that Christians were out of touch with reality; and 68% pegged Christians as “boring.” (source: Diana Butler Bass). So Christians have been graceless, humorless, and judgmental. We have sometimes displayed all the warmth of those apple trees in the Wizard of Oz. And sometimes when others have pointed that out to us, we simply threaten them with fire.
Jesus responded to James and John simply and directly. “But he turned and rebuked them.” They had it wrong. To be a disciple of Jesus is not to give in to anger and vengeance. We want to produce a different kind of fruit in our lives – not wormy sour apples, but juicy, succulent, flavorful fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Lives that produce such fruit are richer, fuller lives. Giving in to vengeance and anger can feel good, for a short while, but how often our anger is an overreaction and we need to follow with an apology, often embarrassed by our angry outburst. Living to get even means that we are always on guard against our enemies, who are always trying to get even with us. Better to live with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
This kind of life also attracts others. Hafiz is a beloved Persian poet from the fourteenth century, an Islamic mystic poet whose work sings with religious joy. “What is laughter? It is God waking up.” (I Heard God Laughing, 65) The story of how he came to his deep, joyous faith is a wonderful Persian legend. It is said that when he was twenty-one and working as a baker’s assistant, Hafiz delivered some bread to a mansion and happened to catch a fleeting glimpse of a beautiful young woman on a terrace. However brief, that one glimpse captured his heart and he fell madly in love with the woman. She did not notice him, however. She was from a wealthy, noble family. He was a poor baker’s assistant. She was beautiful, he was short and unattractive. As months went by, Hafiz composed poems and love songs celebrating her beauty and his longing. His wonderful words became well-known and oft repeated in the city of Shiraz. Hafiz remained oblivious of his fame, pining for his beloved. Desperate to win her, he undertook a difficult spiritual discipline which required him to pray at the tomb of a particular saint all night long for forty nights. It was said that anyone who could accomplish this arduous task would be granted his heart’s desire. Every day Hafiz went to work at the bakery and every night he kept vigil, spurred on by his great love. At daybreak on the fortieth day, the archangel Gabriel appeared to Hafiz and told him he could ask for whatever he wished. Hafiz had never seen such a glorious and radiant being as Gabriel. He thought to himself, “If God’s messenger is so beautiful, how much more beautiful must God be!” Hafiz blurted out to Gabriel, “I want God.” (op. cit., 79-80) As our lives burst forth with fruits of the Spirit, others may say that they want the God of Jesus Christ whose Spirit produces those fruits in our lives. Others may look at us and say, “well, that’s different,” and want to join the journey.
At our last Church Council meeting I shared these words from management guru Peter Drucker during the devotion, The “non-profit” institution neither supplies goods or services nor controls. Its “product” is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. Its product is a changed human being. The non-profit institutions are human change-agents. Their “product” is… a changed human life altogether.” I ended the devotion with these words – “what we finally have to offer others is our lives and a seat on the bus next to us on the journey with God.” Programs are important – for families, for singles, for youth, for adults. Education in the Bible, in Christian faith, in Methodism is important. Faith formation that takes seriously the biblical injunction to do justice matters – we seek justice and well-being for all regardless of race, place of birth, gender, sexual orientation. Worship that has some energy and liveliness and thoughtfulness matters. But if we are not being made different by all these, if our lives are not growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control then we are missing what is most important. Yes, we will still have our wormy, sour apple moments, but are we moving away from them and toward love? What we finally have to offer others is our lives and a seat on the bus next to us on the journey with God.
Hafiz really was a remarkable poet, even if the story of how he moved toward God is more legend than anything. Let me begin to wrap up with a short poem of his called, “The Only Sin I Know” (op. cit. 56). As you hear it, know that a word Hafiz often uses for God is “the Beloved.”

If someone sits with me
And we talk about the Beloved,

If I cannot give his heart comfort,
If I cannot make him feel better
About himself and this world,

Then, Hafiz,
Quickly run to the mosque and pray –

For you have committed
The only sin I know.

Be fruitful and multiply. May we say of our lives – we are different. May others say of us, “well, they’re different,” and may they join us on our journey with God. Amen.