Most everyone who knows me knows that I hail from Minnesota. I am, not to put too fine a point on it, a pain about that fact. And most of you thought I was unconscious of it. What most of you probably don't realize is that I come from a mythical place called Minnesota. It is rather like Garrison Keillor's "Lake Woebegon", which he calls "the little town that time forgot" and where "the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all of the children are above average." In my Minnesota, forty degrees below zero is just getting chilly and the mosquitoes are so large it only takes three or four to carry off a Hereford cow. The reality is much different - that would take at least seven Minnesota mosquitoes, for example.
Memory and affection for the place I grew up create the mythical state. The reality is too ordinary, too everyday, and too just like so many other places. Minnesota is my home of origin, so I invest it with all of the qualities I remember as good, and simply forget the grinding cold of a grey winter's day, or the heat and humidity of a still summer's day in the mosquito farm that the oh-so-real Minnesota becomes each summer, what with all the rain, and the lakes, and shade of the many trees for mosquitoes to lurk in, waiting in ambush for the unwary, or for evening twilight. I have fun embellishing the wonders of the place - although there are plenty of real wonders in the real place. The place I talk about most of the time, however, is a myth. It really doesn't exist anywhere but in my head.
Most of us live in a mythical place, or a mythical time, or both. We imagine life to be something, or to be about something, which is not reality. We view the world around us, and our own participation in it, through the fog of fictions which we weave in our heads. Many of the fictions are not our inventions, we learned them. Mom and Dad taught us some of them. We learned others from our friends, or helped them make them up as we grew up and traveled through life. Other myths were inculcated by our society. These are the lies that we tell ourselves or each other about life, how it is to be lived, what it is all about, and so forth.
George Washington and the cherry tree is an example of one kind of myth. Honest Abe, the man who walked miles to return fourteen cents in change is another. The truth of the events is not so much in dispute (except by historians, and what do they know?), just as there is a real place called Minnesota. It is the meaning of those stories, and what they are used to teach that makes them mythical. George could not tell a lie? I suspect He was honest, but incapable of a lie? How did he get so far in politics? And how did he manage to switch his loyalty from England to America, making his oaths as an officer of the crown suddenly meaningless? Abraham Lincoln was also honest, I suspect, but history records that he sometimes had different purposes and different opinions than he identified publicly. For example, Lincoln was pro-slavery for much of his life, and simply used abolitionist sentiment to support a war that was more about his political philosophy of federal powers over against states rights than human rights.
Myths. We have the myth of individual rights and freedom. The reason the myth works is that there is some sort of corollary in reality which gives the myth power. We have certain rights in this nation. What they are changes, sometimes almost minute to minute. The Schiavo case in Florida put the right to life to the test, and we found - as we have in the abortion question - that the right to life is not as real as we imagined. Florida courts preferred the right of a straying husband to murder his wife by starvation and dehydration to the rights of his wife to life, which would have been secured by simply ruling that denying food and water to an otherwise viable human life is monstrous and evil. People were arrested for trying to bring water to the woman!
The right to own and control property has been proven to be a myth every time a farmer is not allowed to till his farm because some "threatened" species of rodent or insect is believed to live there. In some places - such as the real Minnesota - when you buy a piece of wooded land, covered in harvest-able timber, you also must pay a tax on the potential value of the trees you might harvest, whether you intend to log the land or not. You need to get your neighbor's permission for many uses of your land (and government permits), and sometimes people move in next to a business (such as a feed lot), and then force you to change your way of doing business - or stop doing business at all - on your own property. Property rights are often mythical.
Depending on your political opinions and personal experiences, those examples might be debated. You might think that they are not accurate - and that is the nature of myths. We often live by them even when they are not true. Another example is the myth that your life is about you, and you can live it any way you wish. As with any myth, there is a certain reality upon which the myth rests and finds its power to influence us. You can make your life about just about anything you want to, and you can actually do anything you are physically and mentally capable of - as long as you are willing to pay the price. Every decision and every action comes with a price attached - sometimes good and sometimes not-so-good. It serves you to know what the price is, because you may well have to pay it, even if you are unconscious of the price to be paid when you choose to act or speak.
Behind that reality, or in front of it, confusing many people, is the myth that their lives are about them, and that they are free to do whatever they wish to do. That is never absolutely true for anyone, and especially false and pernicious for a Christian. Everyone lives in society, that is, in relation to others. "No man is an island" is how John Donne, a Scottish poet and contemporary of Martin Luther stated the case. We can live for ourselves, and many do, but that is only accomplished by ignoring our inter-connection with our neighbors, and with all of humanity, and thereby cheating them, perhaps even harming them.
Christians, however, are bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20), joined to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16), made members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19), adopted as sons by God (Gal. 4:5), and are made fellow citizens of the new nation composed of those that are God's people (Eph. 2:19 & 2 Peter 2:9-10). So your life is not yours - . . . you are not your own for You have been bought with a price - so it is not for you to live for yourself - therefore glorify God in your body. Scriptures are crystal clear on this issue - 2 Cor. 5:14-15: "For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf."
If you are in Christ, your life is no longer about you. Jesus' life was about you. Your life is to be about Jesus, and about those He has placed in your life to live with and among, to love, encourage, support and serve. Note Ephesians 5: 15-21; "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Jesus gave us the command to love one another. "By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another." In Ephesians, through the Apostle, He commands us to be subject to one another. These, and host of other passages, tell us that we are to live for the welfare and advantage of our brothers (and sisters) in Christ. Our flesh tells us that it is unreasonable to think that way. That is part of the myth of our times and of our flesh. The reality is the command of Christ. He designed us and created us to live in humble dependence upon each other. If each one of us were to spend our energies and our time caring for the welfare of the others, we would each have many more talents, much more in riches, and significantly greater energies devoted to our care, because rather than just ourselves, we would be cared for by the whole body of believers - particularly here within our congregation.
Our flesh tells us that such a system would never work, and we would be the poorer for trying. Our flesh would be speaking what would be true according to the flesh - which is all about taking care of #1 first! Nevertheless, it is a myth. Reality is what God tells us it is. Just because we do not see it, doesn't mean it is not real, any more than seeing the special effects we can create with computers in movies makes them real. We are to live as God would have us live because we are His, bought and paid for.
And what a price He paid! Christ suffered and died in your place. He took what you had coming. The scourging and the mocking and the nails were yours. You deserved every bit of that, and more! So did I. The temptation to dismiss that truth, to doubt it, or to minimize our guilt in sin is part of the myth of life in this world of sin and death. We don't want to believe it, so we fancy ourselves to be decent people, generally good and kind, and certainly better than some others. It is not until we hear ourselves beginning the prayer of the Pharisee, "God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men," that we recoil and try a little humility. But when we, who have known our guilt and the sweetness of the grace of God, imagine ourselves to be 'Not so bad, really,' we are doing essentially the same thing that the unbelieving scientist does when he invokes the myth of evolution and dreams that he has risen from something less noble to be the magnificent creature he [imagines he] is.
No, our reality is to be what it is. We find that reality, with all of our myths and sleepy-eyed fogginess torn away, described for us in the Bible. There we can see who we really are, by nature and by the gracious gift of God. We can properly assess the dangers around us - and the opportunities in the light of the Word of God. We find there sound and realistic guidance. How we should deal with one another is set before us in plain language. It is so reality based that, to the best of my knowledge, it has never failed to serve the children of God well wherever they had put it into practice, and walked in its light.
Truth be told, however, we walk in such powerful myths that few have tried to consistently live in reality, and those who have often lose sight of it in but a short while. We tend to take pride in our faithfulness and marvel at our own success when we walk but a short time in God's Word and discover the blessedness of seeing and living in reality. Too soon, we are confused into thinking that the blessings of God are worked by our efforts and not given to us as His gifts, and we begin to build a new myth, and walk away from the truth. Generally that means changing from reliance on His way to doing things in our own "new" and different ways. Sometimes it takes a generation or two. Sometimes this process requires much less time.
The 'myth-buster' is repentance. When we find ourselves wandering, we need to repent, and re-focus on the reality revealed to us as the chosen of God. Day by day we need to view our lives and our world and our neighbors through the clear and reality-based perspective of God's Word. For ourselves, it means seeing our sins and failure and repenting, and seeking forgiveness. For our world, it means seeing the world around us as it is, a place filled with evils and temptations to be avoided, filled with wonders to be utilized, but never treasured too highly or held onto too tightly. For our neighbors, it means to see them as brothers and sisters, when they share our faith, and fellow men and women in need of the saving grace of God , when they do not believe, and in need of our compassion and concern in either condition.
The point is: what seems real and reasonable to us is often neither. The world around us is blinded by the myths they teach each other, and choose to believe. It is like the line from the movie, The Matrix, "It is the reality that is pulled over your eyes to blind you to the truth." The Old Evil Foe has been doing that to us since Adam and Eve. God's Word is the clear vision of reality for us, for our conduct, for our values, and for whatever ails you. "But now, we have the more sure Word of God, to which you do well to pay attention, as to a light shining in the darkness."
Yours in the Lord,
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.
Send Pastor Robin Fish an email.