Updated: Jan 31
There is a game played that some call “Telephone.” It is also known as “operator,” “grapevine,” “whisper down the alley,” “gossip,” “secret message,” and “pass the message,” among still others. Perhaps you have played this game?
It begins with a message whispered to the first person in a chain of people, with each person instructed to pass the message on to the next person, by whispering. The message can only be spoken once by each who passes it on. By the time the last person receives the message, when that person announces the message to the whole group, the laughter begins. The announced message is nothing like the original message.
The point of the game is to show how “confusion” and “incomprehensibility” make people try to understand something that is not easily understood. Everyone is told it is important to listen to the message and pass it on word-for-word. But words blend together as whispers, with one not able to clarify by questioning. The words heard seem to need corrections, not fitting with the thoughts projected by the other words heard, but one has to pass along what one thinks one heard.
Confusion abounds simply because people are told to play the game as instructed. The message is a secret, which means you cannot let on that you know it … until the time comes for the secret is revealed publicly.
Has anyone played that game? (Look for hands or nods)
Can you imagine how, if that game had been played by the Apostles before Jesus died and the Day of Pentecost came, the original messages Jesus whispered would have been confused and laughable? If Jesus first whispered, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” then the twelfth disciples could have announced, “I believe he said to loathe your neighbor if he doesn’t do like you.”
Fortunately, when the Holy Spirit is the whispering source, mistakes like that do not happen.
The readings today are very clear in the message: “Do not get caught up in going after earthly goals, because the heavenly goal is the only one that matters.”
Messages like that are passed around in Christian circles. Biblical quotes are frequently tied up in a nice box with a bow on top, always made to look pretty when presented, and then freely given away. However, they never seem to be the message gift that people want to receive.
Many of the Jesus messages are received, but not a good fit, not applicable to the latest styles, the wrong colors, something … as we nod, say “Thank you” and put the gift in a closet … to re-gift later. We often put back the message back in the box and hide it away, wishing it was something we could actually use, more than a thought that mattered.
Sometimes it’s the thought behind the gift that counts more, so people will secretly … occasionally … go look at the gift and imagine, “What if this could be right for me?”
If someone were to ask us, “What was the unspoken message accompanying the gift?”, we might reflect for a moment. If we feel an answer come to mind vividly, then we see how perfectly something initially unwanted, unasked for, was intended just for us.
When that dawning makes perfect sense, then we are able to remember it. We get the point, right on, word-for-word. We are then capable of passing on the message of Christ, without mistake. We want to pass on that message as true Christians.
It might be hard to pick up on this when reading Scripture, but we have a relationship with God and Christ that is like a Father-child relationship. Everything written in the Holy Bible is a Sunday School lesson. We are being taught to memorize the stories, to recognize them, and even to know what the meaning of the lessons are.
A good child pays attention. “Listen to the message. Repeat the message.”
“I know it! I heard it word-for-word!” the child says.
Living it is something else. That requires growing up, gaining some experience, acquiring some wisdom. Letting everything we have been taught as children come to life … click (light bulb turned on).
Aaaaaahhhh haaaaaah. A moment of understanding. A remaining life of wearing and displaying the gift received.
In the reading from Hosea, we see the life of the child of God … Israel. Israel memorized all the Scriptures and then put in some mental exercised for fun and games … but their learning never matured. They learned every rule of Moses; then they broke everyone of them. They acted with sin while still calling to the Most High, as though knowing the message kept them privileged.
Paul gives us a long list of things that the child, Israel, probably did, which led it to serve an Assyrian king instead of God. Those failures can be summed up as falling prey to the vanities of the flesh and vanities of the mind. We want to use others as our possessions. People are made gifts to ourselves, to make us feel good. We want to display our emotions towards others, in order to establish our dominance in this world. It is a right and joyful thing to have our way be THE WAY.
Everything boils down to being selfish.
Paul said, “Do not lie to each other.”
In short, this means stop being an egocentric child. Grow up!
Be a new self in Christ. Live the lessons you have memorized.
Jesus was asked about an issue one follower had about the inheritance rules, such that the eldest got everything and all the younger male siblings depended on the eldest brother’s generosity. Sometimes that gifts of inheritance were not so balanced and evenly divided.
Jesus called the man, “Friend,” because Jesus knew, we all need earthly rewards to some degree, just to maintain life on this earth. Someone asking a question for clarity is a friend, not an enemy. The question was a just concern, because the rules require a society that actually cares for its neighbors and family, and shares so everyone’s needs are met.
The message Jesus then whispered into the ears of those listening was, “Don’t get caught putting off for tomorrow what should be done today.”
In the parable, the wealthy land owner started thinking (a deadly thing to do, sometimes) ….
“I might not always be as fortunate as I am now. To ensure I will always be fortunate, I will build a super-sized storage bin for my grain. I will hoard my plenty so I will be prosperous until the day I die.”
Supposedly, maintenance of wealth … enough to live comfortably on until death … would allow him the ability to share more with others later. Otherwise, he might mismanage that grain and give it all away before he died, causing himself to die a poor man. In other words, “I need to have more than enough before I can give more away” was his mantra of altruism.
God said to that rationale, “You fool!”
“The End Times, in your case, is tonight. You were selfish to the end.”
Sometimes, as children of God, we see money as the new grain of life.
I remember, from my youth, how it seemed the Christmas season began when the Sears “wish book” came in the mail. I would tear the brown paper wrapping off and turn to the toy section, immediately making a list of EVERYTHING I wanted … not having any real concept of money. I wanted this. I wanted that. I wanted just about everything in between this and that. The costs for all that I wanted were prohibitive, but I did not know that because I was a child.
How many of us have grown up with that mental concept as a cornerstone of adult life … a life when so many playthings are available … for money.
The costs run up. They can become prohibitive, still … some people go into deep debt just so they can have this, so they can have that, and so they can have everything in between. At an adult age, they are acting like children. They know the message of Christ, but they have not grown to live it.
Paul wrote a lot of letters, as we can see. He was the bishop to several churches, where all the members were truly filled with the Holy Spirit. He wrote letters as a way of helping his fellow Christians stay “mature in Christ.”
Those letters were gift messages, to those the letters were addressed and to those who still read them today. They are gift messages that keep on giving … but are they gift messages we understand? Do we truly understand what they whisper?
Christians are those who have grown beyond the child they once were, when they first heard a whispered message that came in the form of a colorful cartoon-like Bible story. Adult Christians – those who have “matured in Christ” – live the lessons that have been passed on to them. They then pass on the messages of wisdom to their children … both in their words spoken and their deeds demonstrated.
You see, in a society so filled with financial worry, with people divided into groups – the haves and the have-nots, with one group always trying to stay on top and the other group always trying to keep from drowning – the message about helping your neighbor is not about giving money to strangers.
Christianity is like a support group, where your neighbors are other Christians.
It is like a support group for addicts – like AA – but I am not talking about alcoholism, drug habits, sexual binds, or any of the evils that come to mind when you hear the word “addiction.” In the most basic sense, an addiction is about selfishness, one’s addiction to “me first.” To addicts, other do not matter, which is more than a love of material things. Therefore, all addicts are like sinners, with the program the whispers about how to be saved from yourself, and sponsors (like Paul) who the weak can lean on, in a neighborly way.
We have all been there, done that, and our sins are known, so we feel guilt every time fall back into our selfish behavior. To keep going back to a state of guilt is vain. We need one another’s strength to remain adults, much more than we need some stranger to give us $100 … which will disappear like last night’s dream.
A church that I attended several times in the past, had me meet a man who was a high-ranking member of that church. He told us in a Sunday School for adults class about an “all-in church.” That was how the first churches of Christ were. Members of that Church did not put a check in the plate, but totally supported one another. You had to be “all-in,” so the Apostles and new Christian disciples could devote their lives to living meagerly and spreading the Gospel. They were “all-in” so that others would be filled with the Holy Spirit. That church thrived and spread exponentially.
I asked the man one day, “What happened to that “all-in” church?”
As he rushed off like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, he looked back and said, “That didn’t work out too well, did it?”
<buzzer sound> Wrong answer!
<whisper into microphone> “Do not get caught up in going after earthly goals, because the heavenly goal is the only one that matters.”
Pass that along.
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