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Sermons > Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

27 Jun 2010

“‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’  Jesus turned and rebuked them.”  (Luke 9:54-55)                                   In the name …

Last Sunday the cover article of the Boston Globe Magazine was about the on-line commenting to newspaper articles.  Anyone can post these comments anonymously, and they can do so as often as they would like.  With some on-line articles that I have been really interested in, I’ve continued and also read the submitted comments.  I don’t do this too often because it mostly feels like a waste of my time.  Some are interesting, some are pointless and some are just plain rude.  But when I do bother to look at the comments, I’m always amazed at how some of these submitters offer a comment, someone else will respond to it, then the first one responds back, and this continues on for several submissions.  And as the on-line, anonymous conversation grows, they seem to draw farther and farther away from the original newspaper article and its topic, and they begin to take aim at each other. 

While sitting at their computers, their identity protected by pseudonyms, they rail at other anonymous posters, talking to them in ways that I have to assume they would never speak to another person like in a face to face conversation.  The Boston Globe reporter tried to contact many of these anonymous posters, and many of them were all too willing to be interviewed.  But he also reported:  “Here’s whom I didn’t hear back from:  the screamers, troublemakers, and trolls (Internet slang for people behind inflammatory posts).  Not a single one.  The loudest, most aggressive voices grew mum when asked to explain themselves, to engage in an actual discussion. The trolls appear to prize their anonymity more than anyone else.” (http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles /2010/06/20/inside_the_mind_of_the_anonymous_online_poster/)  The more vicious the words, the more isolated the person. 

This is not a commentary on the internet.  A great many people have found community over the World Wide Web.  I think about individuals who have rare diseases, for example.  There’s no one around them who can understand their predicament.  But over the internet they can communicate with other people who are in a similar situation.  I think about individuals who are fanatical about anything under the sun and that no one else around them cares nearly as much as they do.  Over the internet they can find a community of like-minded souls.  It’s not necessarily the internet that’s the problem; it’s the internet’s facility to let people dig themselves into deeper and deeper caves of isolation, and when they get down there, all by themselves, they begin to forget about the worth of other people, especially other people who are different than they are or who think differently than they do. 

Take today’s Gospel selection as a reminder that it’s not the internet per se, but the internet’s offer of isolation that can be so destructive.  Jesus and the twelve disciples are just beginning their journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.  To get from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south, our small band of travelers will have to pass through Samaria, and traditionally the Jews and the Samaritans were not the closest of neighbours.  One Samaritan village refuses them hospitality because they are Jews heading to Jerusalem for Passover.  And before we judge the Samaritans we should also know that the Jewish authorities would not allow the Samaritans to worship at the Jerusalem Temple for Passover or on any other occasion.  Both groups were prejudiced against the other, and because of this both groups tried to stay away from the other.

In response to this Samaritan rejection, James and John, two of Jesus’ closest followers, ask Jesus if He would like them to call down God’s wrath upon this village.  I’m always amazed that they would even think of asking Jesus such a thing.  But even for the followers of Jesus it was not easy to undo the generations of suspicion and hatred that were allowed to build-up and fester because of isolation.  Each group’s prejudice of the other only intensified because each group stayed away from the other.  Isolation is one of prejudice’s strongest allies.  They only could imagine the worst of the others because they never got to know the others.  All they had were their stories of hatred and ridicule about each other passed down through generations.  The isolation is what gave birth to the thinking of James and John that God would actually be willing to destroy this whole Samaritan village, and that God would do so with gusto and glee, which is a strong warning to have us think a second and a third time before imagining that God is always on our side and that God always hates our enemies.

But instead of receiving Jesus’ permission to punish the Samaritans, the Bible tells us that Jesus turns around and rebukes His disciples.  Jesus would not tolerate such self-righteous anger and contempt.  With Jesus there was no hiding behind the prejudices of isolation.  There was no opportunity to think of these Samaritans as anything less than other people.  But how often do we modern-day disciples imitate not Jesus, but James and John?  How often do we expect God to punish those who are different than we are, to punish those whom we have never met, to punish those who we just don’t like or agree with?  And by doing so, we give offense to the example of Christ.

Instead of this isolation that leads to anger and prejudice, let us as people of faith struggle for community.  I had the opportunity to attend the dedication of the Sunderland Elementary School playground to Marshall Aronstam this past week.  What a smile it put on his face to see all of those children playing together on his playground, and what a contrast that is with the pits of isolation that the Globe wrote about last Sunday.  Let us remember that one of the greatest blessings of church is her insistence upon community.  That as we read this morning, “The whole law if fulfilled in one statement, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Gal. 5:14)  On this our first summer-Sunday, let us remember the blessings found in the community of the church, and let it remind us that the alternative of isolation is no real alternative at all.  For these things we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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