Distractions & False Teachers

Rob (an elder) informed me that before I am allowed to go on vacation, he must first approve the scriptures he will be preaching because last week was the widow’s mite (e.g. money). I asked him if he would prefer to preach on the end of the world (as we know it)?

Our scripture is not happy, it is gloomy and scary.
It is the day each generation believes is coming and yet we pray it is not in our own lifetime.

These scriptures had me pondering that these are about not being distracted despite Jesus’ warnings of earthquakes, famines, and those who might lead us astray.

Our Daniel texts speaks of the resurrection, which is people coming out of their graves… but I hope it will not be zombies!

The conversations of zombies, natural disasters, lack of necessary resources, and those who led us astray are all distractions.

We live in a chaotic time of social anxiety and unrest.
As much as I would love to say “as never experienced before”…
that would be a lie.

As a nation we have had such times of social anxiety, unrest and chaos. In times of chaos, we attempt to find our anchors that hold us steadfast and prevent being distracted by the “signs” that the end is near.

I think about the chaos of the 1960s and 1970s, but one story in particular.

As a side note about looking back, hindsight is 20 20.
I will try not to get too far ahead of myself.

My grandmother and her sister were raised in Richmond (approx. 30 miles away), where they attended Richmond High School. A classmate asked her sister (e.g. my great-aunt) out on a date. She rejected him, but he briefly dated one of her friends.

He was smart and charismatic. He studied for and entered into ordained ministry.

He served a congregation that was involved in great ministry under his leadership. It was reaching out into the community helping, serving, and loving those in the most need (e.g. “the least of these”). However, the established congregational members were not pleased about the “least of these” who came through the church doors for worship and he was fired from the congregation.

Therefore, he began his own congregation (no denominational ties) and again was doing great ministry. But then, he realized it could be a money-maker and he could control the people.

I have read his name from some of our whispering lips.

This man is responsible for 918 deaths as of 40 years ago TODAY (18 Nov. 1978).
Whenever I hear this scripture, I cannot help but think of Jim Jones.

{If time permitted, I could talk for hours about Jim Jones, The People’s Temple, and Jonestown.}

Our scriptures warn us to beware of false teachers who will claim to be Christ returned, but it can be difficult to tell the difference between one proclaiming the gospel and a false teacher. History has taught us that is not as black-and-white as we would desire it to be and we look for ‘strong’ leaders in times of chaos.

In Religious Studies, we refer to groups like The People’s Temple (Jones’ congregation) as Doomsday Cults. These Doomsday leaders and communities are obsessed with scriptures similar to those we heard this morning. These leaders and communities become distracted from the core of the Gospel to focus on the “signs” that the end times is near and how they will survive it.

Jim Jones was known as the messiah, the Christ returned, to his community.
Charles Manson was known as the messiah, the Christ returned, to his “Family”

It is scary to imagine that these men gained the power to influence and control their communities.

These men distracted the people from the core of the Gospel message with scriptures such as these. These men used fear to cause the communities to believe the end times was tomorrow and they were the messiah, the Christ returned, the savior. Thus, these men would be the ones to ‘rescue’ the community (if not the world) from the natural disasters, the lack of necessary resources, and the wars waged from one kingdom/nation against another.

Those are all merely distractions.

We also heard this morning a beautiful line from Hebrews. We heard that we are called to provoke one another to “outdo each other” in LOVE.

There is Good News (Gospel) in our scriptures this morning despite it being hidden among the distractions that can cause us fear and anxiety about the future, which we do not have a crystal ball to know.

The core message of the Gospel is the same promises we profess in our baptisms:

  • to proclaim Christ is word and deed;
  • to seek justice;
  • to act with compassion and mercy; and
  • to love and serve all people.

That is our calling today.
That has been our calling for years, decades, and centuries.
That is our calling into the future.

Do not be distracted by the news and horrific happenings in our world.
Do not be distracted by leaders who promise to make everything ‘perfect’ for you.
Do not be distracted by those who seek to scare or control you,
even if using scripture to do it.
Do not be distracted from the core message to love (and serve).

When we allow ourselves to be distracted from that Gospel message, whether by social anxieties, chaos, or the people in our lives, we are led astray.

Our scripture reads “Beware” of false teachers,
it is more accurate to read “stay awake/aware”.
Our scriptures also read “Do not be alarmed”.

Do not permit fear to distract you from the ultimate mission to love.

Martin Luther is attributed with responding “plant a tree” when asked what he would do if he knew the world would end tomorrow.

It reminds us to do nothing different.

It reminds us to stay focused and true to the Gospel, to provoke one another to love, to compassion, to mercy, and to seeking justice.

It reminds us to not be distracted by the yelling, the hate, and the violence that we bear witness.

Stay Awake But Do Not Be Afraid. Amen.

Scriptures were Daniel 12: 1-3; Hebrews 10: 11-25; and Mark 13: 1-8.
Originally preached on Sunday Nov. 18, 2018 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

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