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Sermon for Sunday, February 5, 2006

Doing the Devils’ Dirty Work
Matthew 15:18-20; Titus: 3:1-8

Here is your morning test. Pretend I’m not your pastor. I’m really your hairdresser. I’ve always wanted to open a hair salon named Hair Like Matt’s. Imagine that you are at Hair Like Matt’s and I cut your hair, and when we’re done, your hair looks just like mine. Basically, you get a bad haircut. Really bad. You go home to wash your hair and restyle it. Your new hairstyle is bristly with long hairs sticking up where they shouldn’t, while shorter patches of hair dot your scalp. What do you do?
  • Shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well, it will grow back.”
  • Go back and ask the hairdresser to fix it?
  • Find a new hairdresser and promise never to go to Hair Like Matt again?

Maybe you should go to ThePayback.com. We all know someone with a problem or someone who offends us, but were not always able to confront these people. ThePayback.com does the dirty work for you while keeping your identity a secret. For $3 you can send your hairdresser an anonymous letter that says:

Someone who really cares about you wants you to know that when people leave the
barbershop, they expect to look as they pictured in their minds before the
haircut. Sometimes that can be a hard standard to live up to, but if it is
a current style, it should not be too difficult for an average barber. Always
cut the customer’s hair in the style that they request.

If your hairdo causes small children to panic whenever you are near, then you can also send an edgier letter:

Dear barber,You need to get you eyes check by a licensed eye doctor because some
is terribly wrong with your hand-to-eye coordination. Perhaps you have the
shakes? I could have cut my own hair with a blindfold on and done a better
job than you.

I don’t recommend this approach, of course. I believe if you have something to say about someone, than you should have the guts to say it to his or her face. But, at some point, someone told us that direct confrontation might hurt another person’s feelings. Instead of being honest, it’s easier to talk about idiots behind their backs. Our ears usually itch to hear stories about another’s guilty secrets.

Of course, we know we shouldn’t tell stories about other people, especially fake ones. We’ve seen what happens to the elementary school boy when he’s labeled as slow, or to the high school girl who is rumored to be easy, or to the promotion chances of a co-worker who we’ve heard, on good account, is lazy or brainless. It hardly matters whether or not the stories are true. Like the flu, rumors spread by human-to-human contact.

About 12 years ago, I opened an impassioned letter asking me to boycott Procter and Gamble. The author of the chain letter (who by the way spelled Procter incorrectly) claimed that the President of Procter & Gamble appeared on the Phil Donahue Show and announced that “due to the openness of our society”, he was confessing his association with the church of Satan. He stated that a large portion of the profits from Procter & Gamble products suppoted the satanic church. The letter said, “Inform other Christians about this and STOP buying Proctor & Gamble products. Let’s show Proctor & Gamble that there are enough Christians to make a difference! We urge you to make copies of this and pass it on to as many people as possible. Liz Claiborne also professes to worship Satan and recently openly admitted on the Oprah Winfrey show that half of her profits go towards the church of Satan. This needs to stop!”

One of my life principles is to never support a Satanist. I sorted through all my household products, setting aside everything with a demonic Procter & Gamble logo. As I looked at my harvest of P & G items, I realized what an inconvenience my boycott would be. They make all my favorite products: Cascade, Joy, Comet, Spic &Span, Ivory, Mr. Clean, Bounty towels, Duncan Hines, Jif Peanut Butter, Crisco, Head & Shoulders, Scope, Crest, Downy, Bounce, Sunny Delight, and Pepto-Bismol.

I called P&G customer service and asked them about it. They sent me an enormous packet of letters from Archbishops, Billy Graham, and other Christian luminaries supporting P&G’s integrity. All of the talk shows have also denied this story, but it persists in petitions across the country. Is it a massive satanic plot on a gullible Christian culture, or a downright lie?

Did you hear about the kid who ate six bags of Pop Rocks at a party? In 1971, Life Cereal made a commercial in which a chubby-cheeked, freckle-faced, impossible-to-please little kid named Mikey devoured a heaping bowl of Life. A few years later, we heard rumors that Mikey had devoured a heaping bowl of death. At a party, the rumor goes, Mikey threw back six packs of Pop Rocks, and then chased them with an entire six-pack of Coca-Cola. The consequent explosion allegedly killed him in a flash. None of us doubted the story, and why should we? We heard rumors that Pop Rocks contained an drug that had once been declared illegal by the U.S. government. We trusted the facts of Mikey’s death to be true. To set the record straight, the manufacturer took out full-page ads in forty-five major publications, wrote over 50,000 letters to school principals around the country, and sent inventor of Pop Rocks on a national tour to demonstrate that Pop Rocks induced nothing more deadly than a mild burping sensation. The ruse didn’t work, and Pop Rocks were taken off the shelves briefly during the 1980s. Now listen to this little piece of coincidence that I discovered just this morning. And this is an original theory as far as I can tell. Before his death, Little Mickey was also pitching Skippy Peanut Butter, the brand that competes with and consistently undersells Jif. And Jif is made by - -- guess who -- the Satanists at Procter & Gamble. Is it all a colossal cover-up, or frivolous falsehood.

Have you ever been a victim of Gossip? If you have ever had lies spread about you, then you know how devastating it can be. The tricky thing about gossip is that it is often spread with what appears to be good intentions. A story about a neighbor is told to protect others from making the same mistake. A tale about a troublesome child is spread to keep other children in line. It’s not gossip. We are just sharing our concerns. A Christian woman who suffers with depression writes online about how gossip affected her:

“Some people I thought were my friends were trading rumors about me. When I
confronted one of them, she said it was because they were ‘concerned’ about me.
They were so concerned that they couldn’t pick up the phone or write a letter,
drop round to see me or send E-mail. They were more concerned with spreading
what they thought were my guilty secrets. Never mind that their ‘news’ was bad
guesses showing the situation in the worst possible light, or that their guesses
were completely wrong. Never mind that none of these people had even seen me in
several weeks. They were 'concerned.’”

With concerned friends like these, who needs enemies?

Speaking of enemies, as Christians, our enemy is evil, represented not by Procter and Gamble, but by death, and the devil. In fact, one of the names given to the devil in the NT is diabolos. Diabolos literally means “the slanderer”. The devil is the representation of the one who spreads false accusations and slanderous words about others. The devil is the original gossiper. If we are spreading gossip and smearing the name of others, we are doing the devil’s dirty work.

Gossip reveals more a bout the heart of the gossiper than the one gossiped about. When you wag your tongue about someone else, your words defile you, not the other. Listen again to what Jesus says: Evil words come from an evil heart and defile the person who says them. When our words are doing the devil’s dirty work, it means that our hearts are not in line with God’s. In fact, God is on the side of the victim of gossip. Jesus says, “Count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.”

There is an old saying: There isn’t much to be seen in a little town, but what you hear makes up for it. We hear a lot in our little town, don’t we? In fact, one of the reasons I want us to think about gossip is because it has the power to destroy our church. People have left this church because of the power of gossip. And I think it could be different. I think we can make some basic commitments to each other that we are going to do God’s work instead of the devil’s.

In Paul’s letter to Titus, Paul is writing to a missionary working on the island of Crete. Paul gives Titus some advice on how to guide a new church. One of the things he tells Titus is that to win over the Cretans, the church will have to demonstrate new life in Christ. Paul writes, “Titus, remind the church that at one time, you acted like pagans, but now you are different because of Jesus Christ. Let your actions show the kindness and love of Christ. Do good. Slander no one. Be peaceful and considerate and show true humility.

Spiritual growth can happen in our church if we learn when to keep our mouths shut. Dietrich Bonhöffer, the German Christian martyr of WWII, believed we minister to one another by considering our words before we speak them. In his book, Life Together he writes, “Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words . . . He who holds his tongue in check controls both mind and body.”

When we hold our tongues and control our gossip about other people, then we come to discover that everyone has a place in the community - strong and weak, wise and foolish, gifted and ungifted. We begin to see that our differences are not incentives for judging and condemning each other. Our differences give us reasons to rejoice in one another and serve one another. Each member of the community is made in the image of Christ, and each person has a place at our Table.

Yiddish folklore tells a tale of man who told a lot of malicious lies about the local rabbi that. Eventually overcome by remorse, the liar begged the rabbi to forgive him. “Rabbi, tell me how I can make amends,” he begged. The rabbi sighed, “Take two pillows, go to the public square and there cut the pillows open. Wave them in the air. Then come back.” The rumormonger quickly went home, got two pillows and a knife, ran to the square, cut the pillows open, waved them in the air and raced back to the rabbi’s chambers. “I did just what you said, Rabbi!” The rabbi smiled. “Now, to realize how much harm is done by gossip, go back to the square... and collect all your feathers.”

Or, as Will Rogers put it, “Live so that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.”

We can bless others through truth-telling, instead of cursing them through storytelling. We can speak directly to others instead of speaking to others about them. It’s the golden rule at the heart of Christian ethics. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard a person say, “You know, I wish someone would trash talk me around town today. I wish someone would call me a crook, or a liar or a weirdo behind my back because confrontation makes me uncomfortable.”

Are we doing the devil’s dirty work, or blessing others in Christ’s name? Are we liars or lovers?
God’s loving givers, or the devil’s diabolical drones? Whose side will we be on?





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