"We're more popular than Jesus now."
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 4th: Psalm 121; Isaiah 51:4-8; and Luke 7:1-10. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
On this day in 1966, The Beatles’ John Lennon created an awful lot of flak when he was quoted saying, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. … We’re more popular than Jesus now.” He later tried to quell the backlash by saying he was not anti-Christian nor anti-religion. He felt that Christianity and religion in general were on the decline, and in 1966 The Beatles were anything but. It was an observation not an attack, he insisted. This flippant remark of a 26-year-old musician sparked a fierce reaction in America. Some radio stations refused to play any of their music from that point forward.
That was 57 years ago. Christianity is still here and so are The Beatles. Our Music Minister, Anthony, sometimes plays pieces by The Beatles in church, and people appreciate it as a part of our worship. Time has mellowed the passion of that moment from nearly six decades ago. Stepping back from the bombastic, off-the-cuff statement of a 26-year-old, and also from the hubris of overly offended followers of Jesus, we return to equanimity. Religion is a powerful force for good in the world, but its uncensored passion can also legitimate beliefs and actions that are truly offensive and dangerous in themselves and to the religious beliefs they purport to defend.
Being zealous for our faith should not be an excuse for privilege or prejudice. Something as headline-making as a celebrity’s affront to Jesus and the people who follow Him that calms after 57 years to the point that the same celebrity’s music is offered to God in worship at church, should serve as an example for us to not be apoplectic, but to temper our emotions especially in the moment of anger.
In today’s Gospel selection, we read a story centering around a centurion. A centurion would be a Roman military commander with authority over 100 men. This powerfully influential person did not abuse the might of his legionnaires. As a matter of fact, the people of Capernaum report to Jesus, “‘He is worthy of having you do this [miracle] for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’” Capernaum was a small village along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The centurion could easily have been dismissive or cruel to these people. Instead, he may well be what the New Testament calls a “God-fearer.” This would be a person sympathetic to the faith without actually committing to the faith. Both the unnamed centurion and the people of Capernaum had learned to live together and to respect each other, differences notwithstanding. Even Jesus praises the centurion’s faith by saying, “‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’”
Here we have an example of mutual respect between groups that were locked in a conflicted situation and Jesus applauds their civility. May we learn during this time of the liturgical year devoted to “the Passion” to direct our religious passion to what invigorates our faith and away from anything that denigrates another’s. Tomorrow’s Gospel in church is the story of Nicodemus, a Jewish teacher and leader who comes to Jesus seeking insight. Jesus treats him with respect and in the context of their conversation speaks one of those truly memorable biblical lines about being born again. I invite you to join us for worship tomorrow on the Second Sunday of Lent. You may join us in person or if you prefer send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for the Zoom link.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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