Summary: A prophetic 4th of July sermon.

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July 2, 2000 • Independence Day

Mark 6:1-62 Samuel 7:1-14a

I’ve never done it or even seen it done, but I’ve been told that there are two ways to cook a frog. One way is easy, the other difficult.

The difficult way is to drop the frog into a pot of boiling water. You try that and the frog will jump out so quickly that it won’t get burned, and then you’ll have to chase a angry, frightened frog around your kitchen. That’s the hard way.

The easy way is to put your frog into a pot cool water over a low burner. Because the water’s comfortable to begin with, the frog will stay there. Indeed, he will stay there without complaint until he’s thoroughly cooked.

Now, I don’t know why you’d want to cook a frog, and, as I said, I don’t know if this method of cooking really works — it’s just what I’ve been told. But whether or not it works on frogs, as an analogy to the way sin works, I think it’s pretty accurate.

With sin, you might think it’s pretty cool to begin with, but if you’re not careful you’ll be spiritually — and maybe even actually — dead before you even realize that the water’s gotten hot.

On this the closest Sunday to the 224th celebration of our American independence, I wonder if we might also apply “the cooked frog analogy” to the way we Americans deal with threats to our democracy. It seems that we do very well with immediate and clearly defined threats. Something like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the face of such danger we react quickly and decisively. We jump right out of the pot and do what we have to do to protect our interests!

But if there’s no crisis, no immediate and unmistakeable danger, we’ll sit there in the slowly heating water until our goose is cooked.

I think of the rising tide of violence in our land, for instance — especially gun–related violence and the growing problem of violence among our young people. I don’t know if you heard about it, but the General Conference of our church two months ago voted to call for a stop in the sale of all handguns. Period. That’s like jumping out of the pot. I expect many of of you don’t agree with that vote, and that’s OK... but I wonder if you’re old enough to remember how it was — what the problem of violence was like, say 50 years ago, and how it has intensified in the last 50 years, and the role that easy access to guns, and especially handguns, has played in that intensification. The water’s gotten a lot hotter in the past five decades, has it not? Now try to imagine what it will be like in another 50 years if the violence continues to worsen at the same rate. How long will it be before every one of us is afraid to let our children out of the house?

So why don’t we do something about it now? How hot does the water have to get? Are we human beings or frogs?

Or take another example: money in politics. If there’s a threat to our democracy it’s that. Think of the exorbitant cost of political campaigns today, the way money calls virtually all the shots in our political process, and the way the campaigns themselves have been debased by the soundbytes, attack ads and negativity that the exorbitantly expensive television ads make so effective.

Or think, for example, of our growing materialism as Americans. This may well be the greatest threat of all, materialism, consumerism, and the exaltation of greed as good, and along with it, the ever–widening gap between those at the top and those at the bottom of our economic ladder. We are a fabulously weathly people. We have more things, more stuff today that we’ve ever had. The lifestyle of almost anyone in this room would be envied by richest men in the world a mere hundred years ago. But are we happier? Are we more secure? Do our lives have meaning and purpose? Are we fulfilled? And, to bring it back home to the democracy we love, are we more or less likely to vote or to be actively involved in the political process? Are we human beings or are we frogs? The water’s getting hotter. Is that really your final answer?

As most of you know, I’m not much for waving the flag here in church. Indeed, I don’t really like it that we have a flag here in the sanctuary. That’s a relatively recent phenomenon, you know. Until the 1930’s no church had a flag in its sanctuary. It was then that flags began to be distributed by the Ku Klux Klan — a sort of community relations program I guess. The so–called Christian flag was created to offset the presence of the American flag in the symbolic arena of the chancel. I don’t think it belongs here. But I’m not willing to fight about it.

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