“Gotta Have the Wristband”
Text: Malachi 2:10
Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?
This is an obscure text to be sure; as a matter of fact, many Bible scholars have trouble agreeing on what exactly Malachi is trying to say, although most agree that the main topic is marriage and fidelity in marriage. But beyond that the theories are all over the board. Malachi contains very few historical references and this makes the writing hard to date, although portions of Malachi have surfaced in the Qumran writings which are dated around 150 BCE. In spite of all that we do not know about Malachi, there are a few things we can point out. One obvious fact is that Malachi is the very last book in the Old Testament; we can assume someone at sometime thought that the Malachi message made a fitting finale for the Hebrew Bible and placed it in that position-although we don’t know why. Bible scholars group the book of Malachi with much of the other literature of that general period, commonly called the apocalyptic prophets, but the consensus is that it probably was not the last book written, is spite of its placement in our current Bible.
I wanted to give you some of this background information regarding Malachi because I’m going to be using the text in a very different application but with the same basic idea at its root. Just in case someone were to think I’m taking a verse out of context or manipulating scripture to fit my agenda, let me save you the trouble of the accusation. That is exactly what I’m doing.
Even though I’m fairly certain that this text was not written to validate the point for which I will be using it, but the text does represent a certain train of thought which I think is consistent with my point, so I feel secure in referencing it. Let me see if I can do a better job of explaining what I just said.
Most of the scholarship pertaining to Malachi focuses on marriage, the fidelity of marriage and how infidelity or divorce impacts everyone in the community, not just those involved in the breakdown of any particular marriage. The message here is that we are all in this together, and what impacts the one or the two, impacts everyone. Malachi begins this argument by stating the obvious; that we all have a single creator and all belong to the same God. Because we are all children of the same God, when we treat each other poorly, or as Malachi says are faithless to one another, we are in turn being faithless to God. To translate, if you hate, ridicule, oppress, or scorn another person, you do those same things to God. To hate or fear another is to hate or fear God.
I think this is a message that had been forgotten to some degree within ancient Judaism by the time Jesus appeared on the scene. I’m thinking Jesus may have read this text in Malachi and that could be one reason that Jesus kept reminding the religious leaders of the day that we are to love our neighbors. Jesus told us to pray for those who persecute us, to welcome the stranger, free the oppressed and to care for the sick and the hungry. Jesus even told us to love our enemies; he told us these things because as Malachi says; have we not one creator? Do we not all come from the same God? Do we not all have the same father?
It seems to me that ancient Judaism had forgotten some of this instruction from Malachi by the time Jesus burst on the scene and Jesus tried to correct the thinking. We all know how that worked out for him in the end.
But here’s the thing; we have forgotten again. We are dividing this world into groups of the other. There are people who don’t physically look like us that are scary, there are people who don’t love like us and that is scary, there are people who don’t worship like us and that is scary, and the list goes on and on and on. How easily we forget that everyone is a child of God and the same God that created us, created them.
Does anyone remember the wrist bands that were popular a few years ago with the letters WWJD on them? The letters were supposed to represent the question “what would Jesus do?” I always thought the question was a valid one, but I saw a problem with the wristbands. It seemed to me that many of those who wore the wristbands did so like it was their admission into a special club or something, rather than taking the question seriously. I remember during the hype and the run up to the invasion of Iraq these wristbands were popular and the notion of the Iraq war was just as popular among those wearing the bracelets. The level of hypocrisy on display was mind boggling. I also remember seeing a bumper sticker at that same time that tried to point out some level of that hypocrisy as it asked the simple question; “who would Jesus bomb?” In spite of the problems associated with the bracelets and other trinkets that carried the letters WWJD, it did seem to guarantee your admission into a particular segment of society.
This makes sense, because the wristband has been used quite often as a ticket for admission to a theme park, to concerts, to zoos or a host of other public attractions. I think part of the wristband popularity is that it allows you to come and go from the area without having to keep track of a loose ticket. So wristbands serve a purpose and are useful from a certain perspective, but what kinds of wristbands do we look for on people that are different from us before we allow them full participation in our group, in our club, in our society, or in our church?
Paul Simon recently released a new album called “Stranger to Stranger” and one of the songs on the CD is simply called Wristband. It has a whimsical and amusing side, but it also ends with a punch. I have provided the lyrics on the screen as this makes it much easier to absorb the full message of this song-so let’s have a listen to Paul Simon and Wristband.
I stepped outside the backstage door to breathe some nicotine
And maybe check my mailbox, see if I can read the screen
Then I heard a click, the stage door lock
I knew just what that meant
I’m gonna have to walk around the block if I wanna get it in
Wristband, my man, you’ve got to have a wristband
If you don’t have a wristband, my man, you don’t get through the door
Wristband, my man, you’ve got to have a wristband
And if you don’t have a wristband, my man, you don’t get through the door
I can explain it, I don’t know why my heart beats like a fist
When I meet some dude with an attitude saying “hey, you can’t do that, or this”
And the man was large, a well-dressed six-foot-eight
And he’s acting like Saint Peter standing guard at the pearly…
Wristband, my man, you’ve got to have a wristband
If you don’t have a wristband, you don’t get through the door
And I said “Wristband? I don’t need a wristband
My axe is on the bandstand, my band is on the floor”
I mean it’s just…
The riots started slowly with the homeless and the lowly
Then they spread into the heartland towns that never get a wristband
Kids that can’t afford the cool brand whose anger is a short-hand
For you’ll never get a wristband and if you don’t have a wristband then you can’t get through the door
No you can’t get through the door
No you can’t get through the door
Say you can’t get through the door, no
How many wristbands do we have to see the other wearing before full acceptance is possible? Is there a wristband that says I’m not homeless? Is there a wristband that declares my religion? How about race or status or gender orientation or income or education level? Is it true that if you don’t have a wristband you don’t get through the door? I’m sorry to say that in many cases it is.
In response to this situation I have decided to launch a new initiative. I call it the “Inclusive Experience” and through this initiative we will be exploring the lives and the experiences of many people we consider to be other or different from us. We will be exposed to new thoughts and new ideas, we will watch movies and read books, and we will look at scripture and have other experiences as well. Our goal will be to remove the fear of the other; if we happen to change a few minds along the way, that will be great, but the goal is to remove the fear. Some of this will happen on Sunday mornings, but many of the other experiences will take place on Wednesday nights and maybe even in other churches. We are currently making plans with the Clarkston UMC and perhaps Orchards UMC about the participation of those congregations and clergy in our experience.
We will be taking on some contemporary and perhaps provocative topics. We will be looking at Black Lives Matter, questions about Muslims and the faith tradition of Islam; we will be exploring the LGBT issues and questions about homosexuality. We may look at systemic oppression of the poor or the shunning of science by certain sects of Christianity. There is a lot to talk about and a lot of material to discuss. Details are still being formulated, but I can tell you this much:
Many of the events will be Wednesday evenings, hopefully with transportation provided. One of the books we will be referencing is this one – “Fear of the Other” by William Willimon, and there will be a published schedule of events coming out within the next few weeks.
Once again, it will be called “The Inclusive Experience” and it will most definitely be food for thought.
One thought on “Sermon: July 24, 2016 – “Gotta Have the Wristband””
The irony of this song is that the “dude with an attitude” that won’t let Paul Simon into his own concert works for Paul Simon. He HIRED this guy, indirectly at least. To keep out those who don’t want to pay for his concert.
Maybe the bouncer was actually hired by the venue which Paul Simon is playing. Paul Simon doesn’t know the bouncer and obviously the bouncer doesn’t know Paul Simon. But still, this “guard at the gate” is there on behalf of Paul Simon, working for his benefit, so Paul Simon can get paid for his gig. The bouncer is just doing his job. His “gatekeeper attitude” a requirement of the role that he is now playing.
It is possible to disarm the emotional punch of this song by seeing the wristband symbol as merely representing the payment of an artist for his performance. It is the attitude of entitlement pitted against the attitude of exclusion that starts riots.
The deeper message of this song is that we “hire” all of the “Saint Peters” that we imagine are keeping us out of the Kingdom of Heaven. All of our limitations are self-imposed. Those “others” we see “out there” telling us what we can or cannot do are simply reflections of our deeply-held inner core beliefs about our abilities and status, or lack thereof.
What happens when we take the position of needing to add something to ourselves – a wristband – to mark ourselves as deserving of love? What happens when we assume that we need to be “better,” that we need to be “someone greater” than who we already are? What happens when we see other people as obstacles, blocking the door to our own happiness? What happens when we forget that we are eternally, inherently, intrinsically, by default, God’s child? We take a victim position. A victim always needs a savior. Jesus Himself becomes “The Wristband.” The one thing you could never get into Heaven without.
OK. If you find yourself in the “victim position,” don’t feel bad. It’s just a habit. Go ahead and take some temporary comfort in Jesus as your personal savior. That is one reason why He is “there.” But perhaps we can find a higher reason. Perhaps Jesus wants us to take His position as our own. Just maybe Jesus wants us to say to ourselves “God so loved the world that he sent ME down here to check it out, from the trenches, up close and personal, as an apparent mortal, as an imaginary person. My eyes are God’s eyes. My I is God’s I.” This requires the courage to declare “I am God.” And it requires the humility to admit “I am no more God than anyone else.”
From the Jesus Position, it is belief in myself that gives me eternal life. Or more accurately, it is the recognition of who I really am that reveals my own eternal nature. Because, think about it: there is no way to “become” eternal. Either you are eternal or you are not. Being eternal implies that you always were eternal, and always will be.
So I say unto you, disarm nothing. Make mature use of the energy in your emotions. Develop a healthy attitude of Inclusive Entitlement. Start a riot in your own mind. Be a Protestant and spearhead a spirited protest against your own mental positions that keep you small. Find the courage to challenge your entire belief system. Heaven is your birthright. And everyone else’s too, regardless of what they claim to “believe.” We are all in this together.
Your “Entitlement to Enlightenment” can be directly experienced, as you are, in the Here and Now. No need to feel left out. This is not an exclusive club. A “wristband of belief” is not necessary. Belief has nothing to do with it, except that our beliefs can make it difficult to “get to” the direct experience of our own true nature.
Be courageous. Be inclusive. Explore without judgment the experience of all those “strange people” that you used to believe were so different from you. Face your fear. Befriend your “shadow of death,” and the Light of your Awareness will illumine the ever-flowing River of Life cascading joyfully down the valley you walk through.
Trust all you fear.