Sermon from January 8, 2017
If I say “Mayberry” some of you are likely to remember a television show that first aired in 1960 about a small town and it’s sheriff, Andy Taylor, who didn’t carry a gun.
Some people use that show to idealize an America they used to know and love. People will lament those bygone days and say, “We’re not in Mayberry anymore.” Of course, we never were Mayberry. There’s nothing like a sitcom of the 1950s, 60s or 70s to create a bland, flat, monochrome world where “Father knows Best,” Davey Crocket patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell and Beaver and Wally remain close brothers threw every scrape.
Mayberry was a lot like Mt. Airy North Carolina, a town in the Blue Ridge Mts. where Andy Griffith, the show’s star, grew up. At least that’s what the people of Mt. Airy like to think. They have designed shops to create replicas of a barber shop and other settings. At a recent town meeting, a proposal for a new traffic circle was opposed because there were no traffic circles on the “Andy Griffith Show’s” Mayberry.
We’re not in Mayberry anymore, and we never were. And yet some people feel a sense of loss.
A reporter visited this ersatz Mayberry last week to get at this longing. It’s a county that totaled over $100 million in revenue last year from tourists. An old-fashioned sheriff’s squad car will take you on a tour ending at Andy Griffith’s childhood home for $35.
Mayor David Rowe wishes his city of 10,000 and the rest of America could return to the 1950s again. “We try to live the good old days, but it’s hard,” he says. Tourism can’t change shuttered textile mills that have meant a loss of 9,000 jobs in one decade.
The Mayor sees the problem as the result of a loss of traditional values. “Now it’s about secular progressivism, not the values you get out of this book,” such as honesty and hard work, Rowe told the reporter while jabbing his finger at the leather Bible on his office desk.
Many residents lost good paying jobs at a factory making turbine blades for power plants when it moved to Mexico. One former factory worker sees the problem as the result of government overreach.
“We’re losing control of our freedoms,” she told the reporter “The government was taking away our rights. Taxes are higher, our jobs are gone, and it just feels less Christian.”
Seventy-four percent of white evangelicals believe American culture has mostly changed for the worse since the 1950s — compared with 56 percent who feel that way among all whites, according to a 2016 survey. In sharp contrast, 62 percent of African Americans and 57 percent of Hispanic Americans think the culture has been changing for the better.
America is less protestant, less Christian and increasingly secular. Personally, I don’t need to live in a country where Christians are predominant; I don’t need to live in a country where stores say Merry Christmas or public school teachers lead children in prayer. I don’t need to live in a country were Christians are in charge and I don’t understand people who think that would make it better in any way.
I don’t think any of that has anything to do with being a Christian. The idea that it does has turned a lot of people against Christianity.
The idea that Christians are better people or Christianity is a better religion is really distasteful to many people. There are many non-Christians or even anti-Christians, if I can invent that phrase, for people who don’t like a religion that controls their society, who DO think Jesus was a great and good teacher, who think he was a holy leader and a special healer but who think the church is nothing but a means to exploit his followers for hypocritical ends. Many people judge the church harshly because Jesus was so idealistic in his moral standards and humble in his habits. It doesn’t seem fair to judge us by his standards and I don’t think HE does, but we have fallen into that trap for most of our history by our own pretentiousness, imagining that we CAN be judged as meeting a higher moral standard.
Today, we remember three wise men, three astrologers from the East: people who were not Jewish but wanted to see the new king of the Jews. People who did not know the Bible but who had their hopes raised for one sent by God.
Jesus’ teachings have great power and are revered and cherished by many people of many religions and no religion. Sometimes we can put ourselves in the way of those teachings as if WE deserve the respect due to God. I know that sounds preposterous but when Christians speak of their faith and their ways and their traditions as being the most important, as being the only truth or something others need to defer to, that’s really what’s happening. If people say that our society isn’t as good as it used to be because of new traditions that are other than Christian traditions or values not derived from the Bible they’re closing themselves off to the world, shutting their minds to what the world has to offer.
We have a mission to be healers, messengers of hope, bearers of good news. We can’t let our need for privilege become an obstacle to that mission. When travelers from far away lands come with new gifts we need to be ready to receive them.