M & Ms and the Gospel
(Also Pentecost 2 C, also in a series of sermons on Romans,
Galatians, and Ephesians)
The basis of the
sermon for today is from Galatians 1:11,12, where the Apostle Paul
writes: ďI want you
to know my friends, that the gospel which I preach is not a man made
gospel; it was not handed down to me by humans. For I did not receive it from humans nor was I taught it by
humans. But the gospel I preach was given through a revelation from
God. It is Godís
gospel, not a human gospel.Ē
Here in my hands is
a bag of M and Ms. I am not sure if you like M and Ms, but to me,
they are very good candy. There are many things I like about M and Ms, but the first
thing you notice about them are the variety of bright, shiny colors.
See here in my hand; all the bright shiny colors of the
candy. What brightness.
What colors. But
even better than the bright shiny colors is the taste of the M and
Ms. You pop one into your mouth, crunch your teeth on it, and you
immediately taste the rich, dark, succulent chocolate.
Ummmmm. M and Ms
come in two kinds: regular
or nuts. I prefer the
regular that you can stick up in near your gums and just let them
melt over time. Another
thing about M and Ms is that they are like potato chips; you canít
eat just one; you have to have another...and then another...and
another. They are just
so compulsively good.
I have discovered
that M and Ms are not only good candy but M and Ms have become a
psychology of living. M
and Ms are a philosophy of life.
The M and Ms approach to living goes like this:
If someone is smiling, you give them an M and M and they
smile even more; if someone is working hard, you give them an M and
M and they work even harder. On
the other hand, if someone is frowning, you withhold the M and M
from them and they figure it out. They want an M and M so much that
they start smiling. If
someone isnít working very hard, you withhold the M and M from
them. They figure it out; they want an M and M so much that they
start working harder.
The purpose of M
and Ming people is to positively influence their behavior.
It works well on the whole animal kingdom; cats and dogs,
rats and mice, elephants and chimpanzees, husbands and wives, and
I would like to
tell you a story of how M and Ms worked with my children.
When my kids were younger, we used to go backpacking as a
family. Anne was eight
and Joel was five, and we were going to hike up to Annette Lake in
the Cascades, a 2500 foot elevation gain in three miles.
Itís a tough hike. So we needed to positively motivate the kids to move up the
mountain, and M and Ms would do the trick.
We gave each child a watch to watch the time, and after every
ten minutes of walking, they would ask for an M and M. We would give
them each an M and M. It
worked like a charm. Watch
the watch; ten minutes of walking; another M and M.
They loved it. After
eight minutes, Joel said he wanted an M and M.
Mistake, yes big mistake.
I gave him that M and M.
And then six minutes later, and then four minutes, and then
two minutes and then no minutes and he started howling that he
didnít want any more of my M and Ms. He wanted a ride; on my
So on top of my fifty-pound pack, I put my fifty- pound son;
put on the watch; and every ten minutes, I would give myself an M
and M. Ten minutes,
another M and M. Ten
minutes, another M and M. Then
eight minutes. Six
minutes. Four minutes. Two
minutes. And we finally ran out of M and Ms. We would have died on the
mountain, but luckily, after searching deeply in her pack, my wife
found another sack of M and Ms. Up the mountain we went again.
With new motivation and new energy, we made it to the top of
the mountain and our campsite.
The purpose of M
and Ms is to positively motivate people into action; to motivate them to do what
needs to be done. And
it works, most of the time. Some
of the time.
Now, there is thing
negative side to M and Ming people.
There is a downside. That
is, if someone does you a favor, you feel that you have
to give them an M and M in return.
Youíre indebted to them; you owe
them one. For
example, a friend came over the other day and roto-tilled my garden.
He couldnít do that out of the simple generosity of his
heart and because we were good friends and neighbors.
I was now in debt
to him. I
had to give him an M and M in return.
There is no such thing as a simple gift; people now keep
track of the transactions and who owes whom what favors.
side to M and Ming people is that you start to expect
them to give you an M and M in return if you do them a favor. You
are kind to others and you expect
them to give you some favor back.
I scratch your back; you scratch mine.... I expect
you will scratch mine.
All of us learn
this psychology of M and Ming people very early.
M and Ming is very instinctual to the human race; it is
easily learned and deeply ingrained in all of us.
We canít escape it. Itís
at the heart of all human relationships.
M and Ms are very
good candy. M and Ms are also a way of positively influencing behavior.
But as I have grown older, I have discovered that there is an
M and M theology of religion. There
is an M and M style of Christianity. In the M and M style of Christianity, God is the creator of
the M and Ms. God is up there in heaven with an M and M factory, and
God makes all the M and Ms for the whole
world. God gives
out M and Ms to the whole world;
but we discover that this God gives out M and Ms quite
selectively. To those people who obey his rules, regulations and
rituals, God gives more M and Ms. Having received their M and M
rewards, those people obey Godsís rules, regulations and rituals
even more faithfully.
To those people who donít obey his rules, regulations and rituals, God withholds
his M and Ms, until those people figure it out that they need to
obey his rules and regulations in order to get more M and Ms. And,
if people really obey those rules, regulations and rituals
faithfully over time, God will invite those people up to heaven when
they die, and they live right next to the M and M factory in the sky
and they will eat M and Ms forever.
What sugared bliss!
Now, like all good
ideas, there are some negative sides to this religious M and Ming.
In this scheme of things, God no longer freely gives his
blessings. Rather, God has become the giant briber in the sky.
God no longer freely gives abundant blessings to all;
blessings have strings attached.
Godís blessings become bribes to motivate behavior.
aspect of this religious M and Ming is that obedient people start to
expect blessings from God,
like God owes them their
blessings. This was
especially true of the Pharisees in the New Testament. They thought
of themselves as good, upstanding synagogue
folk; and they expected
God to bless them for their good behaviors with good favors.
The same is true with many church folk:
They reason: I am a good loyal Christian and church member, and I expect
God will heal my child or protect
my child from diseases and disasters or my parents from cancer and
coronaries. God owes it to me, more than some of those pagan types.
As in the parable of the prodigal son; the older
brother stayed home and expected
the blessings from the father.
Now, this M and M
theology is found in all religions of the world. In
all religions of the
world, there is a God who is a creator of the M and Ms up there in
heaven. In all
religions of the world,
God gives M and Ms out to his creation.
In all religions of
the world, this God gives more M and Ms to those who obey his rules,
regulations and rituals. In
all religions of the
world, this God withholds M and Ms from those who donít obey the
rules, regulations and rituals.
This is called ďnatural
religion;Ē it is called ďnatural theology.Ē
It is the natural
way that human beings think that God works in this world.
The Apostle Paul
calls this kind of religious reasoning
ďmanís gospelĒ or a ďhuman gospel.Ē
It has been thought up by humans; it is instinctual to
humans. It is well ingrained in the human race.
But Paul says, ďI want to preach to you a
new gospel; a gospel that has not been distorted by human touch
and human instincts. The
gospel I preach I received as a direct revelation from God; I
receive it from Jesus Christ.Ē
new Gospel of the Apostle Paul will be very hard for you to
understand this morning; not
because this new gospel is so complicated. It is difficult to grasp
because we are so deeply programmed to think M and M about God.
Because it is so instinctual to think M and M about God
(obey, you get an M and M; disobey, you lose the M and M,) it is
difficult for our hearts and minds to comprehend this revelation
that the Apostle Paul received from Jesus Christ.
But that is what I want you to do this morning:
to break free from
M and M religion and hear this
What is this new
gospel? What is this new religion?
What is this new way of thinking about God?
This new gospel is not symbolized by M and M candy at all. It
is symbolized by the letters CC, the crucified Christ.
Your mind now needs to focus on CC: on the crucified Christ,
on God who loves you so much, that God comes to die on the cross to
freely forgive you your sins.
Now, to get at this
new gospel, you need to think of someone from your life experience
who loved another person so much that they were willing to die for
that person. If you
donít have any stories out of your own life or literature where
someone willingly dies in the
place of another, you
wonít be able to grasp what I am talking about.
For example, I know a woman by the name of Myrtle Ringdahl.
Her daughter, Janet, my age, and an acquaintance of mine from
years ago; her daughter Janet was on a kidney dialysis machine, and
gradually her daughter came closer to death.
When I would call on the home of Oscar and Myrtle, it was
Myrtle who would say over and over again:
ďIf only I could die.
If only I could die in place of my daughter.
O God, please.Ē
Do you know any stories like that, out of your own experience
or through the experience of others?
Another example. My cousin Lois was dying down in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
She had cancer, cancer of the jawbone; it was an ugly
experience of pain and she had chosen to die at home in here living
room. When I would call
on my cousin Lois, her mother Anne, my Aunt Annie, would take my out
into the kitchen and look me right in the eye and plead:
ďEddie, why canít I die?
Why canít it be me? I
would do anything if I could die in my daughterís place.Ē
Do you know any stories like that?
To understand CC love, to understand the heart of God, you
need to be touched by love that is willing to die for another.
For at itís core,
Godís love is not that of an
M and M candy dispenser;
Iíll give you an M and M blessing if you are good.
At its core,
Godís love is so great
that Godís Son is willing to die in your place.
Now, when you think
of God in terms of CC, for whom does God have this special
affection? In M and M
religion, God has special affection for those who obey his rules,
regulations and rituals; but in CC Christianity, God has special
affection for those who are being crucified under the pain of life.
Let me illustrate. At
the first worship service today, over on the left sat Paul Carlson
who visits his wife, Ruth, every day. His wife, Ruth, has
Alzheimerís. Every day for years he goes to see her.
In the front row today sat Art and Lou Farwick, Lou is
undergoing chemotherapy. Lou is always suspicious that this may be her last visit to
church. In the back
pew, sat Aden OíDell who is fighting cancer and Parkinsonís at
the same time. In this
CC Christianity, God loves all people and cares for all people, but
God has a special affection for people who are being crucified on the crosses
of life. Hunger,
starvation, war. Whatever the pain of life may be, God is especially
close to people as they walk the valleys of deep darkness, the
valleys of death. By contrast, in M and M religion, God has special
affection for those who obey the rules, regulations and rituals very
well. There is a huge
difference between the two religions.
In CC Christianity,
God gives us his blessings, freely
and generously; not
because we merit it; not because we have obeyed the rules,
regulations and rituals. Godís blessings are given
freely; they are not
bribes; and this is very
difficult for M and M people to understand.
So Godís blessings come to you, not simply when you on top
of the world and you your family are all doing well because you
think you are following Godís laws fairly well; but when you are
at the bottom...when you
have bottomed out with
alcohol, when you have hit the
bottom with drugs, when you hit
the bottom in your disastrous marriage/divorce, when you feel
like you have totally messed up. In those bottom of life situations,
God blesses you with strength and healing and comfort. Godís hand
will freely reach down
into your hole and lift you up and out.
God is at the bottom of the hole. Ask Jonah in the story of
the whale; thatís what that story is all about. God saved Jonah
when he was at the bottom of the whale, and God will freely save you
when you are at the bottom. Itís
so different than the godly M and M dispenser for perfect achievers.
start to think CC in their relationships with each.
M and Ms are very
dangerous when they are at the
core of your marriages, your
families or your friendships.
If the core of your marriage is, ďIíll scratch your back;
if you scratch mine,Ē if
that is at the core of your marital love, you have a sick marriage.
If M and M psychology is at the core of your family
relationships with your kids, and your kids are sick, M and M
psychology doesnít work in families. Do well in school, and I will
give you more M and Ms of my love. Such attitudes reveal that you
have a sick family. And
if M and M psychology is at the core of your friendships, they are
not true friendships at all. But
in all the great marriages, in all
the great families, in all the great
friendships, the CC
love runs deep. You
love so much that you are willing to sacrifice for the other,
spouse, child, friend. You genuinely and generously give
to each other, not to receive anything back.
Every spouse wants
a marriage where love is freely and deeply given.
Every child needs a
home where they are loved ever so deeply in
all circumstances of life.
Every friend enjoys
a friendship where the people give
deeply and generously of themselves to each other.
My best friend from years ago came thorough town last night;
you just give the best you
have to offer your friend. Thatís what friendship is.
You need to
understand the purpose of M and Ms. As I pop one into my mouth, I
know that M and Ms are good candy. But M and Ms are terrible
for marriage; terrible for
parenting; terrible for genuine friendship.
You need to understand what
M and Ms are good for and NOT
And CC love is
given to strangers. The Bible is forever concerned about loving the stranger.
M and Ms are never given to strangers, because strangers, by definition, never
give back. You never
see them again. For
example, you are riding in your car and your car is behind the city
bus in front of you. Some
child is waving out the back window at you, making all kinds of
positive gestures. You
enter into a momentary game with this stranger of a child.
Thumbs up. Smiling. The bus turns a corner and your car goes
straight, and life moves on. But
in those few moments, two strangers give to each other. So CC love
gives to strangers around the world, via world hunger, quilts,
missionaries. CC love
is forever being generous with people you never see.
CC love is always
given to strangers. Not
M and Ms. With M and Ms,
you only give to those
that you see can give to
M and Ms. I always
have enjoyed M and Ms. I prefer the regular to nuts.
Pop one into your mouth and you taste the dark succulent
chocolate. It is so important to understand what M and Ms are good for.
They are good for candy.
They are good at motivating positive behavior of dogs and
cats and rats and elephants and salespeople.
They even work at motivating husbands, wives and children.
But M and Ming makes for
terrible love between a man and a woman.
M and Ming makes for
terrible love between parents and children.
It makes for terrible
love within friendships.
You see, M and Ms arenít love at all, and therefore M and
Ms make for terrible religion.
The Apostle Paul
said: The gospel I
preach is not a human
gospel. It has not been
touched by human hands. I
did not receive it from human hands.
This gospel was given to me as a direct revelation from Jesus
Christ. The gospel is the crucified love of God who died on the cross
to freely forgive and love the whole world.
You need to understand CC; itís the essence of life and
love and genuine faith in God.