Rev. Donavon Riley
The story of Chicken Little is about a chicken who believes the world will soon come to an end. One day, when an acorn falls on his head, he mistakes it for the sky. In his panic he runs to tell the King that the sky is about to fall on all of them. Whenever he meets someone on his journey to warn the King he exclaims to them, “The sky is falling!” This phrase is often used as a common way to say someone is under the mistaken belief that disaster is imminent.
We all do it from time to time. Something happens to panic us. We think it’s so bad it means the end of us, or our friendship, or our family, or church, or faith. A friend moves away so we say, “I will never have a friend like you again.” Our parents get a divorce so we say, “It’s the end of our family.” The pastor is asked to resign because it was discovered he was having an affair so we say, “Our church will never recover.” Someone we love dies from a terrible disease, even though we prayed God would heal her so we say, “God didn’t listen to us. We will never believe in him again.” Whenever something happens to us that we think is terrible, something that means the end of us, our work or hopes, we become like Chicken Little. “The sky is falling!”
Then we wake up. We get out of bed. We get dressed, eat breakfast, get ready to go to school or work, and despite what we said the day before the sky did not fall on us while we slept. But why do we do this? Why do we over-react when we know the sky isn’t falling? It’s not the end of the world. Jesus isn’t coming on clouds with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. The dead aren’t up out of their graves. The new Jerusalem hasn’t descended from heaven. Why do we run around, get all worked up, and say, “The sky is falling,” over and over again when we know it’s not? Because it comes natural. It’s the default position of the old Adam. He’s always got a “but” in his pocket, just in case he sees that the sky may fall on him.
“Yes, I believe God is Almighty, Maker of the heavens and the earth. But…” “Sure, Jesus is the Lord of the Church, and it cannot go on without His body and blood. But…” “Of course the Holy Spirit must create faith in us or we can’t believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. But…” The old Adam loves “buts” and he loves to put the brakes on God. He does it in church on Sunday. He does it at home at the dinner table. He does it in every relationship. Wherever the old Adam goes he loves to put the brakes on God’s Word and works. That means we do too. Whatever the old Adam is, we are too. To quote an old cartoon, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Take for example the recent Supreme Court decision about gay marriage, which is now just “marriage.” The reactions from conservative religious leaders, pastors, and laity have declared this to be a disastrous decision by the court. Some say, “It means the end of traditional marriage.” Others say, “Christians will be persecuted for their views on the biblical definition of marriage.” And others say, “Pastors can expect to be arrested and jailed when they refuse to marry same-sex couples.” Is any of this true? Maybe, but not today or tomorrow. Not in the United States. The sky will not fall on us because of same-sex marriage. The Church will not crumble. For Lutheran pastors, orange will not be the new black.
The Supreme Court decision is one more in a series of social events that remind the Church that we are still on this side of the resurrection. Jesus said the world would hate us because of Him (Matt 10:22). Only a Church that has grown bored of Christ and the Gospel thinks the world, “this evil, sinful generation”, as St. Paul refers to it, would think anything we have to say about marriage is relevant. The old Adam will take anything God makes and use it for his own purposes. The Church, sacraments, prayer, marriage, you name it, the old Adam will pervert it. But when we think to change society, to make it over into a Christian nation, to motivate our government and those in authority to show deference to Christians, we become like Solomon who tried to remake paradise. In his eagerness to demonstrate his wisdom he became a fool and assumed anything he did was blessed by God. In the same way, when we begin with human wisdom, when we try to mix political philosophy with Christian theology the result is always the same – we become fools. We confuse heavenly and earthly things. We confuse Christ and his gifts with political legislation.
Jesus came to his own. We did not receive him. We killed him. How can his body, the Church, expect to be treated any different? How can we expect the Supreme Court or career politicians to regard marriage as anything other than a legal contract or an opportunity to grab votes away from “the other guy”? And when they fail to say, “God created marriage between a man and a woman as a reflection of the relationship between Christ and his Bride, the Church,” that doesn’t mean the sky is falling. It’s not the end of the world. Our Father in heaven causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt 5:45).
So then, if the sky is not going to fall, what will we do tomorrow? The same thing we do every day: preach Christ and him crucified. The Church is a gift given by God to the world. By God’s word, water, and blood sinners are converted, renewed, and regenerated. All sinners are called to the cross, regardless of what buts or brakes they put on God’s work. And all Christians are sent into the world to be God’s hands and mouth for the neighbor. Not some neighbors. Not just heterosexual neighbors. Not married neighbors. Not even white, upper-middle class neighbors. But everyone without distinction is our neighbor, because Christ died for them all. We are sent out into the world to do good to all so that through us God’s Spirit might win some for the kingdom.
In the work God gives us God works in and through us, as he works in the neighbor, for our good. But we’re sinners too, so things can get messy, even for Christians. We don’t want to suffer for what we believe. We’d rather not be told our beliefs are old fashioned, or bigoted, or hateful. We don’t want people to ignore us. We want special treatment. We want everyone to believe just what we believe. We want people to love us and do things for us that make us feel special. And when they don’t it’s easy to imagine things couldn’t get much worse. When that happens we tell everyone we meet on our way to warn the King, “The sky is falling!” But it’s not.
Christ is still the Lord of heaven and earth. God will continue to cause a man to leave his mother and father and cling to his wife. Children will be born. The Gospel and the sacraments will be delivered, because God is almighty and we are not. And when the day comes when pastors are put in jail for what they believe and confess about Christ, or marriage, or whatever the cause rejoice, they have been “counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Christ” (Acts 5:21).
Rev. Donavon Riley is pastor at St. John’s Evangelical Church in Webster, MN.