Last Sunday I came home from worship eager to watch noon hockey while enjoying lunch with Cecile. Before it began, I waited through the last throes of Joel Osteen’s sermon. I later learned that by watching for 2 minutes, I could grasp nearly all of what he said in a 32 minute sermon.
He relentlessly worked the theme of making sure to have the right people as our friends in life. This makes sense if we hang around with cheaters, negativists, the indifferent, or the gossipy. He mentioned how easily we become like them. True enough. But the point of his “prosperity gospel” was how we need to befriend the eagles who soar, not the chickens who can’t even fly.
Osteen described those not going anywhere in life, the mediocre who drain our energy and drag us down. Distance yourself from such as these. You can’t soar with eagles if you cluck with chickens, he repeated. To become victorious and happy, find “people of excellence.” To be successful, befriend the successful. Osteen told of Edison, Firestone and Henry Ford having vacation homes adjoining each other. To reach our highest potential, we must soar with eagles.
I thought of how I had preached on the theme of inspiration the Sunday before. I spoke of how much mentors had meant to me, but also of becoming a mentor to others. There are all kinds of friendships, aren’t there? I bemoaned how we all seek inspiration, but don’t aspire to inspire.
I thought of Jesus and the friends he chose. They were decidedly mediocre and draining, as they proved when push came to shove. Toward the end of his ministry, Jesus told them that they were no longer his servants, but now his friends. He said this dimly aware of how they would “chicken out.” Once Jesus ascended, these earthbound chickens suddenly morphed into eagles.
In the middle of Lent, Joel’s prosperity gospel shockingly differed from Jesus’ ways. Joel was about lifting up a human potential movement—our getting ahead—coaxing many thousands in attendance for self-improvement. Jesus was about a divine potential movement he called God’s kingdom. Joel is all about human upward mobility; Jesus is all about divine downward mobility.
We are in the season of the cross, friends. Thank you to those church members who insisted a few years ago that our worship space couldn’t be complete without a cross. Thank you to those members who maybe didn’t feel the same way but allowed them erect the cross in our chancel. Behind Osteen’s coiffed hair, piano teeth and preternaturally pasted smile was a rotating globe.
This Saturday evening I anticipate being with church friends, courtesy of the Sheeds’ hospitality. No one will screen for credentials to allow you in. No one will review your vita to verify you as a person of influence. No one will administer spot checks to make sure you are in a good mood, to ensure that you had an uplifting week. Nancy and James will smile broadly and say welcome.
The same goes for Sunday morning. We’re convicted by the wide arms of Jesus, embracing and welcoming all. Jesus’ arms were never stretched wider than on the cross, dying for friends who had taken him for granted. Bring who you are to us. Bring your good days and your bad days. Bring your joys and your sorrows. Bring your hopes and your fears. This is the way of the cross.