Combatting Fake News

Sermon 4 in the 4 week Series

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Today, we are concluding our “The Gospel Isn’t Fake News” series with “Combating Fake News.”

One time, not too long ago, I thought I saw a sign that read “Complete life repair.”  thinking oh, that’s an odd thing for a sign to say, I looked at it again. This time I read it correctly: “Complete Leaf Removal”?

Was the world trying to tell me something?

If so, how about this: a sign I first read as “Bravery,” actually read “Brewery.”

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who misreads things.

Of course, misreading signs like these examples is mostly funny, unless you’re a real Freudian. But we face a greater danger.

You see, I may want to read Brewery as Bravery to excuse my getting a beer. And I may need to read “Complete Leaf Removal” as “Complete Life Repair” as a call to visit my therapist. Was I seeing what I wanted, or needed, to see?

If you find yourself willing to believe allegations of sexual abuse based the political affiliation of the accused, you may need to admit that you are seeing what you want to see. Can it really be that all the allegations against people you don’t like or respect are true and all the allegations against people you favor are made up?

I read an article a few years ago that a Muslim man in Detroit had sued a nearby church when he found out they had put him and his family on their prayer list.

I was outraged! How could anyone NOT want to be prayed for? I remembered why C.S. Lewis had said we could never scientifically prove the efficacy of prayer. To do so, he explained, you’d have to run a control group. For example, you’d have to set aside some sick people for whom NO ONE would pray.

How could Christians actually ever agree to that?  Jesus requires us to pray for our enemies!

After several minutes of outrage, I happened to notice that article about the lawsuit was published by the Onion. In case you don’t know, The Onion is a satire and parody site.

They make fake news. On purpose. And they admit it. It’s their claim to fame.

The Onion would be funnier if our world were not so polarized.

Sometimes what we read and what we watch plays into our desire to see what we want to see, to hear what we want to hear.

I’m quite sure that was the case in today’s scripture reading. Fresh back from the temptations in the wilderness, Jesus goes to synagogue in Nazareth. His hometown. He stand to read the Isaiah scroll: Isaiah 61:1-2, which everyone there would have recognized as 2 things – a reference looking back to the past, and one to the future. First, Isaiah was calling their attention to Deuteronomy 15, the Jubilee Year. The Law of Moses had a calendar built into it: once every 7 years God’s people were to take a sabbath year. Then, every 7th seven years, Deut 15 called for a bonus year – the 50th year. In addition to Sabbath, all debts were cancelled and all slaves were freed.

To be clear: society then wasn’t built on debt the way our society is today. God’s people were not allowed to charge interest to the poor, and we’ve absolutely turned that on its head – today, the poorer you are, the more interest you pay.

So Jesus was calling their attention to maybe the greatest promise of the Torah – that God’s people would be so blessed that they could, and would, totally reset every 50 years.

And there’s also the look to the future. By this time – more than a 1,000 years after the the Jubilee had been established, they had never actually carried one out. God’s people had lived in a shorter cycle than 50 years. One generation would know God and worship God and bless God, and the next generation wouldn’t

They’d seen good times – even great times, and also horrible times. Times when their nation was the center of civilization, and times when they were hauled off into exile – reminding them of the years they spent in slavery in Egypt.

In the years since, the promise of a Messiah had risen. Isaiah was writing about Messiah.

Messiah would come and restore the Kingdom, in all it’s glory. This included Jubilee.

The reference that looked back, and the reference that looked forward.

And then, Luke tells us,

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” Luke 4:20-21)

Jesus wasn’t just echoing Isaiah’s promise of a Messiah. He was claiming the status for himself!

And everyone is excited! “Raving” the CEB translates. “Spoke well of him” the NRSV says, more modestly. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son! They agree.

Everybody loves a hometown hero, right?

They’re living in an echo chamber, though, and Jesus is about to bust the bubble.

You know what an echo chamber is, right?  An echo chamber is when you only hang around with people who agree with you, who see things your way. You only watch or listen to the news that tells your version of the story.  

Much of the modern media is designed to maintain, even more deeply entrench, echo chambers. And that’s not just true of the media you don’t like. In fact, in most cases, it is why you like the media you like.

Algorithms rule the media; especially social media. The theory is that engagement – making us feel good and connected, makes us want more, which means more advertising can be sold. But, again, don’t blame the advertisers. This is on us.

When we want what we want and only what makes us feel good about ourselves and our own positions, we don’t just buy products, we “buy” stories. Stories and perspectives we like – so we believe better-than-real made-up claims about “our side” and worse-than-real made up claims about the other side.

Here are 7 steps that we should all consider as we continue to face the onslaught of more and more information:

  1. Do you know who the source is, or was it created by a common or well-known source? Example National Geographic, Discovery, etc.
    2. How does it compare to what you already know?
    3. Does the information make sense? Do you understand the information?
    4. Can you verify that the information agrees with three or more other sources that are also reliable?
    5. Have experts in the field been connected to it or authored the information?
    6. How current is the information?
    7. Does it have a copyright?

This should help us get out of our echo chambers. Also, get to know people who are different than you. Listen to their stories and their perspectives.

Nazareth was an echo chamber, but it wasn’t one Jesus was willing to be part of. Do you remember his response to the sentimental joy following his reading from Isaiah?

He dredged up 2 other scriptures:

Elijah went to a non-Israeli widow, not one of their own, during a sever drought, and raised her dead son.

Elisha healed Naaman, a Syrian General of leprosy, but didn’t heal a single skin disease among God’s own people.

And what did they do now, in response to this?

When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was filled with anger. They rose up and ran him out of town. They led him to the crest of the hill on which their town had been built so that they could throw him off the cliff.

When Jesus talks about “Making Israel great again,” they love it. But when Jesus reminds them that God loves those foreigners, too, they are literally ready to kill him.

How do they turn so fast?

Is that really even a question you can ask today? We are so easily swayed  by some of the stuff we see!

Did the Seattle Seahawks really burn an American flag in their dressing room? You saw the picture? No; that was photoshopped. And, not even all that well photoshopped.

I’ve bought into things I read or saw and wanted to believe. And I have learned that I have this great community of friends on social media. Several of them have called me on things I’ve posted.

I know how easy it is to get sucked into a story you WANT to believe is true. It’s just as easy as refusing to believe something you don’t want to believe.

It’s not limited to what we want to believe, either. On Sunday, October 30, 1938, CBS Radio broadcast a realistic portrayal based on H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. Many listeners were easily convinced that Martians had landed in Grover’s Mill New Jersey and started their assault on planet earth.

Thankfully, not a lot of people were listening to CBS radio that night.

So it isn’t new.

What’s the deal?

I believe it comes down to this, really: we want to believe what we want to believe. And, as we like to say, we don’t like change.

Which isn’t exactly true.

When Jesus proclaimed the Jubilee, the coming of the Messiah, and even claiming to BE the Messiah, well, it’s hard to imagine there could be more change than that.

And at that, everyone cheered him on.

Change isn’t the problem. The problem is change that gets outside our comfort zone.

When change is up to us; when we get to pick it, choose it, direct it, we are more than willing to accept change. How many of you have children? If you really, really didn’t like any change at all, you never would have had children!

It is the change that isn’t up to us that strikes us with uncertainty and fear.

The appeal of fake news – the success fake news has had, is almost always its appeal to fear.

Jesus counters with a reminder of God’s long faithfulness. The promises first spelled out in Deuteronomy 15 were still fresh in God’s mind.

Those promises weren’t actually new in Deuteronomy, either. There they were a spelling out of God’s’ original promise to Abraham – that he was blessed to be a blessing to all.

If God’s people would learn to trust God as their deliverer, as their source of life and hope, they, too, would be blessed to be a blessing to all. If, on the other hand, they tried to trust in their own abilities, they would likely find themselves missing the mark, moving away from God.

In other words:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence.
Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight.

That makes it sound easy, so I want to add this to close: We can only really learn to trust God with all our hearts, and know God in all our paths, if we are willing to do the hard work of following Jesus. And to do that, we need each other.

We need to worship together. Not because God is keeping attendance, but because we need this kind of experience to know who God really is, and what God really expects of us.

And we need worship and our congregation not to be an echo chamber – we need each other especially as we don’t see eye to eye.

Because only together can we really, truly, learn to hear Jesus and not want to kill him, and also fall into sentimentality.

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