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Good and Evil in Aisle 7
March 10, 2002
Suing people is a way of life for a rising number of Americans.
In 1994, a New Mexico jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to 81-year-old Stella Liebeck who suffered third-degree burns to her legs, groin and buttocks after spilling a cup of McDonald's coffee on herself. This case inspired an annual award--The "Stella Award"--for the most frivolous lawsuit in the United States. I have a couple of candidates for the "Stella Award."
January 2000: Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas, was awarded $780,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running amuck inside a furniture store. The owners of the store were understandably surprised at the verdict, considering the misbehaving little fellow was Ms. Robertson's son.
October 1998: Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Pennsylvania, was leaving a house he had just finished robbing by way of the garage. He was not able to get the garage door to go up, because the automatic door opener was malfunctioning. He could not re-enter the house because the door connecting the house and garage locked when he pulled it shut. The family was on vacation. Mr. Dickson found himself locked in the garage for eight days. He supposedly subsisted on a case of Pepsi he found and a large bag of dry dog food. Mr. Dickson sued the homeowner's insurance, claiming the situation caused him undue mental anguish. The jury agreed to the tune of half a million dollars.
And people love to sue Wal-Mart. Sometimes with good reason. An ice auger fell ninteen feet, hitting Phil Scharrel on the head, and leaving him with brain damage. He and his wife sued and were awarded $2.8 million. Barbara Trujillos back was injured when boxes from a push cart toppled on her. She sued and won $435,000.
According to Wal-Mart's own Claims Management Department, tumbling merchandise fell on top of more than 25,000 human beings over a recent four-year period. This is not to knock Wal-Mart. The nationwide chain has developed enormous good will with its smiley face commercials and friendly, helpful clerks. But Wal-Mart is such an easy target that victims' rights group abound. Check out walmartsurvivor.com in the event that you ventured innocently into Wal-Mart hoping to land a good deal on a box of Tide and instead the box of Tide lands on you.
So many individuals file suit against the discount giant that some law firms specialize in suing Wal-Mart. The Wal-Mart Litigation Project, an organization that assists these lawyers, has identified more than one hundred different types of lawsuits against the company. More than fifty lawsuits are filed against Wal-Mart every day.
It's bad enough to live in fear terrorists, but now we can not even walk down aisle 7 without fearing for life and limb! Danger is everywhere. We can not be too careful. As the old radio program "The Shadow" use to ask: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?"--Or at Wal-Mart, K-Mart, the back-yard, the schoolyard, or the work place? If the sky is not falling, a TV set might be.
Against this background of fear and darkness, the apostle Paul steps in to offer light and hope as a remedy for those in danger of becoming Chicken Little Christians. He describes our condition without Christ as one of darkness. But when the light of Christ shines on us, we are able to live without fear, and to walk in the light. Psychologically we feel safer in light than in darkness. After a winter of darkness, we are delighted by the summer sun. That is why Paul says that the secret to living without fear is to step out of the darkness.
Paul begins this passage from Ephesians by introducing a light vs. darkness dualism to illustrate the "that was then -- this is now" character of the new life in Christ. V8 says, "For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light." Notice that we are described as being of either light or darkness. Before Christ, only darkness; after Christ, some become children of light, others not.
This is spiritual natural selection. In Matthew 7:17-20, Jesus speaks of it in terms of good trees and bad trees. Christ is the variable factor that allows some to be fruitful. Good trees bear good fruit. Bad trees bear bad fruit. The good trees are not good because they bear good fruit; they bear good fruit because they are good. Of course, the trees of MT7 represent people. People are not good or righteous in the sight of God because they do good works. They are good because they are in Christ, and it is their nature in Christ to do good works. Our essential being is manifested in the way we live our life. Our status in Christ produces either fruitfulness or barrenness. Hence, a product is associated with belief. However, the emphasis in this passage is less on production of fruitful work and more on the description of why a Christian is motivated to do such works. We are light. We are the worlds flashlights.
Flashlight Object Lesson
Imagine that you live alone in total darkness. Imagine all the bad things that could happen to you as you try to act without light. You could fall down, hurt yourself, or break something. It is hard to do anything good alone in the darkness. You can not work or eat or play or build anything. Christ is like a flashlight who brings light into our darkness. He makes us children of the light so that we light up the darkness around us. You might say Christ makes us into spiritual flashlights. Jesus is the light of the world. If we ever find ourselves lost or confused or uncertain, then we can ask for Christ to shine on us, and his light will show us the way.
Chronicles of Narnia
The Seven Chronicles of Narnia written by C.S. Lewis have become a Christian classic. The first of the seven books was made into a popular TV movie entitled, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. The last of the seven books is appropriately entitled, The Last Battle. In this chronicle, the evil characters are Narnian dwarfs. They are dark and gloomy folk, with sneering grins, who distrust the whole world. The basic issue is that they have chosen to live in darkness, refusing to see the good around them, refusing to believe that Aslan can bring God's light into their lives and world. So, they live in misery, squalor and self-imposed darkness.
All of us walk close to the darkness in our journey through life. life is a struggle to push back those dark times when we walk through times of grief or depression, fear or guilt, pain or illness. The good news is that we have a light to show the way, a friend to walk with us, a helping hand to lighten our burdens. As the children of Narnia discovered, Aslan was always there when they needed him most. Christ is there when we need him.
And as we go along the way of Christ, we are recognizable by our light. If we claim to be of Christ, then our claim is recognizable in our lives. In Ephesians, Paul has some practical advice for making our light visible.
Earlier, in v3-5, he says, If you are of Christ you control your body and your mouth.
V6 adds, If you are of Christ, you are not deceived by empty words and you do not keep company with those who deceive.
As we read on and come down to v10, we wonder about Pauls mood. V10 may be a sarcastic, plaintive cry, as is made by a parent to recalcitrant children: "Would you please try to find out what is pleasing to God!" Or, it may be a pastoral exhortation to be disciplined in the practice of faithful living. We are to please God by the way we live. Probably both tones are intended. Paul is exhorting us as recalcitrant children to pattern our lives after Jesus, who was the perfect sacrifice of love and the perfect example of love.
Part of patterning our lives on Jesus is to live in the Christian community. In community, Christ calls us to reprove one another, to discipline, to correct, in order to restore relationships. Faithful living is about being open, not closeted. A believer should not keep secrets or do secret things that imply shame. A believer who "exposes" another's sin should not treat the wrongdoer with contempt or as gossip fodder; this, too, is shameful (v. 12). Rather, since the light of Christ is revealed in truth-telling, then Christians need to be truthful. When people are honest with themselves and others, speaking the truth in love, then the light shines in power. It is a wake-up call, as the three-lined hymn which ends verse 14 declares:
Awake Thou that sleepest,
Rise from the dead
Christ shall give the light.
This is an exhortation to holiness. It is a call to return to basic truths about Christian faith and fellowship. When, however, the call to holiness becomes a self-righteous proclamation used to divide who is in from who is out, then real danger exists of leading the Christian away from joyful proclamation toward fear-based judgment. What is certain is that claiming to be part of the children of light necessitates living as if we really believed it. As Forrest Gump might say, Fruit is, as fruit does.
Four step program for fearless Living
Here's what it means to live as children of light. Here is what we might call a four step program for fearless living.
First, v9 says that we should seek what is good and right and true.
In his novel, The Street Lawyer, author John Grisham describes the reaction of someone helping the helpless:
I was in no hurry to leave the [legal clinic for the homeless] at the end of my first day. Home was an empty attic, not much larger than any three of the cubbyholes at the Samaritan House. Home was a bedroom with no bed, a living room with cableless TV, a kitchen with a card table and no fridge... .
"So what do you think?" [a fellow lawyer] asked, pausing by the door on the way out.
"I think it's fascinating work. The human contact is inspiring."
"It'll break your heart at times."
"It already has."
"That's good. If you reach the point where it doesn't hurt, then it's time to quit."
Grishams point is that this lawyer had an innate sense of what was good and righteous and true, and followed that sense, and so should we.
Second step. V10 says we should try to find out what pleases God. Jesus himself modeled what it means to please God. He had a heart for "the least of these." He took up a cross. He resisted the powers of oppression and evil. His goals involved nothing short of establishing the kingdom of the highest heaven on earth.
Bea Gaddy walked in the way that Jesus modeled. She was called the Mother Teresa of Baltimore because she fed the hungry and housed the homeless. Former president George Bush anointed her America's 695th "point of light." Family Circle magazine named her woman of the year.
She survived poverty, hunger and homelessness. "I know what it's like to hunt for food in a garbage can and eat out of a dumpster," she wrote. She became, in her later years, the premier advocate for the down and out.
Bea Gaddy was a tiny, white-haired woman who was larger than life.
When word came that the 68-year-old had succumbed to breast cancer, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley ordered that flags be flown at half-staff. Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening lauded Gaddy as "the beacon of hope for those who felt hopeless."
Gaddy's annual Thanksgiving dinner fed the city. It required 80 tons of food, 30,000 paper plates, 50 cases of aluminum foil, 2,000 pumpkin pies and 100 cases of sweet potatoes. More than 3,500 volunteers fed 20,000 people.
What are the chances that Bea Gaddy lived in fear, worrying about the dangers in Aisle 7. Slim to none. She pursued what is "good, right and true." She had learned what is "pleasing to the Lord."
She was also an illustration of the third step in fearless living which is found in v11. It is: Don't waste your time on worthless pursuits. In fact, expose them for what they are. Bea Gaddy converted her East Baltimore house into the headquarters of her Patterson Park Emergency Food Center, and she lived in the basement. She founded the Bea Gaddy Family Center for women and children, and no matter who called, or when, she had a bed or a cot, made up and ready.
"'Just send 'em over,'" social services worker Sarah Matthews remembers Gaddy telling her, again and again. "'Just send 'em on over.' She never told me no."
Bea Gaddy could have wasted her time being a down and out homeless street person. When she got out of that vicious cycle, she could have wasted her time on all sorts of other causes and things. Instead, she focused on one thingthe ministry God gave herand she did it very well.
Sam Walton established the practice of hiring elderly members of the community and assigning them the simple task of greeting shoppers with a smile and a welcoming word as they entered his stores. He believed it brightened the days of world-weary shoppers.
Paul would say that the world needs more cheery faces. He urges us not only to make our own world a cheerful place, but to widen the circle of light to include others: "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them."
The fourth step in fearless living is found in v14. It is wake up and be aware. Be aware in a two fold way. We need to be aware of what is going on around us in the world. We do not want someone to turn a fish tank over on us down at Wal-Mart on aisle 7. And be aware spiritually. Live as the light of Christ.
When we partner-up with Jesus, we can stop worrying about falling toaster ovens, or the dangers that lurk in Aisle 7 or anywhere else. We can get on with the business of transforming a world of darkness into a world of light.
And when that is our business, "Christ shall give the light" to us. Christ gives us an inner light. This inner light shows itself in several ways. This inner light shows us our sins, and also shows us the way out of our sinful way of living. This inner light gives us the power to go a new waythe Christway.
The orientation of our lives is by the inner light of Christ. Now I said that we should be aware on two levelswe are aware of the world around us and of the light of Christ within us, but these two awareness are not separate. We can worship God even when we are busy about our daily affairs. There is a way of ordering our minds on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, meeting all the demands of worldly life, but deep within our souls, we may also be in prayer and worship and open to Gods leading.
The secular world thinks only in terms of the first awareness. It assumes that the real business of mankind is the material world, and scorns any thought of a second level of prayer and adoration. But spiritual people know that a deep level of prayer and attendance upon God is the most important thing we can do. It is at this spiritual, second level that the real business of life is transacted. The secular mind is fragmentary, using only a part of our nature, and neglecting the best part of our nature. The spiritual mind involves the whole of a human being, lifting up all that we are to God.
Let the mind of Christ lift up your heart and your mind to God. Amen.
Grisham, John. The Street Lawyer. New York: Random House, 1998, 217.
Johnson, Darragh. "Baltimore loses a ‘Beacon of Hope.'" The Washington Post, October 4, 2001, B1.
Olgeirson, Ian. "Wal-Mart's headaches make law firm's fortune." The Denver Business Journal, November 21, 1997.
G. Bradford Hall, "Children of the light," Into the Wardrobe, February 4, 1996.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 5/4/02