Sometimes a picture can tell a story about a particular time or event in a way that words can’t capture. As the anniversary of D-Day rolled around this year, I was looking at a collection of World War II photographs online and came across this one. It was taken on June 13, 1936–just about 80 years ago to the day–at the launch of the German sailing ship the Horst Wessel, which was designed to train sailors for the Navy. There in the shipyard, those gathered cheered the launch by giving the now infamous salute of the Nazi party, which was coming into its power.
How many of you have ever heard a sermon from the book of Nahum? Chances are you haven’t. It’s not a very popular book, nor does it appear in any of the lectionaries. It’s probably because, at base, Nahum is really a prophecy of God’s vengeance against the Assyrians and their capital city of Nineveh. Most people don’t know a lot about the Assyrian empire, or about Nineveh, so it seems like an outdated and irrelevant book to modern ears.
But, on the other hand, it’s curious that it isn’t more popular, given the fact that humans tend to love stories of revenge. Think about it—how many movies are based on the idea of getting back at an enemy who has done something terrible? One of the most popular movie franchises is “The Avengers,” for goodness sake! We love to see the villain get his just desserts in the end—it appeals to our sense of justice.
About ten years ago, our bishop at the time had all the clergy in our annual conference read a book by business guru Jim Collins called Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. I still have the book on my shelf and I’m guessing a lot of you have read it as well. It was a bestseller and everyone from business leaders to local pastors were using it to try and figure out how to turn their organizations from being simply “good” to being great, which Collins defines as an organization with “distinctive impact” and “superior performance.” Collins’ mantra throughout the book is that “Good is the enemy of great.”
As Americans, we love greatness. It’s no coincidence that one of the major slogans of the Presidential campaign is “Make America Great Again.” We’ve tended to adopt that language in the church as well, thinking that the measure of a church’s greatness is in how “distinctive” its impact might be and its “superior performance” in all the metrics that business organizations measure: bigger, faster, stronger, richer, and more famous. Look at the bookshelves of both the business section and the church section of a book store and you’ll see that most of the books are written by leaders and even pastors who have “made it” by all the ways in which we measure greatness. The idea, then, is that if you’re not yet great, you have work to do.
We don’t tend to disagree with the greatness narrative, but that might be a product of our biblical illiteracy, as I said in the first sermon in this series. We pursue greatness at any cost. But is that really the goal? The prophet Micah didn’t think so…neither did Jesus, for that matter. In fact, when we turn to the Scriptures like our reading today from the prophet, one of the things we come to realize is that greatness is vastly overrated. Indeed, greatness is actually the enemy of goodness.
When was the last time you had a good cry? For some, it might be a long time—tears don’t come easy. But crying isn’t so hard for a lot of us.
Our kids cry when their feelings are injured, when Mommy leaves them with the sitter, or when the teacher scolds them for being disruptive in class. We cry during arguments, at the loss of a loved one, when watching a movie, listening to a song, when a passing thought runs across our minds, when we’ve hit the lotto jackpot, when we’re slapped with a lawsuit, when our children do us proud, when the daughter gets married or because the daughter isn’t married. We cry tears of revenge, seduction, escape and empathy; tears of pleasure and pain. The biblical history of tears shows us David crying at the death of Absalom, Abraham over the death of Sarah. Joseph bawled when meeting Benjamin. Even Jesus, according to that famously short verse in John’s gospel, wept.
Part 2 of the series “Major Lessons from Minor Prophets”
It must have been frontpage news at the supermarket checkout counters in Israel, right next to the hummus and the Tic-Tacs: “Local Prophet Marries Prostitute” screamed the headline of the Israel Inquirer. “Holy Man Hosea Hooks Up with Hooker” winked the Samarian Post. You can just imagine the pictures—the paparazzi following Hosea around, the seductive poses of his wife Gomer there in the centerfold. If the Israelites had had Google, Hosea and Gomer would have been the number one search term in about 750BC, especially given that in 2015 the number one Google search term was former NBA star Lamar Odom being found unconscious in a Nevada brothel.
Americans love a good scandal. Whether it’s a government official getting caught in an affair or celebrities hooking up in secret, we want to see the pictures. Somehow it makes us seem more self-righteous, which may be why most people feign disgust at the tabloids but then secretly buy them. Tabloid sales are increasing while newspaper readership is decreasing. The more salacious the news, the better it sells.