Will it sell in Peoria?
(This passage about the narrow
gate from Luke 13 is not part of the current lectionary and perhaps
can be included at about Pentecost 12C.
The Gospel for Pentecost 12C is from Luke 13. This sermon
needs to be preached.)
“Will it sell?
Will it sell in Peoria?”
That question is often asked by professional marketers,
especially if you belong to the Coca-Cola Corporation and you want
to start a new Coca-Cola product.
Where are you going to start your new product?
One of the places where they always field test products is in
Peoria, Illinois. Because if a product can sell in Peoria, chances are it can
sell in Topeka, Omaha, Los Angeles and Seattle.
During the Nixon
Administration, they often asked the question:
will it sell in Peoria.
President Nixon would take a small group of advisors and they
would go into a small room to make an important decision, whether or
not to visit China, whether or not to bomb Hanoi, and as they
approached that big decision, President Nixon would always ask that
small group of advisors: will
this decision sell in Peoria? Do
you think the people in Peoria will support this kind of idea?
Will it sell in Peoria?
It’s election year, 1992, and
we are being bombarded by politicians who are telling us all kinds
of things that they will or won’t do; and we don’t know what to
believe or not believe. But one thing we do know is that they are not asking us to do
very much. We know that
our nation faces an absolutely enormous debt; we know that somewhere
along the line we are going to have to pay some sacrifices to get
this nation out of debt. No
politician will tell you that; no politician will sell you that;
because “higher taxes” or “sacrifice” doesn’t sell in
Peoria. Tell the people
what they want to hear. Tell
them that everything is going to go well.
Tell them that not much is required of anyone; and that is
the kind of idea that sells in Peoria.
Now, the logic behind this kind
of question is very obvious. You
may or may not realize it, but Peoria, Illinois is the geographic
center of the United States. If
you were going to pick one city that is the center of the country,
you would pick Peoria, Illinois.
Illinois, is not merely the geographic center of the United States,
it is also the political center; it is the weathervane; it is the
cross section of good, old USA.
If an idea or person or a product will sell in Peoria,
Illinois, chances are that it will sell in Los Angeles, Topeka,
Omaha, Kansas City, and perhaps even in Seattle.
The big question is: will
it sell in Peoria?
There is nothing sinister about
asking this kind of question if you are a politician.
There is nothing sinister or evil about this at all.
Not telling the whole truth about the cost and exaggerating
the benefits of my administration is the name of the game of
politics. If you are a
national politician, you are going to have to have policies that are
going to sell in Peoria. It
is not sinister nor is it anything new.
Politicians have always been doing that.
Since I have been voting, all the presidents have said that:
Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush; they all
do the same thing. All
politicians and all presidents talk out of both sides of their
mouth; that is the only way you get elected in Peoria.
Will it sell in Peoria?
Jesus of Nazareth was not a
politician. Jesus was
oblivious to these kinds of mechanisms.
Jesus never asked, “Will this sell in Jerusalem?”
“Disciples, do you think that the people in Jericho will
buy into this kind of idea?”
Jesus was not a politician, at all.
And today’s Scripture lesson is another one of the many
examples of the offensiveness of Jesus of Nazareth, of the radical
offensiveness, of the bluntness.
Jesus is willing to tell it like it is.
He is going to tell you up front about the cost of
politicians won’t tell you; they won’t tell you about that tax
increase; they are not going to tell you about those reduced
benefits; they aren’t going to tell you the true costs of their
administration; but Jesus....he is not a politician. Jesus tells you up front what the cost of discipleship is
really going to be.
Jesus is blunt.
He is so blunt he is not afraid of offending anyone. For example, it would be like someone going before the Right
to Life movement and telling the Right to Life movement at their
annual convention that that person was for abortion on demand.
They would hoot him out of the hall.
Or it would be like going before the American Legion and
telling those ex-military people that you are for unilateral
disarmament. They would
hoot you out of the hall. But
Jesus was not afraid to offend, to offend the good people who were
listening to him teach. He would tell you the truth about discipleship.
Well, it is with this mood that
we approach the Scripture for today which is part of Luke, chapter
10 through chapter 18. This
section of eight chapters, ten through eighteen, is about radical
discipleship, and those ideas wouldn’t sell in Jerusalem; they
don’t sell in Jericho; and they don’t sell in Peoria.
And today Jesus speaks bluntly about the cost of being a
During the early service today,
just as I was about to walk into the pulpit, right after the reading
of the Gospel, Pastor Petersen, Lynn, my friend said to me:
“I am ever glad that I don’t have to preach on that
Gospel for today, being Rally Sunday and all.
Rally Sunday is an upbeat Sunday; people are happy and things
are going well; I wouldn’t want to preach on that Gospel for
today.” But it is precisely this day which is somewhat like Easter
and somewhat like Christmas and somewhat like Thanksgiving, when
people are all enthused about Jesus Christ, on this day perhaps more
than on any other day, we
need to hear the bluntness, the
directness of Jesus, about
what he says is the cost of being a disciple.
Two weeks ago, from this
radical section on radical discipleship, Luke 10-18, two weeks ago,
Jesus said: “If you would be my disciple, sell what you have and give
it to the needy.” If
you look around you, and you see some poor, hungry or needy people,
your heart is so moved with compassion, that you are willing to sell
all or some of what you have in order to help those people.
Jesus didn’t say: “Well,
why don’t you give one percent?
Maybe 2%? Or
maybe you could be like the average Lutheran in the country and give
2%? Or why don’t you
be like the average members of Grace Lutheran and give 5%?”
No, not Jesus. Jesus said; if you see somebody in need, and your heart is
moved by that, I ask you to sell what you have and help that person
in need. ... Let me
tell you, that kind of talk didn’t sell very well in Jerusalem.
It wasn’t a real hot idea in Jericho either.
And the people in Peoria didn’t like it at all.
But the church does, then and now.
We water down; we water down the radical teachings of Jesus,
so that Jesus will be more acceptable in Peoria.
Last week’s text; again from
Luke, Jesus said: “When
I come into your family, I am not going to bring peace into your
family, but I am going to bring division.
And whoever loves his father or mother or brother or sister
or husband or wife or son or daughter more than me; whoever loves a
family member more than me, that person is not worthy to be my
disciple.” And once
again, he was being very blunt; and he told them that the cost of
discipleship was very high. ...
If you were a Jew living in those days, it wasn’t popular
to be a Christian. If
you were a Jew living in those days and you became a Christian, you
were ostracized. ... If
you were a Jew living in those days, it wasn’t popular to be a
Christian. If you were
a Jew living in those days and you became a Christian, you were
ostracized. You were an
outcast. You were
thrown away. You were
considered dead if you became a Christian.
Just like today in India, if you become a Christian, you
become an outcast from your family.
Today, in lands where the Moslem religion dominates, if you
become a Christian, you become an outcast from your family.
Jesus says: “Whoever
loves mother and father and brother and sister and son and daughter;
whoever would love any of these more than me, is not worthy of being
my disciple.” He
speaks so bluntly.
Yesterday was the men’s
breakfast at church, and in the men’s breakfast, George Eims is
usually there and he usually stirs up trouble with his comments, and
yesterday was no different. He said: “Hey,
you know that Gospel passage last week about Jesus bringing division
into families, I don’t understand what that is all about.
It certainly doesn’t make any sense to me; it offends
me.” The men got
talking about it, and they finally came to the conclusion that Jesus
was supposed to be more important than any family member, and then
Fred Matthew raised his hand and he said:
“When I was newly married to Delores, I said to my wife in
our young marriage, “Delores, I love you more than anything in the
whole wide world.” And
Delores quickly said to Fred: “Fred,
don’t you ever say that to me again.”
And Fred said that the years have gone by and I have learned
that I need to love Jesus more than my wife, more than my children,
more than my parents. I
am to love Jesus above all things.”
And that doesn’t sell well in Peoria. And that doesn’t
sell well in Jerusalem. And
that doesn’t sell well in Jericho.
But Jesus was never trying to sell well.
And it is with this mood that
we approach today’s Gospel that is another one of these blunt
sayings of Jesus. Jesus is once again telling you upfront the cost of being a
disciple. He isn’t
like those politicians who won’t tell you the true cost.
I would like to retell the
Gospel story for today, first from the Gospel of Matthew and then
from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus
said: “If anyone
would come after me and be my disciple, the gate is wide and the
road is easy that leads to the good life and many people find it;
but the gate is narrow and road is difficult and hard which goes to
eternal life; and only a few find it.
Strive, agonize, struggle to enter by means of the narrow
gate so that you may find eternal life.”
Now, if Jesus would have stopped right there, he would have
had some smarts and people would have been drawn to his high
challenge; but Jesus is so outspoken; this is what bothers me; and
he pauses; up to here people said, Oh, that’s nice; and then he
takes this stinger out and he says, YOU, and soon as he pulls that
pronoun YOU out with emphasis, a person gets nervous; YOU are the
people who come and stand on the outside of the door and say,
‘hey, we knew you Jesus; we went to church; we took Holy
Communion; we talked
with you occasionally; you’re
friends of ours, remember?’;
and Jesus said, I do not know your voice,
for the only person who will come into my kingdom is the
person who will come in by the narrow gate.
And YOU are going to be cast out forever.”
people were offended. I
mean, “we are good people; we’re good Jews; who do you think you
are, Jesus?” You see,
Jesus was not afraid of telling the truth; he was not afraid of
reading people’s hearts and telling those people what he saw or
didn’t see in their hearts; he was not afraid of telling them that
it is only through the narrow gate that you are going to find
The story for today is about
the offensiveness of Jesus Christ, about the radically of Jesus
Christ, and Jesus is inviting you and me to be a radical
was the most radical person who ever lived; and he was not a
moderate Jew. Jesus was
a revolutionary person and not a middle of the road.
And I would like to talk with you today about this
offensiveness of Jesus; and equally, how we the church, like the
establishment religion in the Gospel for today, how we water down
the offensiveness of Jesus. We
want to compromise Jesus; we want to explain and interpret Jesus; we
want to compromise this Jesus of Nazareth, so that Jesus will sell
in Peoria. We want
Jesus to be mayor of Peoria where Christianity is a mile wide and an
inch deep. And what the
African church often says about the American church is that we are a
mile wide and an inch deep because we have removed the offensiveness
of Jesus Christ.
Did I tell you that I visited
in Peoria the other day? In
fact, I live in Peoria, and Peoria lives in me.
I went to Peoria the other day, and I asked them all kinds of
questions. I wanted to
find out what Peoria was like.
I wanted to find out how Christianity is doing in Peoria and
let me tell you that Christianity is doing very well in Peoria.
Jesus is selling like hotcakes.
Every other car has a little bumper sticker that says:
“honk if you love Jesus,” and they honk at all the
Peoria, I found Christianity without the cross,
I found Christianity without Christ, and I found Christianity
without the radical. Christianity was doing very well in Peoria.
I would like to tell you about some of the people in Peoria
and what they believe. I
discovered that 98% of the people in Peoria believe in God; they
took a poll in Peoria and 98% of them believe in a creative energy
called God. I went to
several of the scientists who had recently graduated from the
University of Illinois in Urbana; and would you believe that the
majority of scientists who graduated from Urbana and are now living
in Peoria; would you believe that most of them believe in the First
Principle, a God who created all the matter out of nothing. Isn’t that what it means to believe in God?
Just to believe in the creative powers in the world?
And he shook his head in
despair. And I
discovered that in Peoria, most of them believe in what used to be
called the “brotherhood of man” and is now called the “family
of the human race.” Many
people told me that you were to be good to your neighbor; you are to
love your neighbor; and what does that mean? Don’t hit your spouse; be nice to your friends on
your cul-de-sac; wave at the people as you drive out of the
cul-de-sac in the morning; and say hello to your neighbor in the
swimming pool at the apartment.
That’s what it means to love your neighbor, doesn’t it?
And he started to cry. ...
I discovered that people in Peoria were very concerned.
I had no idea how concerned everybody was in Peoria. They had an Indians concern Sunday, an AIDS concerned Sunday,
a Women’s Concern Sunday, and a Starvation Concerned Sunday.
For four Sundays every September, they were very concerned.
They were the most concerned people that I had ever met.
I mean, they never did anything, but were they ever
concerned. And they
said that to be committed to Jesus Christ was to be concerned.
He shook his head in despair.
...Now, most of the people in Peoria told me that you just
had to be a good person and you would go to heaven.
Work hard. Be a
good person. Be a good Joe or good Josephine.
Do your job. Raise your kids.
Pay your taxes. Be
a good citizen. Be a
good All American Joe or Josephine and we will all go to heaven.
And that’s where we aaaalllllll go.
Isn’t that true? ...
I discovered that most people in Peoria belong to church.
I had to idea. I found that 66% of the people in Peoria went to church, and
40%, now this is incredible, went to church on Rally Sunday.
The churches were full; their parking lots were full; 40%
were there. And I asked
the people in Peoria what the church was all about, and they told me
that the church was a very solid, social group of people, of
outstanding people, my mother always called them the ‘hi-type.’
The church was needed for the children, for their emotional
and character development. That’s
what the purpose of the church is, isn’t it? To train the moral
backbone of society. It
really doesn’t matter what church you belong to because the
purpose of all churches is the same, to train the children in
morality and character formation. He wept in despair. ...
The morality in Peoria highly varied.
Basically, I found out that people believe that being moral
was doing what you want to do and making sure that nobody else gets
hurt. Actualize your
abilities and become the best kind of person you can be.
Live your life for yourself and your family.
Don’t hurt anybody else.
That’s what it is to be moral.
To be honest, I did find most couple living together before
marriage to kind of try it out to see if it, marriage, really worked
for the two of them. And
to be honest, I discovered that abortion was much more common than
delivery; that is, abortion had become the primary means of birth
control in Peoria; but nobody really talked about it that much. ... But that is what I found in Peoria: a spineless, gutless, crossless, Christless kind of
Christianity, very moderate, not radical, not revolutionary, a mile
wide and an inch deep, middle-class pabulum that went down smoothly.
The offensiveness was gone.
Would you believe it? Christ
was elected mayor of Peoria, and everybody cheered as he was
inaugurated and became the mayor of the city.
You see, the people had not yet understood; they had not yet
understood the offensiveness of Jesus.
They did not understand Jesus when he said:
the world hates me and is offended by me because what the
world is doing is wicked and I tell them so.
They did not understand Jesus when he said: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to God
except through me.” They
did not understand when Jesus said:
“The gate is wide and the path is easy that leads to the
good life, and many are those who find it; but the gate is narrow
and the path is difficult for those who go to eternal life and very
few are those who find it.” ...But Jesus was not understood and so
they elected him mayor and they were so pleased. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive; it is radical;
and Jesus is the most revolutionary force in this world; and today,
Jesus is inviting you and me to become part of this
counterrevolutionary movement where you dedicate and surrender your
life to Jesus Christ and his mission.
Let me give you two
illustrations of the radical offensiveness of Jesus Christ.
I’ll say it real simply, so no one misunderstands.
Jesus is God; Jesus Christ is God; the only Son of God, the
only human being who in the history of the world was and is and
shall be God. Jesus is
not merely a good man; he was not merely a prophet; he was not
merely a religious genius like Gandhi or Buddha; Jesus of Nazareth
is the very personification of God; the incarnation of God; and of
all the religions of the world, the only one who is truly God is
Jesus Christ. Look into
the face of Jesus and you will see the face of God.
... Don’t give me any of that cheap impersonal stuff about
a creator God of the universe, the divine god who created all the
Mount Rainiers of the world. Don’t
give me any of that cheap talk about a god who lies behind all the
faces of the world religions and offends no one. Don’t give me any
talk of a god who is behind all the religious ecstasies.
Rather, Jesus is God. Jesus
said: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one; no one knows
God except through me Jesus.”
That is narrow-minded. That
is really narrow-minded. As
narrow-minded as Jesus. And
But there is more. The same
outrageous God comes to you this morning and says; give me your
whole heart. Give me your heart and mind and soul. Give me your whole life.
l00% of it. For
a person who finds his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life
for my sake will find it. Give
me your whole life. Give
me your family. Give me
your children. Give me
your job. Give me your wealth. Give
me your health. Give me
your intelligence. Give
me all of you. Surrender
it all. Jesus said: Go
to the poor. Help the
hungry. Help all those
who are needy. Help all
those around you. Enter
by means of the narrow gate. Only
1%. Only 1% of the
people of Peoria said; Jesus, I want to be your disciple.
That is what Jesus is asking of you this morning, and it is
not watered down.
Jesus of Nazareth was the most
radical person this world has ever seen.
His was the most revolutionary force of dedicated, selfless,
giving, loving people who ever lived.
Anytime your gather together a group of people who live under
the cross, it is narrow. Anytime
you gather together a group of people who understand that the way of
discipleship is as wide as the cross. Anytime you gather together a
group of people who are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ
and are committed to the suffering of the world, you have assembled
the most powerful revolutionary force in history.
.... Of course,
that will never sell in Peoria.