The Pastor's Buzz

Pastor Buzz Trexler's blog for God's people in The Meadow.

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Name: Buzz Trexler
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Journalist for 29 years; married to Donna for 28 years; parent of David, 27, and Elizabeth, 24; pastor of Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa since 2002.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Cannibal Christians

I grew up on television.

I loved “I Love Lucy,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and “The Real McCoys.”

They were syndicated shows on WTVR television, “the South’s First Television station,” when I was a youngster. I can remember watching those shows, laying on the floor in front of that black and white RCA television at my grandparents' house at 112 North Nansemond Street. The TV was housed in a polished wood cabinet -- mahogany or cherry, I’m not sure -- with double doors.

I was a TV junkie.

I even liked those shows that today we would consider politically incorrect, such as “Amos and Andy.”

Despite some of the crass, vulgar and profane things you see on cable television today, I’m not sure a network could broadcast “Amos and Andy” without a taking a great deal of heat.

And I certainly don’t think you could get by with certain episodes of “Our Gang” and “Popeye” cartoons.

The ones I’m thinking of this morning have to do with cannibals.

That’s right, cannibals.

You know, people who need people … for dinner.

Cannibals have an odd place in our culture.

Does anyone remember the 1960s rock band Cannibal and the Headhunters?

They actually opened for The Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965 and hit the charts with a tune co-written by Fats Domino. It’s one of my Motown favorites: “Land of a Thousand Dances.”

“Naa-na-na-na-naaa-na-na-na-naaa-nanna-na-nanna-na … na-na-na-naaaa …”

It’s been recorded by a number of people, but Cannibal and the Headhunters got it on the charts.


Did you know there is even a mathematical puzzle called “Cannibals vs. Missionaries”?

Of course, it is also a bit politically incorrect in that the cartoon cannibals are black while the missionaries are white.

But that’s the way it’s normally portrayed.

Which brings me to the TV shows of my childhood, such as “Popeye’s ‘Pop-Pie a la Mode,’” from 1945.

You remember Popeye.

Well in this cartoon, he’s shipwrecked on an island that he thinks is inhabited by friendly natives. However, it's really inhabited by cannibals who envision the sailor man as their next meal. Popeye has no idea what's going on ... until they throw him in the pot. The cannibal chief can be seen checking out the recipe in a cookbook entitled, "How to Serve Your Fellow Man."

I won’t ruin it for you, but you can guess what gets him out of hot water.

And then there’s Spanky and Our Gang’s “The Kid From Borneo.”

Whenever I think of cannibals I think of this old short that features "Bumbo: The Wild Man From Borneo." Bumbo, played by an African American adult named John Lester Johnson, is gentle and loves to eat, but his cry of "Yum-yum, eat 'em up!" leads the gang to believe he's really a cannibal.

Truth be known, cannibalism is real … so real that I have no desire to go into the details of anything other than amusing, if politically incorrect, media displays.

Throughout history, people have physically devoured people …

… and they’ve even devoured a few spiritually.

In today’s text, the Apostle Paul warns the Galatian church that it is in danger of Christian cannibalism.

That’s my phrase for it.

What Paul actually says is this:

“The whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”

If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Concerning this verse, John Wesley writes:

“But if — On the contrary, in consequence of the divisions which those troublers have occasioned among you, ye bite one another by evil speaking. And devour one another — By railing and clamor. Take heed ye be not consumed one of another — By bitterness, strife, and contention, our health and strength, both of body and soul, are consumed, as well as our substance and reputation.”

Of course, John Wesley sometimes handled others with a little less grace than could have been offered.

The story goes that once while he was preaching, he saw a woman in the audience who was known for her critical attitude.

All through the service she stared at his new tie. When the meeting ended, she came up to him and said sharply, “Mr. Wesley, the strings on your bow tie are much too long. It’s an offense to me.”

He asked if any of the women at the service happened to have a pair of scissors. Someone did, and after they handed them to him he gave them to the woman and asked her to trim the strings. She did.

“Are you sure they are all right now?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s much better.”

“Then let me have those shears a moment,” Wesley said. “I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if I also give you a bit of correction. I don’t want to be cruel, but I must tell you, madam, that your tongue is an offense to me — it’s too long! Please stick it out; I’d like to take some off!” (Thanks to R. Kent Hughes' "1001 Great Stories 'Quotes,'" 1998, p95

Conflict within the body of Christ can devour you physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

But it can occur.

And it does occur.

If often begins when grace has failed to prevail.

Such was the case with the Galatian community, within which there was a group of Judaizers telling Gentile believers they had to subscribe to Mosaic law, including circumcision. In his letter, Paul flat out rejects the Judaizers and encourages the Galatian community to center on the law of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. He tells them that the greatest law is the law of love, and that Christians should become slaves to each other through self-sacrifice.

It’s really hard to be mad at someone when they’re serving you at the table, Amen?

Rather than engage in endless conflict within the body of Christ, we need to engage in love, Christ-like love. Living out the perfect love of Christ is what holds a community together. It's summed up this way: “love your neighbor as yourself.”

We are called to fulfill God’s law by being in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. Following Christ fulfills the law, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

When you live otherwise in community, as was evident in the Galatian church, the ultimate outcome is devouring one another. They were in danger of becoming Christian cannibals.

What is the alternative menu?

The fruit of the Spirit …

First on Paul’s menu list is Love.

Love should be the most prevalent dish in any Christian community.

Sisters and brothers, love covers a multitude of sins.

If the world sees the church engage in Christian cannibalism … devouring and biting one another … the work of the Holy Spirit will be hindered and nothing we can do will draw them into fellowship.

But if the church feeds on a diet of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, dishes that same diet to the ones we seek to serve, then the world would want to feast at this table.

They will, as songwriter Randy Stonehill would say, 'clamor at our door, and find the life they hunger for.'

Grace and peace ...