I John 4:1-6-Sermon for Sunday-Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad, the TV series, has had its finale. Walter White, the frustrated genius who starred in the protagonist role, died in the middle of his illegal chemistry lab. He left behind a shattered family, a fatally scarred son, a daughter who will not know him, dead friends and murdered adversaries. He finally admitted he committed all these sins because he liked the work and felt good about it.

The creator and co-writer of the series, Vince Gilligan, was asked if Walter paid for all his sins by the simple act of dying. These were the actual terms of the questioner, “Did Walter pay for his sins by dying in the end?” Vince replied, “I hope not. I can’t see how Walter’s death paid for his sins. A lot of good people are going to die, too, some of them really good, and is that how we are going to see their deaths? I don’t think he settled anything by dying.”

I am amazed at how people who have little or nothing to do with Christian values and less than nothing to do with Church somehow understand spiritual matters, if not in detail, at least in principle. Vince Gilligan looks at his creation and says, “He is too far gone to save himself by any act of his own. He dies because it is natural to die but his death accomplishes nothing at all other than to stop him.”

Mr. Gilligan’s generation has seen through some of our bull. He sees Walter White as an evolutionary character, once removed from the anti-hero who popped up in cinema in the 1960’s. The anti-hero was someone like Clint Eastwood in his various western movies, where he starred, took up most of the footage and finally emerged victorious but actually looked and sounded about like the obvious bad guys. The only way to decide who the hero (anti-hero) of the piece actually was to wait until the end and see who won. Mr. Gilligans’ generation has seen through all that nonsense to the consequences of winning at any cost.

I am amazed at how clearly this generation sees the consequences of bad acts and even calls them sins. This comes at a time when the Church has lost the language of error. The Church, Christ’s representative on earth, seems to think there are no consequences to any actions; just life and then death and happy times in oblivion. What is the Christian view, which Mr. Gilligan seems to understand and want some more understanding of? How would you tell him to proceed beyond the simple matter of physical demise?

 

I

   We could tell Vince and Walter that not everything is right and not everyone is good, I John 4:1.  Test the spirits to see what is right and what is not, John says. Don’t just take things at face value because they claim to be religious, or spiritual, or of service.

   We would all identify with hatred of the huckster. No one wants to invest with Bernie Madoff or buy stock from Enron or sit in a revival service with Elmer Gantry (or Jim Jones, or, well, the list gets long). No one wants to be seduced or manipulated by any huckster, so we have our personal litmus test to identify the liar or the misleader.

   John has another means of testing. The good pastor is losing some people to a cult that says Jesus has never come into the world in bodily form. He watches the cult tear people away from Jesus and, so, takes them all the way back to the First Advent, to indicate how important is the Incarnation of the Christ.

   Now, you can roll your eyes and yawn at doctrine/dogma, but, without core beliefs, we are just a weekly variety show, live theater, often gone terribly, terribly wrong. And, then, the people who are outside the Covenant Community of the Church never really get to see what is real. The Walter Whites of the world have no good reason to be noble in tragedy so they die, leaving their family a barrel of money and a well of woe.

   John, the Good Pastor, just says, “Religiously, it matters that the Christ has come into the world. Ethically, it matter that Jesus has come into the world, morally, Jesus matters. In family and finance and in all things, Jesus matters.”

   The example of Jesus matters in life and death. Walter White finds out he has cancer, he is going to die and he wants to make a lot of money to leave his family. He leaves them a whole barrel but also shatters them, to the point they are outside the realm of society where any amount of money can heal them. People are dead, family members even and dozens of others. Walter got what he wanted but then died alone and miserable.

   Jesus knows He is going to die. About mid-way through His recorded ministry Jesus begins to tell his followers, “I have to go up to Jerusalem, be delivered into the hands of sinful men and die.” Jesus knows he will die of social cancer, as well as Walter White knows cancer will eat his innards. As Jesus lives out the last 18 months that are available to Him, He creates an order of religion fit to lift up women, heal lepers, feed the hungry, empower children and remove the religious burden. He dies, His shattered body broken, never asking anything for Himself. He has to provide for His family (mom), so He networks her with the disciples. Jesus is a better example than Walter White.

   Jesus’ coming (the Incarnation) shows us how to live with the inevitability of death. What is better, the revivalistic hucksterism that tells us we never have to suffer or the real religion that gives the courage to live nobly with what is killing us? If Jesus has come in the flesh, then what we do in the flesh matters, what we do with other flesh matters. If He is come, there is a nobler way to live and a better reason to die.

   We can tell this to the next generation, the Vince Gilligan’s who start to wonder about consequences. What else can we do?

II

We can worship the greatest, not just the latest, I John 4:2-4. On-line magazines (ezines) have editors and writers get together each morning, let’s say, and they check what is trending on-line. They seek data on what people are googling. What do they want to find and know right now? Then, the publishing team can assign writers and editors to major on what is trending.

   You can see how, if you start from and stay with and end on a fixed position, you may appear outdated, out of touch, just mostly out of it. This is a problem for religionists and Christians are no exception because we do hold a fixed religious (and so moral, spiritual, political, et al) position. If Christ has come into the world to become Jesus, if He is the Perfect Sacrifice for all our error, if He is the Way, the Truth, the Life, then we are fixed on Him. Therefore, we cannot (do not) chase off after whatever is trending at the moment.

   Our fixed position is actual worship of God Incarnate, God in Jesus Christ. We don’t depend on temporary enthusiasm or temporary anything. In a very transient world, we pin our hopes on Jesus. He is our fixed position.

   The actor Brad Pitt does good works, or, at least, works with good intentions. He seems to have a spiritual bent, for which we applaud. He helps our understanding about good, better and best, when he says:

I go to a Christian worship service and I see great passion.

I go to a rock concert and I see real passion.

   If acts of passion or excitement are what we want, we can have them here or there and need not the fixed position of the Church, the Kingdom of God. If chasing the current trends with excitement is not what it is all about, then what is the point?

   We have to decide what we know. This is hard in religion, but wait and try. We know by these means: senses, memory, authority, reason and intuition. Now, you know that your senses mislead you, memory fails, authority has its agendas and reason is faulty. That leaves us with intuition, what Jesus called belief and what Kierkegaard called a leap. And it is intuition by which we live and move and in which we have our being, for it is there we best encounter God.

(By the way, though it is not part of this thought stream, I think you can tell much about a generation by its preferred philosopher. My business model generation is Kantian, believing that Truth is not real, but is only information filtered through one’s own needs and discernment. The Gilligan generation is closer to Kierkegaard, as are so many of the younger Christians I meet. If you want to do some good and perhaps make a ton of money, decide who is the real human hero of the post-mods, millenials, etc., and start to explain them to themselves vis a vis their actual philosophical ancestor, who, I begin to think, may be Soren Kierkegaard).

    When we decide what we know, our fixed position, that one thing for which we will sacrifice and suffer, that point of our passion, that hope of all our hopes, then we can fix this world with the steely gaze of a real heroine, who knows the end is worth the current pain. We must find our fixed position.

Then, once we find Him, what shall we do?

III

We shall worship Him, I john 4:4-6.

   What is worship?

   In worship:

  • We admit there is one  Greater Than I
  • We admit this Greater Than I into our lives
  • We continually assent to the Greater Than I

Worship, to be worship, must focus on the Greater Than I so that I do not become the Holier Than Thou. If we take our focus off of the Greater Than I we can easily get lost in the competition to find who is Holier Than. Before long, we just chase the anti-hero, who is what? He is the Walter White, who gets his way, who succeeds at his stated end but has no nobility and finally admits he broke the law, destroying all he touched because he liked this life style. It made him feel alive.

Fitting that Walter should die alone on the floor of his illegal chem lab. He did not need a Cross to bear because he neither lived nor died for any other person.

Real worship honors The Greater Than I. Walter White would have been better served to live out his cancer stricken life and die nobly, honorably, leaving a legacy of honesty behind him instead of a shattered family.

Funny, isn’t it, that worship could have saved him but worship was the last thing he thought. Walter talked about sin, judgement, justice, heaven and hell throughout the series but he never made the connection between himself and his sins. So, he died alone, just alone, the creator of his own judgement and its next (but not last) victim.

Don’t break bad.  To break bad causes some dreadful consequences

 

 

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