I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | August 21, 2022

Ephesians 5:6-16

In 1968 Marvin Gaye wrote the lyrics to his song, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” In it he sang out, “People say believe half of what you see, Son, and none of what you hear. I can’t help bein’ confused – If it’s true please tell me dear?”

People say… If Marvin Gaye wrote that song today, he would need another verse along the lines of, “I found it on the internet…”

“I heard….” and if I heard it, it must be true.

Years ago, I gave a colleague a ride home from a meeting and we were talking about what happened on 9/11 and he said to me in all sincerity, “You know the Jews who worked at the World Trade Center were told to stay home that day.”

I said, “You actually believe that?!”

“You don’t?” he wondered, “Everyone knows it’s true.”

Okay, just how would that work? The vast team of government, business and the military industrial complex somehow manage to coordinate such an attack in secret, including making it look like a terrorist sponsored event; but in preparation for the attack they compile a list of Jews who work in and near the World Trade Center. Then call them up a day or two beforehand and tell them to stay home from work on Tuesday the 11th of September?

Imagine how that conversation would sound – “Hello, Sydney Levine who works on the 38th floor of the World Trade Center? This is the CIA calling. We think you should stay home from work tomorrow. Why? We can’t say why, only that it would be advisable. And also, don’t tell anyone, no one, especially not any of your Gentile friends or relatives.”

Imagine that. Yet there are millions of people around the world today who believe that to be true. Supposedly, we live in the age of information. Information is at our fingertips instantly. The reality though is more like we live in the age of outright lies and misinformation.  

It’s as though we can create reality as we wish it to be, not necessarily as it is. We can searh for truth as we want it to be told. It comes by the title of “Fake News” or “Alternate Facts.” It used to be known simply as “Propaganda.”

However, this is nothing new or unique to our time. Truth has always been a matter of perspective – depending on the worldview and cultural reference points of the one who is telling it. The truth of power and the truth of the oppressed will tell different tales. The lions have a different story than the gazelles.

The text we read this morning from the Letter to the Ephesians encourages us to search for truth –

Live as children of light.

Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.

Following that lead is a challenge now just as it was then. It’s a challenge in the small pond where we swim and the big ocean where we all live.

When I was trying to figure out how to be a pastor, I heard through the grapevine that people were upset with me. No surprise there. Word on the grapevine had it that I had taken money that didn’t belong to me. That’s a serious accusation. That’s a career ending sort of crime. I was about as angry as I could be. The truth so simple, but there were folks who loved to stir up trouble by making things up; or telling lies.

I was enrolled in some seminary classes as part of my preparation for ordination. Glen Avon Presbyterian Church in Duluth had a benevolent fund. Churches could apply to the fund for special projects. Individuals could apply to the fund for special need. I applied for and received a grant for continuing education studies. Around the same time, one of the congregations where I was laboring as “Temporary Student Supply” applied for and received a grant for a minor building project.

When I received my check from Glen Avon, it came with a letter that basically said, “Here is a check for your continuing education costs. God bless you in your work.” I showed this letter to the church treasurer and a few others in a “rejoice with me, brothers and sisters,” sort of way.

But alas the grapevine is not a reliable means of communication. The check to the church for the building project was slower in arriving. People began to wonder if it was coming at all. A query to the treasurer was answered with, “The only money I’m aware of is the check they sent to John.” Which was soon translated into, “They sent our check to John, and he went ahead and cashed it.”

I made a copy of the letter I received from Glen Avon and posted it prominently in the church for all to see.  In response, some folks were angry. Not that lies had been spread, but that the lies were soundly disproved. And of course, there was no apology.

I heard it through the grapevine, so it must be true. We need to shed some light on this subject and try to somehow discover what is pleasing to the Lord. Historically that has at times meant finding out who needs to be burned at the stake for their sinful ways – under the misguided illusion that God should be pleased when we rise to the defense.

But the Supreme Deity of the universe, the Almighty, the Great I AM never asks us to play the defense. That illusion is born of limited thinking which portrays God in our image rather than the other way around. The task we are called to is live as children of light – to expose the darkness – to be wise.

The question is “How?” How do we in the midst of so much information and disinformation find the light of truth? How do we in fact nurture wisdom? The how is especially important because where we think the light of truth is to be found will influence how we seek to live in the light.

Some stories are so preposterous that once they are in the grapevine, they just have to run their course. If you want to believe what you hear, then be careful to what or to whom you listen. If we claim to be followers of Christ, then we have to be smart.

When I lived in Clarion the story was told that I had been “Kidnapped by a Gang of Mexicans.” I was able to trace the story to its original source, which was a woman who lived across the street from the church and who saw the world filtered through the gauze of her front window curtain.

It was a warm day in July when the local butcher called me and said he had processed two hundred pounds of ground beef. The community food pantry was located in the church I served, and we had a freezer into which we could put the hamburger.

I called a guy I knew with a pick-up truck who was a migrant farm worker. He came over to the church with the truck and three or four guys. They came in for a minute and then we all went out and I piled into the back of the truck with some of the other guys and we drove away.

A woman who lived across the street saw this. She was what in Scotland we would call a “curtain-twitcher.” She reported to her bridge club that afternoon that the minister had been “kidnapped” by a “gang” of “Mexicans.” If that had been accurately true, she didn’t call the police. Her truth was simply the preferred version of events as told by a bigot.

Sometimes we do well to ask ourselves, “What is it I want to believe in this scenario? Is this a truth of light or is this a truth of darkness?”

So, we may need to remind ourselves from time to time that a light needs to be switched on – the light of wisdom and the light of truth. What that light reveals may surprise us, and it may be a more difficult truth to embrace than the easy assumptions formed in the dark corners of ignorance. But we must live as children of light.

I will leave you with this final word I heard through the grapevine –

“Although I may spend all my days with disjointed relationships around and conflicts within me, I believe in ultimate reconciliation.         

I believe in the reconciling of all things through the grace of Christ.

Personal relationships shall not remain locked in alienation forever.

Misunderstanding and suspicion shall not always subvert openness.

Resentment and revenge shall not prevail over forgiveness.

Tyranny and exploitation, shall not perpetually trample on justice

Violence, terrorism and war, shall not always outgun peace.

Carelessness and apathy shall not forever diffuse compassion.

Personal and political deceits shall not overwhelm integrity.

Prejudice and discrimination and shall never strangle goodwill.

Graft and corruption shall not put paid to honour and trust.

Ignorance and blind dogmatism shall not finally divide and rule over truth.

I believe in peace.                              

I believe in grace.

I believe in love.

I believe in God.

Because I believe in Christ, I believe that love will have the last word.” (Bruce Prewer)


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