Morning Worship Column: Look for Leaders Who Cast a Godly Vision

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“When I was growing up in West Philadelphia, the night before Halloween was called ‘Mischief Night.’ One time a couple of boys got into the local five and dime and changed all the price tags. The next day $25 radios were selling for 10 cents and 10-cent hair pins were selling for $25. So I have to ask, have we switched price tags?” said the Rev. Tony Campolo at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service.

“What was valuable has lost its value and what was without value is now precious,” he said. His sermon title was “Who Switched the Price Tags?” and the Scripture reading was Matthew 12:44-45.

“We are a consumer society and we know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” Campolo said.

When Japanese mothers were asked what they wanted their children to be [when they grew up] they said “successful.” American mothers want their children to be happy, he said.

“If you had asked my Sicilian immigrant father, he would have said he wanted his son to be ‘good.’ To be good has a higher value, it is more important,” he said. “My father could not have cared less if I was happy.”

“What is really valuable?” Campolo said again. He talked about meeting Nelson Mandela in the airport in Johannesburg. While Campolo was searching for a pen to sign a copy of one of his books for him, Mandela went over and knelt next to a small, blonde, blue-eyed Afrikaans girl. Mandela asked if she knew who he was. She said yes, he was the president of South Africa. “Do you know why I came over here?” Mandela said. “No,” she replied. “I wanted to meet you because I thought I should be nice to this little girl because she might be president of the whole country someday,” he said.

“That kind of leadership is what this country needs. I speak to a lot of young people and they have lost their way. I started teaching in the ’60s and that generation was going to end war, racism, sexism and homophobia by tomorrow morning,” Campolo said. “They were visionaries. Today, young people are goaded to get a good job to make money to buy stuff. Then you know what — we rent space to store all the stuff that won’t fit into the house. We pay somebody to take care of stuff. Jesus said to sell all your stuff, give the money to the poor and follow him.”

Homiletician Fred Craddock told a story about a man visiting his uncle who rescued greyhounds. The man asked the dog why he had quit racing and the dog said it was for several reasons. “Did you get too old or not win enough?” the man asked. The dog said, “No. I am not that old and I was winning all my races. But I quit one day when I realized the rabbit I was chasing was not real.”

“How many of us chase rabbits that are not real? Remember the Peggy Lee song, ‘Is That All There Is?’ Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God and all will be added to you. We have to do more than believe in doctrine,” Campolo said. “We have to surrender to the presence of Jesus, to open ourselves and say to him, ‘I want you in my life.’ I am a mystic and I believe that in being infused with Christ, my mind is conformed to his mind and his behavior becomes my behavior.”

In the coming presidential election, Campolo urged the congregation to look for candidates who “will conjure up Godly values in the American people, whose heart goes out to the least of these, the hungry, the naked, the lonely. We find Jesus when we look into the faces of those in need. They are sacramental agents in an encounter with the resurrected Christ.”

He said politics had become totally self-centered.

“Jesus said it’s not about you it’s about the least and about the alien, the stranger, the refugee in our midst. We have lost our vision,” he said. “We look back to the past but there were flaws, serious flaws in the past: we almost wiped out the Native Americans, we wrote slavery into our most sacred documents, we did not allow women to vote.”

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, Campolo said, wrote that a true prophet weeps over the people and casts a vision of an alternative society. He urged the congregation to look at Isaiah 65 and the prophet’s vision for a new heaven and new earth. Siddhartha, the Buddha, in his search for God, found a guru who took him to a lake and tried to drown him. When Siddhartha started to give up, the guru pulled him up and said, “When you want God as much as you wanted that breath, you will find God.”

“You can’t be casual about it, you have to want God as a living presence in your life, you have to intensely desire his presence and then you will find him,” Campolo said. “Pray for America.” He offered a prayer, “Lord, make us instruments of your love and your justice. Amen.”

The Rev. John Morgan presided. The Rev. Katie White, host and facility manager at the Baptist House, read the Scripture. She is the co-pastor, with her husband David, of Crossroads Community Church in Erie, Pennsylvania. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, sang “Heaven Arise in My Soul” by David Lantz III. Ginny Oram was the soloist. The Edmund E. Robb-Walter C. Shaw Fund and the J. Everett Hall Memorial Chaplaincy provided support for this week’s services.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.