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How many of you remember New Coke? This is where we separate the generations, right? In the mid 80s, Coca-Cola was struggling, losing out to Pepsi in the ongoing cola wars. New Coke was a formula change for Coke that was so widely panned, such a colossal failure that people scrambled to buy the original Coke from stores, from collectors, even from vending machines emptied in the hopes that they would contain the old stuff instead of this new, foul concoction. Finally Coca-Cola relented and brought back the original formula, called “Coca-Cola Classic”, and it became so wildly successful again that many speculated this was Coca-Cola’s plan all along…a sort of bait-and-switch tactic for soft drink supremacy…a conspiracy theory that lives on today.
But here’s the catch. Coca-Cola didn’t just do this on a whim. The so-called “Pepsi Challenge” had been going on in commercials, where people chose Pepsi over Coke in blind taste tests pretty consistently. When Coca-Cola reformulated Coke, they held their own blind tests and people preferred it to the old Coke and Pepsi. It was only when it was released…when people bought in within culture, you know, where the color of the can and the jingle and all of the associations that one has with “the way that Coke was” got in the way. Now your soda was more than just a certain taste, or a habit, or a caffeine rush. It was sentimentality, emotion, even culture. All of a sudden that can of soda was a claim on your identity.
This may be exactly what we are going through right now. The lack of understanding, the tension and violence and anger…all signs of such an identity crisis. Last Tuesday night I gathered with lots of people from all over Tulsa – about 400 in all – at the Greenwood Cultural Center for the second part of a “Tulsa Talks” forum put together by some local organizers. This session featured a panel of law enforcement and city officials, as well as a representative from the Department of Justice and the DA. By an interesting twist of fate, the panel featured the head of the Gilcrease Division of the TPD whose online blog post entitled, “We Are at War”, in reference to the police’s role in the community, hit social media and spread like wildfire. So people came already angry and the panel discussion didn’t diffuse a lot of that anger. I sent out a tweet during the even that said the theme of the night was, “A Tale of Two Cities”, because the rhetoric from the law enforcement officials and the citizens in the audience, particularly the African-American citizens in the audience, did not match up. Listening to the questions asked and the answers given, it was clear to me that there are (at least) two different narratives at work, and the more we operate from only one experience, the further apart we’re going to get.
That kind of tension exists all around us, and is especially acute right now when calls for making “America great again” echo through the atmosphere and the wink-wink kind of political subtext screaming a dissatisfaction with any number of changes – a shift towards equality represented by rulings on marriage, a false perception of immigration, 8 years of a person of color in the White House. Many people sense the formula is changing. Things don’t taste the same. They might be losing their identity. While in the blind taste test we like the new stuff – the idea of inclusion, the pale superficiality of “all lives matter” – but when it actually hits the shelves eyes glaze over at the new cans and there is rejection of the very thing supposedly endorsed. Freedom becomes freedom for me. Justice means making sure “those people” stay over there. And “all lives matter” comes with a few asterisks next to it.
When “Classic Coke” hit the shelves again, people rejoiced. But here’s the thing. The formula still wasn’t the same. Coca-Cola took the chance to switch a couple of ingredients to cheaper substitutes and after all the hubbub of “new coke”, the changes went by almost unnoticed, except for a few select, refined cola palates. Our desire to return to some time when things were good is so often a fairy tale, romanticizing the past to help contend with the anxiety of the present, when things are challenging. Yes, times are changing. They always are. It’s why you can sing that Bob Dylan tune today and it works just as well. Jesus taught his disciples that there would be wars and rumors of wars, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, but that we should not be alarmed by this for this is part of new birth. Our task is to remain faithful. And how in the world do we do that? Today’s reading helps us out…
On one side of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke is the parable of the Good Samaritan and the story of Mary and Martha, both asking how and who we should be in the midst of enemies and duty and obligation and culturally imposed roles. On the other side is the casting out of demons and the catch phrase, “every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert…”, though we usually hear it spoken differently. In other words, in context, the prayer, and Jesus’ instructions on praying, come in the midst of some deep soul searching, possibly even traumatic times. Jesus’ instruction to pray this prayer comes in answer to something more than just the question of how to pray. It comes in the midst of fantastic stress and anxiety. The prayer is one of re-imagining…it sees a world different than the one in which we live. It centers on trust and we should listen closely to how “in the moment” it is. All the power is given away, back to God, all the struggle given to the moment, all the hope cemented in a character of trust, that lies at the heart of this prayer.
This prayer is subversive, the language of debt forgiveness and enough food a direct confrontation of the “powers that be” during Jesus’ time which kept bread prices high and wages low. So, in effect, Jesus is telling his disciples to pray for the things for which they are working. This is always the two-step our faith advocates – prayer and action, faith and works, trust in God but lock your car. Today we have a reminder in a time of great stress and turmoil and fear about the future to not forget about the first part of that equation. Today we have a reminder to pray. And if you don’t know what to pray for, here’s a prayer ready for you.
The Lord’s prayer reminds us that none of this is easy. Life isn’t easy. As followers of Jesus we ought to be very suspicious of some of the language being thrown about right now, about oversimplified solutions, about any resolution that points the finger at a particular group without recognizing the complexities of culture. But we do not do this alone. We do not walk through life alone, despite the many ways we are told that it is just us, that we must look out for number one. The prayer reminds us of our basic values. The prayer re-imagines the world and re-orients us to trust. And we ought to take a moment to reflect on just how counter-cultural that really is…
This is what makes the Lord’s Prayer so completely necessary to Christian worship, perhaps the single piece of liturgy used almost across the board in the multiplicity of Christianities that exist…this is what makes the Lord’s Prayer so universal, so pivotal, so important that we cling to it, and despite the many ways we “re-translate” it, the sharpest edges stay in there. For this is a prayer designed to awaken us, to challenge us, to motivate us. As a prayer of trust it is the antidote to all that keeps us up at night and fills our newsfeed and our waking hours with concern.
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.
Listen for a moment to how diffusing the prayer is…all the energy is directed towards God. God as our source of life, God as our parent, God as healer and protector and designator of the things to come. The Lord’s prayer is a prayer of trust…trust for God’s kin-dom, trust for daily bread, trust for God’s forgiveness and for the power of our own forgiveness to reshape our world…trust for God’s desire to not have us tested or at trial, but to live in peace and with hope.
Perhaps Jesus taught us to pray this prayer not because he wanted uniformity in our worship, or because he thought that God already knew what we wanted anyway, but instead because this prayer begins to re-orient us, to move our hearts, to re-calibrate our brains away from the assumption that we can will the world into righteousness, or force those on the opposite sides of issues to just “see the truth” and everything will be hunky-dory. Persist, Jesus says just after reciting this prayer. Keep knocking. Keep asking. Keep working.
This is the basis of Christian practice, re-orienting the world by re-orienting ourselves, the work of creating the kin-dom one piece at a time. It’s not new formulas or clever marketing, it is just the return of what Jesus taught us, that we should prize humility and compassion, not celebrity and fame, generosity and integrity, not wealth or power, and that the fruit of people who are close to God is found in the signs of hope they radiate and the love for the downtrodden that they show. This is what we practice for this is the foundational work of our faith, the beginning of our acceptance of God’s amazing love without exceptions for us, given freely, available as if it were rain from the sky or the sun on our faces. Even in the darkest of times, we must cling to the trust that no one and nothing is beyond redemption and that no evil can nullify the good that was made by God’s own hands. That is the promise in which we place our trust and the direction in which we head, even when the current pulls us elsewhere or the road turns us around. For we are Easter people, derived from and driven by the promise that death is nothing anymore, it has no power over us…it is simply a part of the new life that we have witnessed in Christ Jesus. For we trust in the power of life, death and resurrection. That is our identity.
These are hard times, but no harder than the times in which Jesus lived and preached and worked and prayed. So we will engage our own anxiety with the same basics that we have been taught – working for justice, practicing peace, praying for trust…faithful at a time of great change, not resorting to plastic nostalgia or romanticized pasts, not swayed by the language of fear but trusting in the re-imagining of hope…seeing the chaos as the birth pangs of a new world, looking together to a new future, new possibilities, every day a chance for just a little more of the kin-dom to break forth among us.
That…if you’ll pardon me, Coca-Cola, is the real thing. Amen.