People have occasionally described a slick-talking man as being able to sell Air-conditioners to Eskimos. I understand that the saying is meant to be a compliment, or at least some appreciation for the rhetorical skills of the person being talked about. They are obviously skilled, they can talk an Eskimo into buying something completely useless to their lives. Hooray!
I sometimes wonder at that image. How we celebrate the person going after no other agenda than their personal success. After all, their customer is unlikely to end up happy with the transaction, finding an air conditioner pretty useless on the whole so there will be no repeat customers on this trip, probably ever; likely as not this one act, so laudatory that we have an entire cliche commemorating it, will probably salt the earth for any other sales people coming along, making the road that much harder.
Because it is all about self-interest, making the sale, unloading your wares.
I’ve often wondered why the salesman, the slickster in this cliche never thought of investing in space heaters, or dutch ovens, or wool blankets, or candles or something useful. Instead there he is, using his gift of a winning personality and the gift of gab to sell air conditioners.
I understand, I really do. You want to sell what you have, to make a market for the goods you already have with you, that way you can make different decisions later, next time, you’ll sell something useful, but still, you have all these air conditioners, so . . .
The world already has a set of rules and expected behaviors when Jesus comes into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. They are all Jews gathered around the table, you seen; not a cross in sight, it would have been an obscenity to them so many of their fellow countrymen having been killed on one. They all know how to act and who they should bow to, and who they should scorn and there are rules, you see, we have a lot of rules and we’d be happy to sell you some, they should be spread around, after all, we like them, you will too.
It would be so easy to just sit back and let it happen, to play along, to buy the air conditioner.
Jesus is not slick, nor duplicitous. Jesus is the way, and the truth and the life, no need for deception. There is no need for salesmanship in this case, Jesus just lets the truth lay, obvious and clear, acting and speaking it like it was the air that he breathes. I have no doubt he could sell air conditioners to Eskimos, but I am equally certain that he brought no air conditioners at all, nothing that nobody needed, just the truth.
How often has the church trotted out something other than the truth? How often have we ourselves, especially on days like today, on days of commitment and dedication to the ministry and mission of the church set up our stand and started selling what we have just because we have it?
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the words, “That’s not what we learned in Confirmation back in ‘enter date here’” which is usually some time back in the fifties or farther back. That’s fine, but scholarship has progressed, we’ve continues to learn and to study, we’ve changed and while the way, the truth and the life have not changed, our understanding of them has. We cannot keep preaching and teaching to a world that no longer exists. We have all the muscles developed to react faithfully to a world with two superpowers but now there is only one. We have all the skills to preach and teach and witness to a world where not one mother in ten works outside the home but we simply do not live in that world anymore.
We cannot keep selling them air conditioners when they have moved to Toronto.
Our dedication is renewed this evening, we have been forgiven after a season of confession, introspection, of walking to Jerusalem and encountering the word and our own faith along the way and so we gather here and hear the story of Jesus bringing something new to the table, not just rules but also service, also vulnerability, also love. He comes into the world that has been listening to the rules and obeying them and getting not one step closer to God and says, well, have you thought about space heaters instead of air conditioners?
And we, as we seek to follow the Lord’s final and finest commandment, that we love one another, we also need to dedicate ourselves to finding out what that means, not to us, but to them. We need to enter into uncomfortable conversations with people who are not like us. We need to dedicate ourselves to finding out what it is that they want, need, love.
We’ve got literally everything to offer. Peace, blessedness, hope, joy, eternity but unless we find out how that touches them, unless we are brave enough and dedicated enough to open ourselves up and wash their feet, either literally or metaphorically, knowing them and learning from them how what we have is what they need, then we are dedicating our lives to selling air conditioners to Eskimos and that is a singular and singularly useless distinction, maybe we have it, maybe we don’t but even if we do, what are we burning for the sake of the sale?
We have instituted the Lord’s Supper, in real and vivid terms the coming of grace into the lives, into the very body of Christ from the Body of Christ. We have also instituted the washing of the feet, in real and yet also metaphorical terms, pointing us to truly open ourselves to others; maybe actually washing their feet, and allowing them to wash ours, but also maybe as a symbol. A symbol of being open and vulnerable enough to actually reach other people, of being able to go to an uncomfortable place and make it better, make it home both for us and for the people we meet there.
One sacrament, one really good idea. It’s enough to start, to dedicate ourselves to, instead of just selling air conditioners.