Zombies just keep on coming

Jun. 29, 2014

Gen. 22.1-14; Ro. 6.12-23; Mt. 10.40-42

In a survey done not too long ago, people were asked what they feared most. Death was # 4. Public speaking was # 1. As you can tell, fear arises from a variety of sources. Some people fear change. You'll probably recognize the truth in this question: how many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is 10. One to actually change the bulb and nine others to chant in unison, "It's not as good as the old one!" Change can be scary. And changing one's self is even scarier. Many believe that a change can confuse us or even drain the life out of us, or turn us into something else...something not so good. There are a lot of stories about fearful changes.

Many of these stories have been told through the modern art form of movies. Films have explored a number of the things that we fear the most. You probably didn't know this, but there have been more movies made about vampires than any other single theme in the last 100 years of film history! The first vampire film was made in 1922. It was called Nosferatu. And the long bony fingers and pointy ears of the bald-headed vampire in that classic silent film have struck terror into the hearts of people everywhere...and it still does!

But today, there's a new challenger to the frightening vampire theme. These new films explore the horrific thought that we might be altered or changed into creatures who are more dead than alive. Like the film, the Invasion of the Body Snatchers there has been a flood of...zombie movies. The dictionary defines a "zombie" as "a person who is or appears to be lifeless, apathetic, or totally lacking in independent judgment," but when you think about it, that could describe a lot of people we know! Although the idea of zombieism goes back to Mary Shelly's novel Frankenstein written in the late 19th century, the cultic movie of 1968, the Night of the Living Dead brought this idea to a massive film audience. The Night of the Living Dead is about a group of friends who are holed up in an isolated farmhouse trying to hold off a swarm of zombies who are trying to break in and eat them. An avalanche of other films and television programs about zombies has followed, so that zombies have become firmly entrenched in the popular mind. In 2009 there was even a zombie parade in Moscow with hundreds of people who splattered themselves with fake blood and then staggered through the streets moaning and groaning (but I don't know if anyone was bitten or not).

And last year, Brad Pitt's movie entitled World War Z (where "Z" obviously stands for "zombie") presented a very convincing and scary scenario about a zombie virus that spreads rapidly over the whole world as a pandemic, caused by people biting by other people. This gives others the virus that first kills and then transforms the hostl,mn into another aggressive biting monster. It isn't that far fetched. That's probably why it's scary. It's a story that could have been reported on last night's Fox News, but it's fiction, for now. And you know, the difference between fiction and real life is that fiction has to make sense--and real life doesn't. So, be careful when you answer the door, it may not be your neighbor, but, in fact, a zombie version of your neighbor. And even more important, don't examine yourself too closely in the mirror because you may find a disturbing truth...there's a zombie staring back at you in the mirror. Let me tell you what I mean.

St Paul puts it very succinctly in the letter to the Romans when he says about himself, "Who can deliver me from this body of death? I do not do what I want to do but I do the very thing I hate, and there is no health in me." Sometimes when I examine the stories in the news I wonder, "Are we zombies or real people?" We know the right thing to do; we just don't do it. Instead, most of us do the very thing we hate! Sounds like a problem to me.

St Paul said in the reading from Romans today, "Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions." Rather, St Paul urges us to strive to be free from sin (and it's demands on our lives) and to refuse to be controlled by the things that lead us to sin. I know if I asked most of you, "Do you believe that people can really change?" Many would say, "No, people are what they are and they really don't change." But Paul would argue that if we can divest ourselves of those things that lead us to sin, then real change is possible.

You know, there's a scene in Brad Pitt's zombie movie when a young Israeli soldier is bitten on the hand by a zombie, death would come in a matter of seconds, but without hesitation, Pitt takes a machete and slices off the hand before the infection can spread to the rest of her body. I know it sounds gruesome, but it's just like Matthew's gospel says when Jesus advised, "If your hand leads you into sin, then cut it off. It is better to enter life without a hand than to allow the hand to lead you to destruction." Biblical commentaries equate the "old self" with the "body of sin" that dooms even our best efforts to change as being futile. Sin enslaves us by keeping us in habits that demand our attention and distract us from what's real and true. Real change can only come when we are freed to do what's necessary to move toward our goals.

I know this must sound scary, but it's never too late to change... Someone said, "The greatest thing that God has given us is the ability to change. And the worst thing God has given us is the ability to change." It's up to us to train our hearts and minds to embrace the cross of Christ and live as the people of God. That's the challenge before us...to embrace Christ and to the change that Christ calls us to make in our selves and in our world. Several things will help you and me to accomplish this change. First, ask God to help you see the priorities in your life. Usually, these can be identified by asking, "What will I really be unhappy about in my life if I didn't do it?" Second, to do a personal inventory of strengths and weaknesses and asking: what gives me joy in my life? And then, to make these things our long-term goals. Finally, to spend time with others in our church who understand this and are striving for the same things. It's a process: this is the inspiration, the work we do is the perspiration, and celebration comes when God's changes take place. So, we can say, "in Christ, we are a new creation, the old has passed away, behold the new has come." That won't make you a zombie...but it'll give you a new perspective on life. You won't have to fear death, but I'm not sure about public speaking. Amen.

The Reverend W A Ray
St Thomas Church
Diamondhead, MS