Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Gospel According to Archie Bunker

(Hebrews 11: 1-4)

During the 1970s one of the most popular critically acclaimed television shows was “All in the Family,” starring Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, and Sally Struthers. “All in the Family” was indeed a ground-breaking television show, because, it brought to audiences a hard-hitting, realistic satire, rather than the naïve comedy escapism of the 1960s.

The main character of the show was “Archie Bunker.” I have always enjoyed the show. But, what I have particularly enjoyed is the theology of Archie Bunker. From time-to-time the show brought in themes of religion because Archie’s son-in-law, Mike Stivic was an agnostic. Although Archie himself never attended church in the storyline, he was an opinionated expert on theology. Here are just a few of his theological “Archieisms.”

In the famous episode which guest-starred Sammy Davis, Jr., Archie said, “Now, no prejudice intended, but I always check with the Bible on these here things. I think that, I mean if God had meant for us to be together he’d a put us together. But look what he done. He put you over in Africa, and put the rest of us in all the white countries.” Then, Sammy Davis, Jr. said, “Well, he must’ve told’em where we were because somebody came and got us.”

Once, in an argument with his son-in-law Mike, Mike reminded Archie, “Remember that Jesus was Jewish.” To which Archie replied, “Yes, but only on his mother’s side.”

Concerning the divinity of Christ, he said, “All over the world they celebrate the birth of that baby, and everybody gets time off from work. Now if that ain’t proof that he’s the Son of God, then nothing is.”

On the nature of God, Archie said, “God don’t make no mistakes, that’s how he got to be God!”

Concerning the inferiority of women (in Archie’s theology), he said “God made Adam first, and then he made Eve out of Adam’s rib—cheaper cut.!”

But my very favorite Archieism that leads to the point of this sermon is the one statement theologically that I believe Archie got right. Talking to Edith on one episode about faith he said, “It ain’t supposed to make sense; it’s faith. Faith is something that you believe that nobody in his right mind would believe.”

What a profound statement! “Faith is something that you believe that nobody in his right mind would believe. The passage of scripture cited above is the Bible’s definition of faith. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” The NIV puts it this way, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see.” The CEV translates it “Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.”

There are two points to this definition of faith.
I. What Faith Has

The first part of the verse explains to us what faith “has.” “It already possess in the present what God has promised for the future.” (Tom Long, Interpretation (Hebrews), 113).
There are two aspects to this, both an inward and outward aspect according to Tom Long. Long says, “Inwardly, people of faith have a confidence today, here and now when all hell is breaking loose around us, that the promises of God for peace, justice, mercy and salvation can be trusted.” (Long, 113). Faith therefore becomes a response to the trustworthiness of God. It is like swinging “out on the vine of God’s promises over the chasms of life, trusting that the vine will hold.” (Long, 113)

But, faith is more than just an inward assurance. It is the very being of God’s promises. “It is more than the inner confidence that the powers of the world that press down and destroy human life will eventually yield and that God’s promises will be fulfilled someday; it is the reality of those promises moving as an advance force and operating behind enemy lines.” (Long, 113).

Therefore, “faith inwardly sings “We Shall Overcome.” Faith as an outward reality marches at Selma. Faith as an inward reality trusts God’s promise that “mourning and crying and pain will be no more (Rev. 21:3). Faith as an outward reality prays boldly for those who mourn, serves tenderly those who weep, works tirelessly to ease the pain of those who are wounded. Inwardly, faith moves hearts; outwardly, faith moves mountains.” (Long, 113)

I read once about a woman who was called to serve as a missionary to the Apache Indians out west. She packed her belongings and drove out in the desert to her post. She was so excited that she drove past the last gas station for hundred miles without noticing that she needed fuel. She ran out of gas about a mile down the road past the station.

She walked back to the station. The attendant came out of the office and met her to see what he could do to help. She explained that she had run out of gas about a mile down the road and didn’t have anything to transport the gas back to her car in. The attendant went around back of the station to an old shed to see if he could find anything with which she could carry her gasoline. The only container he could find was an old hospital bedpan. She told him that it would work just fine and that it would give her enough that she could get back to the station.

So, she carried it back down the road to her car careful not to spill any of the fuel. When she got to her car, she carefully poured the contents of the bedpan into the tank of her car. A truck driver pulled alongside the car just as the lady was emptying the bedpan into the tank. He rolled down his window and shouted to her, “Lady, I wish I had your faith!” (, Sermon by Michael Luke,

The great theologian Augustine once said, “Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” Clement of Alexandria said, “Faith is voluntary anticipation.” Faith is that quality of assurance that when life tumbles in on us, that ultimately there is still a God on control. And, that while we do not have the answers right now, we can still trust that God will bring about calm in the midst of the storm.
II. What Faith Perceives

The second aspect of faith is the evidence or conviction of things not seen. This points to the capacity of faith to see things beyond the naked eye. In 2 Corinthians 4:18 and 5:7 Paul says it this way: “What can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (Long, 114)

To the person of faith, the universe has purpose. It is not just a random swirl of matter. John Calvin says, “If God should withdraw His hand a little, all things would immediately perish and dissolve into nothing.” (Quoted in Long, 114)

The naked eye sees trouble all around. But to the eye of faith, through toil and adversity another reality can be perceived. “What the naked eye can see is a world of suffering and setback, violence and hardship. Given the harsh realities of the world, faith is the ability to see with the inner eye, to see what cannot be seen with the natural eye.” (Long, p. 114)

Martin Luther said it this way in the 3rd verse of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God:”
And tho’ this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph thro’ us,
The Prince of Darkness grim
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

Charles Swindoll, in his book Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, tells the story of a man lost in the desert, about to die from thirst. He came upon an old, run-down shack and went inside to try and find some shade. As he looked around he saw an old water pump on the other wall of the shack. He grabbed the handle and began to pump up and down. But nothing came out. Disappointed, he staggered back to a corner, but then noticed an old jug off to the side. He looked at it, wiped away the dirt and dust and read a message on the jug that said, “You have to prime the pump with all the water in this jug. P.S. Be sure to fill the jug up before you leave.”

He popped the cork, and the jug was full of water. Now he had a decision to make. If he drank the water, he’d have his thirst quenched and he would live. If he poured the water into the old rusty pump to prime it maybe it would bring fresh, cold water from down deep in the well, perhaps all the water he wanted, and even enough to allow him to complete his journey. But, what if the pump no longer worked? And, how long had the jug of water sat in the old shack anyway.

He studied his options and reluctantly decided to pour all the water into the pump. Then he grabbed the handle and began to pump. He pumped, he pumped, and he pumped. Finally came a little trickle of water and then it all began to gush. Cool, fresh water from deep in the ground below. He filled the jug and drank from it. He filled it again and drank it again. Then he filled the jug to the top for the next traveler. He put the cork back on and added this to the note, “Believe me, it really works. You have to give it all away before you can get anything back!”

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