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Sermon 6.9.24 I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke



I'd like to build a world a home

And furnish it with love

Grow apple trees and honey bees

And snow white turtle doves

I'd like to teach the world to sing

In perfect harmony

I'd like to hold it in my arms

And keep it company

I'd like to see the world for once

All standing hand in hand

And hear them echo through the hills

For peace throughout the land

 

Do you know this song? It was written by two British men Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway in 1971.

In that same year, it was repurposed by changing one line, maybe you’ll recognize it.

(sing)“I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, I’d like to buy the world a coke and keep it company, that’s the real thing.”

When I was growing up, I moved from Hawai’i to the mainland as many of you know.

Specifically, I moved to Texas.

I told someone that this week, just in casual conversation.

We were talking about cultural things and regionalisms.  You know, those things that certain people do or say because they come from a particular place in the U.S.

“You must be from somewhere North of Iowa, because you call soda, “Pahp”

Oh, and I love to make fun of Melanie, because she says “backpack” and this one is gonna weird you out a bit, she also says “hAmOck” instead of hamock.

Regionalisms

Then the conversation shifted a bit and they asked where I was born. So, I told them, Hawai’i.

And then they asked, “when did you move from paradise?”

I said, “middle school.”

She cringed, “that’s a terrible time to move for a kid, where did you move to?”

“Texas.”

You know, I’ve told lots and lots of people over the years about this time in my life; hundreds maybe thousands.

But this is the first time that I think I told somebody about it and their facial expression perfectly captured the surprise, sorrow, and incongruity of my childhood.

It was very validating.

As we kept talking, we were talked about cultures and culture shock, and how there used to be those regionalisms, but now everything seemed pretty homgeneous no matter where you go.

Even our accents seem to be getting homogenized. Like you go to the south and you find people with souther accents still, but also most of the people just talk like someone from a Tik-Tok video, like their voice is now AI generated.

Anyhow, one of the many things that I remember from that time was trying to figure out all these weird new things people called things.

The regionalisms of Texas.

The kids at school didn’t know what an uku was, and I didn’t know why people kept saying they were drinking a coke, when they were obviously drinking a sprite, or a root beer.

If you didn’t know this, that is one of the regionalisms in Texas, every soft drink is called a coke; not a cola, not a soda, not a “pahp,” but a coke.

This must make people at Pepsi a little crazy.

Because, and I don’t know if you know this, Coke and Pepsi are at war.

Remember the Cola wars?

Are they still happening?

Isn’t it weird that we call things like this a “war?”

Cola wars, culture wars, the battle of the sexes, the war on drugs.

Did you know that the war on drugs actually goes back further than the Reagan administration?

It actually goes back at least to the 1880’s and 90’s.

And did you know that Coca-cola was in the middle of that war? A different kind of cola war.

Of course, I think we’re all familiar with the fact that when Coca-Cola was first made it contained not just caffeine from the Kola bean, but also cocaine.

And we know that at some point, that they had to change their recipe, because cocaine use became frowned upon.

According to the article Jim Crow’s Drug War by Michael M. Cohen, the reason cocaine was taken out of Coca-cola may, or may not, surprise you.

In his research, Cohen tells us that the originator of coke, Dr. John Stith Pemberton of Atlanta, a former Confederate soldier, created Coke in 1884 as a way to alleviate his addiction to morphine after the war.

It actually started out as a cocaine laced wine, but with temperance laws coming to Atlanta, he had to turn it into a “soft drink.”

Coca-cola flourished in and around Atlanta.  But Pemberton wasn’t the only one to see the medicinal utility of cocaine.

In fact, within the decade, Black laborers in New Orleans were using cocaine to help give them the energy they needed to work the long, difficult days.

Cocaine became a kind of wonder drug for all kinds of ailments.

Of course, with the increased usage by black Americans, cocaine began to get a troublesome, and racist downside.

As Coca-cola grew in popularity and became one of the first national brands and as it became not only the drink of white Americans, but a drink that anyone could buy if they had a nickel,

There began to be worries about a “black cocaine menace,”

(Hide your daughters, Karen)

Cocaine became so unpopular that Coca-cola changed its formula to another addictive white substance called “sugar”, exchanged the word “medicinal” with “refreshing and great tasting,” and denied that it had ever used cocaine in its ingredients list.

This was the real first war on drugs.

One of the things that kings do is to fight wars. We fight wars even without a king.

And yet, I think we can see that kingship is not just about having a person sitting on a throne, but about things that we ultimately give power to; whether that’s a person, a culture, a brand, or even our soul.

This is why when the people of Israel said to Samuel, “Appoint for us a king to lead us…”

Samuel said, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Girl!?!”

The question of kingship and leadership is one of the ultimate questions of the entire Hebrew Bible.

Even stories that don’t seem to be about kings or leadership are about kings and leadership.

And the struggle is almost always between the people’s desire for an earthly king and God’s desire to be their king.

And one of the major things that kings do is to wage war.

I mean look at the passage from Samuel, when he’s talking about the horrible things that kings do.

Half of them are about stealing one tenth of all of your stuff, including your children.

The other is all about war; chariots, horsemen, commanders of thousands and fifties, harvests to feed soldiers, and the making of implements of war.

 

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob rule over their families and watch over their flocks, but along the way there are hints about these men as rulers and leaders.

Abraham builds his flock, has succession issues, avoids the catastrophe of Sodom and Gemorrah.

Isaac has to run away from his brother after usurping the blessing and birth right of his brother, who meets him out in the field as if two kings were about to battle with armies.

Jacob is the first one who has a rebellion within his ranks, maybe because he has so many sons.

His daughter is taken by a foreign man and when he does nothing to stop it, his sons set up a raiding party and take revenge.

Joseph becomes second in power to Pharaoh and saves his family from drought.

Moses leads the people out of Egypt, a people who had become so numerous, Pharoah was afraid they would turn into an army.

After the Hebrew people escape pharaoh, they constantly question the leadership of Moses and threaten to mutiny, most especially with the golden calf.

And the succession continues of these non-king rulers until the people finally just ask for a king, because it’s what everyone else has.

But, though we don’t get to hear the story in the lectionary cycle, the king that they get, Saul, turned out to be insane.

Even David, who we’ll see next week, has issues. Not to mention the fact that the line of succession after him will lead in biblical thinking and storytelling to the splitting of the people into two separate countries, the fall of the northern kingdom to Assyria, and the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.

I’ve skipped vast swaths of the story and many characters who had king-like qualities, but I think you get the point.

Even when Israel didn’t have a king, their stories reflect a people who were preoccupied with the idea of kingly leadership either human or divine.


In the U.S., we’ve also had a very interesting history with the idea of kingship.

We rejected, as a people, the idea of a sovereign who ruled by geneology rather than genius.

Our first president had to reject running for office a third time so that he wouldn’t become a king.

He knew how much people actually like the stability of kingship, even after just rejecting it.

What we ultimately learn about kingship from these stories is that kings have a kind of power that is similar to the power of God.

When we set things up with this kind of power, we have to expect that because they are human beings, they will misuse their power.

There is a cyclical nature to history, because humans are always involved in its processes and in its distribution of power.


What makes Jesus different in our gospel lesson is that his power and kingship go deeper than our understanding.

The Pharisees think that the reason that he can cast out demons in his early ministry is because his spirit is tied up with the evil spirits; that he is in some way the king of these spirits.

They see him as a king, the ruler of the spirits that are causing so much turmoil in the lives of the people.

What Jesus says to them is that their analogy is wrong.

He lets them see that his power is not the power of a lord ruling over an army that he is controlling,

But rather that he has defeated the enemy completely and so he can release the prisoners that have been held captive.

C.S. Lewis captures this idea beautifully in the first novel of his Narnia series the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

After Aslan comes back to life by breaking the stone table and overcoming death through the deep magic.

He and the Pevensey girls, Lucy and Susan, go to the White Queen’s castle, where she has imprisoned a multitude of Narnian animals in stone.

Aslan uses his breath to free them from their stony prison.

Jesus’ kingship, like that of Aslan, is one of releasing souls from what holds them captive.

While most human kings fight over land and territory; trying to gain as much land as possible to enrich themselves; trying to control as much terrain and territory as they can hold,

Modern day kingdoms are built in the same way, but in today’s capitalistic world the kings are corporations and their territories are marked by brand names and market saturation;

Just like the kings of old, the more territory they control, the more power and money they can make.

Jesus is a different kind of king, Jesus isn’t interested in land or wealth, his battleground is the human soul.

He wants to proclaim release to those sitting in captivity.

To give our life to Jesus is to make God the sovereign of all;

In all of these stories of kings, we’ve continually thought that what we needed was human power, and so we’ve struggled for millenia to come out on top, to be the strongest, to make the most money, and these days to carry the most influence.

The lesson very few people seem to recognize is that if your soul is free from the domination of this world, you don’t need a king and you don’t need to be king.

I’m not here saying, don’t buy a coke, because they fell in with the racist craze of the first war on drugs.

What I am saying is be careful what you let dominate you; anger, politics, substances, money…

It seems to be human nature to want the stability of kingship.

The Bible shows us over and over how much people are willing to let themselves be dominated if they think there is a profit or protection in it.

Jesus offers us more than this; more than a life of domination and empire.

He offers us a life of perfect harmony, and you don’t have to buy the world a Coke, you just have to stand hand in hand with Him and maybe sing a song.

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