You may have heard of fake news. It’s been in the news. In its simplest form, fake news is just the grandson of the grocery store tabloid, the estranged daughter of an old Gray Lady. Whether your motive is profit or propaganda, just about anyone has the ability to become a purveyor of fake news. Set up a website, give it a name that fits your cause – federalnews.com or celebritybuzz.net (don’t worry, they’re fake; I’m thinking of buying the domains) – and start writing all the news that’s fit to entice.
During the last election one fake news site posted a story about the Pope endorsing Donald Trump and then watched as it was Facebook shared and re-tweeted a hundred thousand times. Another said it had evidence that Hillary Clinton was using a body double as she convalesced in Chappaqua from some life-threatening illness.
Fake news affirms our prejudices, appeals to our lesser selves, drives a wedge of suspicion between friends.
It sort of makes you miss the National Enquirer.
Some people think fake news may have thrown the election, the Pope’s endorsement or Mrs. Clinton’s life-threatening illness having persuaded many. Who knows? Some suspect the fake news story is fake news. Who knows?
Some legitimate news sources have put up fact checker and truth teller sites to help us sort fake news from real news. Some of us don’t want to sort fake news from real news, however. We find fake news more comforting, an echo of what we want to believe is true, and, please, don’t confuse us with the truth.
Christians, of course, are in the news business, and we should be concerned about fake news. The Gospel, the good news, never affirms prejudice, never appeals to a lesser self, never drives a wedge of suspicion between friends. That’s one of the many ways we know it is true.
Fake news driven by social media is a 21st Century problem, but fake news itself is as old as human story telling. Fake news was a problem in the first church. Writing to his young colleague Timothy, Paul warned him about fake news: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:3-5)
Itchy ears love fake news.
Paul tells Timothy to be sober-minded, to endure suffering, and to fulfill his ministry by doing the work of an evangelist. The evangel is the good news; the work of an evangelist is spreading the good news and guarding against fake news.
The first evangelist we meet in Scripture did not share a Facebook post or re-tweet an enticing comment. He showed up in person. He appeared to some shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. He said, “Behold, I bring you good news (the evangel) of a great joy. To you is born this day in the City of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The shepherds may have wondered if it was fake news, this good news. So they did some fact checking. They went right over to the City of David, to Bethlehem. Everything checked out. They found a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. It was just as the angel with the evangel, the messenger with the good message, the true message, had said.
Ours is a time when a lot of people think the good news is fake news. During the next few weeks, sophisticated news sources will post and print sophomoric articles casting doubt on the truth of the story the shepherds told. More seriously, some among us will be tempted to think good news has passed by our sad world. How can God love a world like ours? Or where is love in such a time as ours?
The truth of the good news cannot be verified at a fact checker website. The truth of the good news is verified by changed lives working to change our sad world, confident that the dawn comes and the bright morning star rises. (2 Peter 1:19)
How do we know that good news is not fake news? Guilt and sin and death lose their power over our lives. Addictions are broken, sorrow gives way to joy, shame is erased as we see our names written on God’s heart. How do we know that the good news is not fake news? Those who tell the story of the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger befriend the friendless, feed the hungry, stand with the oppressed, embrace the outsider, visit the prisoner, love the children, and care for the elderly.
This is the church’s great task, to show the world that the good news is not fake news.
See you Sunday.