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Pastor Glenn McDonald: M&M's

Halloween is our annual reminder that there sure are a lot of M&M’s in the world.

Although the powers-that-be are reticent to share specific numbers, it’s conservatively estimated that at least 400 million multi-colored, candy-coated chocolate buttons emerge from Mars Inc. factories every day.

M&M’s were a wartime invention. In 1941, Forrest Mars Sr. was looking for a way to deliver chocolate to American soldiers who would soon be fighting in World War II – something that would “melt in your mouth, not in your hand.”

There was a problem, however. Mars’ chief rival, Hershey, owned the rights to chocolate rationing in the United States. Thus was born an unlikely partnership. Forrest Mars and Bruce Murrie, the son of Hershey’s president, agreed to roll out the new product together – which is why each candy is imprinted with the initials of their two last names, M&M.

The rest is history. M&M’s are now sold in more than 100 countries.

Of course, it’s not always been smooth sailing. Steven Spielberg approached Mars in the early 1980s describing a movie he was making about a space alien with a fondness for candy. Could the cute alien be shown popping M&M’s? The folks at Mars thought that sounded a little sketchy. So Spielberg opted for Reese’s Pieces – sales of which exploded by more than 300% when children saw E.T. enjoying them.

Then there was the disappearance of red M&M’s in 1976. When research suggested that red dyes #2 and #4 might cause cancer in laboratory mice, red-colored food products disappeared almost overnight from American shelves. The irony is that Mars hadn’t been using either of those dyes.

Eleven years later, after a national campaign spearheaded by Paul Hethmon, an undergrad at the University of Tennessee, red M&M’s made a triumphant return. There’s no truth to the rumor that Chuck Norris was able to bring back red M&M’s simply by wishing them into existence.

The next time you reach for a handful of M&M’s, it might be of value to remember that the two essential distinctives of Christianity both begin with the letter “m.”

The first is Messiah.

Jesus is God’s “last word” to a hurting, broken world. He is not one of many would-be rescuers. Nor did Jesus go to all the trouble of becoming human just to announce, “Hey, I have a few more rules for everybody to follow.” Instead, we’re called into a living relationship with a living person. We learn to love God and love others by walking with Jesus.

The second “m” is Mission.

Matthew wraps up his gospel with Jesus’ stirring challenge: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Following Jesus, in other words, is inherently outward-focused. It’s not about achieving inner peace or becoming the most authentic version of myself. The Messiah’s prime directive is to help welcome others into the Messiah’s own family.

If we get those two “m’s” right, a great many things will fall into place.

On the other hand, a great many things will go wrong if we become preoccupied with some other words that begin with the letter “m.”

It’s astonishing how many worshipers get into a twist about Music. Entire denominations have become theaters of conflict because of disagreements about instrumentation, syncopation, and the like. Likewise, preoccupation with the Millennium – when is Jesus coming back, and will all the people I can’t stand get “left behind”? – has proven to be a major distraction from our essential mission.

It’s easy to fall in love with Ministries and Methods – particular ways of being the Body of Christ that may serve one generation or one geography well, but are likely to fall flat at other times and in other places.

In his book Finding the Right Hills to Die On, Gavin Ortlund acknowledges that Marriage and all of its related issues – gender roles, sexuality, cohabitation, and divorce – has become a major spiritual lightning rod in recent decades. But our willingness to walk with others shouldn’t come down to our respective convictions on such matters.

Sometimes God’s people become fixated on a particular Mess – a crisis that seems to demand, right now, the lion’s share of our resources, energy, and prayers. Options might include poverty, hunger, racism, climate change, economic injustice, political reform, and peace in the Middle East.

These are incredibly important matters. We are not to turn away and say, “It’s somebody else’s job to address such enduring problems.”

But none of those issues is essential to what it means to become a lifelong learner of Jesus. And the New Testament more than hints that acknowledging the identity of the Messiah and enlisting ourselves in his Mission are the two most crucial steps in making redemptive progress on the world’s biggest messes.

In the end, there is one “m”-word that almost always gets us into the most trouble.

That, of course, would be Me.

I become obsessed with my comfort. And my health. And my dreams. And my sense as to how God ought to be running the universe.

Doesn’t God want us to be concerned about all the issues that touch our lives every day? Of course he does. But not in such a way that we forget that he is God, and we are not – and that blessings keep coming our way because they are on their way to someone else.

That’s something to bring to mind the next time we reach for some M&M’s.

Humorist Erma Bombeck may have insisted that “the whole reason to grow up is chocolate.”

But the Messiah and his Mission of love to a hurting world is what life is really about.

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