Monday, July 2, 2012

The Aggravating Serenity Of Jesus

I once read a murder mystery in which the author
named  the murderer on page one.
It was a different kind of a mystery.
It wasn’t a who-dunnit.
It was a why-dunnit.
The motive was the mystery.

The gospels are like that.
We all know Jesus was crucified and we know who did it.
But it’s not clear why they did it.

It wasn’t because he claimed to be the messiah.
People were claiming to be the messiah
 before Jesus and they have done it after Jesus.
It isn’t a capital offense.
No Jesus did something else to make people mad.

Basically, Jesus revealed the character of God;
            but when he did that,
                        it rubbed people wrong.
There are several godly things Jesus did
            that did not go over well.
Forgiving sinners was unpopular,
            because we like to see people get what’s coming to them.
Healing the sick sounds good,
            but it made people uncomfortable
            because it upset the natural and moral order.

In the Gospel lessons for last week and this week,
            Jesus exhibited another irritating  quality of godly character -- serenity.
It’s in the lyrics of Jesus Christ Superstar:
            “No riots, no armies,
             No fighting, no slogans,
             One thing I’ll say for him.
            Jesus is cool.”

Last week we heard about the storm at sea.
The disciples were pretty worked up about the weather;
            but Jesus was taking a nap.
He was sleeping like a baby through the storm,
            and the disciples didn’t like it one bit.
They yelled at him, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”
So he calmed the storm and said, “Where is your faith?”

Jesus showed them the part of God that sees all of eternity
--the God who has watched worlds born and die,
             universes arise from a Big Bang and fall back into nothingness.
This is a God who takes a very long view of things,
            and in that long view, God can see “it is alright.”
This is a God who cares for us – but is not anxious about us –
            because God is perfectly confident in the outcome.
The disciples were pleased not to have drowned,
            but they were angry with Jesus for not joining them
                        in their panic.

In my family growing up,
            the way you showed you loved someone
                        was to worry about them.
No worry meant no love.
Worrying together was how we bonded.
Our life was a communion of fretting and anxiety.
Jesus’s calm would not have gone over well with us either.

In this week’s lesson, Jairus had begged Jesus
to come heal his daughter.
On the way a messenger stopped them and tried to send Jesus away
            because the girl was already dead.
But Jesus did not turn back.
He told Jairus, “Do not fear. Only believe.”

When they arrived, the place was in a commotion.
People were weeping and wailing loudly.
This wasn’t just the family who were naturally distraught.
It was the whole village gathered for mourning.

Tragedy is magnetic. People flock to it.
 We slow down and crane our necks at car accidents.
Grief is awful for the people who are in the depths of it.
But, for bystanders, a little vicarious grief is very engaging.
Dabbling in despair is seductive.
It’s what Shakespeare called “sweet sorrow.”
So most of the folks at Jairus’s house
            were in full tilt community grief.
Then Jesus came in and said,
            “Why do you make a commotion and weep?
             The girl is not dead, just sleeping.”
That did not go over at all.
The neighbors wanted to make a commotion and weep.
That’s what they came for.
If the girl wasn’t  dead,
            what were they supposed to do with the casserole?

It’s like in Monty Python and the Holy Grail,
            when the knight Concorde has been shot and Lancelot
                        begins an eloquent lament over his body;
            but Concorde says,
            “I’m not quite dead yet sir. I think I may pull through.”
Lancelot, however, just won’t hear it.

One day, I was visiting a hospital death bed
when the patient’s wife arrived and was surprised
to find her husband still breathing away.
She accosted the doctor:
            “What do you mean he’s not dead!
             The funeral is Tuesday.”

Jairus’s neighbors did not want their grief interrupted
by the inconvenient truth that the girl was alive.
But Jesus woke her up,
            to the delight of those who truly loved her,
            but to the frustration of the funeral planners.

Here’s the point: human beings are prone to drama.
Our dramas are full of wild optimism, fear, loathing, and sweet despair.
That’s as natural as can be.
It goes with the turf of being human.

But the next part isn’t very helpful.
We are also prone to forming relationships by inviting people
            to join in our drama or pushing our way into theirs.
We meet each other in the whirling cyclone of life’s emotions,
            not in the serene center of faith.
Jesus is the serene center of faith.
Jesus can sleep through a storm.
His serenity is so powerful it can calm the storm
because he knows
             that even if the boat sinks and everyone drowns,
            they will live anew in God.

Jesus doesn’t collapse into despair
            because he knows the little girl isn’t dead;
            and even if she were dead;
                        to him, death is just another sleep;
            -- a sleep from which he will wake her up
                        in the fullness of time.

Jesus acts like God.
He cares – but he doesn’t worry.
Instead of joining in our drama,
            he takes effective action to do us some real good.

Jesus shows us a different way of being friends.
He shows us how to be the eye of someone’s storm,
            how to be the serene center for each other.
T. S. Eliot prayed in his poem Ash Wednesday,
            “Teach us to care and not to care.
             Teach us to sit still
             Even among these rocks
             Our peace in his will
             Even among these rocks.”

If we practice faith, basing our peace on God’s will
                        instead of shifting circumstances,
                        if we know that peace in our hearts,
            then we can do each other some good;
            then we can truly share Christ’s peace with each other.